April 28, 2015 • Regina Molaro
All in the Family
A paperie thrives as it passes from one generation to another
Trading lying in the sun at her Hamptons bungalow to launch the stationery retailer Lion in the Sun certainly proved to be a wise investment for entrepreneur Jane Greenberg. More than three decades ago, Greenberg put her family’s seaside bungalow on the market so she could fulfill her dream. In 1981, Lion in the Sun opened its doors in the historic Long Island city of Huntington.
A nod to “The Lion in Winter,” the playful moniker Lion in the Sun also plays into a fun expression that resonates with Greenberg’s family. After all, the sale of the Hamptons home wouldn’t leave leisure time for “lying in the sun.”
Truly a family-run business, the shop was run by Greenberg, her husband and daughter, Melinda. After graduating college, Melinda pursued a career in special events, but this visionary knew that one day she would return to Lion in the Sun.
The timing was right in 2001 when Melinda was living in Brooklyn’s Park Slope area, a trendy neighborhood rife with history and architectural charm. Although lots of young couples and families were flocking there, she noticed the community lacked a fine paperie with expertise in custom printing and invitations.
In 2002, with the help of her parents, Melinda unveiled a Lion in the Sun location in Park Slope. Soon after, she met David Morris. They married in 2004.
While mingling with the Brooklyn clientele, the new entrepreneur was thrilled to discover how many customers were familiar with the Huntington shop. As the Brooklyn shop evolved, it would expand and later relocate to another, more prime location in Park Slope.
Throughout the years, several milestones occurred. In 2008, David joined the business in a full-time capacity. The duo joined forces in 2010 to launch Postscript Brooklyn — a collection of “locally inspired” custom invitations. In 2013, Greenberg announced her transition toward retirement. Eagerly embracing her new role, Morris crafted a growth strategy that would encompass both shops.
Although the Lion in the Sun shops are fairly identical in concept and business model, the two always functioned separately, until last year. “I recognized a great opportunity to grow the shops as one entity in terms of identity and branding,” explained Melinda Morris, “Principal Visionary” of Lion in the Sun’s future.
When it comes to ambiance, both shops offer a warm, inviting atmosphere with lots of visual stimulation, and a clean aesthetic makes the stores easy to navigate. Morris has found that the key to engaging customers is offering items created by small local artists, switching the merchandise up and taking risks. On an eternal mission to scout out emerging artists and uncover new collections, Morris seeks items with a unique flair, a sense of artistry and topnotch quality.
The Huntington shop, located on a picturesque street, boasts approximately 3,000 square feet. Over the years, it’s doubled in space. The Park Slope shop encompasses 1,000 square feet. Both shops are renowned for stylish custom invitations and in-store printing, as well as fine stationery, handcrafted cards, journals and albums, gifts, lavish wrap and ribbons. There’s also a selection of designer pens, funky notecards, classic and contemporary stationery sets and craft tools. The shops recently expanded to include artistic books and art prints, chic tote bags, decorative candles and gifty tabletop décor.
Each location has its own nuance. While the Brooklyn shop tends to lure younger, funkier customers, the Huntington location resonates with more traditional clients. “I always joke that the Brooklyn clients are the kids and the Long Island clients are the parents,” observed Morris.
The savvy retailer has also noticed a difference in the way people shop from location to location. Huntington’s sprawling space enables a more extensive selection. In Long Island, people have cars and houses with several closets, which allows for large trays, more candles and a stash of party goods. More urban and edgy, customers in Brooklyn walk everywhere and generally have small apartments, so they buy portable items such as tote bags, notebooks and greeting cards.
Most clients snap up the greeting cards, boxed stationery, journals, gift wrap and baby gifts. Top brands include Chronicle Books, Crane & Co., Moleskine, Rifle Paper Co., Smock and Smudge Ink. Locally themed merchandise really resonates with customers. In Park Slope, items highlighting Brooklyn and New York City reign, while Huntington’s client embraces beachy and nautical items.
Prices range from $4-$7 for greeting cards, while stationery and notecards are generally under $25. The prints, books and totes are generally in the $20-$75 range. Custom invitations range from $5-$50 per suite.
Strategy for Success
Morris is happy to report that there’s been consistent, strong growth at both shops. Although the invitation business is the “bread and butter,” increased online competition and an uptick in people sending evites has led to the evolution of the gift business. As a result, Morris aims to reach a broader demographic by expanding the merchandise assortment to serve a wider range of clients.
Being a small, privately owned stationer certainly casts Lion in the Sun into its own domain. She further distinguishes it with small, independent lines, including work from local artists. “Chain shops simply can’t offer the same level of service as smaller shops, so this enables us to really shine,” Morris noted.
There are also those very personal touches, which create memorable in-store experiences. Since custom wedding, special event design and printing account for more the 65 percent of the revenue, the shops offer full-service custom design and printing.
To achieve this, Morris and her team have developed a thriving network of talented artists, illustrators, designers and printers who create stationery, invitations, programs, menus, tote bags, rubber stamps, custom postage stamps and beyond. Both shops represent more than 50 designers and printers around the country, including Crane & Co., William Arthur, Bella Figura and Smock as well as Postscript Brooklyn. Several designers, illustrators and calligraphers are on staff offering a menu of creative services, which includes handpainted chalkboards and special signage for weddings. Personalization is available on stationery, pens, albums and more. Other services include addressing, stuffing and mailing invitations. After the ideal gift is selected, custom giftwrapping creates an impeccable presentation.
The team is quite savvy with events and marketing initiatives. Monthly giveaways and sales engage newsletter subscribers. Several times per year, “wedding ready” parties are hosted to highlight various invitation designers. The shops also partner with local wedding vendors, offering busy brides convenience during a hectic time.
Since Morris gets lots of business through client reviews, she created fun takeaways to encourage fans to share their experiences on social media. “Local love” cards, which resemble palm-reading cards, highlight all the shop’s social media destinations. Facebook and Instagram prove to be the most effective means of showcasing custom printing capabilities, new merchandise and displays. News is also spread through Twitter.
Engaging campaigns encourage a dialogue with clients. This includes contests in which clients are encouraged to share stories about the best mail they ever received. A Card of the Day and other engaging concepts are also employed.
Busy with both shops, Morris is on a mission to create a more cohesive brand going forward. With lots of expertise and connections, she certainly knows what’s required to take the business to new heights. It will be interesting to watch as this savvy entrepreneur unfolds the next chapter of Lion in the Sun. “Growing up in a family business taught me so many important lessons on dedication, work ethic and running my own business,” Morris concluded.
Q. There are some things that are timeless — a little black dress or the perfect martini come to mind. What epitomizes timeless for you when it comes to stationery?
A. Custom hand-drawn monograms that are engraved on cotton cardstock.
Q. With new stationery designers cropping up daily, how do you recognize the talented entrepreneurs among the hobbyists?
A. The entrepreneurs have more comprehensive collections. I often see great collections emerge, but there’s not enough merchandise for me to tell a story. Entrepreneurs also have smart, professional business practices, including clear policies and procedures.
Q. What are your three top-selling vendors?
A. Smock, Seltzer Goods and Rifle Paper Co.
Q. What have you learned about running a stationery business that’s surprised you?
A. I didn’t think evites and digital invitations sent via email would catch on for really significant events such as birth announcements and weddings.
Q. If you were a stationery product, what would you be?
A. A Graphic Image rose gold metallic leather week-at-a-view agenda with a full-page of notes.
Q. What is the best buy under $50?
A. The Seven Year Pen by Seltzer Goods, $9.
Q. What is the best splurge item?
A. A handmade book from Rag and Bone Bindery with a raw silk cover and black pages, $120.
Photos Courtesy of Lion in the Sun