The Stationers Guild

Posts Tagged ‘crane & co.’

Crane and the Thanksgiving Meal

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

One dear reader of the Guild News asked how I could possibly write so much about the “good and the bad” in the stationery industry.  The answer is quite simple:  I have a lot of free time to write while holding for a Crane customer service (that’s an oxymoron) representative to pick up the phone.

Getting in touch with a Crane customer service representative is fast becoming more difficult than talking to Adobe customer support.   After 20 minutes or so you generally will be able to speak to Adobe’s customer service representative in India or the Philippines, but it usually takes longer to reach a customer service rep at Crane who are located in the same time zone.

Now I don’t know how others feel, but I refuse  to remain on hold for more than 2 minutes to buy anything before I hang-up.   I am terribly sad to report that “waits” of between 20 to 30 minutes are now the norm at Crane rather than the exception.    Effectively, dealers are now subsidizing Crane’s gross inefficiency by allocating phone expense and staff time to simply hold for overworked and/or poorly trained customer service representatives to deal with Crane orders.

While this may be great for Crane’s expense controls, DeFalco & Co. have effectively  pushed the expense burden onto Crane’s dealers.   I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Crane customer service reps give priority to online Paperless Post orders rather than Crane’s dealers.   If you are not upset, you should be.

Editor’s Note:   Confidentially, I have been informed that DeFalco’s management style within Crane is referred to “DeFalco’s Folly,”  but sadly these megalomaniac bullies are rarely outed until it is too late!

Guild readers may be surprised to know that the “Good News” is that I have been invited to the Crane Thanksgiving Dinner which they celebrate annually in Plymouth (MA).  I requested dark meat on the enclosed reply card set:

Crane for Thanksgiving

The “Bad News” is that I will be served a drumstick:  A Crane drumstick!

P.S. Still on hold (listening to Lizzie and the Spin Doctors) and patiently waiting  for William Arthur’s Holiday Albums to support their sale’s promotion that began August 1.  Go figure.

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Crane: Lost but not Forgotten

Friday, August 9th, 2013

I am sure that most everybody has heard the European version of ethnic profiling:

In Heaven…
The mechanics are German
The chefs are French
The police are British
The lovers are Italian
And everything is organised by the Swiss.

In Hell…
The mechanics are French
The police are German
The chefs are British
The lovers are Swiss
And everything is organised by the Italians.

Most people can still spare a chuckle unless of course you are a Crane dealer.   As some of you may remember, the re-branded Crane & Co. has been making fine cotton paper for well over 200 years.  Service quality has never been great because they were the Hertz of the industry and didn’t need to try harder to please anyone.

Last year, someone had the bright idea to “build the Crane brand” and hired an “outside consultant” to create efficiency in the Crane operation.   While Crane was never anyone’s conception of paradise unless it happened to be a wayward hiker on the Appalachian Trail who had inadvertently stumbled into Dalton (MA), the advisory firm has now turned Crane into a virtual hell-hole for dealers and employees alike.

(Editor’s Note:  I have always been suspicious of the benefit  of outside consultants, but never more so than the deviousness of the person that hired them in the first place.  It was a common joke within the banking industry, that one “always hired an outside consultant to rid the organization of competent managers” who might question the motives of an unscrupulous organization climber.   The advisory firm’s recommendations were inevitably the views of the executive who hired the “outside” consultants and he (or she) would then use the consultant’s “findings” to get rid of real or imagined advisories whose views differed from his or her own.  Essentially, it is like hiring a mercenary to do your dirty work so you can keep your hands clean and have a clear conscious by blaming the consultant.)

I suspect that someone – could it be ex-McKinsey alum Stephen DeFalco? - orchestrated the palace coup for reasons that are still not readily apparent.   In any event, the deterioration in customer service is  alarming as Crane begins to integrate the operations of William Arthur, which it acquired last year.

Many dealers now feel that Crane will be unable to process personalized holiday orders this Fall, which for many dealers would be a financial disaster.

Grinch - Universal Studios

From my vantage point – as a Crane dealer – Crane service quality is sinking faster than the Titanic.  Should we all break out into chorus and sing “Nearer my God to Thee” or simply wait until the Grinch comes down from Mt. Crumpit to tell us what we can all  do with the Crane Engraved Christmas Tree?  I wish I had an answer, but sadly all of Crane’s Muppets are currently re-branding.

Crane, you are lost but not forgotten.  There still is time to right the sinking ship, but PLEASE don’t hire another consultant.  Your loyal dealers deserve better and it is a terrible tragedy to see a company with the traditions of Crane to be so terribly mismanaged.   Even Paul Revere might send you a Paperless Post note of concern, but sadly communication between Heaven and Hell is not good.

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Keeping up to date with Crane: Online

Sunday, August 4th, 2013

It’s hard to know what is going on at Crane these days as management seems hunkered down in their bunker fending off criticism of their management style or lack thereof.   Fortunately, I do not have to sit on hold for 20 minutes like my wife trying to talk to a customer service representative to track down a wedding order, but the lack of communication is deafening.

A couple of days ago – like other Crane bricks-and-mortar dealers – I  received some lovely marketing propaganda to promote the Crane brand this summer.   While this is colorful and useful promotional material, I am at a loss to know how to use it.   Presumably, I could take the file down to Kinko’s and blow it up into a poster that I could put in the window or on a billboard in front of the store.  If I were industrious and wanted to send out a mailer, I could use one of the images to promote Crane’s holiday card sale.

Sadly, I am reluctant to use Crane’s images to promote the Crane name because we are simply driving our clients to Crane’s website and not our store.

Other stationers feel that I am short-sighted for not subscribing to the “abundance theory”  but I don’t like to be played by the house when all the cards are stacked against me.   Since nobody at Crane seems to know what is going on – or at least cares to share that information with its dealers – I decided to visit  Crane’s website  to stay informed.

Found below is a very brief summary of what I discovered:

  • Crane and Paperless Post (‘PP”) are clearly enjoying a great honeymoon given the prominence given to PP on Crane’s wedding page.     Conclusion:  Not sure that I would want to direct any clients to the Crane wedding page to do an online search.
  • William Arthur products will have a new home on Crane by September 1 and both sites are now integrated as of July 15th.
  • Crane’s personalized holiday card link doesn’t work (the sleigh) unless you are buying Father’s Day or Mother’s Day gifts.  (Suggestion to Crane:  With the Crane name you should be selling Montblanc and not Cross pens on your website)
  • If you are looking for William Arthur letterpress wedding invitations, you can still find them on Wedding Paper Divas for 20% off.

There is much more, but I think any sane person gets the picture:    There is “something rotten in Denmark.”

As I am trying to become a kinder person and Crane is clearly suffering,  I offer these heart-felt suggestions:

  • Reinstate your affiliate program(s);
  • Dump the paperless tiger;
  • Does Paper Divas really make sense as it is owned by Shutterfly?
  • Act like the prestigious brand you are! You have far more credibility and market clout than your consultants and venture capitalists give you credit for.

It’s nearly the same advice that I give to countless other vendors who want us to merchandise their “great” product at our store (and online):

QUOTE

As much as we like your cards, we must take a pass.

The issue is quite simple, we simply are not prepared to invest the time and money to merchandise a product to a very sophisticated audience that is sold online (your Etsy Store).

Being everywhere means that your card (regardless of how cute, meaningful or salable) is simply a commodity.  We long ago decided to channel our limited personal and financial resources into delivering products that are “unique” to our clients.

I trust you understand our position.

UNQUOTE

It’s all about image. Crane is not a reclamation project. Act like the 400 lb gorilla you are and not a chimpanzee.

Richard W. May
Therese Saint Clair

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Crane: Dumb and Dumber

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

You have to sit back and scratch your head and wonder what the folks in Dalton (or is it really NYC?) are drinking.  In a series of  initiatives that began last December  to “re-brand” the Crane line, outside consultants (who probably can’t even spell stationery) and Crane’s new iPad management team seem intent on bringing one of the most prestigious paper brands in the world to its knees.

Crane’s competitors must be rejoicing, but there is certainly no joy in Mudville as dealers throughout the United States struggle to pick up the pieces as loyal Crane clients can no longer get the same stationery that they have been using for years.  Indeed, “mighty CRANE has struck out!”

The latest bombshell is from Katie Lacey, President of Crane Stationery, who announced that Crane will be launching a retail relationship with Paperless Post.

“This week we will be launching a retail relationship with Paperless Post, who will be selling on their website a limited selection of their own custom designs that Crane will print. As part of our plan to celebrate and build demand for the high quality, printed stationery and invitations that we provide, this partnership enables us to introduce our products to a new audience.”

Quite obviously, Katie doesn’t sit around and read my silly “thought-pieces” on Paperless Post, but doesn’t it strike one as bizarre that Crane would trash its bricks and mortar retailers (and their clients) who have been loyal to the Crane brand for decades “to introduce our (sic Crane) products to a new audience?”   Call me dumb, but this has to rank as one of the silliest new marketing initiatives in recent memory.

Note to Crane:  There is no NEW audience – it’s the same audience using different vehicles to communicate or express themselves.  Crane is simply giving 200 years of BRAND loyalty to an online marketing platform.  This is a great deal for Paperless Post, but a silly one for Crane.    Why doesn’t Crane hire some programmers in the Philippines to build a clone Paperless Post app under the Crane logo?

It is clearly evident that Crane is a rudderless ship that has lost its way in a big sea of digital nonsense.  If Crane’s management doesn’t value the Crane brand anymore than partnering with Paperless Post, why should its dealers?

Richard W. May
Founding Member of the Stationers Guild

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Crane: Two Steps Backward and One Step Forward

Thursday, January 31st, 2013

To use a Superbowl metaphor,  Crane & Co. fumbled the ball in their own backfield earlier this year with a drastically downsized line of products that simply did not sit well with their distributors.  Since selling stationery is not a game of football, it is difficult to know the extent of damage that has been caused to the Crane brand.

Fortunately, I am delighted to report that Crane announced yesterday that they will be “enhancing our business stationery offerings . . .  and reintroducing the 32# size 8 Executive and size 7 Monarch sheets and matching envelopes in Ecruwhite and Pearl White.”     Even Manti Te’o was mystified as to why they dropped these popular business lines in the first place.

Hopefully, Crane’s new management team will be able to pick up the pieces of a seriously flawed strategy that could only have been concocted in the lab of a consulting firm by MBAs with little real-world experience in the  industry.

The clock is ticking, so we do hope that Crane will act decisively and scrap the “back to basics” tagline:  It’s just plain silly!

Richard W. May
Founding Member of the Stationers Guild

P.S.:  Just a simple suggestion to help “right the ship”:  Increase the price of most of your boxed products by 10% to 20%.  Crane products are seriously under-priced.   Your brand deserves premium pricing.  But please, get back to focusing on quality.

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Updates from the NYC Gift Show

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013

Hi all,

Just a quick update on some positive stationery trends that I have been hearing at the International Gift Show in NYC.  As many of you now know, many stationery, paper and greeting card designers now show at regional, national and international gift shows rather than the National Stationery Show in May at the Javits Center.

Found below are a few sound bites (paraphrased quotes but no third-party verification) that I have picked up:

  • Several Vendors:   “Atlanta was pretty good – flat to slightly up from last year – with less buyers but more volume.”
  • A stationery store owner:  “I find Atlanta intimidating – far too much stuff and difficult to navigate around.  I much prefer NYC.”
  • A greeting card vendor:  “Our business in paper greeting cards is exploding.  We have no idea why, but I suspect that people are realizing there is little ‘real’ intimacy on the Internet.  I guess relationships are personal.”  Editor’s Note:  I too saw a wide array of very tasteful and nicely printed (mostly letterpress) greeting cards.
  • Several vendors:  “Unexpected surge in demand noted by independent paper brokers and printing companies for 100% cotton and high quality letterhead and standard business paper stock now that Crane & Co. has dropped many lines.  We’ve got to scramble to get this right.”
  • Personal observations:  “A surprising number of fill-in invitations surfaced at the shows.  I believe that printed invitations for casual affairs (birthdays, etc.) has been greatly impacted by the Internet, but now people feel the need to add a personal touch.  It may not be much, but it is certainly reassuring.”
  • Personal observations:  “There are quite a few vendors living the ‘green life’ like Oblation and Saturn Press rather than those that simply talk about it.  I am hopeful that this talk of sustainability and the environment will shed its commercial marketing deception and truly  embrace and celebrate the integrity of the the movement.”  Editors Note:  Personally, I think that “greenwash” will continue as companies deceive consumers with bogus environmental claims.  As Mark Twain said, “It’s much easier to fool someone than it is to explain to them that they have been fooled.”

More later.

Richard W. May

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Paperless Post is Just a Paper Tiger

Friday, January 25th, 2013

We live in a world of imaginary friends where the “real” world and the “online” world coexist in peace and harmony. Mind you, I am simply paraphrasing some of the comments of social media experts at the 2010 National Stationery Show conference. As Manti Te’o has to his regret discovered, the real world is less forgiving than your online friends. Paperless Post recently discovered this fact and are now trying to convince a gullible consumer that “paperless” wedding invitations are really better in paper.

Personally, I don’t think the consumer is that easily deceived, but honestly, would anyone buy a paper wedding invitation from a company called Paperless Post? Maybe Manti Te’o would but then his imaginary fiancee died last year. Wake-up Paperless Post:  Change your name if you want to have “real world” credibility. Here are a few name change suggestions to preserve your credibility:

  • Just a Paper Tiger
  • Less Paper to Post
  • Going Postal
  • or, perhaps this tag line, 100 FREE Paperless Invitations for 100 Paper Invitations.

Last year, Paperless Post finally went postal and decided to throw in the paperless towel and embrace paper. I was amused, but not surprised, considering how many cyberspace gremlins are tampering with emails, social media platforms and Paperless Post flash files that simply don’t work on Apple applications.

Now comes the expected heavy-duty promotion of “paper” – not paperless – wedding invitations from Paperless Post “PP”. It features PP’s own designers as well as designers from Kate Spade (weren’t they with Crane & Co.?), Mr. Boddington (weren’t they with Minted?) and others.  From my perspective,  Paperless Post has simply turned into an online distribution platform for some brands that should know better than have their rich images and designs flattened and compacted into generic web images to facilitate transmission.  How discouraging and embarrassing.

I don’t think the consumer will buy if for long.

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Arzberger: Engraved Stationery and Custom Invitations

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

Arzberger has become the new “go-to” resource for engraved stationery and custom invitations.  Currently, Arberger is overwhelmed with new business now that Crane & Co. has decided to implement their recently announced “back to basics” strategy.

Arzberger Staff

Stationers across the United States are still reeling from Crane’s decision in late December to significantly reduce customization options, ink colors, paper stock and envelope linings in an effort to reconfigure their business.  Many in the industry had expected that Crane’s acquisition of  William Arthur in November signaled a major push by Crane to dominate high-end fashion stationery and custom invitations.   This is clearly not the case.

Arzberger Engraved Invitations

While Arzberger’s printing business has increased, I was informed by a spokesperson for the company that they still welcome new business from stationers and clients who seek quality and time-tested printing and classic designs.   I was reassured that Arzberger has more than enough printing capacity to fill the vacuum left behind by Crane.

Azberger has produced finely crafted wedding, personal and social stationery for customers throughout the United States since 1922.  From design to shipping, everything necessary to produce your stationery is done by us in our facility in Charlotte.  Just because we have been doing this forever does not make us boring or dreary; to the contrary, it makes us one of the only companies in this business that has consistently been getting it right.  For more information on their philosophy (which most quality stationers share), please visit their website.

Arzberger Printer Engraving Invitations

For those searching for a world-class printer and design company that can easily fulfill the needs of your current Crane clients and to establish an ongoing relationship for future custom business, please acess the attached contact information for Arzberger.   I will be providing additional information in later posts, but I have been overwhelmed with requests from dealers across the United States seeking alternatives to fill the vacuum left behind by Crane.  Based on my initial conversations with Elizabeth Edwards, I am confident that Arzberger is more than capable of meeting the expectations of your most demanding clients.

Richard W. May
Founding Member of the Stationers Guild

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Last Chance for Crane Christmas Cards

Saturday, December 8th, 2012

Long renowned for their impressive Festive card designs and styles and outstanding engraving, Crane & Co. recently released their 2012 Holiday Card Collection. These stunning Christmas cards confirm that Crane has not lost a beat in creating some of the most gorgeous engraved Christmas cards both for company and family private greetings.

Classic Engraved Christmas Tree Greeting Card from Crane & Co.

From its timeless engraved Christmas tree to its beautiful leaping gold stag, Crane’s artists create some of the most beautiful holiday greeting cards in the marketplace. Quite a few customers make a habit of giving Crane holiday cards and also have religiously been doing so for a number of years. Shouldn’t you consider making this holiday season distinctive by mailing a “tiny piece of art” to your friends, family or business acquaintances?

Engraved Wreath Christmas Card from Crane

Located in Dalton, Massachusetts, Crane has been producing high-quality stationery and customized invitations for more than 200 years. As one of the most well-known private firms in the United States, Crane is renowned for its 100% cotton paper, exceptional designs and delightful engraving. A “green” firm way before the environment became a trendy topic, Crane utilizes a mix of re-cycled cotton scraps from textile mills, cotton and cuttings from its own plants to make its papers.

Sheila May is the owner of Therese Saint Clair and publishes articles quite often about wedding invitation trends and custom photo cards.

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Crane & Co. to Acquire William Arthur

Thursday, November 1st, 2012

In a press release released late this afternoon, Crane & Co. will acquire William Arthur from Hallmark.  This announcement is sure to send shock waves through the stationery industry

William Arthur, based in West Kennebunkport, Maine,  is one of the leading quality stationery and custom invitations in the United States.   Its origins can be traced back to 1949 when Philip and Rita Renning founded Ten Bamboo Studio.

In 1984, Bill and June DeJonge acquired the company and greatly expanded the popularity and distribution of this fine stationery line, cementing their reputation as having some of the best designs and customer service in the industry.  It then changed the company’s name to William Arthur.  William Arthur became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Hallmark Cards, Inc. in 1997 and employs nearly 300 designers, artists, skilled craftspeople and customer service professionals.

Crane & Co. is one of the oldest companies in the United States and as well-known for printing the U.S. currency as it is for its engraved stationery and custom invitations on 100% cotton paper.

According to the press release, the purchase will be finalized on November 30th, although both companies will continue to operate semi-autonomously until the second half of 2013.  At some time in the future, business operations will be consolidated in Crane’s North Adams facility (MA).

In and of itself, the news is not surprising.   Premium stationery brands have been under increased pressure by commercial printing firms masquerading as fine paper companies and Photoshop “designers” whose products are for the most part less than inspiring (I’m being generous!).  The Internet has made it possible for insipid designs and questionable print quality to become the industry benchmark where price is far more important than quality.  These firms thrive with an uninformed consumer.

By unifying two high quality brands under one umbrella, there is an opportunity for both brands (or a unified brand) to set a quality standard for discerning consumers to embrace.  Whether they will succeed remains a huge question, but consumers seem more aware that brand quality is a far more important component in their purchasing matrix.   I certainly hope that Crane doesn’t plan to go bottom fishing for Walmart consumers.

Many William Arthur dealers will find this announcement disconcerting, but I am encouraged by the bold initiative of Crane.   In fact, the very survival of the industry needed someone to standup and raise the banner of quality and brand integrity.  Let’s see if Crane has the will to persevere.  I, for one, certainly hope so.

Richard W. May
Therese Saint Clair

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