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

Saturday, January 18th, 2014

Many stationers I meet complain that their clients have deserted them for the convenience of the Internet.  When I  ask how they are marketing their bricks-and-mortar store on Twitter, Facebook or Pinterest, they stare at me as if I were some sort of Poltergeist up to no good.   Indeed, many stationery store owners are reluctant to dive into the online social media scene which appears to be destroying their business.

Presumably, these stationers are more comfortable spending several hundred dollars a year in Yellow Pages advertising because “this is what we have always done” even though no one reads the Yellow Pages anymore.

It may seem surprising, but I have little interest in trolling for friends in social media channels.  In fact, I hate it.  Nevertheless, establishing a credible online social media presence is CRITICAL TO THE SURVIVAL OF A SMALL BUSINESS!

Mind you, I no longer care to harp about this much more, but EVERY STATIONERY STORE OWNER should have the following online marketing channels:

  • a website (you can build one for FREE with WordPress)
  • a Twitter account (also FREE)
  • a Facebook Page (also FREE)
  • a Pinterest account (also FREE)
  • a LinkedIn account if you intend to connect with other industry experts (also FREE) and, most importantly,
  • a Google+ account (requires a Google email account but is FREE)!

Now you can hire someone to set these accounts up for you on for pocket change, but I would probably invest a long weekend with your daughter and/or son and try and do it yourself.

Now many stationery store owners have already established these accounts, but are simply unable or unwilling to put in the necessary effort (about 30 minutes a day) to help promote their business.  I feel your pain, since it isn’t much fun.  In fact, at times it can be quite frustrating and boring, particularly making silly comments on your social media accounts.  If cyber engagement is beneath your level of tolerance for the inane,  you can hire someone in the Philippines to do it for a song at

Now, I have discovered one tool called EMPIRE AVENUE which is more like a game to help market your business and give you insights into what serious online marketing people are doing to promote their activities.  It is also FREE (with some paid upgrades) but rather painless to use and easily allows you to track your “social marketing” skills and acquire a lot of knowledge of what others are doing.   I just started tinkering around with EMPIRE AVENUE in December and have learned “buckets” in a very compelling and engaging way.

Give it a go!

Richard W. May
Founding Member Stationers Guild

Wednesday, June 26th, 2013

For a variety of well documented reasons previously outlined in this forum, I have been giving a lot of thought to the evolution of the stationery industry.   I suppose that most of you have too!

There is no reason to think that my views are any better than others looking at the same crystal ball, but I am convinced that internet marketing will change radically over the next twelve months.   From my perspective, few vendors fully appreciate the significance of the changes that have taken place in internet marketing strategies following Google’s release of the Penguin and Panda search algorithm.  In fact, many of our vendors are pursuing internet strategies that may have been relevant two to three years ago, but hardly make sense today.   In fact, it may help to explain some of the silly decisions that have occurred recently.

There is no reason why any of this should make sense to you – or be of particular interest – but if you are relying on your vendors to make the “right” decisions to support your business strategy, forget it!   They don’t have a clue.   Their online marketing strategies are likely to be counterproductive and eventually destructive to their brand.

Social engagement has become far more important to promote your brand and business and many new tools are emerging that can help you do so without relying on your vendors for support.  In fact, with a little effort experienced dealers can become an authority spokesperson in their  local market and/or market niche by focusing on quality and excellence and disseminating the message efficiently through proper social channels.

Right now, I do not have the time – or energy – to share all of these great new developments with you, but several things appear evident:

  • Google + will become a far more important marketing platform than Facebook within the next 12 to 18 months;
  • Twitter is no longer a useful platform for social engagement and to promote your brand;
  • Scoop.It and Pinterest are far more relevant – and fun – resources to promote your business;
  • Curated content – which can be automated through RSS feeds – is far more timely and relevant than blogging;
  • Vendors should be paying dealers to promote their brand rather than obliging us to purchase their albums.

In short, brands that want to be perceived as having value to the consumer should work with their existing dealers to encourage them to promote their brands online.  It’s a win-win situation for both parties, but few Vendors realize it today.   I suspect that most won’t wake up until it is too late, but dealers have the time to act.  Will they?

Richard May
Founding Member Stationers Guild

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, 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   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 [email protected]

Friday, January 25th, 2013

A couple of years ago at the National Stationery Show, I had the opportunity to chat with a number of independent engravers whose businesses had been totally decimated by a combination of factors as consumers flocked to social media platforms to share their personal baggage with “friends” who claimed to be interested.

Mind you, I am not a Luddite or a snob – at least my imaginary dog agrees with me – but there is a tangible difference between a business card from VistaPrint or Kinko’s and an engraved business card printed on 96 lb stock.   Does the card really make the man or woman?  Of course not, but if I’m hiring I’d rather see an engraved business card and printed resume than someone’s Facebook page.

After looking at the creativity and bold designs of these master engravers, I was convinced that hundreds of years of beautiful printing would soon disappear under the unrelenting assault of tweets signifying nothing.   Fortunately, some of these craftspeople managed to persevere under great financial stress and I am delighted to report that there are signs (albeit small glimmers) that consumers are beginning to tire of the flat printing and insipid designs that characterize most invitations and stationery on the Internet.

Following an article published several days ago by the Stationers Guild, I am delighted to report that Arzberger has received a number of calls for engraved wedding and Bar Mitzvah invitations.  Perhaps, the cloud is lifting and consumers are rediscovering the beauty and craftsmanship that goes into making fine stationery and custom invitations.  I certainly hope so.  To me – and I am exaggerating slightly – it is similar to seeing an original piece of art at a gallery rather than a post card representation.

My fingers are crossed that Arzberger’s business will grow exponentially and that they will  continue to develop this craft which has such important historical and cultural antecedents and traditions.

Richard W. May
Founding Member of the Stationers Guild

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

As Guild readers are aware, I have had mixed opinions on the value of social media tools to market local businesses.  Let me correct that:  Marketing your bricks-and-mortar business effectively requires you to use social media tools. The issue is to identify what tools make the most sense given your time constraints, limited budget and technical knowledge.

There are literally thousands of options available, but as far as I am concerned, there are only really three things that you really need to do and none of them require building or maintaining a website:

  1. Setup a Facebook Business Page – It’s Free!
  2. Setup a Google + Local Page – It’s Free!
  3. Develop an effective email strategy to existing clients.  I recommend MailChimp.  Relatively inexpensive and very powerful.
  4. (Optional) Setup a WordPress Blog that effectively works like a Website – It’s almost Free!

Facebook Page

I have been reluctant to embrace Facebook because of it’s apparent superficiality.  Nothing could be further from the truth. Facebook simply has the best set of tools and applications to promote your bricks and mortar business. Furthermore, its local targeting tools are far better and more effective than most any other form of traditional advertising (forget about Yellow Pages and newspapers!).    Better yet, you can market your business effectively without the need of a website.

You simply need to do two things:  Set up a Profile (that is you as a person, i.e. Jane Doe) and then set up your Business Page (i.e. J.D. Fine Stationery).  It is critically important to keep both roles separate (Facebook has a number of security tools to allow you to do this), but you can do much with your Business Page to market your business to your targeted audience.   Because the huge number of options available, Facebook is not easy to master and I would strongly advise hiring someone to help you get it up and running.  For those who prefer the hands-on approach, I would recommend the Lynda Online Training Course or the more expensive Social Media Marketing University (sign up for the SMMU webinar for Facebook and see what I mean).   For those looking for qualified help to setup your Facebook Profile and Page, I recommend ODesk.

Google+ Local

Look, I think Google has been great for local businesses, but has recently lost its way.  Certainly, Google+ Local is an attempt to recoup space that it has lost to Facebook.  With over two-thirds of the search market, you simply can’t ignore the reach of Google.  Click on this link and read the article and download your Free copy on how to setup your Google+ Page.

Email Marketing

Your client list is your most important asset.  Use it wisely and you will reach your clients with useful news that will bring them to your store.  I have used many email marketing platforms like Constant Contact and AWeber, but I have found MailChimp to offer the best value.  Take it out for a spin and/or sign-up for one or their useful webinars.

Have a great holiday season.

Richard W. May
Thérèse Saint Clair

Tuesday, July 12th, 2011

I have just participated in a brief interactive tour of Google+ or Google Plus, which is Google’s new social media platform which will be launched shortly to compete with Facebook.    Unfortunately, I was not on the short list to Beta test Google+ so I really can’t comment on how effective it will be in reshaping the social media arena.

Nevertheless, most of the techies seem to think it will be big.  If you are new to the social media game or simply reluctant to jump into the arena, I suggest that  you give Google+ a chance, because it incorporates many other local search features (Google Places) that are critical to the success of small businesses.

Let’s face it, Google has been helping small businesses develop a presence on the internet for FREE for a number of years.  From my perspective, they have done more to encourage local business owners to stake a claim in cyberspace  than any other company.  The addition of the social media component (Google+) to Google Places is a very powerful marketing tool for local store owners.  Doesn’t it make sense to invest a little time and find out how claiming your business can help you?  It’s FREE and well worth your effort.

Mind you, I like Facebook, but Google has a lot more going for it than becoming a fan of Kim Kardashian.    While it’s best to have a foot in both camps, I’d jump into Google+ as soon as it is launched.

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

For the last several years, I have attended practically every seminar offered by the National Stationery Show that had to do with website design, e-commerce and social media marketing.   While I have found some seminars to be quite useful, I have often felt that the information provided was either too basic for many in the audience and, at other times, simply overwhelming for those seeking a few tips on how to promote their business online.

As such, I was not expecting much as I sat down to listen to Rafael Mael of talk about social marketing.  Boy, was I in for a surprise.  This was simply the best presentation I have heard on this complex subject and I am quite sure that those who were fortunate to attend would share my assessment.  Well done Mr. Mael and tell your wife that we all thought you did a great job!

The goal of Mr. Mael’s presentation was to give us five very valuable insights on how to tackle social media.  His objective was to teach us how “to engage successfully with a minimum of effort” so we could get back to our “real life” with family and friends.  As one who spends far too much time in front of a monitor, I find this to be a most worthwhile objective.   After all, a real person is far more engaging than a Twitter “follower” or a Facebook “friend” – at least they should be!

I am going to list his 5 Rules (which he  supported with useful examples of what he was discussing) with a minimum of fanfare unless I think it is required:

  1. Optimize Everything – This Rule mainly covered website design in which he emphasized that “less is more.”  A simple design pattern that tracks “proven” website reading patterns (the “z” effect) works best.    Fully agree, and my next website will reflect that look and functionality.
  2. Give your audience what they want –  Your audience seeks two things:  stuff that is “interesting,” and stuff that is “free.”  Mr. Mael was interesting and entertaining and passed out many FREE gifts.
  3. Automate Everything –  He gave us tools to automate NOW: and tools to automate LATER: is used to communicate the arrival of new products and “new” news, which is used to schedule communication to social media outlets that are known in advance.
  4. Use Video:  YouTube is the second largest search engine after Google.  There are plenty of activities in your store that attract interest.  For instance, one video received some 14,000 views on how to wrap a gift.
  5. Where do you Start? – Start with the end result in mind and reverse engineer the process.  In other words, envision where you want to be and then work out the details to determine how you can get there in the most efficient way possible.

Following the presentation, Mr. Mael stayed around to give those that were interested a 10-minute one-on-one.

Thank you Mr. Mael and thank you organizers for finding this most engaging speaker.

Richard W. May
Therese Saint Clair

Monday, February 7th, 2011

I was reflecting recently on events in Egypt and how Twitter and Facebook seem to be organizing tools for Egyptian citizens seeking greater political, social and economic  freedoms.    While one certainly is stirred by the events in Cairo and elsewhere in Egypt, I am skeptical that Twitter is the ultimate “democracy tool” that many in the media seem so happy to embrace.  I mean, how many people can afford a smart phone in Egypt with average wages of $2 a day?   Also, while I would love to believe that people are tweeting about such as topics as “democracy,” “individual rights,” “health care reform,” or “the environment,” Twitter trends suggest something radically different.  Found below are the top ten Twitter trends for February 7th, 2011:

The top 10 most talked about topics on Twitter on February 7 at 7:30 AM GMT are:

1. #superbowl (promoted)

2. #idontunderstandwhy (new)

3. #aristegui (new)

4. Gary Moore (new)

5. FEMME FATALE (unchanged)

6. Green & Yellow (unchanged)

7. MVS (new)

8. Puppy Bowl (new)

9. Robert Kubica (new)

10. National Anthem (new)

While these are no doubt important topics for many Americans, it is unlikely going to cause politicians or big business to alter the way they do business or even break into a sweat.   I mean, who is going to fault Christina Aguilera for not getting the words to the National Anthem correct at the Super Bowl?  Fergie (whoever that is) certainly isn’t.   To paraphrase a tongue-in-cheek British organizational manual,  “think small and the big things will take care of themselves.”  Let’s face it, Twitter is more about entertainment than education or communication, so let’s stop pretending that it reflects the will of the people.

When I think back to the passionate discussions of “life,” “love,” “peace,” and “war” during the Viet Nam era, I can’t help but be reminded that these discussions often took place in bars and cafes that somewhat resembled the scene in ABC Cafe in Les Miserables.  In ABC Cafe students were gathering to man the barricades in Paris in a call to social action while Marius was professing his love for Closette (Red and Black).   In contrast to Les Miserables, see the young woman below describe the benefits of WiFi at Starbucks:

Starbucks WiFi en Yahoo! Video

I would like to think that those in Starbucks sipping their lattes and logged in to their social media accounts are engaged in worthwhile communication. However, I suspect downloading a popular tune or tweeting about your impressions of the Superbowl are perhaps more important than talking to your neighbor. When the world is seen through the optics of social media, it is a pretty dreary place indeed.

Richard W. May
Stationers Guild

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

While in Vermont for a wedding, I happened to be driving by a Church and noticed the following message posted on a large sign near the entrance:

Honk if you love Jesus! Text while driving

if you want to meet him!

Regardless of your religious affiliation, the message is quite powerful.  Nevertheless, I am not sure it is a ringing endorsement to attend Church since the message implies that you can get closer to Jesus by texting while you drive than by sitting in a pew.

Now, I am all for clever word play to make your point, but the context or setting must be taken into consideration when crafting your message.   While the message at the Church entrance is certainly a  “public service” and “driver safety” message, many would consider it out of place at a House of Worship.

Similarly, “texting,” “writing” on someone’s Facebook Wall or “tweeting,” is very much different than sending a personal note on fine stationery.  For the most part, digital exchanges on Facebook and Twitter are public manifestations and lack the warmth and intimacy of a personal exchange of correspondence.

While the words or message may be identical in either medium, the handwritten note bestows a level of considered importance that most forms of digital communication simply can’t match.  A well-crafted note written on elegant stationery simply stands out from the seemingly endless clutter that daily piles up in our inbox or the ever-present demands to stay in touch with our social media friends.

Saturday, June 5th, 2010

One of the more useful benefits of attending the National Stationery Show (“NSS”) is the opportunity to attend highly targeted seminars that fill our impressionable minds with the many things we can do with our store and provide a context for identifying new products and trends.  The 2010 NSS was no exception with daily “How-to” exhibits  ranging from making wedding favors to holiday wrap and tying bows.  In addition, there were educational seminars ranging from stationery trends to how to use social media tools to market your bricks-and-mortar store.

Being the geek that I am, I attended two social media seminars brilliantly hosted by Patricia Norins, of Specialty Retail Expert from Gift Shop Magazine and the enthusiastic and engaging Carolyn Howard-Johnson from How to do it Frugally Publishing.  Both seminars were targeted at those who wanted to find out more about Twitter, Facebook and Blogging or those that were sceptical and wanted to see what the fuss was all about.  Judging from some of the questions that were asked, I suspect that most people who attended were novices.

Personally, I think both speakers made a convincing case as to the merits of engaging in social media marketing.  Carolyn stressed the importance of connecting with your clients in this new digital medium in an open-handed and friendly manner that was less about promoting your business than being a part of your community.   Both speakers made the point that Facebook is a more relevant social platform for exchanging information with family and friends, while Twitter has become far more commercial and “immediate.”  I certainly agree with them on this point, but feel that both platforms should be used to creatively engage, build and sustain a loyal following of customers.  The idea is to befriend your digital audience and come across as a “real” human being with a sense of humor and personal  interests rather than the proverbial one-dimensional used car salesperson.

It is difficult to judge how many attendees will heed Carolyn’s and Patricia’s advice.  I suspect that the digital revolution remains an anathema  to most storefront retailers.   While many have gotten over the hurdle of having a website, this is not a medium where they feel comfortable  and most appear unwilling to make the effort to do more.  It is not difficult to get started as Carolyn and Patricia demonstrated, but it does take time and effort to build new skills and engage in the online debate. Frankly, it is fun and interesting once you get the hang of it. 

We all know that the Yellow Pages (“YP”) brings in little or no business, but many stationers continue to pay ridiculous fees to YP to highlight their store rather than spend the time using free social media tools to market their business.  Hard to understand, but sadly true.  For those out there who want to know if your store can be found online (no, you do not have to have a website!), please visit to see if you are on the right track.  A listing below 50% means you have some work to do.  This is a good litmus test to join the 21st century. 

Richard W. May
Thérèse Saint Clair

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