Reflecting on the 2011 National Stationery Show, I came across this Blog post entitled “Don’t take it personally” by Seth Godin, who was the Keynote speaker at the NSS Future Conference. Here is an extract from his post:
QUOTE (Slightly Edited)
“Don’t take it personally.”
This is tough advice. Am I supposed to take it like a chair? Sometimes it seems as though the only way to take it is personally. That customer who doesn’t like your product (your best work) or that running buddy who doesn’t want to run with you any longer…
Here’s the thing: it’s never personal. It’s never about you. How could it be? That person doesn’t truly know you … All they know is themselves.
When someone moves on, when she walks away or even badmouths you or your work, it’s not personal about you. It’s personal about her. Her agenda, her decisions, her story.
Do your work, the best way you know how. Is there any other option?
Indeed, is there any other option? Sure, you can exit the playing field and move on, having let someone else’s opinion determine your relevancy and/or artistic value. Seth Godin’s advice is for leaders or “tribal chiefs” as he refers to them who are not intimidated by failure and certainly not the opinions of others.
With these words of caution from Seth Godin, I would like to reflect on some of the major trends I saw emerging from this year’s National Stationery Show. Most certainly, you shouldn’t take my views “personally” since my objective is to create a dialogue and not to discredit anyone’s work or business strategy. The business is hard enough for another naysayer in our midst.
Stationery Trends & Observations
- The Chinese have Landed: This is the first time that I can recall a strong Chinese presence at the NSS. It seemed that they occupied a dozen or so booths and while I didn’t see a great deal of activity, their presence signifies that more cheap imports will be arriving soon. I admire the craftsmanship and work ethic of the Chinese; however, their business model is very much different than our own. Designers and manufacturers who outsource production to China do so at their own peril. You may win the cost-efficiency battle, but you are most certain to hasten the demise of your brand and, quite possibly, the industry.
- Too much Letterpress: I adore letterpress, but there are simply too many suppliers. Let’s face it, most anyone with an old press and Photoshop can produce “unique” and “eco-friendly” stationery and invitations. As a stationery store, I am reluctant to take on new lines since many of the designs look the same. While I commend everyone on “doing your own thing,” it seems to me that only the established lines that maintain quality standards and continue to innovate will survive.
- Pricing Models - Established Lines Hold the Line: I have long been concerned that manufacturers and designers of quality paper products would succumb to the temptation to lower quality to compete with the “fast-food” paper companies that now dominate our industry. Meetings at the NSS convinced me that a line in the sand has now been drawn and serious brands will no longer follow Alice down the pricing hole to oblivion. I welcome this change and believe that consumers will opt for higher quality products at price levels that can sustain the industry. Maybe this is wishful thinking, but this is the first time in several years where industry leaders have said “No mas!” to price cutting.
- Online Sales & Affiliate Marketing: It is good to see that Crane has re-established an affiliate marketing program. Other companies that sell online should do the same thing. While this is all well-and-good, these affilitate programs will be of little use to bricks and mortar stores unless they take advantage of them. Affiliate marketing is like learning to ride a bicycle: lot’s of bruises and scrapes as you learn to ride and pretty easy after you get the hang of it. I fear that many stores will not do so and the benefits of leveraging one’s sales by providing an online option will be missed. In effect, Crane and others have given stores a vital piece of online real estate and it is our responsibility to make it work. In order to accelerate that process, I will shortly be expanding the functionality of the StationersGuild website into an affiliate marketing laboratory to test various online marketing strategies. In addition, an affiliate website, Rite4U.com will be focused on best practices to build, maintain and market your local business online. There is a lot to learn and it is changing each day, but at least you won’t have to repeat my mistakes.
Again. let me thank the organizers of the National Stationery Show and particularly Patti Stracher for keeping the flame burning. Everybody approaches NSS differently and if I have stepped on anyone’s toes, “don’t take it personally.” We are in the boat together.