Latest trends in fine stationery, custom invitations and announcements from the Stationers Guild

I have always been a big fan of Holly Bretschneider.  She is enthusiastic, intelligent and, in my estimation, a few steps ahead of most of her fellow stationers – me included!   I was recently invited to join her Wedding Marketing Blueprint Program, which Holly believes will help you increase your wedding business, but, more importantly, do so more efficiently.

While I don’t plan to take Holly’s wedding program, I was interested in her take on “home dealers” and “coupons” from vendors that make her program more affordable.

Holly intends to offer her Wedding Marketing Blueprint Program to home dealers.  She claims that, in the past, home dealers offended her, but she now believes that “collaboration” seems appropriate to support the stationery industry.    Cynically, one can argue that you want to cast your net as wide as possible if you are promoting an online marketing program.   While I quite agree with Holly that “embracing the competition” is probably the right way to go for an individual entrepreneur or small business owner, I fail to see how this strategy will protect the stationery industry.

Let’s face it:  The internet and photoshop empowers anyone to become a wedding invitation “expert.”  (Note: I once mistakenly sat in on a Wedding Planner seminar at the National Stationery Show and sadly discovered that 90% of those attending were cross-selling Carlson Craft wedding invitations.  Talk about integrity!)

With competition expanding at an exponential rate, the National Stationery Show (“NSS”) has grown smaller each year.   Funny, with the exception of a few wedding portals, the Internet Boutiques are not represented at the NSS.  Holly is just plain wrong if she believes that more competition is good for the stationery industry.

There are close to 50 million search results on Google for the search term “wedding invitations” and the top three organic listings are for Wedding Paper Divas, Zazzle and Magnet Street.   Whether you are a bricks-and-mortar store or a home-dealer, the odds of making an online marketing dent (appear on the first page of Google) are truly stacked against you, regardless of how educational Holly’s Wedding Marketing Blueprint Program is.

My intent here is not to talk about the relevancy of Holly’s program.  Each dealer must make that determination on factors that may have more to do with lifestyle than competition.  What I really want to address is the changing landscape of the fine stationery industry and how many of the leading brands (our vendors) have paved the road to their own destruction.   Sadly, many dealers will be taken down by the ineptitude, greed and tunnel vision of their vendors.  I liken it to being on board the Titanic without a lifeboat.

In simple economic terms:  the higher the available quantity, the lower the price.   The stationery market is saturated with low quality products produced by commercial printers and/or  inexpensive ink-jet and laser printers.  While letterpress invitations are still relatively strong, I have been told by vendors that the engraving business is off almost 90%!

Why?  Consumers do not see the “value” in letterpress or engraved printing based on low-resolution internet images.  The deciding factor is price, not value.    In fact, many vendors who in times past sold quality stationery have now responded to the “new demographics” and are producing cheaper designs – printed on low quality paper – in the hope that their “brand name” will lead to increased volume and revenue.  This is a recipe for disaster.  Neither the consumer nor the industry is well-served by this strategy.

Now, I often come off as a curmudgeon when discussing fine stationery, but as I tell my wife each year when we attend the National Gift Show:  ”So much s__t and so little time to see it.”  Fortunately, the NSS is now so small that most of the garbage and insipid designs have long since disappeared.  Nevertheless, this is a great opportunity to celebrate fine papers, beautiful printing techniques and truly original designs.  Sadly, many paid morons are running around tweeting about “trends” at the NSS rather than learning how fine stationery is made.

What does it all mean?  I do not have a crystal ball, but printing companies – both large and small – who nurture their brand  will survive and hopefully prosper.   Companies that compromise their brand to chase the price demographics of social media connoisseurs  will soon disappear.   Experienced stationers who have long protected and promoted the leading brands will soon throw in the towel since they no longer feel comfortable representing vendors who seem to be following a different path to “prosperity.”

What emerges from this transformation of the stationery industry is something that few of us can predict.   I suppose a market reversal will occur once the consumer realizes that “cheap” is not worth the paper it is printed on.

Richard W. May
Founding Member of the Stationers Guild

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