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.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

On our desk this week...

Counting down the days until the National Stationery Show next week!

Retailers, come on over to booth #2547 to see all of our fabulous products in person. We'll be joined there by several other must-see, must-have manufacturers, so be sure to stop by for fresh ideas and awesome products we're sure your customers will love!

We'll be blogging from the show, so come back each day next week for eyewitness reports from the country's premiere market for social stationery and all the fun stuff that comes with it.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Fun Friday

Friday, May 8

It's Mother's Day weekend, so we're sure there'll be lots of gathering going on (and hopefully some great giving, too). Whether it's a fancy restaurant brunch or breakfast in bed that's made by your kids, we hope all you moms out there enjoy a day where you feel special, pampered and loved.

We'll be back next week with a look behind the scenes at our preparation for the National Stationery Show starting May 20.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Cool Gifts for Grads

Thursday, May 7

It seems it's Graduation Week on the Hen and Barley blog, so how about some gift ideas for the soon-to-be graduates in your life?

Here are just a few:
Gorgeous flat and folded note cards customized with your grad's name or initial;
Note pad and magnet sets;
Desk sets, including initial note cards and a sturdy holder;
Colorful magnets featuring your grad's initial.

Hosting a graduation party? We offer imprintable invitations in classic and trend-inspired designs that are sure to draw a crowd. We even have photo announcement cards that help you share your grad's milestone with family and friends far and wide.

All of these fun, personalized products come in a range of designs, including spring's must-have Moroccan-inspired motifs and our classic Quatrefoil designs. Our colors run the gamut, too, so you can customize your gift to match your graduate's school colors.

You'll find all of these products at our awesome retailer partners coast to coast (look for a shop in your area here ), and from shopHBP , our partner site for custom orders (where we also donate a percentage of our profits to worthy causes).

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

A Great Way to Gather

Wednesday, May 6

Yesterday's mail brought a few more high-school graduation announcements, but one in particular struck me as a great way to celebrate graduation with a twist:
This particular graduate is a very talented painter, and she's headed off to art school in August. For her graduation, her parents are hosting an open house to "let us thank you, family, friends and neighbors, who have been a part of [her] life along the way". This isn't just an ordinary open house, though--it's also an art show featuring the new graduate's paintings and other artwork.
What a great idea--to celebrate not just the occasion, but this young woman's accomplishments as well. It shows the parents' pride for their daughter's graduation, but also their pride and respect for who their daughter is becoming.
Gathering in this way--celebrating who the person is, not just the occasion--gives even more meaning to any occasion, be it birthdays, graduations, even Mother's Day on Sunday.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The New In

Tuesday, May 5

It arrived in the mail on Saturday: the first graduation announcement of the season. It's that time again, and Hen and Barley Press is ready with a host of gifts for grads that will usher 8th graders into high school (think initial note cards and locker magnets), high-schoolers into college (a set of monogrammed stationery, perhaps?) and college grads into the world with elegance and style. There's plenty of time to order the perfect gift, so visit your favorite retailer or shop HBP.

Know what else arrived in Saturday's mail? The new Bloomingdale's home accessories catalogue, which proclaimed on its cover that "The New 'In'" has arrived. Let me quote: "What's hot for summer? Think BBQ's, sunny mornings in spa-fresh beds, iced coffee dates and frothy cold cocktail hours. This season it's all about looking at it in a new light."

We're all about the New In, if it means giving, inviting and gathering in a more relaxed style. Take last night, when my husband and I passed by a friend's house while we were out for a walk. Their fire pit blazed away as they and their neighbors, whom they had just invited over because it was such a lovely evening, made s'mores. Love the impromptu nature of that simple invitation--and love the idea of the New In.

Grad Cap icon above from hen and barley press Completely Custom line. Colors of cap can be customized to match your grad's colors and can be used on labels, notecards, invitations and more.

Monday, May 4, 2009

On our desk this week...

Monday, May 4

What's new!
As we count down the days to the National Stationery Show May 20 to May 23, we'll be posting sneak peeks of our newest products on our website. Check back often, and most importantly, be sure to stop by our booth #2547.

{Sneak Peek #1
Like so many retailers, you probably have a gazillion albums in your store. Well, what if you could buy JUST ONE album, with thousands of design choices for every occasion or event? And what if you could order more than 20 different products from it? And train your staff just once? And have it take up no more than 8.5" square on your shelves? And nothing ever gets discontinued? Sounds dreamy, no?

Introducing...the Completely Custom+Semi-Custom album!
This one album has it all, in the form of one compact acrylic easel--Completely Custom designs & products on one side, and our NEW Semi-Custom designs & products on the other.
That's thousands of design choices plus 20 products for every occasion--and in ONE album? That's DREAMY!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Fun Friday!

Friday, May 1

A wrap-up of what people do on the weekends to give, invite and gather.

It's May Day! Revive an old-fashioned tradition: Give a small spray of flowers to someone you care about. To be true to tradition, leave the flowers anonymously--it's a fun spring surprise that will make anyone's day.

Now it's your turn: What are you doing to give, invite and gather this weekend? Leave us a comment telling us what you're up to, and we'll pick one at random to feature on our blog.

image above: bouquet icon from hen and barley press Completely Custom line, shown in leaf/violet can be used on stationery and gifts