Adding something extra goes a long way

This might be my 30th year in the industry but I can remember still sitting in a planning meeting at WHSmith debating the impact of increasing the retail price on cards to over £1. It seems a world away now, especially as this year we have seen the RRP on a lot of card ranges tip over the £3 price point which was previously the domain of heavily detailed or hand finished cards like those from  Five Dollar Shake or Form from Artfile .

But how can we get consumers to part with their money for a card that is over £3? It’s all about finding that added extra something.

We know that differentiating your product is critical for both publishers and retailers to drive sales, so going that extra mile to make all the difference helps to justify an increased price point if necessary.

One of the ways that publishers are getting our attention is by being more inventive with print by using foil, embossing or a combination of these finishes and other really interesting elements, all of which help their cards stand out on the shelf.

When I’ve been on the road this year at trade fairs, I have found the cross section of cards on show very exciting and unlike anything I’ve seen before - highlighting just what fantastic shape our industry is in and how innovative the designers and publishers are.

For example, an innovative brand I really like is Bexy Boo. I first noticed Bexy Boo at Harrogate a few years ago when she was displaying her Scrabbley range. At PG Live this year she took it to another level, launching her Forkies range using take away forks with really funny captions. I love them and can’t imagine what makes you look at a piece of shaped wood and think it is a great basis for a new card range!

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Jessica Hogarth is well known for her distinctive seaside illustrations and London scenes which have been hugely successful for her. However, this year she decided to do something quite different - introducing a range of cards that have baubles on them, all ready for Christmas. Jess says that this range of cards has definitely helped her to open up new accounts because of her new seasonal ranges. Shops have felt the idea is unique and fun and she is looking forward to creating new artwork for them for next year.

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It’s not just designers who are bring innovative ideas to the market – new publishers are pushing boundaries too!

Middlemouse combines beautiful cards with ‘innovative additions, recipes and gardening tips, or useful little things that make the card you send to your loved one that bit more special.’ They’ve titled these ‘Cardlets’ – a brilliant title! What could be nicer than sending a Christmas card with a few carols to sing included in it? Or a birthday card with a cake recipe? I’m sure they’ll appeal to a wide audience.

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One of my long-term favourites are the sound cards from Really Wild Cards. These type of cards seem to have a long life. When I was the card buyer at the National Trust, their bird song and farmyard cards were best sellers. John at Really Wild Cards continues to develop the range with really topical subjects and the range has been updated with some well-known political characters which are great fun and proving very popular as cards - whether you agree with their politics is another matter!

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While prices continue to rise on cards, publishers are still trying to keep their cards below the £3 price point. An easy way of doing that is to reduce them in size. Cards come in all shapes and sizes but Coulson Macloed do the opposite, offering stunning concertina cards. One of their newest ranges is the ‘Not a Typical’ concertina cards. Featuring striking black and grey fold-out greeting cards with messages that are straight-to-the-point yet heart-warmingly funny, these cards are really original and look great propped up on the mantelpiece.  

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Buying cards with a little extra something works particularly well when you are buying an occasion card; who doesn’t want their card to stand out amongst the massive amount of cards received by loved ones? Hello Geronimo does occasion cards really well and I love their new baby card with the little felt feet, they are so cute. They have a wide selection of ‘add-ons’ which make their ranges really different so they are well worth checking out if you want something a bit different.

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One issue that publishers and designers are finding is that adding these special touches often means a card has to be handmade or hand finished, simply because a machine cannot be as delicate as a hand. I remember my children learning to quill when they were younger, it is such a stunning way of adding images to a card. Eastwest have a fabulous range of designs and, because they are all handmade, retailers can have bespoke images made for them. Thinking about the time it must take to do some of these designs is mind blowing but it certainly is a great way to secure sales.

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Adding these extra elements makes all the difference but they take time, effort and passion to design and make. This is what adds that point of different that makes them really special. The cards from Dayo are no exception. Described as ‘Where Paper Meets Fashion’, Dayo’s handmade and hand-finished cards vary to reflect individuality and are renowned for being ‘beautiful ethnic cards with a mixed media approach’. 

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Despite living in a deeply digital age, sending cards to mark special occasions has stayed as important as ever, if not more so! That little something extra makes both the recipient and the sender feel very special indeed.

It's my party and I'll buy if I want to...

Although summer is turning into autumn and the sun becomes a rarity, the party season is beginning with Halloween and Christmas just around the corner.

Despite these major holidays, the UK never needs an excuse to have a party – especially if there is something to celebrate like a friend’s birthday, a wedding or even just the start of the weekend.  

The last three years post referendum have been quite difficult, mainly down to uncertainty in our business and personal lives. Positively though, it encourages us to turn to family and friends for moral support and reassurance. We are keeping in contact more often, reaching out to wish people good luck and congratulating them more than we previously would have. It also helps us feel connected to those around us.

This has seen a positive increase for those working in the card, gift and party industries who will need to make sure they continue to offer consumers great products that they will really enjoy.

While there is an increase in demand for partyware, the sector is being affected by several other trends too - namely the reduction of single use plastics and the desire to buy products with longevity. Long gone are the days of bulk buying plastic knives and forks! This is certainly proving a challenge as suppliers work out how they respond and how quickly it can be done.

A key driver in the eco-debate has been the BBC’s Blue Planet 2 which, due to its cross-generational appeal has been very influential. One shocking image in the programme was of a turtle with a drinking straw in its nostril. Instantly, the product came into sharp focus in the public’s minds.

When I was young, drinking straws were always a bit of the party fun. On the whole though, there are probably few scenarios where they are really necessary and, for those who still need to use them, there are some really interesting alternatives becoming available. On Kikkerland’s stand at Harrogate, I was amazed by the choice available! They have produced paper straws for 19 years, long before this debate was even in the public consciousness, and they are still the best disposable straws. For those who want more choice though, they do more than just paper! Kikkerland have more than 20 styles of reusable and eco-friendly straws available made of stainless steel, reusable food safe plastic, organic bamboo, borosilicate glass, and natural straw!


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Historically, there have been strong links between licensing and partyware with the latest children’s TV or film character being in huge demand from excitable kids. It will be interesting to see how the businesses involved in this area respond to the demand for reusable materials when the children want the latest character.

 

Alongside eco-friendly cutlery, green tableware is definitely increasing in popularity and Fallen Fruits benefitted from this when they won Gift of the Year 2018 with their Green Picnic range. The plates and bowls are made of palm leaves, the cutlery is made of birchwood and all are suitable for hot and cold food. Plus, they are 100% organic and compostable - so they can get put with your organic waste when you’ve finished your sandwiches!

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This move away from single use products encourages us to focus on the ‘special’ things used for specific events, which helps to create family traditions and excitement when it is ‘time to use them’ particularly if this involves being with other family members. Anyone remember their mum getting out the special crockery for Sunday Lunch?!

A more modern example is perpetual, refillable, advent calendars where each drawer or stocking has a little treat in for each day in the run up to Christmas. Heaven Sends have great success with their advent train which seems to resonate with young and old alike.


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Alongside Christmas, Easter and Halloween are becoming much bigger occasions for retailers and consumers - helped by the fact that they both tie into a period of school holiday for children. Easter is a religious holiday in the UK, but I would suggest its increase in popularity is not a particularly religious thing.

The bright fresh colours of spring, accompanied by the change in season towards lighter, warmer and longer days all give us a reason to relax, enjoy ourselves and get outdoors (weather dependent!)

When Easter is at the middle-to-the-end of April, it is the perfect time to drive garden orientated sales. Garden centres can really see a difference in their spring quarter reviews if Easter has been a cold and wet weekend.

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Mark Jones Commercial Director for Gisella Graham has said: “Easter is now comfortably our 2nd largest seasonal range behind Christmas and has a huge impact on our customers’ businesses.

“Whether they display a full collection of Easter goodies or use it to accent around new Spring gift and interiors, it’s become an important way of attracting customers in early Spring.” One of Gisella Graham’s best sellers is their Easter wreath, a good example of how a pretty spring decoration can really lift a room at Easter.

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Talking Tables are seeing a similar increase in sales at Easter but Halloween is growing in importance for them too. The scary season tends to fall at the same time as the Autumn half term, offering a great time to get friends round for a party!!

Decorating gardens, dressing up and buying pumpkins and sweets for trick-or-treaters are all very much part of Halloween and there is definitely an air of excitement around getting out the box with everything in it to ensure it all fits from the previous trick-or-treating adventure outing. Here are some of Talking Tables products in action - spooky!!

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What excuse will you use to get together with friends over autumn? For me, it’s a friend’s 60th Birthday and my thirtieth year in the industry!

All for a good cause

We, as consumers, have been living through a period of economic uncertainty for a while now. As a result, many of us are afraid to commit to expenditure that, in easier times, we wouldn’t have thought twice about.

Therefore, as manufacturers, suppliers and retailers we need to think about the changes we are seeing and adapt whilst considering if this is a permanent shift in attitude to the marketplace. In this piece I would like to explore how this may impact on our support of charities, good causes and the environment in the future.

Certain products have been sold in aid of charity for years. For some buying ‘charity cards’ is habitual; they buy the pack because of the charity link. Great British Card Company is a card publisher who produces charity Christmas cards and, since 2007, they have raised over £2.7m for charity from the sale of their cards alone. This staggering figure continues to grow and they expect to contribute another £259,000 from their 2018 retail sales. One of their new packs this year is the Almanac Gallery Christmas pack from the Jennifer Rose Gallery for the Woodland Trust which is likely to be a best-seller.

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Licensed cards often use images from an archive which has a link to a charity and this is a good way to raise funds as well as spreading awareness of the treasures in their care, be they historic buildings, artefacts or wildlife. A great example of this is The Wildlife Trust’s Water Vole card. These images are an effective way to raise funds for charity whilst spreading their message.

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Interestingly enough, there has been a change over recent times of how we donate to charity. The increasing trend in giving to a cause is by buying something, which is now the 2nd most popular way of donating money. Of course, cash donations are still at number one at 55% and buying a lottery ticket in 3rd at 40%. (Charities Aid Foundation UK Giving Report 2018)

Is this new donation trend born out in the card and gift market? Well, if the Stationery Show 2019 Launchpad winners are representative of the market, then the answer has to be yes! Two of the eight winners of this year’s Launchpad are businesses where a purchase from them triggers a donation to specific charities related to their product

A prime example is VENT for Change, whose design-led eco-friendly stationery supports existing children’s education projects worldwide. The projects, run by Plan International UK, help children affected by war, conflict, natural disasters and extreme poverty get back to school and receive the education they deserve.

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Secondly Stib, which stands for Sparking Thinking in a Box, is a purposeful business aiming to inspire young hearts and minds, based on a belief in the potential of all children to do amazing things. Stib donates 10% of profits to WE.org, which supports education projects for vulnerable children in the UK and overseas.

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But it doesn’t have to be a charitable contribution, products can also raise awareness of an issue through imagery, messaging or design. A really good example of this is a range from We Are In Good Company who are ‘on a mission to make space for sober’ with cards and gifts designed to support, encourage and celebrate not drinking – a really hot topic at the moment.

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Design isn’t the only way a company can raise attention on an issue though – it can also be the way a product is made. There is definitely an increasing focus on us in the card industry to respond to society’s desire to reduce our impact on natural resources and the use of plastics.

During a recent conversation with Michelle Mills at Windles she mentioned that publishers are more conscious about their carbon footprint and, as a result, are sourcing boards that are more locally sourced to reduce the carbon emissions from transportation.

A board like Incada Silk, which is made in Cumbria in a mill which operates self-sufficiently fuelled by their own biomass plant, is now in huge demand. The material is FSC GC1 recyclable, making it ideal for Christmas cards and photographic images because it prints well with a good surface, shade, rigidity and smoothness. Previously this type of board would have come from India or Canada but can now be made in the UK!

Today design led greetings are often produced on lick coated, uncoated and textured boards because designers want tactile products and these materials are often sourced from boutique mills across Europe. The cold foil process which has become synonymous with the greetings industry works perfectly with lick coated materials.

Recently, there has been increased interest in boards with a unique recycled content like cotton, poo, grass and coffee cups but, because many of these are still handmade, they are still relatively expensive and are often not commercially viable for greetings cards.

Fenner Paper, an independent specialist paper merchants, is a market leader in the supply of papers and boards manufactured from recycled and alternative fibres including the Colorset, Crush, Remake and Shiro ranges.

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The Colorset 100% Recycled range has become more popular over the last few years because of the increase in Letterpress printing for greetings cards and the versatility in its 36 colours in the range. Made from 100% post-industrial fibres, Colorset has had the ‘Blue Angel’ environmental certification for over 40 years (the European standard for sustainable and environmentally friendly products.

Crush and Remake are innovative ranges of board, which use recycled pulp and by-products from fruit, nut and leather processing to make beautiful tinted boards. Crush Grape uses the grape residues from wine makers, and Crush Olive residues from olive oil production, their distinctive feel and organic credentials are a popular choice for handmade greetings cards.

Shiro Echo 100% FSC recycled, is suitable for both litho and digitally printed greetings cards. It is the highest quality recycled board, produced from 100% post-consumer recycled fibres.

More cards are being bagged in biodegradable and compostable materials but it is really difficult for consumers and waste management companies to identify these materials from other films, which means at the moment most still end up in land fill. Many larger retailers are offering cards with no bags at all and publishers are developing various types of tab to keep the card and envelope together when on display.

The fantastic thing about all of these initiatives is that charity causes and the environment both benefit. In some cases, those in the supply chain will make a smaller margin on this type of product too as they part fund the donation, material or process. What it does do for businesses is create a positive halo of corporate responsibility for brands for offering these types of products. Completing the cycle is the consumers, who get pleasure from supporting good causes in addition to buying the products they want.

It really is a win, win, win ,win situation for everyone !!

AND THE WINNER IS…

I have worked in the retail industry for 35 years and there is still one thing that shocks me.

The amount of businesses - be they retailers, manufacturers or suppliers - who don’t enter their industry awards is shocking. For me, wherever you are in the supply chain, entering awards is a great way to raise the profile of your products and brand whilst getting your offering under the noses of the right people.

Awards organisers work really hard to get an esteemed panel of industry experts to be a part of their panel, thanks in part to their influence on the market, knowledge and profile. How often would you have a free opportunity to get your products evaluated as part of a curated group of buyers?

Whilst you’re impressing buyers involved in the awards itself, the additional credibility a product gains from being a finalist or winner increases its appeal to other potential stockists.

For retailers, viewing products in a judging setting can be helpful because it narrows down your field of vision to new products, often from suppliers you’d simply walk past at a show.

From a personal point of view when I am a judge across the cards, gifts and stationery industry, it is very common for me (and others) to note down what they see whilst judging, before following up on relevant stands or contacting the suppliers about products of interest.

There are often additional benefits to entering awards. For example, The Stationery Show gives entrants an opportunity to showcase their products to all visitors on the new product stand at the entrance to the show.

In 2017, the London Stationery Show set a new competition called Launchpad – hoping to sky rocket existing businesses opportunities on the back of their attendance at the show.

Aimed at new businesses who have not exhibited at the Stationery Show before, Launchpad’s eight winners get the opportunity to have a stand at the show for free - a great opportunity that could have been otherwise unaffordable.

Some examples of people who won Launchpad include Bloom, a Dutch greeting card company who entered the competition as part of their UK launch strategy. Having won a stand in 2019, they are now taking orders every week from UK companies as a result. What an incredible way to enter a new market!

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From 2019, Cardshit were another winner of Launchpad who gained three strong leads from national retailers at the show, one of whom has ordered already - definitely a case of great product, in the right place at the right time!!

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Whilst the London Stationery Show’s opportunities continue to open doors for retailer, entrants for the Giftware Association’s Gift of the Year allow manufacturers showcase their products on the GOTY website from the date the entries open for a full twelve months until the same time the following year. Imagine it; a virtual showroom open to any retailer to view whenever or wherever they wish.

The Handcrafted Card Company won the card category at GOTY in 2019. As part of their launch strategy, they enter awards regularly and it’s clearly paid off for them in the last twelve months, receiving orders for their award-winning range immediately after winning the prize, from both existing and new customers whilst partnering with a new distributor to upscale their business.

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There two award models are great but, of course, every award works differently. Judges at the Henries Greeting Cards awards judge the categories not knowing who the publishers are, but are able to request information on publishers of specific cards they liked after the event.

Cinnamon Aitch were winners of a 2018 Henrie Award and find that awards extend the marketing of their new ranges. Whilst there is no correlation between winning and orders, Cinnamon Aitch’s win has been mentioned by buyers they’ve spoken to and it gives them a really positive brand endorsement.



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Whether it’s a Henri, a Launchpad award or something else you’re shortlisted for (or hopefully win), you’ll be guaranteed an appearance in exhibition brochures, websites, featured in listings in industry publications and more. So instantly, without minimal work, the visibility of your business and product becomes much more visible within your sector and the wider industry too – invaluable PR without any major outlay.

Whilst the entering the award is important, celebrating your win is important too. Ensure you share your win with existing customers, keeping your contact lines open and allowing them to feel connected to your business. An award win (or even a shortlisting) gives you an opportunity to re-engage with some former sales contacts – it might tempt them to place another order !!

There are a selection of awards that can work really well for retailers too. As the high-street is slowing and retail spend is considerably down, it is really important to create a point of difference for your business. Entering -and hopefully winning awards -can be a really good way of raising your profile, be they a local award or awards for your industry.

Not only is it a great shot in the arm for your business, it is a great morale booster for your team too.

Aga Gabrysiak, Owner of Highworth Emporium, won an award at the 2019 Greats said: “We all work really hard to make sure we have the right stock, nice selection of cards, attractive displays and a social media presence. Sometimes it can really tough and you often think that your efforts are going unnoticed. Being awarded with such a great prize has given us an immense dose of extra energy and pride.”

Following their win, Aga and the Highworth Emporium team have taken the opportunity to celebrate with customers, local press and trade press. We’re sure that the local media coverage they achieve will help them gain new customers in the future.


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Business is getting more and more difficult for all of us so why wouldn’t you do something to help you stand out from your competitors? Entering awards is relatively quick and inexpensive but the benefits of being a finalist or winning can be significant. Surely, it’s a no brainer!

Ultimately, it’s time to reward your gold star efforts with an award of your own – who knows where it will lead?

It’s like great French footballer Zinedine Zidane once said: “It doesn't matter how many times you win an award, it is always very special.”

Right on trend - hottest trends in the stationery and crafting market for 2020

Right on trend - hottest trends in the stationery and crafting market for 2020

The links between stationery and craft are always strong, simply because so many crafting activities use mediums and materials that are in the core to the stationery sector. This year is no exception with calligraphy, journalling and colouring all being very popular with creatives both in the UK and abroad.

Is writing a dying art?

Is writing a dying art?

I have loved stationery since I was at school, I was the girl who collected erasers with googly eyes and looked forward to having a new pen in my Christmas stocking, then learning joined up writing was a given it was never ‘if’ but ‘when’, writing was a skill to be perfected.

Looking back over the last thirty years...

Looking back over the last thirty years...

Open the champagne and start the celebrations, because 2019 is my 30th year in the stationery industry. My love of the industry continues to grow and since becoming part of the industry, I have become an independent retail advisor in the cards, gifts, stationery and heritage industries, I work with many small and medium-sized businesses.

Have you got the competitive edge? A view on exhibitions

Have you got the competitive edge? A view on exhibitions

With the economic outlook somewhat curious for UK retail and a selection of high street mainstays falling by the wayside, there is one thing that hasn’t changed in British shopping landscape - brands of all sizes are all still competing for consumers attention, and those same retailers are always on the hunt for the “next big thing!”