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.


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, 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.


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 !!

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.

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.

Bold, Brave, Brilliant, British (and Brexit?)

Bold, Brave, Brilliant, British (and Brexit?)

For most of us the referendum vote will be the biggest single thing to impact our personal and business lives in the coming years. It has been looming for a few years now and will continue to do so given the events of the last couple of weeks. Meanwhile, negative talk and scare mongering is creating increasing uncertainty for consumers, businesses, our government and the EU itself as no one knows what will actually happen…

How does the rise of ‘Health and Wellness’ impact the ranges that retailers stock?

How does the rise of ‘Health and Wellness’ impact the ranges that retailers stock?

As retailers, we should all be thinking about how we can maximise any opportunities that changes in circumstance present. More than that, we need to be keeping our eyes open and actively looking for them - and Health & Wellness is a growing trend that I believe we should all be paying attention to! Here’s why…

Why retailers can’t go wrong with ranges for children, pets, sport and games! 

Why retailers can’t go wrong with ranges for children, pets, sport and games! 

In my last blog in this series, I explained why during times of uncertainty people chose to spend time together doing things that don’t cost money. When they do buy products they will be items that enhance whatever it is they are doing together… 

A good example of this is games and jigsaws which are seeing a significant increase in sales at the moment with many new products being launched to appeal to new emerging markets and consumers who would not have bought these previously. We want to laugh and have fun and what better way to do it than play games!

Why ‘lifestyle’ needs to be a top buying consideration for Independent Retailers right now!

Why ‘lifestyle’ needs to be a top buying consideration for Independent Retailers right now!

Earlier this month, I was asked to present on the Main Stage at Spring Fair - and ‘lifestyle’ was one of the major trends I talked about, explaining why it’s of particular importance during this time of economic and social uncertainty in Britain…

How will past trends help us prepare for 2019?

How will past trends help us prepare for 2019?

 It’s already the last day of Spring Fair 2019 and I’m still wondering where the whole of last year went?! So before this year flies by any further - lets take stock, reflect on the trends of last year and see which are likely to continue to effect us in 2019. Understanding this will help you decide what to include in your range and identify product areas or categories you might want to introduce, grow or indeed remove. It really is worth taking some time to read these tips and think things through before investing in lots of new products for 2019.

Merry Christmas and Best Wishes for 2019!

Merry Christmas and Best Wishes for 2019!

If you’re still working on Christmas Eve (and if you’ve not already had enough of Christmas) here’s a round up of my Top 3 blogs for making the most of Christmas as an Independent Retailer. Do take a read and make sure you take a note of everything you have learned over this festive period, so you can put it to good use in 2019…

Is our interest in premium Stationery brands waning?


Paperchase was in the news last month as the story broke that their credit insurer, Euler Hermes, has refused to cover new contracts with suppliers (a similar case to what happened to Poundland and Maplins recently). It’s pretty big news as it means the company is no longer covered if they don’t have the cash flow to pay their suppliers - and the story even made it onto the Radio 4 programme - You & Yours.

Paperchase weren’t ready to go on the programme to talk about it - as it hasn’t changed their relationships with suppliers or payment terms… its just business as usual.

Instead, the feature opened with a few words about the growth in the stationery market. Presenter Peter White explained:

“In a growing digital world, it seems that many of us are still preferring the ‘handwritten touch’, with stationery sales seeing a steady year on year growth of around 1% from 2015, reaching £2.9 billion” according to Mintel.

We then heard a few clips from consumers in Manchester who talked about their love of stationery (from hipster note pads to novel Disney stationery to smelly pencils) - and in the interest of fairness, one chap who explained he didn’t buy stationery (apart from greetings cards). 

I was pleased to have then been asked to contribute my take on why a premium brand like Paperchase is struggling, when the market is in fact growing.

Peter asked me whether it’s because our interest in premium brands is waning – and here was my response… 

 “I don’t think our interest in premium brands is actually waning at all. I suspect what Paperchase is suffering from is increased competition at that top end of the market. They’ve been the leader in stationery for 20 years, particularly fashion-led stationery, and a lot of other suppliers are beginning to realise what a fantastic opportunity that is… so the competition is definitely hotting up for them.”

He then asked: In contrast, companies like Smiggle are doing really well - they’re aimed mainly at children. Is this the market then that’s most interested in stationery?

“You heard from one of your contributors just before I came on air that her daughter loves to go into a retailer and spend a lot of money on pens and notebooks - and Smiggle are absolutely tapping into that demand, but really for the younger teens at the really fashion-led end. Paperchase, I would say, in the main is aiming slightly higher than that, in a slightly more aspirational way…” 

When you say ‘aspirational’… we’re always being told, nobody writes letters anymore, is that true?

“I think it’s far from the truth, and actually if you look at the sale of fountain pens and ink over the last couple of years, although it’s coming from a really low base now, actually it’s growing really, really strongly as people are thinking more about keeping in touch - and doing it with materials that they really take a pride in.” 

And that’s being reinforced by our listeners actually... so is there evidence that people are still actually doing this?

“Whether they’re writing letters on a sheet of A4 paper with an envelope or whether their writing a message in a blank greetings card, a lot of people are now sending messages to one another. It’s quite interesting that we’re seeing the same trends now as we did back in 2008 when the recession kicked in… as people feel slightly less comfortable about their personal situations, they often keep in touch more and letters or a card are a much nicer way of doing that than an email or a text.”

So perhaps the people who worry that we’re becoming not as literate as we were, are worrying unnecessarily? 

“I suspect it appeals to very specific areas of the market and certain demographics, but certainly writing isn’t on the wane for a lot of people, it’s very much in the ascendancy.”  

If you’d like to listen again, here’s the entire You and Yours programme (or skip to 29.10 mins for the stationery feature):