Product, regardless of category, should have an element of utility to it— especially in today’s economy. With minimal discretionary dollars for consumers to spend in specialty stores, this makes it all the more important for retailers to focus on just that — stationery and related products that are fun and functional, useful and unique.
Products that let the user take a bit of a break from the digital hype of today and write a letter, fill out a journal or keep a calendar as a year-long reminder of their purchase can be beneficial to retailers if marketed correctly.
Even though many people use a digital device to schedule appointments, we all use either a pen or a pencil at some point every day, whether planning our grocery list or to-do lists,” said Melissa Schenkel of Vera Bradley. “It’s about making everyday items functional but with a little bit of fun. People do use them every day, so why not offer a pretty option?”
More Than Paper
It can be easy for retailers to overlook the power of simplicity and practicality. Unlike typical souvenirs, stationery and related items — such as stamps, journals and planners — are useful in many ways and can serve as a personal purchase, an add-on gift or the gift itself. Since people may already be buying these items out of necessity, it makes sense to offer them an attractive option with personal aesthetic. In other words, utility is a great selling point.
“Stationery is definitely an unexplored avenue of sales for many retailers,” said Amberlea Barnes of Frazzled and Bedazzled. “Consumers are tired of ‘dustables’ and are clearing the clutter from their hectic lives, so giving a functional and consumable gift such as stationery makes perfect sense.”
It’s a simple, yet useful indulgence that doesn’t take up space, have to be dusted or require maintenance. And because gifts that will get used by the recipient are seen as a better way to spend what discretionary dollars shoppers may have, many manufacturers are expanding their lines so retailers can expand their options.
Johnnie Scoutten of CatArt Cards knows his note cards fall into a bit of a unique category, as they’re not message cards, per se, but rather features of his fine art illustrations. To accent this, he has expanded the line past paper products and now features plaques, pendants and tote bags. As a full line of offerings, this has extended his reach to some additional types of retailers, who can then extend their reach to some additional types of customers.
“Cards themselves also work as a unique keepsake or gift when put in a frame,” added Krista Ohlsen of Quotable Cards. “In fact, some of our customers sell 5-inch by 5-inch frames next to our card displays, and customers love it!”
Trish Naudon Thomas of Ray Hooper Design has found that their targeted market enjoys having a stash of blank cards that fit all occasions, so their Note & Enclosure cards are blank inside specifically for utility purposes.
“We believe the waste generated from specially designed holiday cards will continue to be overwhelming economically for both retailers and consumers alike,” Thomas said. “With blank cards, we can sell all year without the worry of a specific holiday.”
While every store should ideally carry at least a minimal selection of greeting cards, stationery and pens, the addition of accessories — fold over note cards for thank you notes and personal correspondence, magnetic list pads, pocket notebooks, planners, calendars, etc.— are an easy way to cross merchandise and increase sales.
Lesley Upton from PSA Essentials recommends that every one of their clients have a personalized stamp unit in their store, as it opens up the customer to the whole line of products, such as note cards, calling cards, enclosure cards, luggage tags and many other accessories.
“Since a consumer only needs one stamp body, they can use a personalized stamp die with their return address for invites, holiday cards, thank yous, luggage tags, etc.,” Upton said. “They can use a personalized stamp repeated around the outside and monogram in the center to add a personal touch to note cards, stationery, baked goods, books, etc.”
When you show the utility, you show the benefit of the purchase. Upton suggests retailers come up with fun ideas on how to use stamps and display them for the customers to see. Tag a bottle of wine or a batch of cookies, create a scrapbook page or make a business card. The versatility makes the product both a great gift to give and to receive.
But what will people be looking to give and receive in 2010? Since Ray Hooper Design is situated across the street from the Fashion Institute of Technology, Thomas noted that there’s a clear correlation between the fashion world and the stationery world.
“At this time we are seeing more and more environmentally friendly and recycled clothes lines,” Thomas said. “This trend definitely affected our product development, and as of now, Ray Hooper Design only creates eco-friendly products meeting the criteria for FSC, PEFC and Rainforest Certification, as well as working with the SmartWay Program, dedicated to minimizing fuel usage.”
Along with a lot of violet/purple this year, Upton has noticed bright colors and bold patterns increasing in popularity, while noting that black and white is timeless and will always be a good seller. Barnes agreed, adding that damask and polka dot patterns continue to be strong, with a predicted resurgence in floral patterns.
As was the case in 2009, initial merchandise is still popular, as it’s a personal gift available right off the shelf. And with initials, retailers have the option of offering something that is personalized, but not customized, meaning it may appeal to a wider group of consumers.
And how you display the product will affect just how it appeals to consumers. Schenkel recommends keeping each category of product together to help make a statement.
“Some of our most important products are pens, pencils, binder clips, one or two kinds of journals, and note cards — all items that can be used as gifts or for personal use,” she said. “In addition, some small items are a good fit right at the cash register counter.”
Scoutten also encourages placement near the register to serve as impulse purchases, and found that he garnered additional sales by offering larger blank notes as individually sleeved notes.
“With the single-sleeved postcards,” Scoutten added, “I offer tied bundled sets of six (one of each portrait) and encourage retailers to use them as an up-sell.”
Counter and wall displays are small and easier to fit into a small store, but don’t forget about the use of manufacturer display programs, as they can showcase the product to its advantage and keeps things organized. And organization is key, as seeing several ideas on display may inspire the customer to come up with their own new and creative ways to use the product.
“Successful stores first construct an atmosphere with furniture and overall decor, fitting the products into it to create a more personal experience,” Thomas said. “When stores do this, it’s tough to tell if they have a large or small inventory and it keeps the customer intrigued and browsing longer.”
The longer they stay in the store, the greater the opportunity to point out exactly what it is they not only need, but what they may want. And profits are a useful product for everyone involved. “