Wednesday, November 18, 2009

{hostess of the week} kerri mich

Hello, everyone! This week's hostess of the week is Kerri, my very oldest friend. Kerri and I met when we were three. Her family moved in across the street from mine, and we were fast friends from the moment she invited me over to play with one of her fabulous Barbie houses. So many of my childhood memories involve Kerri...puppet shows, lemonade stands, walking to school in our matching ponchos crocheted by Kerri's mom. And now we have sons similar ages and our husbands' personalities are so similar it is sometimes spooky!

Kerri's mom is also a killer cook and the original grow your own food lady. Seriously, long before it was chic to have your own backyard vegetable garden, Kerri's mom had one, and after consulting a cookbook from the most ginormous cookbook collection I have ever seen, she'd put something fantastic on the table. Although cooking comes naturally to Kerri, I think her "just do it" spirit is one we all can (and should) embrace!

From Kerri:

Albuquerque, New Mexico is famous for its Balloon Fiesta, the first week of October every year. We like to celebrate by having a balloon breakfast. When else can you have a party at 7 am on a Saturday???

Table: Assorted outdoor patio tables, which no one is sitting at, preferring to stand at the wall to look at the balloons.
Chairs: Assorted outdoor patio chairs.
Lighting: The sunrise!
Favorite table decor: Flowers, candles
Last time you entertained, you served: Breakfast hot dishes, fruit, ham, doughnuts and sweet rolls, lots of coffee and hot chocolate!
How many people were there? About 40 or so, adults and kids. Depends on the weather and which way the wind blows.
Last minute or planned in advance? Advance, via email
Go-to recipe when in a hurry: Pasta Caprese. Basically make Tomato, Mozzarella, and Basil salad and throw it over pasta. Its DELICIOUS when you have home grown tomatoes. We eat it all summer.
Favorite cookbook: My mother is a complete cookbook fanatic (we're talking thousands), and I have received many from her. The last one I used was the Ovens of Brittany cookbook, yum.
Invitations: printed, hand-written or e-mailed? When I plan far enough in advance, printed invitations from hen and barley, of course, but usually I am pulling things together last minute, so phone/email!
Best entertaining tip: Don't stress about having people over, just do it. They'd rather see you and your family than sit home, so don't worry that everything is perfect. And let them bring food too! Usually people like to make a contribution to the event.
When you're not entertaining, what are you doing, professionally and/or personally?
I am a GIS (Geographic Information Systems) Specialist for the Forest Service so basically I make maps and do analysis with spatial data. I have a 2 boys (2 and 3 years old) that keep me busy at home, and a wonderful husband who owns his own company ( making solid hardwood furniture. Mainly beds, but he can make anything!

Monday, November 16, 2009


Happy Monday, everyone! We are so excited to announce our first-ever blog giveaway. If you're like me, you are still in "the holidays are coming" denial, and haven't given an ounce of thought to holiday cards, teacher's gifts, gifts for family...well, anyone, really. But there's no time like the present, and maybe this giveaway will inspire you.

A couple of years ago, we were exhibiting at the Atlanta Gift Market and in the booth behind us was this darling company called Always A Girl's Girl. As we chatted during the show, we realized that we lived just a few blocks from one another in Chicago and had many friends in common. Small world! Always A Girl's Girl designs this very clever conversation confetti, available in a bunch of different themes. Each piece of confetti has a different question that you can use to inspire laughter and conversation during a dinner or cocktail party, and the confetti can be used to decorate your table, too. And it all comes in this cute little tin! Talk about multi-tasking, AND a great reason to give, invite and gather! So, when the girls from Always A Girl's Girl contacted us about doing a joint giveaway, we jumped, and we think you will, too!

Here's the deal. Enter the giveaway one of four ways:

1) Purchase any hen and barley press product by December 5 from one of our online retailers like Paper Concierge, Traylor Papers or EStationeryandgifts

2) Purchase any hen and barley press product by December 5 from one of our brick and mortar retailers and have them notify us of your purchase and desire to be in the giveaway

3) Make a purchase on the Always A Girl's Girl website or on our website

4) Comment here!

The winner, to be announced December 6, will receive 4 boxes of hen and barley press blank folded notes ($50 retail value) and 2 tins of Always A Girl's Girl conversation confetti. You'll receive them in time for the holidays, to use or re-gift with wild abandon.

Friday, November 13, 2009

{hostess of the week} cindy elsman

Phew! It has been crazy busy around here as the holiday orders have started coming in, so our blog went on the back burner for a bit. But we're back with a new hostess of the week, our good friend Cindy Elsman. We've spent many a late night at the Elsman's house and the reason for this, I think, is that
first and foremost the emphasis is always on everyone enjoying themselves. So, while the food is always delicious and the table nicely set, the atmosphere is always easy...not easy as in no effort went into it, but easy as in relaxed and encouraging guests to sit back and enjoy. Cindy reveals some of how she does this below, so enjoy and be inspired!

Table: A dark stained pine table that was Jim's family dining room table while he was growing up. We inherited it when we moved into our first apartment over 16 years ago. I've been wanting to replace it ever since, but it has served us well! It seats 6 comfortably. We can squeeze in 8 with extra chairs from around the house, and when we are having a big group my handy husband Jim puts a large piece of 1/4" plywood with rounded corners on top, and we can easily fit 12.

Chair: 6 ladder back chairs that came with the table.

Lighting: 5 arm wrought iron chandelier. I think it came from Home Depot?

Favorite Table decor: I usually have fresh cut or dried hydrangeas from the garden (super easy and free), then add small candle votives around the table.

Last time you entertained you served: Make your own pizzas.

How many people were there? 7 thirteen year old girls

Last minute or planned in advance? Planned. My daughter, Hannah, planned it all. She did evites, planned the menu and the girls came over and did the rest.

Go-to recipe when in a hurry: Roasted red pepper, sun-dried tomato pasta.

Favorite cookbook: I love all the Barefoot Contessa cookbooks. I also like the magazine Everyday Foods by Martha Stewart. Great recipes, with not a lot of ingredients.

Invitations: printed, hand-written or emailed? I would love to be a planner and use printed invitations but I usually do things last minute or a week in advance so I pick up the phone and call everyone.

Best entertaining tip: I like to serve simple, good food that doesn't take a ton of time to prepare, so I can enjoy the party too! Never make a new recipe for your guests. Try it on your family first.

When you're not entertaining, what are you doing? Running the daily obstacle course of life with my husband Jim, our three kids Hannah, Bennett and Stuart, and housebreaking our new black lab puppy Bear. When I can squeeze in time for myself, I try to get outside as much as possible, read, back and exercise.

Thanks, Cindy!

A note: we jokingly call Cindy's husband Jim "Captain Activity" because he loves to plan an activity in conjunction with a dinner or barbeque. This makes the evening so fun. He'll arrange a round of golf at the local par 3 course for kids and adults, or a few rounds of paddle tennis, and then everyone arrives at the Elsman house hungry and full of funny stories. A game of "celebrities" is a favorite after dinner activity and it is as much fun for the adults as it is for the kids. It reminds me of growing up in the 70s when everyone seemed to play charades at dinner parties. But give "Captain Activity's" ideas a try before your next gathering.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

{gift list}

Halloween is almost over and already the letters are coming home from school about teacher's gifts. Sigh...yes, the holidays are almost upon us. Time to start those gift lists! Our initial folded notes may be just the ticket for you, and as you can see from the above chart, many people we know will be receiving them. Your choice of design, your choice of initial, $13 per box of ten. A flat shipping fee of $6 per address makes it easy to stock up and have them delivered to your doorstep. And how cute would a box of these be peeking from someone's stocking?

Visit our online retailers and to point, click and buy today!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

we're all in this together {part two}

Hello! I promise that our {hostess of the week} feature is coming back soon, but while we're waiting on our friends' photos and answers to arrive in our inbox, I thought another industry discussion might be in order.

My son Charlie is on a swim team. There are about 500 kids on the team, broken into about 10 different levels. Fees for the team and number of practices per week vary by level. At each level, there are some kids who go to every practice and meet they're eligible for, but showing up for a certain number of practices or meets is not mandatory. The kids who go to every practice and meet obviously get more of the coaches' time, even though they don't pay any more in fees than the other kids do. In this sense, the kids who go less often are underwriting some of the costs associated with the kids who go more often. The brilliance of this set up is that it ensures that
whether 3 kids or 30 show up, the lights are on and a coach is present at every practice, and each swimmer can get out of the team as much as they're willing to put into it.

And what does this have to do with the stationery industry, you ask? Well, manufacturers are like the swim team. We need to keep "the lights on and a coach present" so that our retailers have products to sell. Unlike the swim team, however, we can't assess a fee for each retailer we have but instead have to rely upon actual sales. And if retailers across the board are selling less, and sometimes paying later, then how do we keep the proverbial lights on?

We've been talking to a lot of our industry friends as well as entrepreneurs outside of the industry, and the short answer to this question is: get creative. hen and barley press has launched a Trunk Show in A Box concept for the holidays to appeal to retailers who are stepping outside their shops and exhibiting at shopping events like Junior League shows, etc. We've launched virtual albums that allow any retailer to access and sell our personalized products. We've launched a small retail website and partnered with some local not for profits to have them sell our products to help them (and us) raise funds via the site.

All of these things are TOTALLY different from how we would have approached our business just a year ago. None of them are meant to take business from or undermine our retailers in any way. In fact, all of the ideas have one goal: keep the lights on and a coach present so we can continue to sell our products to our retailers. It's that simple. And I would imagine that manufacturers and retailers have this goal in common. For manufacturers and retailers alike to achieve this goal, and come out of this shaky recovery stronger, we all need to get creative. If you're part of this industry, ask yourself how you are addressing the realities (and realities is an important word) of: changing buying habits, both wholesale and retail; changing production methods, both wholesale and retail; changing world?

Clinging to the "rules" as we once knew them seems like such a waste of energy when we must surely all be low on energy...let's face it--things have changed. Period. The realities are: Internet? Here to stay. Online shopping? Here to stay, and yes, even with paper. Printing on demand technology? Here to stay. Stocking less inventory? Here to stay. Selling and buying through mediums other than trade shows? Here to stay.

How about focusing the discourse on how we're going to navigate these changes together? How are you getting creative right now to embrace these realities and still "keep the lights on and a coach present?" Let's hear it!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

{hostess of the week}: haile mccollum

I am really excited to introduce you to Haile McCollum, owner of the brilliant company Fontaine Maury. If you've seen FM products, you will not be surprised by the style Haile brings to her table. Enjoy!

From Haile: The photo is from Parker's birthday party (he's 5) we were going to have the party outside, but it rained. My kitchen table was not big enough, so we did it in the formal dining room. To dress it down some I tossed on 3 vintage table cloths.

The table: A very formal dining room table that my grandmother bought in Aberdeen, Scotland. She told me that if I married the right person I could have her dining room table! So funny. She did not live to see me married, and my aunt got her table, but I did find this table all crated up in her storage shed (that I cleaned out, it was a big task!) My Aunts let me have to table, so I guess she knows I married the right person!

The chairs: 14 in the dining room given to me by my Aunts to go with the table- but I hate the covering! I keep saying I'm going to print my own on Spoonflower, I just can't seem to get it done.

Lighting: A very modern polished silver fixture from Circa lighting

Favorite table decor: Candles! My husband and I light them almost every night.

Last time I entertained, I served: Pork tenderloin, french rolls a barefoot contessa salad with butternut squash in it. Have to confess, someone else brought the salad!

How many people? 10 grown ups who did not behave like grownups! Stayed until 12:30am!

Last minute or planned in advance? Planned, it was a 41st birthday party for my best friend.

Go-to recipe when in a hurry: White Bean Chicken Chili, so easy! It came off a Progresso can.

Favorite cookbook: I really like the Joy of Cooking for basics, I go to epicurious for more out of the box ideas.

Invitations: printed, hand-written or e-mailed? Usually printed, but sometimes called, and sometimes even texted or facebooked!

Best entertaining tip: If you are at ease, your guests will be too. And don't worry, it's only a party!

When I'm not entertaining, I am: Working on any number of projects for Fontaine Maury and cooking for 2 boys who are the perfect ages, 5 and 2 and my husband. I actually make 2 dinners every night! We have not merged dinner time, but I feel it coming.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

{hostess of the week}: carol cochran

hen and barley press founding partner Carolyn Streett was supposed to be this week's featured hostess, but we're fairly swamped right now AND this fabulous entry from my dear friend Carol came in, so this week's hostess is Carol!

Carol is an amazing cook and hostess. My family and I visited Carol and her family this weekend, and in the time it would take me to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, Carol had whipped up tortillas FROM SCRATCH, with yummy beans and rice to go on top. This is a lady who knows her way around the kitchen. But, what I love about Carol and you will gather from her responses, is that she is a great hostess because her greatest pleasure comes from bringing people together and serving them good food. If the house happens to be sparkling clean and the table decorated, all the better, but those things not being the case does not stop Carol from entertaining, and that is why everyone loves a party at Carol's house. Carol is also the most heartfelt do-gooder I know, so many times her entertaining also does double duty as a fundraiser of some kind. Carol lives give, invite, gather to the fullest!

From Carol:

1) Table:
Long old thing (maybe 10' by 4'?). Not round (which I would love), but at least it accommodates a whole team (e.g., basketball, swim) at once.

2) Chairs:
2 benches, 4 kitchen chairs, and as many of our old wooden folding patio chairs from our time in Vietnam as are still functional (maybe 6?) when needed.

3) Lighting:

Hanging black wrought iron chandelier with CFL bulbs, o' course (but warm white ones!). The window & kitchen are also framed with white twinkle lights (LCD -- we like festive but also know we're overconsuming -- oh, the waffling between guilt and celebration!). Yes, it brings to mind folks who never take their Christmas lights down for some. For me, it brings to mind celebration and good times.

4) Favorite table decor:
We love decorating with flowers or greens from the garden in the months when we can (we live in Wisconsin, after all). If we're having a more "formal" (in quotes because we're never TOO formal) dinner we like to add whatever fun or themed things are around to the table -- ribbon napkin holders, candles, water in some presentation and any knick-knacks that fit the theme.

5) Last time you entertained, you served:
Sausages & burgers (again, we're in Wisconsin!)

6) How many people were there?
About 70

7) Last minute or planned in advance?
Planned in advance

8) Go-to recipe when in a hurry:
Salmon linguini with lemon

9) Favorite cookbook:
Any of the "The Beautiful Cookbooks" (e.g., China: The Beautiful Cookbook)

10) Invitations: printed, hand-written or e-mailed?
Usually printed (even if just from my own computer -- though I would love to be organized enough to invite everyone on Hen & Barley Press gear).

11) Best entertaining tip:
Don't you EVER feel like you can't have people
over until your house is cleaned, in full repair, remodeled, etc. People want and even need to gather these days, and we do it less and less -- we're busy, and, oddly, we're hung up on having the perfectly appointed home. I think Martha Stewart has a lot to answer for -- somehow we've reached a state where we're all competing for the perfect home and perfect party. ??? Isn't the whole idea of gathering and celebrating supposed to be stress relief and an escape from the competition -- gathering with friends you know accept you (or should)? And yet now we're going to stress ourselves out -- and then stress our guests out by making them feel they can't measure up to THIS gathering. Craziness. I have received a whole series of backhanded compliments which I treasure from people enjoying themselves at our house. For a small sampling: "I've always told [Husband] that we couldn't have a dinner party because our house wasn't big enough, but I realized after you had us over that if you can do it, anyone can." And, "I always feel like we can't have people over until everything is spotless. But I was sitting in your bathroom realizing that nothing has to be spotless, people just have to be there." (How's that for -- er -- flattery?) And one friend famously stated, upon entering our home for the first time: "I love your house. It is the antithesis of sterile!"

If you have folks over when you've spent your time with your family and preparing food for your friends, they will enjoy themselves, relax, and have a good time. (The ones who are concerned about the spider webs in the bathroom or checking to see if your laundry is folded are ones you don't mind not providing with a great time!) In today's society, setting people at ease and making them feel like you have taken care to prepare something just for them is an almost magical gift. It allows them to relax -- really relax -- and enjoy. A little tip: inviting them on H&BP stationery might actually impress upon them the care and preparation you are taking -- and they might even rsvp to let you know whether or not they can make it! (Non-rsvp-ers are a pet peeve of mine.)

12) When you're not entertaining, what are you doing, professionally and/or personally?
Being the belay person for my family -- Tim (awesome husband), Tatum (16), and Catriona (15). Staying on the ground to try to enable them to soar. Volunteering various places in an effort to thank the universe for our good health and good luck. And just starting to figure out what course I might want to chart for the next stage of my life.

Below is a shot of Carol's table as it usually looks, full of happy, smiling people eating great food:

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Back to our {new} regular programming

give, invite, gather inspiration: {hostess of the week}

We're excited to introduce our regular feature. Each week a new hostess (or host, come on, boys!) will be featured and answer our Q & A, providing inspiration, tips, ideas and perhaps a dose of reality about all things giving, inviting and gathering. We'd love to feature you, too! Just e-mail Jenny or Carolyn with your answers to the Q & A below, and please include a photo of the table where you entertain most often.

To get the ball rolling, I've interviewed myself. Sorry for the tiny photo, it's from my phone! Next week Carolyn will be featured, and then...stay tuned... we've asked many of our talented friends to join in.

The table: Table with one leaf from IKEA, seats up to 8.

The chairs: From IKEA and very comfortable as long as you're under 6' tall...which my husband is not

Lighting: Pendant with drum shade from Restoration Hardware. It gives off very nice, soft light.

Favorite table decor:
None usually, but if I have some flowers, I put them in orange juice glasses down the middle of the table with some votives interspersed.

Last time I entertained, I served: Indian food: a dal, chicken vindaloo and raita

How many people? 15, 8 adults and 7 children

Last minute or planned in advance? Last minute. We called a few friends and then a few more stopped by, and next thing we knew, we had a party! I love that kind of spontaneity.

Go-to recipe when in a hurry: Spicy Grilled Greek Chicken with Yogurt Sauce and Pitas. The recipe is from "Wine Bar Food" another favorite cookbook (see below).

Favorite cookbook: It goes in spurts, I have a new favorite every week. Right now, I am using Hot Sour, Salty Sweet a lot, as I am hung up on Thai food.

Invitations: printed, hand-written or e-mailed? When I plan far enough in advance, printed invitations from hen and barley, of course, but usually I am pulling things together last minute, so phone!

Best entertaining tip: Don't feel like everything has to be prepped before people arrive--people like to help and it gives everyone something to do if conversation is slow.

When I'm not entertaining, I am: Running hen and barley press, running around after Henry, Charlie and Teddy, and reading.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

We're moving!

Hello, everyone! It's been a while...I hope you are all still out there. The big news here is that we're restructuring our operations and next week will be moving into some new space, all under one roof here in Chicago. We're excited, but all the preparations for this move have obviously resulted in no blog posts for a long time!

Our offices will be closed next week, re-opening on September 16, so we can get everything moved and organized. Any orders placed next week will be filled promptly on or after September 16.

Moving is hassle, but one thing I love about it is that it forces us to really clean house. In honor of this, we're having a little moving sale through October 31 for our dear retailers: 15% off all boxed and bulk imprintable invitations and notecards, and $10 off our Completely Custom display. Now is the time to stock up on some of our darling designs like the one you see above. And, if you live in the Chicago North Shore area, stay tuned because we're going to be hosting an open house/fall clean up sale in October, and there will be some great deals!!

Thanks for your patience and we promise to be back with a new blog schedule by the end of September.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

meet hannah!

Good afternoon to you all! It is rainy here in Chicago today, the perfect time for an introduction to our Semi-Custom line's Hannah: Hannah is a natural beauty, your go-to girl. Everything she wears looks instantly new, now and effortlessly chic.

Everyone knows a girl like Hannah. The classic beveled text box on this layout makes it your "go-to" layout, the one you can't go wrong with no matter what swatch you use, and every swatch makes that beveled box look new, now and effortlessly chic. That's Hannah.

Now here's Hannah in other swatches on folded notes, invitations, labels, calling cards and photo cards. Irresistible, right

Drop us a line to order this fabulous program--either as a new retailer for both Completely Custom and Semi-Custom, or as an add-on to your already fabulous Completely Custom easel.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

meet suzy!

Today we're pleased to introduce Suzy from our Semi-Custom line. Suzy is classic with a dash of the exotic. Her house is filled with things that hint of time spent in far-off places. She is the one to have at dinner parties.

Note how the Suzy layout gives everything a clean, contemporary look, but without being too modern. And how cute is Suzy in a different pattern? Can't you just picture matching gift labels for a little boy?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

give, invite gather: the girls

We are thrilled to give you a peek at our soon to launch Semi-Custom line. Semi-Custom lets you apply any of 35 of our most popular imprintables swatches to 4 different layouts, called collections. Each collection represents a distinctive layout style that changes the look of any swatch to suit your mood, taste or event. Collections offer the same 6 products: invitations, folded notes, photo cards, calling cards & 2 label styles, all personalized and made to order.

To help translate each collection's signature
style, we gave them a name and a personality. They're our "girls", and they'll help you and your customers give, invite and gather with style. So, let's make some introductions!

First, meet Olivia, shown below in swatch #500. Olivia is a big city girl who throws great cocktail parties and loves fresh flowers all over her apartment. She is, above all else, fun. Can't you just imagine her?

And here is the Olivia collection invitation shown in swatch #520. A different swatch changes the look while retaining Olivia's innate sense of style.

After the holiday weekend, we'll introduce you to the rest of "the girls". More info on the Semi-Custom/Completely Custom easel program here.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

gather: your thoughts

Here it is, July 1, and already the "need to get organized for the school year" feeling is settling in. As forms for preschool, middle school, sports, etc. arrive in the mail daily, I am overcome with a need to figure out how to keep track of it all, how to remember to get everything done while still enjoying summer. I must not be alone, as here in the office we're seeing an uptick in orders for our personalized desk calendars, shown above.

From our Completely Custom line, these calendars are not your average calendar. As with all Completely Custom items, you can customize your calendar with the design of your choice, in the colors of your choice and the font and font color of your choice! And, the calendar can start in any month. How great is that?!? Many we've sold lately start in August or September. The result is a calendar that reflects your style and your schedule and at 11" x 17", is large enough to double as a desk blotter.

One of our customers--also a good personal friend--bought one for her darling pre-teen daughter. She said her daughter immediately went to work with her pack of markers, marking important dates in a variety of colors that coordinated with her calendar's design (she went with a different design in pink & brown--so cute!). The calendar sits on her daughter's desk, matching her bedroom decor perfectly!

So, if the impending beginning of the school year is weighing heavily on your mind, we invite you to pick up a personalized calendar (and maybe some matching notesheets, too) and you will at least LOOK more organized than ever!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Hello! Allergies + Asthma + Bronchitis = long time no see

Hello, everyone! I apologize for the LONG delay since our last post, especially since we have some more fabulous NSS round up items to share. My usual spring allergies morphed into an asthma attack, which then turned into bronchitis, all during my kids' last week of school. If you have kids, you know what "last week of school" means: picnics, teacher's gifts, end of year concerts, final sporting events, and the list goes on. Frankly, it exhausts me every year, and I think it does the kids in, too! At any rate, it has taken me much longer than I expected to recover from all this and I am just now feeling somewhat back to normal.

But enough about boring illnesses! There are more exciting things to discuss, namely, the continuation of our gathering of our NSS favorites. All of today's items fit into our favorite category of things that are chic, nice to look at, and useful to boot, and they are especially timely for summer.

First up are custom melamine plates from our friends at Fontaine Maury. Yes, yes, there are plenty of custom plate lines out there, but believe me, Fontaine Maury is the last word in chic custom plates. With more than 250 designs to choose from, there is something for everyone in your family, or to match your decor, or whatever other criteria might float your boat. Visit the Fontaine Maury website to find out where you can get your custom plates before your next summer gathering (and wouldn't a custom plate be a FABULOUS summer hostess gift or birthday gift? I'm just sayin'...).

Next are disposable coasters fr
om Whitney English. When you think of Whitney English, you may think of invitations, or note cards, or note sheet sets, since those are the things that established the company in the stationery industry. But now, the Whitney English team is using their considerable powers of design on useful household items like these coasters. And the designs are chic but timeless, so if you don't run through all that you buy this year, they won't look been there, done that when you pull them out again at a later date. Personally, I want these stacked all over my house, not because I am worried about water rings everywhere (I have three boys, so I got over that one a while ago), but because they look so great, especially with that bold intial in the center. Love 'em!

Finally, from the department of shameless self-promotion we want to share some fantastic Completely Custom items we've done recently. These showcase all that there is to love about our Completely Custom line: for a 4th of July party invitation, our Sparkler icon in navy & red, plus our lattice perimeter border in navy & white, plus a fun font in red makes a smashing July 4th party invitation. Take that same perimeter border in lime & peony, and pair it with grad caps in the same colors, and you have a festive, feminine Grad Party invitation (with darling matching address labels). It is so easy to get exactly the look you want with Completely Custom!

Friday, June 5, 2009

We've gathered some of our NSS favorites

The National Stationery Show is overwhelming. As you walk the aisles, you see fabulous line upon fabulous line, and as a manufacturer, it leaves us wondering: How do retailers ever choose? We love hen and barley press, obviously, but as paper lovers, we appreciate other manufacturers' creativity, too. As the day goes on, we plan to post some of our favorites, including our favorite item from our own line. Many of these are lines whose look we not only love, but whose owners we are fortunate enough to count as friends and close colleagues. Enjoy!

Let's start with Demby + Solomon. They shared a booth with us, so we got to see their products firsthand. Their Clever Correspondence album is DARLING--take a look at some of the product samples below.

Then there is The Paper Menu. The owner Marie is adorable, as are her products. The Paper Menu booth at NSS reflected the line's style, right down to Marie's great husband Julian sporting seersucker pants like only a Southerner can. After seeing Marie and Julian in their booth, both Carolyn and I came away with: 1) how cute are those products; and 2) a reminder that we love seersucker on men. The Paper Menu's latest addition to their line are personalized aprons, gowns and pillowcases. Check out the cute aprons below:

Fin+Roe is another favorite (and boothmate of ours). Owner Lori is, like me, a Wisconsin girl, and as if her Marzipan line weren't enough, she's rolled out the totally innovative Fin+Roe line. Check out these photo magnet digital cards. Talk about clever...and different (GOOD different)...and stylish. We love 'em!

Our favorite from our own hen and barley press this year are our magnets, especially our new Monogram Magnets and You Said It! Magnets. From our Initial Magnets, our Classic Style are runaway bestsellers.

Stay tuned for updates and favorites throughout the day!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

topic du jour: customer appreciation

Good afternoon! Today we had a screw up with one of our retailers, someone who had not ordered from us before. As I was reflecting about how we handled the situation, I was reminded about how important it is to show appreciation to customers, both when you're fixing a mistake and in the course of everyday dealings.

Since we are all in an industry that is driven by sales, it is easy to get caught up in who your largest customers are, and limit specials, incentives and perks to them. But, especially this year, when everyone's sales have been hit hard by this economy, sales may not be the best measure of to whom you should extend whatever customer appreciation programs your company might have. One store's (or customer's) $200 might be another store's (or customer's) $2,000. A store who writes a $2,000 is not, therefore, necessarily a more important or "better" customer than the one who writes $200. How many times have you had a store that orders a lot but is difficult to deal with, meaning that your profit margin dwindles by virtue of the amount of time and attention they require? Which is not to say that a big customer isn't important, because of course they are, but I wonder if dollars spent should be the primary factor in formulating customer appreciation programs and incentives.

All of which is a long way of getting to today's topic du jour: How do you handle customer appreciation? Do you have a program within your company for doing so? Retailers, what are your favorite types of customer appreciation incentives?

At hen and barley press, we send updates to our Completely Custom program at no charge to a large portion of our retailers. Sales aside, we can generally glean where the potential is, and let's face it, an album is essentially a catalog of our products, so why wouldn't why want to give as many retailers as possible the tools to sell our products? We send hand addressed, hand signed holiday photo cards to most of our retailers, whether they've ordered from us recently or not.

Recently, hen and barley press donated a bunch of our invitation and note card overstocks to the Chicago branch of a national not-for-profit called AmericaSCORES. It was not a huge donation by any stretch of the imagination. Today, we received a packet with a copy of their most recent publication, as well as a handwritten note from the executive director, thanking us for our donation. Let me tell you, we were impressed! It made us think we should really do the same thing for our customers all the time, not just at the holidays, or after the National Stationery Show. Food for thought!

We'd love to hear from you all on this topic!

topic du jour: stay tuned

Good morning, everyone! My youngest is home sick with a fever, so I may or may not get to today's post. I promise I will try.

Tomorrow I'd like to wrap up this extremely positive, thought-provoking week by gathering our thoughts on our National Stationery Show favorites. This is something Carolyn and I had planned on doing post-show anyway, and it seems like a fitting way to celebrate the amazing people in this industry, many of whom have been great about offering their thoughts publicly (and privately) this week.

What were your show favorites? If you have one you'd like to share, please e-mail me details.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

topic du jour: tooting your own horn

Good morning! Thanks to all who have commented on previous days' posts. It is great to hear from all sides of the industry. A couple of retailer comments about how they find new lines made me think about how much thought and efforts promotions take. And I don't mean just promoting a special, I mean getting your name, your line, your store out there and at the forefront of people's minds. Since so much pre-qualifying gets done via the internet these days, it has become more important than ever to make your business stand out from the masses so that a retailer will visit your booth at a trade show like NSS, or a customer will go into your shop to buy what they're looking for.

So today's topic is: tooting your own horn. How do you do it? What works for you? And retailers, how DO you decide which trade show booths to stop by? Do you prefer e-mails containing lots of info, or more general e-mails that direct you elsewhere for info? And is consistency (e.g., 1x per month) more important than timing (hitting a store during their primary buying season)? What about those direct mail pieces? And manufacturers: as consumers, what gets you into a shop?

At hen and barley press we use e-mail marketing (as you all now know!) often. This form of marketing has generated more results--both in sales and traffic at trade shows--than any other form of marketing we've ever done (and we've done them all--postcards, ads, etc.). We find the e-mails that describe a need created by a trend or current buying habit, and then position our products as filling that need, work best. We also try to include lots of photos of finished products in our e-mails and on our website--photos of actual product seem to have more of an impact than a PDF of a design turned into a Jpeg. We've also found our association with A Fresh Bunch and the ISA to be a huge benefit. The "one-stop shopping" that these group sites provide seems to be a help to retailers, and has really helped promote our brand.

As a consumer, I do love getting e-newsletters from our retailers as well as local shops I frequent. Sometimes I've signed up for these, sometimes I haven't, but as someone whose company depends upon staying abreast of the retail indsutry for survival, the more of these I read, the more insight I have. One of our retailers, Papers & Presents in MA, does a DARLING weekly picks e-mail. Short, to the point, and always with a few eye-catching photos, it hits the spot. If I lived in MA, you can bet I'd be there shopping for camp goodies (the subject of this week's pick).

Let's hear it: how do you toot your own horn?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Topic du jour: What works in this economy?

Good morning, all. I woke up this morning to several e-mails from reps asking about some of hen and barley's current specials, and then noted that some of my daily blog reading was covering specials & promotions being run by both manufacturers and retailers in our industry.

With that in mind, it made me wonder: What works in this economy? Retailers, what things are you doing for your customers that help generate sales, and how can manufacturers support these efforts? Manufacturers, what are you doing to generate sales? What's working for you? Would our industry gain anything if as many manufacturers as possible banded together and offered similar promotions?

I am not asking anyone to reveal deep dark trade secrets, so I so hope that we'll get some comments on this one. In our offices, we try to talk to retailers, really listen to what their needs are and then develop promotions accordingly, but since we can't talk to everyone, even then it can feel like throwing darts at a board. And to properly develop and promote your promotions it takes time and lots of communication to get the word out, so wouldn't it be lovely if we all knew what retailers really want? And retailers, wouldn't it be lovely if the promotions arriving in your...ahem...e-mail inboxes were just what you were looking for?

What have we done (that has seemed to work)?

- At NSS the 6 manufacturers in the A Fresh Bunch booth standardized their opening order minimums and waived minimums if a retailer wrote with everyone in the booth.
- Outisde of NSS, hen and barley press has waived minimums on orders and re-orders since it seems that our retailers want to minimize inventory on their shelves and order less product more often.
- hen and barley press has focused on products that are less expensive for retailers & customers to purchase, as well as programs that don't require the retailers to carry inventory.

So, let's hear it: What works in this economy?

Monday, June 1, 2009

topic du jour: Trade Shows

Okay, everyone, it's time to gather your thoughts. There's been so much interest in the last blog post that it seems that perhaps retailers and manufacturers alike are clamoring for an opportunity to hear more from each other on some of the hot topics and issues in our industry.

With that in mind, we'd like to devote each day this week to a new topic. We're going to start with one that our company has thought about, struggled with and thought about some more, but we're hopeful that you'll all give us some suggestions on questions you have. The questions can be issues our industry as a whole faces, or they can be things retailers would like to hear from a broad spectrum of manufacturers (or vise versa).

The discussions won't be meaningful without comments from all of you, and we're going to start out not moderating comments so that everyone who comments is heard. That said, we're trusting everyone to play nice: no naming names, please. Points can certainly be made by speaking in general terms, and remember we're all in this together.

Here goes: the topic du jour is Trade Shows. Let us start by saying that we loved attending the National Stationery Show and have met many fabulous people there and at other markets, some of whom have become dear friends and trusted colleagues. But, our experience has been that trade shows have changed in recent years from sales vehicles to marketing vehicles, and this fundamental shift makes the cost of attending prohibitive sometimes. And while we worry that we're missing our retailers and they us when we don't attend, the majority of our current customers don't seem to attend any shows regularly.

So, a few questions:
- If you attended any trade shows this year, as a retailer or a manufacturer, we ask you: Why?
- If you didn't, why didn't you?
- Retailers, manufacturers so often hear that not attending a trade show, particularly NSS, will instantly make you a pariah in the industry. Is this really a dealbreaker for retailers?
- Retailers, if you use sources other than trade shows for placing orders and finding new lines, what are those sources? Sales reps? Internet search? Sites like Etsy?

For our part, we attended both the Atlanta Gift Market and NSS this year. This was feasible this year because we were part of collective booths that significantly reduced our show costs, thereby enabling us to focus on the marketing opportunities aspects of the shows rather than stressing about covering our booth expenses via sales. In years past, before these group booth opportunities presented themselves, we did skip some shows, deciding to use the money not spent on trade shows on developing new products. Our business still grew during this time, primarily with the help of sales reps, and our experience was that retailers understood our having a limited budget as long as we were still developing new products. All that said, we plan to return to both Atlanta and NSS next year, definitely part of collective booths. The group booths allow us to be there, have a presence, and connect face to face with retailers and new reps. Even if we don't write one order, it's still money well spent. We would not, however, have the luxury of having that attitude if we had our own booths at the shows.

What about all of you? Tell us what your thoughts on trade shows are.

Friday, May 29, 2009

We're all in this together

Since the National Stationery Show ended, there has been a lot of online chatter about who was there and who wasn't, who sells to whom and how, and even which manufacturers are on the "good" list vs. the "naughty" list. Some of this chatter has resulted in some very positive discussions about what retailers want, and how they view manufacturers who license their designs elsewhere or sell direct to consumers online. This is an important discussion, especially in this economy, as manufacturers like hen and barley press rely upon retailers for sales. Similarly, retailers rely upon manufacturers like us for the products that stock their shelves and generate revenue.

It is an interdependent relationship, and for retailers and manufacturers to survive and thrive, we must realize that we are all in this together.

Here's what I learned from retailers and other manufacturers as a result of these discussions:

- Retailers are okay with manufacturers selling direct to consumer or licensing designs to places like Shutterfly or Tiny Prints as long as pricing and shipping terms are the same as those offered to retailers. Translation: don't undercut your retailers.

- Licensing to giants like Target under the same brand name, or worse, using the same designs you sell to the smaller brick & mortar retailers, can tarnish the "specialness" of your brand. Translation: most retailers like lines that are known but not too well known.

- Some retailers have hired design staff to create custom work in-house and therefore capture more margin than they would by simply re-selling products designed by manufacturers like hen and barley press. Translation: fewer sales for manufacturers, which results in more manufacturers trying to find alternative streams of revenue like selling direct or licensing.

The consistent theme that I see upon typing all of this is how intertwined our fates are in this business. Unfortunately, these discussions came only after several manufacturers and online retailers had been bad-mouthed quite publicly, and given how dependent we all are on one another, where does that negativity get us?

Today a new issue popped up. We and several of our boothmates sent out marketing e-mails yesterday advertising post-show specials. Included on these e-mail lists were new contacts collected at the show. As a manufacturer, the one thing you hear from retailers over and over after shows is to be sure to follow up with everyone who stopped in your booth. Like many of our retailers, we've found that e-mail is a great, effective and cheap way to accomplish this, so off went the e-mail, which unwittingly created a firestorm on this blog. hen and barley press, you will note, was publicly chastised for sending our e-mail. Again, the negativity...rather than focusing on the real issue of what one should do with contacts gathered at a trade show, or what exactly ARE the laws governing the sending of marketing e-mails, information retailers and manufacturers alike could really use.

So, the questions of the day are: What should one do with contacts gathered at a trade show? Retailers, how do you want manufacturers to follow up with you after a trade show? If you leave your contact info in a booth at a trade show, what does that mean? Should you reasonably expect to receive information via e-mail, phone or snail mail? Translation: let's have a real exchange of useful information to help us all thrive.

Finally, for those of you who regularly send marketing e-mail, here are the Federal Trade Commission laws on the subject.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Gather: The National Stationery Show Way

The National Stationery Show, described by someone on Twitter as "Fashion Week for paper people" was held from May 17-21 at the Javits Center in New York. Stationery companies from Crane & Co. to hen and barley press to companies you've never or not yet heard of have booths of varying sizes and complexity. It is a very creative atmosphere, a lot of fun, and a great networking, marketing and sales opportunity.

This year, we and a few other companies from A Fresh Bunch got creative and gathered together to have a group presence at the show. Done very last minute, our booth did not have the polish or presentation that it would have normally, but we pooled our resources, got ourselves and our products there, and made a splash at the show. Retailers loved the one stop shopping for 6 lines in one booth, and we each loved having sales help that allowed us to devote time to networking, trend-spotting and socializing with our paper friends. We're going to do it again next year, and are already making plans for improving upon a good thing.

Here are some highlights from the booth:

hen and barley press: our new magnets (shown at left) were a big hit, as was our new combined Completely Custom & Semi-Custom program.
With over 14,000 design options, and 15+ stationery & gift products, this program defines one-stop shopping! As one of our retailers said upon seeing the Semi-Custom designs, "Oh, I will sell a ton of this." You can't beat that reaction (or the show special price tag of $150).

marzipan inc./fin+roe: marzipan inc. has launched a new custom album called fin+roe that had retailers all abuzz. Their photo magnet announcement cards drew quite a crowd and we love them, too!

evy jacob: we love evy's tagline of celebrate everything, everyday and her designs reflect that love of celebrations small and large. Her personalized albums were a huge hit and we loved their bar/bat mitzvah designs in particular.

Artful Sentiments: there is something about Molly's handblocked prints, they are simple and yet vibrant at the same time. Her coasters had us drooling with their fabulous prints.

Demby & Solomon: Lysa of Demby & Solomon donates her time & design talent to A Fresh Bunch, designing all of our group's logos and visual communications. Her new line of imprintables is fantastic, and we also loved her clever correspondence album.

Lucky Star Press
: Sarah of Lucky Star Press recently had a new baby and still managed to pull together a fabulous collection for the show. Her amazing letterpress designs are subtle and sophisticated with the right dose of good cheer. We loved the mix-n-match initial sets.

None of us had ever done anything like this before, and felt like we were rolling the dice by having "the competition" in the same booth. But gathering together, pooling resources and really exchanging information with each another was such a positive experience, and we think retailers liked it as much as we did. If you visited our booth during the show, THANK YOU! If you weren't there but want more information, please visit each of our sites.

Here's to gathering together!

hen and barley press out in the wild: Kirathon 2009

If you live on Chicago's North Shore and are heading over to Mallinckrodt Park in Wilmette tomorrow afternoon for Kirathon 2009, you'll be able to see some hen and barley press products "out in the wild". Kirathon is a fundraiser to benefit art therapy programs at Chicago's Children's Memorial Hospital. Started in memory of a Wilmette girl named Kira who passed away in 2006. Kira loved art and art therapy helped her express her emotions during the course of her illness. In addition to a walk and other fundraising activities at the event, The Kindness Connection will be facilitating art projects to be sent to children in local hospitals. hen and barley press is proud to have donated stationery to The Kindness Connection for use in the Kirathon event projects. We'll have some event participants snapping pictures of hen and barley press products "in the wild" and will share them with you as soon as we can.

Above images from Kirathon event pages.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Giving Back: Creative Pitch

To date, Hen and Barley Press has donated more than $4,000 in products to a wide range of organizations.

One of these groups is Creative Pitch, a not-for-profit corporation in Chicago whose mission is to support art education among underserved elementary students and educators. Founded by Dian Sourelis and her partner through Brainforest, their creative agency in Chicago's Wicker Park, Creative Pitch accepts donations of high quality paper and useful art materials from printers, paper mills, artists, designers, architects and interior designers and makes those materials available, free of charge, to underserved art programs.

"These programs include elementary schools, Head Start programs, after school programs and art therapy programs," Dian says. "For a number of our receiving degreed art teachers, we are their only source of art materials. In the three years we have been running the program, we have served over 70 programs and 35,000 students."

"Hen and Barley's donation of more than 15,000 cards and other stationery items will be used by our talented and creative teachers with the students in our programs," Dian says.

Creative Pitch is always looking for material and cash donations, as well as volunteers to help at special events. For more info, visit

Tomorrow night (that's Thursday, May 29) Creative Pitch will host its spring benefit, Something To Pitch About, at Lumen, 839 West Fulton Market, in Chicago, from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. View the invitation here or contact to volunteer.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

National Stationery Show

Carolyn and I just returned from the National Stationery Show. For you readers who are not a retailer or manufacturer of paper, the Stationery Show, or NSS, is held every May in New York City. It's where most paper and gift retailers go to do much of their buying and sourcing for the year. If you've ever been to a trade show, you probably have dim memories of being cooped up all day in a dark building in a not so nice part of some town. NSS is different. Not because the Jacob Javits Center is glamourous or anything like that, but because stationery and paper is a creative industry, so the creativity demonstrated in product display, booth construction and overall feel of the show is amazing. Seeing all that paper in one place helps you spot trends and develop ideas, not to mention hear directly from retailers and sales reps what they're looking for.

There are so many highlights we want to share, and we are each working on our lists of top trends to share with you over the rest of the week, but the first highlight we want to share relate to hen and barley press. Our initial magnets are shown above because they and our newest magnets were a huge hit at the show. Sam Flax stores bought them, and they were a definite draw in the booth. Paper accessories like our initial magnets were everywhere--magnets, file folders, clipboards, pencil holders, etc. At the end of the day, bad economy or not, people still need to stay organized and a small purchase like a cute magnet or file folder is both utilitarian and stylish, making it feel like a justifiable indulgence. They also make great gifts.

As we were leaving the show, we had an exciting celebrity sighting--Phoebe Cates was walking the show buying for her boutique on NY's Upper East Side. She is every bit as cute as she was when she was on the cover of 17 magazine, and stylish and classy without screaming "celebrity". After that and 2 days of networking and sales, we left the Javits Center feeling quite satisfied!

Stay tuned for more trends and info about the show.

Friday, May 15, 2009

How we gathered insurance story

How often do you hear insurance stories? Probably not often. Or, I hope not too often. And you are probably wondering what insurance has to do with giving, inviting, gathering, or for that matter, stationery. Well, the beginnings of hen and barley press were in insurance--it's how Carolyn and I first got together, or gathered, if you will.

Back in 1995 both Carolyn and I worked as commercial underwriters for the Chubb Group of Insurance Companies. Chubb is one of those big companies you've never heard of, unless you have a lot of antiques or a major jewelry schedule, and then you've definitely heard of them because they are the last word in insuring all those kinds of goodies. Anyway, both of us were new to the Chicago office and we met there over production meetings, budgets and client calls. Fast forward a few years to motherhood, and we'd sort of lost touch. We'd both left the company to stay home with our kids, but in an odd twist of fate, wound up living around the block from each other in our North Shore suburb.

While we loved being moms to our young raucous boys, we both craved a little mental stimulation beyond debating the merits of preschool or various toilet training methods, and neither of us wanted to go back to insurance. Insurance is, in fact, generally boring, and beyond that, neither of us wanted to work in a big company atmosphere again. One thing insurance had given us, however, was insight into one another's work habits and personalities, so we knew we could work together.

I'd long had an obsession with stationery, and had foregone art school for studying Japanese, so starting a stationery company would allow me to indulge my obsession and my natural creativity. Soon it became too much for me to manage on my own, and that's where Carolyn came in. Her knack for numbers, marketing meant she could take over those tasks and direct our team in those areas, allowing me to focus on design and product development. She also has a great eye and classically good taste, so she can chime in on design decisions, too. It's a great match, and, I think, proof that you don't have to have only one profession in life.

More importantly, our company philosophy of give, invite, gather is more than a convenient branding tool. We really do believe in giving, inviting and gathering more. We really do love a good party, a great dinner, or a simple gift. We really do believe in giving back. And we love how stationery helps us to do all those things that are near and dear to our hearts.

On the eve of our departure for NYC and the National Stationery Show, here's what we're doing to give, invite and gather: Carolyn will be gathering with friends on the baseball fields for an evening of 4th grade baseball. I will be gathering with some friends over beer and pizza to celebrate the end of a long work week. What will you be doing?

Check back next week for our National Stationery Show posts. We'll be featuring our top 5 lists: top 5 trends, top 5 retailers, top 5 favorite products (and not just our own). Have a great weekend!


Thursday, May 14, 2009

Sneak Peek #2

{sneak peek two}

Customers may have less money to spend, but life's events - birthdays, weddings, babies - still go on.

Grab and go gifts like our super-cute Monogram Magnets are an inexpensive and easy way to add a dash of personality to any gift. How cute are these for tacking up memos on the fridge or locker? Using an idea from Country Living Magazine, we use old metal trays to make a quick (and recycled) memo board for keeping track of our kids' homework, party invitations, sports events, etc., and we love how we look oh-so organized!

Displayed on and in a small paint can (shown above), this is the perfect eye-catching display for the check out area. Also check out our fabulous Initial Magnets, available in 3 patterns.

Don't miss all these fabulous displays in our booth at NSS--Booth #2547

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Completely Custom

Hey retailers! Looking for a way to turn your store into a custom design studio? We've got a great program that can help you do just that.

Completely Custom is the hot, new must-have program that turns your store into a custom design studio.

It's more than just personalization, it's Completely Custom!

- No inventory to manage
- Small footprint - 8.5" square x 14" tall acrylic easel holds all the pages
- Over 14 products offered, something for every occasion: note cards, labels, invitations, gifts, calendars and more
- Hundreds of designs + different color combinations = 1,000s of design options (our everyday math calculations tell us over 14,000, to be exact)
- Reasonable price points and everything offered in low quantities for gift giving
- Brilliantly simple order form the customer can fill out themselves

Bottom line? Custom design that anyone can do, on products customers love, all at non-custom prices.

Just in time for the National Stationery Show, our newest addition to Completely Custom is ready! Meet Semi-Custom, 36 patterns, including our most popular imprintables patterns, for use on 6 different products with personalization. It's less decision-making than Completely Custom, but still a wee bit's Semi-Custom! And all of this from one easel!

See it in person in Booth #2547. We'll be there along with members of A Fresh Bunch.