Part of our mission at Team 624 Communications, is to help small creative businesses thrive – whether that’s through a more strategic use of social media, beautiful stand-out content or traditional PR efforts. We especially love working with brands in the gift and stationery industries, and to best serve our clients in that space, we often connect with like-minded professionals who are also interested in supporting these creative entrepreneurs. We were lucky enough to interview Sarah Schwartz, Editor-in-Chief of Stationery Trends Magazine, Trends Editor at Gift Shop Magazine and Editor of The Paper Chronicles blog, about how she sees the state of the industry and what brands can do to stand out. In all of her roles, she celebrates the people and products that make our world a little more fun. If there is anyone who knows this industry, it’s Sarah, so we hope you enjoy her perspective!
Wow, where to start with this one? There has been so much said about this — and by others far more eloquent than I — but to me, it goes way beyond an industry’s survival.
Quite simply, paper endures over time in a way that digital communications never will. A birthday card from a beloved parent or grandparent who is no longer alive resonates in a way that even a photograph cannot capture. Handwriting and the messages themselves capture a moment in time unlike anything else. As for invitations, they are printed expressions of a milestone like a wedding or a graduation— how many of these do any of us have over a lifetime? These are moments to be captured, cherished and preserved in print for posterity.
Where do you think the industry stands right now? Do you think there is more or less of an interest among consumers for these products now compared to other periods in time?
The industry is constantly changing, and change is always scary. While people don’t send greeting cards for example like they used to, I don’t think the news is all bad.
Take invitations— not too long ago, custom designs were almost always sold out of albums shopped in physical stores. While some of that remains — there will always be a market for engraved Crane’s wedding invitations, however small — that segment has become maker-driven, spurred by Instagram and Pinterest. This is bad news for more corporate invitationers —but very good for indie designers. So, the interest is still there — but the purchasing medium has transformed.
When you ask about consumers, I think knowing which consumers you are referring to is key. For decades, card-buying was driven by Baby Boomers — who last year, were overtaken by Millennials in total card spend, according to American Greetings research. So, the medium is changing — Millennials communicate differently, they send cards differently, so the landscape is transforming. Those who don’t adapt go the way of the Edsel.
Having covered the industry for 20 years, you’ve probably seen a lot of trends come and go. What are some of the current trends you’re noticing right now, and what do you retailers looking for?
I think the touch of the hand is driving so many trends these days, and that is a response to our digitized and often impersonal world (interestingly, that desire for all things artisanal is driving stationery amongst Millennials, who have grown up with texting and emails and are looking to differentiate their communications.) So whether it is calligraphy, edge-painting or letterpress, these are different expressions of the same urge. Usually any given design or product trend with real staying power speaks to an element of a larger cultural current.
That being said, retailers are looking for distinctive product that speaks to their clientele that is not readily available everywhere — that has always been true — but most good ones (that is, the ones that stay open) know their customers and have an innate sense of what will move in their space. They typically have an aesthetic they are loyal to — even if it doesn’t fully overlap with their own. I have heard retailers talk about the necessity of passing up product they genuinely personally like because it doesn’t fit in with the vibe of the rest of their offerings, or their customers wouldn’t get it.
What makes a new brand stand out to you?
Usually one of several things, ideally in combination. A fun new brand should feel distinctive in terms of what’s already out there and not look like anyone else. It should have a ring of authenticity to it — that is, it should feel honest, not for show or showy. Sentiments should feel natural to its audience, garnering a “why didn’t I think of that” response — but not be so avant-garde that it only speaks to a limited audience (while that can sometimes be a good thing, it can be challenging to be too ahead of the grain). This is by no means easy, but I do think that there are a lot of makers out there creating product that’s a lot more interesting and clever than what I’ve seen in years past.
What are some of the most common mistakes you see up and coming brands make?
Here’s a few:
- Not offering anything new, in regards to what is already out there available for purchase.
- Trying to be all things to all people. Find an aesthetic and an audience and stick to it.
- Putting out too big a product range. Every release should be thoughtfully considered.
- Not telling a story with the range, as well as the backstory, of the maker and range itself.
- Not paying attention to a culture moving towards (broadly speaking) sustainability, utility and cause-related products (where a portion of profits goes to charity). Consumers want to feel their purchase is responsibly made and is making a difference to someone, somewhere, and serves a purpose other than collecting dust.
- Finally, especially in stationery, be nice to your wholesale clients, fellow makers and every last customer. That may fly elsewhere, but stationery is a very friendly industry — mean girls and boys tend to not stick around.
What role do you think social media should play for someone looking to stand out in the stationery or gifts industry?
Done right, social media helps makers tell their stories. It can bring the people behind a brand to life and charm fans as it enchants new ones. I think the real challenge is telling that story well (and, apparently, having lots of good hashtags).
What do you think makes the perfect gift?
Any gift that thoughtfully considers the recipient. So, no gift cards! Gift-givers who think about the person’s everyday life, challenges and passions and seek to give them something that speaks to all that — well, they’re the kind of people I want as friends! Add a nicely written card and great giftwrap, and with any luck the recipient will pay it forward.
Color? I’m very fickle about this depending on season and current mood. I thought this was unique to me until my daughter had a list of maybe 10 favorite colors she’d rattle off at age five. Right now, I would say it’s deeper shades of blue — I just redid my home office in Magnolia Paint Blue Skies, so it’s my favorite, but honestly, that could change at any moment.
Font? I really love Selfie and elegant scripts with a touch of retro. We’re about to redesign Stationery Trends, so I’m actually on a quest for my next new favorite script.
Food? Mexican, all the way — rice & beans speak to my most-0f-the-time vegetarianism, and I’m a hard-core guacamole addict (with no recovery in sight).
Vacation Spot? Anywhere with a beach and a book.
Instagram Feed? When my 11-year-old wanted an IG account, I said yes — provided I could monitor it. Now I follow most of her friends as well, and I have to say, I really enjoy watching life through their eyes. When it comes to non-momming accounts, I geek out to @lorrainenam @violetclair + @ emilymcdowell_
Podcast? I’m one of those 20th century throwbacks who don’t listen to these. I know, I know, so embarrassing!
Place to Shop? In my town, it’s Kate Spade, hands down; otherwise, I’ll go anywhere my good friend Elana of thewardrobeconsultant.com is willing to meet me — she makes finding pieces I can’t live without easy and even fun!