Direct from Market: National Stationery Show
Caroline Kennedy -- Gifts & Dec, May 29, 2012
NEW YORK - Bigger is not always better and the National Stationery Show, held at the Javits Convention Center, is proof of that. Although the show was considerably smaller than it has been in previous years, what it lacked in quantity, it made up for in quality. The mood of the show was bright and most exhibitors to whom we spoke reported having a good show by writing good business and/or making good contacts. Buyer attendance was up slightly over last year's show, which is a good sign.
Two major events book-ended the opening day: The Future Conference, which kicked off the day, and the LOUIE Awards, which closed out the day. The Future Conference, entitled the "Social Stationery: What's New, What's Next?" looked at the links between the digital world and how it will impact the future of stationery and featured industry experts from Twitter, American Greetings, Crane & Co. and the Wall Street Journal. The speakers addressed how consumers' connection to social media, whether it's Pinterest, Facebook or Twitter, are impacting the paper world across multiple platforms from stationery design and messaging to the way manufacturers market and retailers promote paper goods. All are playing a role in how consumers connect to one another and where paper goods fit in to their digitized lives, particularly the Millennial or Gen-Y generation.
The LOUIE Awards display in the lobby mirrored the circus theme of this year's event: The Greatest Cards on Earth
"Even though they live in a digital world, they also see a role for paper products," said Kelly Ricker, executive director of product development, American Greetings. Despite the fact that they're online most of their time, Millennials (adults born on or after 1979) write more than any other generation and are tired of the impersonal nature of social media, according to Ricker, so when they need to get a special message across, they want something more authentic: paper.
The Greeting Card Association's annual LOUIE Awards were presented on Sunday evening honoring winners in 64 categories and two Cards of the Year. It was a gala evening to network and celebrate excellence in design and innovation.
Adapting to the New Technologies
Innovation is one of the qualities noted, as stationery companies adapt to new applications as well as the changes in lifestyles and communication to stay relevant. Personalization has long been a popular and key element in stationery—at a cost. Today's advances in technology make it easier and more affordable for retailers to offer personalized papers and other products at affordable price points.
Rag and Bone Bindery
Companies such as Marvel Press and Jaymo offer a variety of products, from iPhone cases to travel mugs, that can be personalized with photos, names or artwork. Jaymo's system allows a retailer to sell a DIY personalization kit to a customer who then is able to create their own personalized item at home. Marvel Press on the other hand is a custom print-on-demand fulfillment service for retailers with a large list of available products. They can produce a single item or many with no minimums or set up fees. The Pampered Pixel creates beautifully bound, custom photo albums and memory books digitally printed with a customer's own photos. Checkerboard is providing retailers a way to bridge the convenience of online wedding invitation services with custom printed invitations and coordinated personalized accessories through its new Fusion Invitation Suites album. The service includes online guest list management and envelope addressing. Rag & Bone Bindery now offers personalized covers on its hand-bound albums.
QR codes were much in evidence around the show and used for different purposes. Allie Munroe had a QR code on the wall of her booth that would take the scanner to her website. Pixies & Porcupines has a QR code on its order form that will take one to the company's online catalog. The Occasions Group previewed Qvites, an invitation album that incorporates QR codes on response cards. The album will be available in early 2013. Greeting card company Oh My Word has incorporated a QR code into some of the designs in its card line. The code provides the recipient with a more in-depth greeting than the simple message on the inside of the card. Crane is also incorporating QR codes into its invitation offerings for the modern bridal couple. QR codes were also noted on several different business cards, as well as our own show badges!
QR Code in Allie Munroe's booth
Notes on Journals
One would think that with the popularity of online blogs, that diaries and journals would be a thing of the past, or at least decline in popularity. Fiorentina's Brett Carter, whose company imports beautiful journals from Italy, commented that this was something that he thought was going to happen to his business, and he has been pleasantly surprised at how the category has remained stable, if not strengthened. Fiorentina debuted a patent leather collection that includes a journal as well as pencil cases, a portfolio and passport holder.
Life + Style
And across the show floor, journals were very much in evidence as part of coordinated paper lines or on their own. Companies are providing different designs in journals to appeal to a wide range of customers and fun themed ones, some with novelty elements, to attract the younger audience. Paperblanks introduced the Ori collection with its contemporary design cover that has a 3D effect. British import Aninotes introduced a collection of journal notebooks that have animated pages when flipped through—like a flip book. Another British import, From You to Me debuted its journal/memory books for preserving and passing on familymoments and memories. Life + Style offered a collection of different themed "I'm All About" (Art, Purple, Food, etc.) journals in a bright rainbow range of covers for the writer to express themselves.
Partyware is returning to the specialty category. Meri Meri continues to lead the parade with innovative accessories that make a celebration special. This market its Brave Knight medieval castle centerpiece was a standout. Others entering the category in different degrees are Shannon Martin (paper plates to complement her beverage napkins); Linnea Designs (plates, napkins, guest towels), Galison/Mudpuppy (party packs, banners, placecards), Lifeguard Press (acrylic drinkware and melamine serveware). Design Design remains strong in this category and introduced three new collections for holiday entertaining.
Canines and Felines
We continue to have soft hearts and be drawn to our pet friends. And stationery artists draw inspiration from them, especially for greeting cards. Avanti continues to lead the pack with its cat, dog and other animal humorously Photoshopped and greeted. The company is striving to increase its retail presence by offering larger program merchandising statements.
I Can Has Cheezburger?
I Can Has Cheezburger? drew smiles with its new mood charts for desktop. Two Alley Cats stopped traffic with its video showing how the real model cats were dressed up (not Photoshopped) for the photo shoots that became the card covers. The Adventures of Mirabelle is a card line (and soon to be released book series) about a charming Boston Terrier. From Frank debuted its humorous, slightly off-color greetings based on the artist's French bulldog. This new company garnered a LOUIE Award nomination. And Graviss Studios' Debbie Graviss turns her dog, cat and other animal portrait art into delightful cards, calendars and prints.
The Sarut Group
Since this is an election year, it was no surprise that some election related lines were on display, some patriotically designed to have a life beyond the election season. Meri Meri offered banners and other red, white and blue flag themed party accessories. Meri Meri's CEO Jeff Shalk noted that the company's Jubilee themed items (Queen Elizabeth's 60th anniversary on the throne) were a big hit in the U.K., but the U.S. patriotic items have been slower to catch on. Design Design also offered items featuring the elephant and donkey mascots of the political parties on red and blue party accessories. The Sarut Group known for its humorous giftwares showcased Presidential Teas, VoTEA Election 2012, with the tea bags bearing images of political figures.
Many stationery companies are diversifying from paper and expanding into giftwares—melamine, kitchen accessories, fashion accessories, tech accessories and even home decor. While this is not an entirely new direction, it seems to be a growing trend toward more "lifestyle" collections. Checkerboard introduced custom home decor—pillows and wall art—items that are part of its Fusion Invitation Suites line. Anna Griffin continues to expand her collections with coordinating magnet boards, stationery gift sets and frames, as well as totes and bags, cosmetic cases and more. R. Nichols introduced a collection of candles bearing his whimsical artwork. Tastement took its LOUIE finalist card design and put it on an apron and iPhone and iPad case. Enormous Champion showcased The Kingdom Animalia collection of wooden animal silhouette figures that come gift-boxed and labeled "Not a Toy." Anne Taintor continues to expand her line with new tea towels and melamine appetizer plates. Lifeguard Press continues to grow its Jonathan Adler, Lilly Pulitzer and Dylan's Candy Bar giftable lines with tech accessories.
And of course there were many other noteworthy offerings, including new card lines from Keepsakes by Faith, Wildlife Greetings and Tamera Lawrence's Mobile Whimsy. Ecojot added its first greeting cards and giftwrap to its offerings. Bob's Your Uncle introduced a range of products featuring images of roadside signs taken on a five-week cross country backroads road trip by company owners Martin and Michele Yeeles. Elum introduced punch-out letterpress holiday cards—the Christmas card forms a gingerbread house and the Hanukkah card creates a 3D menorah. Eccolo introduced its first stationery collections with three botanical themes and three European themes. Say It With Book Covers is a novel way to make a statement (puns intended); the set of book covers, when stacked in order, not only protect a book but form a quote.
Of This and That
Fiorentina is now representing the Pinetti line of upscale desk accessories. OfficeMax was an unexpected exhibitor at the show. The big box retailer was there to show its exclusive, affordable priced brands available to the independent retailer. Divoga is a fashionable collection of office products, and Tul, is a line of writing instruments and accessories that are affordably priced.
Design Design has a new chief marketing officer, Phil Cowley. Cowley joined the company shortly before the NSS.
Burton + Burton created buzz across the show floor by giving away the My Own Pet Balloons. Buyers and exhibitors alike could be seen walking the pet balloons in all shapes and forms around the show.
In all, the National Stationery Show is proof positive that, contrary to rumors of the opposite, paper continues to rule as a valid means of communication and greeting cards, stationery and invitations are still as important for communicating sentiments and celebrating life's special occasions as ever. For the retailer serious about choosing the right paper and card lines to sell in their stores, the National Stationery Show is THE place to shop, since many exhibitors do not show their lines at any other shows. —Tina Benitez contributed to this article.
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