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.