The Stationers Guild

Stationery Industry: The Nail in the Coffin

I just received an announcement that William Arthur is terminating its affiliate program – administered by LinkShare – on May 25th.    I realize that many bricks-and-mortar retailers have never actively participated in vendor sponsored affiliate programs, but I have always encouraged dealers to do so.  In fact, found below is an excerpt of an article that appeared on the Stationers Guild a couple of years ago, promoting vendor sponsored affiliate programs:

“Supporting the affiliate programs of your vendors should - and most probably will - bring  the following benefits to your business:

  • Properly used, affiliate marketing will drive traffic to your store;
  • Affiliate marketing is a far more effective marketing tool than the Yellow Pages and most paper media advertising;
  • Affiliate marketing allows you to build an online presence without the expense and fuss of doing it yourself;
  • Affiliate marketing gives you an opportunity to talk about and promote fine stationery and custom invitations;
  • Affiliate marketing gives you credibility with your customers to “see” that your store has online product capabilities;
  • You earn affiliate commissions when customers buy online through your affiliate ad referral;
  • You support your vendor by promoting their brand online;
  • Most importantly, you support the stationery industry by promoting quality brands.”

To many dealers, this is a non-event, but I can assure you that this is the final nail in the coffin of the stationery industry as we know it. Why?

The lack of a financial incentive to market brands carried by your store in social media channels will diminish a store front’s ability to compete. Simply stated, every time you promote a “house” brand in the media, you will simply drive traffic to the vendor’s online store – not your own. Sure, some clients may drop by to see the “real deal” and you may make an occasional sale, but most “clients’ will be happy to close the deal online. In effect, you have just become an uncompensated showcase for vendors selling to your clients online. Heck, you may have even paid for the albums that will now be used to promote your vendor’s products online.  What irony!

Lest you think this is an isolated event, Crane slashed its dealer affiliate commissions by 70% in March. As Crane now owns William Arthur, this is simply the consolidating end-play to disconnect its bricks-and-mortar dealers from Crane’s online business strategy. Let’s face it, we are the “muppets” and we have been well and truly played.

I do not know what the retail battlefield will look like after Crane’s business strategy is fully played out, but I can assure you that Crane’s brand won’t compare to Smythson of Bond Street or Pineider. Perhaps, Crane will join Martha Stewart in showcasing their brands at J. C. Penny. I doubt that Vera Wang will play along, she simply has too much class.

I don’t know about you, but I will be treating this National Stationery Show as my last. So join me in a trip of nostalgia when you walk the aisles of the Javits Center at this May’s National Stationery Show.

Richard W. May
Founding Member Stationers Guild

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3 Responses to “Stationery Industry: The Nail in the Coffin”

  1. Maureen Hall Says:

    Hi Rick,
    Golly I gasp at every email you send! You just wonder what the future is for us brick and mortar stores!! To be very honest, my online store sold very little of the W.A. product but I do think it was a great way for folks to see the product. It is pretty scary the way the leaders in the industry (Crane-William Arthur) are squeezing the mom and pops with the aggressive moves they are making.

    Thank you for keeping all of us stationers out here abreast of what’s happening and of course your opinion!!
    All the best to you and Sheila,

  2. Greg Geller Says:

    Hello Rick,
    I would like to share with you that we are one of the few brands that does not sell to the end user. We view ourselves as partners in our retailers’ businesses. In essence we see ourselves as partnering in their profit. Because if our retailers are successful, then we will be too.

    There are not enough manufacturers like us out there. I have been sharing this every and any chance I get. Boatman Geller prides itself on making money through our retailer network. Now with that comes some responsibility that our retailer network supports us in making these types of strategic decisions. And at the same time we have an obligation of creating products and designs that are sellable.

    So far it seems to be working as we grew by 25% in 2012 and are on pace to do the same this year. I look forward to your thoughts on this and anything related to such. As a matter of fact I was in Inc magazine in relation to this decision of not selling to the end user. Norm Brodsky’s answer was what solidified for me.

    Greg Geller
    President & Co-Owner
    Boatman Geller

  3. Richard May Says:

    Thanks Greg. On behalf of all stationers, we are thrilled that your market strategy is working. Integrity is in short supply these days and I – for one – value every person and company that leads with conviction rather than the bottom line. A tidal wave of change will soon be sweeping through the industry and I am quite convinced that it will surprise companies that have compromised their values and pedigree to pursue the digital nirvana.

    I look forward to seeing you at the show!


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