The Stationers Guild

Posts Tagged ‘crane’

Greeting Cards: A Failure to Resonate?

Monday, February 10th, 2014

Several hours ago, I received this interesting note from a recent Guild reader:

QUOTE

Dear Stationers Guild:

Crane cards are for stuffed shirts.

Looking for exuberant cards for holidays and your blog goes on and on about Crane stationers who make truly boring formal holiday cards for stuffed shirts.

Constance Kay Inc. is a lot of fun, but I also want alternatives and I am very tired of having to purchase Papyrus Cards in emergency situations such as I am working in some god forsaken place with only – horrors – Hallmark around.

Perhaps your blog isn’t a total loss and I will find clues as to get other fun things such as diffraction grating wrapping papers.

Regards,

UNQUOTE

Firstly,  I appreciate any relevant feedback from a human being since most feedback comes from spammers in Eastern Europe.

Secondly, I agree that there is a tendency to think formal correspondence (referred to as “Crane cards”) is something for “stuffed suits.”  I don’t happen to share this opinion, but clearly written correspondence doesn’t seem to resonate with the vast majority of our socially mobile population.

Thirdly, I feel compelled to tell the kind reader that I wouldn’t hold out much hope about finding information about “diffraction grating wrapping papers” anytime soon on the Stationers Guild website. It is a subject that I take as seriously as “Romancing a Snow Shovel.”

But more to the point, I think I would like to spend the next few paragraphs to defend the importance of a handwritten note. “Defend” is probably not the right word, since I know of no one – stuffed shirt or not – who wouldn’t want to receive a handwritten note rather than a banal Tweet –  Tweety Bird included!

Now Crane stationery or a unique greeting card from Constance Kay may not be the reader’s thing, but quite frankly both are far superior to the rather pedestrian greeting cards and stationery you can find at retail establishments.

The issue is generally not the quality of the greeting card or stationery, but one’s willingness to make an effort to meaningfully “communicate” with another human being. To say that “formal correspondence card” is for “stuffed shirts,” is akin to saying that Twitter is for “illiterate teenagers.”  I suspect that either assumption is probably wrong.

Making an effort to exchange a handwritten note requires a level of personal commitment to a relationship that many people feel is not warranted in today’s digital world.  I, like others, feel strongly about the importance of the personal expression achieved in a handwritten note and plan to continue the time-honored tradition of exchanging an annual paper holiday card with distant friends.

If others feel the same, write on!

Happy Valentine’s Day (a lovely letterpress greeting card from Oblation)

Richard W. May
Founding Member of the Stationers Guild

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Is change afoot at Crane?

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013

Some people accuse me of being reckless,”too pushy” or dangerously aggressive.  Perhaps this is so, but I suspect that remaining patient and keeping my opinions to myself are likely to lead to a most painful descent into business failure.

As one who comes from a business and financial background (over 20 years in international banking), I have found that owning my own business to be a liberating experience.  No longer do I have to put up with bureaucrats and disingenuous business managers making silly and harmful decisions to further their own careers at the expense of shareholders.   Sadly, it was far too common in my previous line of work.

Being independent and “calling your own shots” is certainly liberating, but when key  ”partners” in your business success take decisions which drastically affect the nature of your business relationship, it gives rise to concern.  Readers who follow this Blog regularly are aware that I have been particularly outspoken about the many “apparently” silly decisions  taken by Crane to restructure their operations.

I use the qualifier “apparently” because I have no idea whether the management decisions taken by Crane are “silly” or “brilliant.” As a “Muppet” there is no reason why I should have been consulted by the “Masters of the Universe,” but I know from much experience in my previous life that outside consultants rarely have anyone’s interest at heart other than the person who hires them.   In fact, the mere mention of “outside consultants” generally indicates that “something is rotten in Denmark” and that a palace coup is underway.

Sadly, my misgivings were worse than I anticipated and I am still uncertain whether Crane will be able to “right the ship” and reemerge as a positive influence on the stationery industry.   While still rather pessimistic,  I have noticed some positive signs beginning to emerge on the Crane website.

  • The silly link to Paperless Post is now down (or at least I had difficulty finding it on the Wedding Page);
  • You can now find Crane personalized holiday cards on their website rather than links to Mother and Father’s Day cards;
  • The website is beginning to look as though someone is taking the time to update it and add graphics and images that are somewhat professional.

These are very good signs that suggest that change is afoot at Crane.  I, for one, certainly hope so.  Maybe they will even get around to reinstating an affiliate program and help its dealers promote the Crane line.  That would be nice.

Richard May
Founding Member of the Stationers Guild

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Facetime on the Crane Wedding Page

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013

As Guild members are aware, I have always encouraged our vendors to promote their brands online.  In fact, I have always encouraged bricks-and-mortar dealers to do the same and support the brands of our vendors.   All I requested  in return was for personalized stationery and invitation vendors to give dealers the proper tools to market our vendor brands effectively and transparently:

  • High quality promotional images to market to the public online and;
  • An affiliate program to compensate dealers for their online promotional efforts.

The objective was to use the same sophisticated marketing techniques that online marketing firms were using (Tiny Prints for example) to drive traffic to our stores.   The affiliate program was there to compensate dealers for their marketing efforts in the event that the online client decided to purchase directly from the vendor.    I had always thought that this would be a win-win for both the dealer and its vendor.

I still think it makes a lot of sense, but sadly both vendors and dealers have decided to “do their own thing” and most likely with unsatisfactory results.   Our vendors have probably been duped by some social media “consultant” who spends most of his or her time skiing in Aspen or Vail and assumes dealers are not “hip” because they allow their cell phone battery to run down.

I am sad to report that Crane and William Arthur have effectively have terminated their affiliate programs despite the sophistry and misinformation of their mangement.    While many – and perhaps most – of Crane’s dealers do not have the time or technical skills to participate in vendor sponsored affiliate programs, the fact remains that Crane “branding” will occur online and you – as a bricks-and-mortar dealer – are unlikely to see any benefit.  In fact, Crane’s rocket-science consultants have stacked the deck against you.

Found below is a very revealing example demonstrating how vigorously “Paperless Post” – Crane’s new darling of branding ineptitude – is promoted on the Crane website to the detriment of their traditional dealers:

Crane Credibility Gap

If the Paperless Post image looks out of place on Crane’s wedding page, it is!   Scroll down below and you can see that some heavy-handed and not particularly clever “webmaster” simply lifted the image below and put it above the all-SEO-important  fold-line.

Presumably, the young folks at Paperless Post insisted on better online representation for their shoddy designs.

The LOSERs are Crane’s bricks-and-mortar dealers and Crane itself, but they simply don’t know it just yet.

Despite “feel-good” missives from the Company, Crane’s credibility gap is now longer than Pinocchio’s nose.

Lest you think that this is just a bad dream and gross incompetence, THINK AGAIN! DeFalco’s band of merry investment bankers and consultants can’t think further than their own wallets.

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William Arthur and the Holiday Blues

Friday, August 16th, 2013

William Arthur has always been that “go-to” resource for personalized holiday greeting cards and photo cards as Crane would habitually drop the ball late during the holiday season.   Apparently, we are all now in for a serious role-reversal as we await delivery of the William Arthur holiday albums.  The Crane holiday albums have already arrived.

Given the dreary holiday outlook for most employees at William Arthur, it is hardly surprising that timeliness and efficiency have suffered, but we are already receiving phone calls from our clients asking “when do you expect the William Arthur holiday albums to arrive?”   Perhaps, they too have heard the rumors that they better get their orders in early this year.

Frankly, we don’t know for certain when the Holiday Albums will arrive.  One William Arthur employee (retained by Crane) informed us that William Arthur “always ships its holiday albums after September 15th” (clearly, he doesn’t have a clue) and other people – who should know – have suggested sometime between the end of the month and “shortly after Labor Day.”

To suggest that the Italians are running the show at Crane unjustifiably discredits  warm, creative and sensitive Italians.  Let’s just say that the Borgias are in charge and leave it at that.

Richard May
Founding Member Stationers Guild

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Maybe Affiliate Marketing is Not Dead

Saturday, April 27th, 2013

When informed of his rumored death, Mark Twain stated that “reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”    Perhaps, the death knell for the stationery industry has not yet sounded.  Yesterday morning  I reported that William Arthur would be terminating its affiliate program on May 25th.  Shortly after the article was published, I received a phone call from a representative of Crane indicating that the announcement was “poorly communicated” and that Crane would migrate William Arthur to Crane’s Pepperjam affiliate program.  Commission structures would remain intact.

When I pressed for more details (i.e. “will William Arthur maintain their own ecommerce website?”), I was told that Crane’s IT people were working on it.  Frankly, that is not particularly reassuring, but I guess we can hope that Crane’s “rocket scientists” will let the Crane brand have a decent burial rather disappear in the paperless ether.

One of Crane’s fundamental problems has been its inability to manage its Online presence.  For years, we have witnessed Crane manage its online business as something distinct (dare I call it a profit center?) from its stationery business.    The silly idea that there is an “online” consumer and a “bricks-and-mortar” consumer is about as stupid as saying that consumers can be segregated by those who use fixed phone lines and those who use cell phones.    Just look at the phone or cable company:  The services are simply bundled!

Crane is mistakenly focused on tinkering with distribution channels rather than building a loyal base of savvy consumers who understand the difference between low resolution digital images found on the internet  and fine engraved stationery.  Just take a look at the jewelry industry:  Sure, you can buy a knock-off Timex (or Rolex) for $20 from one of the many street vendors in Times Square, but many buyers will think nothing of shelling out $25,000 or more for a Patek Philippe watch.  Why?  They want quality.  Both brands tell time, but only one makes a personal statement.

As I have said before, I don’t have a clue as to what is going on in Crane, but I suspect that the people who work there don’t either.   A company that has been in the “communications” business for over 200 years should certainly have a better message.  It’s dealers and Crane’s legion of loyal buyers of their brand certainly hope so.

Let’s keep the “personal” in personalized stationery.

Richard W. May
Founding Member of the Stationers Guild

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Stationery Industry: The Nail in the Coffin

Friday, April 26th, 2013

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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Don’t be Discouraged: Think Local!

Friday, April 19th, 2013

I realize that there is a lot of  ”gloom and doom” scenarios in the stationery industry, but I remain quite optimistic that the tide is turning.  Sadly, some of the Big Tankers in the industry are slow to recognize the obvious and appear to embracing internet marketing strategies that are no longer fashionable.   Crane’s marriage of convenience with Paperless Post is simply one example of that trend, but I suppose that “Paperless Paper” makes sense to some MBA consultant who is still wet behind the ears.

GPS enabled “Smart Phones” is the current rage.  Why?  Because people are  trying to search locally.  Granted, many are looking for a pizza or perhaps a pair of shoes, but the real point is that they are trying to find businesses in their immediate neighborhood.  In fact, for the past two to three years internet search marketing is focused on local businesses – not online portals.

Google has a huge advantage, but there are many other players scrambling to catch up;  particularly the Yellow Pages which found it difficult to give up their $17 billion in annual autopilot sales to poorly served and hopelessly overcharged local businesses.  This is very good news for the stationery industry and local businesses in general.   Mind you, the devastated retail landscape is still recovering, but business owners who “think local”  and, more importantly, market locally should have a major competitive advantage.

To get an idea of what is going in the area of local search, sign up for one of the many seminars available to explain what you must to to rebuild your local relevancy.  Found below is their sales pitch:

Did you know that 97% of consumers search online when they want to find a local business or service provider? That’s a number worth paying attention to, especially when you consider the many different places they may be looking — sites like Google, Yahoo, and Bing, mobile apps like Apple Maps and Google Maps, directories like Superpages and YP.com, social sites like Yelp and Facebook … the list goes on. As a local business, you can’t afford to be missing from these sites or to have customers directed to the wrong address or phone number.

Now, I have no idea who UBL is (and I won’t be attending the webinar), but I suspect that they want to part you with some of your hard-earned cash.    I have seen many similar webinars.  I suggest that you sign-up for the webinar and listen, but don’t take any action until you have claimed your business on most of the local search registries highlighted on GetListed.org.   Mind you, services like UBL are useful for those who truly don’t want to do anything for themselves, but subscribing to the basic listing services (see below) is always the most cost effective.  FREE is even better if you want to do it yourself.  In this case, a little knowledge is a good thing!

From my perspective, claiming you business on Google and Bing, together with a Facebook Page and a Google+ Page is sufficient to be ahead of 80% of the competition.   If you are a bit adventurous, get a Pinterest account (drop me an email and I will send you an invitation).  Forget about Twitter as most internet marketing people feel that it will fade into oblivion within a couple of years.

Richard W. May
email is rmay@stationersguild.org

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Competitive Pricing and Good Taste

Sunday, April 7th, 2013

A prominent executive from a very well known Public Relations (“PR”) firm walked into our store a couple of weeks ago looking for new corporate stationery. This had the potential of being an attractive and mutually beneficial relationship. Since he was launching a new company, we spent about an hour designing an invitation and announcement for the new firm.

Several days later we received a very nice letter indicating that his firm wanted to give us all of their stationery business “as long as our prices were competitive.” I am sure that many of you have heard similar nonsense and, perhaps, some of you have scrambled to come up with something that is both tasteful and price competitive – at least in your mind.

While it is possible to have an intelligent conversation with your client to evaluate the various price/value tradeoffs, I have personally found that most business executives don’t have the time or interest to consider the tradeoffs. With the exception of a few legal firms, some designers and a handful of financial services firms, most executives are more concerned about functionality  than taste. It’s funny, but firms will spend tens of thousands of dollars on their corporate website or a logo and buy their business cards from Kinkos.

There is no easy way to deal with these clients (sorry about stereotyping), so I generally ask them whether they want their corporate stationery to be “White Castle” hamburger “price-competitive” or something closer to Daniel Boulud’s Burger Royale which clocks in at $99. This generally gets their attention.

I then quickly follow it up with something in their own business sphere: “If I were interested in developing a 5 year advertising program for our business, would your firm be the most price competitive?”Clearly, there is no simple answer to that question.  Likewise, there is no simple answer to what makes personalized stationery or custom invitations “price competitive.”  It depends on what you are comparing them against.

Without a frame of reference (i.e. other paper samples and/or identical printing processes) there is no way to determine whether your recommendations are price competitive.  If you proceed down this slippery path of trying to find “competitively priced” business stationery for your client without a clear guidelines from your client, you are only negotiating against yourself.  My advice:  Don’t waste your time. A sure sign that you are being played is if they don’t have a budget.    Don’t share your expertise with someone a fact-finding mission.

For instance, there is a world of difference between a letterpress wedding invitation from Elum and the dreary wedding invitations offered by Crane on the Paperless Post website.    Is it simply a matter of cost or does style and good taste play a role in an individual’s purchasing decision?

I think the consumer is wise enough to sort through the cost benefit analysis if they are given the proper information.   Sadly, the internet is not the vehicle to display the craftsmanship that goes into making fine stationery:  It’s simply a two-dimensional world of low-resolution images.   While the brand name is important, if it is stacked on the same internet shelf with “Brand X” invitations that look similar, why expect the consumer to pay premium pricing?  Why a 200 year-old firm wants to compromise its acclaimed craftsmanship and elegant design to bottom fish for a “new audience” is simply incomprehensible to those who treasure fine stationery.

Richard May
Founding Member of the Stationers Guild

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Exclusive Bordering Company

Saturday, April 6th, 2013

With many stationers left in the lurch with Crane’s decision to eliminate many of their traditional designs and their incomprehensible pricing strategy for envelope linings and other services, comes a knight in shining armor:  Exclusive Bordering Company.    Their new website has been designed by my good friend, Brian Lawrence of Local Traffic Builder, who knows “a bit” about fine stationery and customer service.

Beveling from Exclusive Bordering Company

Now, I have not yet tested their services, but many in the stationery industry speak positively about the quality of their work and service. This is certainly a very good sign and maybe worth a more informed look.

Envelope Lining from Exclusive Bordering Company

Exclusive Bordering Company will be at the National Stationery Show between May 19th and May 22nd at Booth 2976. I certainly will be dropping by to chat with them and hope many other stationers do also.

If you have been left hanging with Crane focused on developing a “new audience” maybe Exclusive Bordering Company is the answer to your prayers.

Richard W. May
Therese Saint Clair

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Crane, William Arthur and Paperless Post: A Postscript

Friday, April 5th, 2013

As Guild news readers are aware, I have been spinning a tale to try and make sense of  Crane’s marriage to Paperless Post.  Is it true love or simply a marriage of convenience?    There is a tendency – me included – to believe that people behave irrationally or are simply dumb.   We are often influenced by our own self-interests rather than placing ourselves in the other person’s shoes.   Back in the old days we referred to it as “empathy,” but I suspect the current batch of MBAs refer to it as “game theory.”

In any event, one Guild member gave me a phone call yesterday evening and asked me to explain why Crane & Co. acquired William Arthur last year.  At the time, it certainly made no sense to me, but I tried to put on a “happy face” to suggest that this was a good thing for the industry.   Secretly, I had reached the conclusion that Hallmark paid Crane & Co. to take William Arthur off their hands because they planned to close William Arthur and didn’t want any negative repercussions that might tarnish the Hallmark name.  (Editor’s Note:  It makes about as much sense as the asset exchange between Papyrus and American Greetings some years ago.)

Again, I have no inside information but let’s put together a paperless trail that seems  to offer some plausible explanation to the events culminating in the acquisition of William Arthur by Crane in November, 2012.   As dealers may recall, the Vice President of Sales and the Head of PR and advertising resigned within a week of each other in October, 2011.  The President of William Arthur resigned or was fired in the spring of 2012.  Why?

Personally, I believe that all of these executives were painfully aware that Hallmark was not happy with the financial performance of the Maine company and planned to take harsh remedial action in the near future.   Faced with this unpleasantness, all three decided to exit.    Rather than close down William Arthur, Hallmark calculated the costs of doing so and went to Crane & Co. hat in hand and asked them to take over their largest competitor.  In fact, Hallmark would pay Crane to do so! (Editor’s Note:This is not unusual in the M&A  world.   I recall a Dow 30 multinational that paid a liquidator to take a 100%-owned subsidiary off their hands  to avoid the embarrassment of explaining a bankruptcy or liquidation in their annual report).

I am quite sure that the venture capitalists were salivating all over this unexpected development, since it represented an opportunity to create an inflated brand value at no cost to Crane.    Indeed, most of Crane’s new “brand management” team were caught totally off-guard by this development and expressed surprise at “how well run” William Arthur was when they visited it several weeks later.   In my estimation, this sale transpired for reasons that had little – if anything – to do with operating synergy.

Since both Crane and Hallmark are privately owned companies, there was and is no need for either company to explain the details of this transaction to the public.    If effect, Crane integrated its largest competitor under the Crane umbrella while simultaneously destroying the quality of its own brand.   Why?   Because the deal with Paperless Post was already well-advanced and its just as easy to kill two birds with one stone if they are both operating under one roof.

I sincerely hope that this yarn is simply a tale of a raving lunatic, but it is hard to believe that Crane will ever restart its mills in Dalton to produce fine paper.  I fear that the only legacy of Crane’s presence will be the beautiful Paper Museum.  Crane paper is now produced by Neenah and the Paperless Post platform is really not suited for letterpress or engraving, so I suspect that these stunning printing processes will probably be orphaned by Crane’s marriage to Paperless Post.

I don’t plan to write about this sorry subject any further, but would be happy to post any credible rebuttal to this tall tale.  Unfortunately, I suspect it is the hundreds of  loyal Crane dealers who have been played by Crane’s disingenuous management team.  Gosh, who knows, maybe the management team doesn’t have a clue that they too are being played.    As Mark Twain says, “It’s a lot easier to fool people than  convince them that they have been fooled.”  How true.

Richard W. May
Founding Member Stationers Guild

P.S.  These are my own views and I do pretend to represent the views of other stationers, vendors or the stationery industry in general.   I have received no inside information from any source in compiling this tale.  It should be viewed more as an editorial or opinion piece rather than fact.

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