October 6, 2010 • Sarah Schwartz
The DIY Experience

What’s a bride-to-be to do when she finds herself with the proverbial champagne taste and beer budget? For many brides, that means cutting costs wherever she can, which includes creating invitations and related stationery pieces themselves.

The numbers back this up. According to the Craft & Hobby Association’s (CHA’s) Attitude & Usage Study, card making ranks seventh in terms of dollar sales and U.S. household participation. In 2009, it was a $1.187 million industry, a 7 percent rise over the previous year. Eleven percent of American households participate, each spending an average of $86.31 on an average of 10.4 projects each year.

While the ability to literally inject oneself into stationery creations is a big draw, the main reason behind this growth seems to be purely financial, according to Victor Domine, CHA public relations manager. “Over the last couple years, consumers have been faced with the question of ‘Do I buy it, do I make it or do I go without?’ So they’ve cut back and they’re doing without those things they can do without.”

No wedding is complete without paper pieces however, so the question for many couples is not so much if they can make them, but how. Enter the stationer, who, while not a craft outlet, is uniquely poised to meld the not-so-different worlds of custom printing and crafted by hand – without changing their business plan or store identity.

Tools for the Times
Technology and a wide variety of vendors offering product have helped create a thriving marketplace. “People are able to customize more easily, and the cost of producing DIY invitations has been lowered by cheaper home printers,” explained Chris Rajei, CEO, Soho Papers. “In addition, there is more access to designing software, so people can have a wide range of choices to use without the professional labor cost. Even non-designers or amateurs can use this software to make good-looking products.”

“Anyone with a home printer, double-stick tape and patience can make invitations that are a personal statement,” agreed Ann Elliot of Waste Not Paper. “And, once a customer realizes all they can create (and save), it only reinforces this trend.”

The role of the online world is not to be overlooked, pointed out Allison Abad, art director, Hambly Screen Prints. “There are so many great blogs online today that show how these crafts can be more modern and personalized. This has also made the DIY invitation industry grow. These blogs also have a lot of tutorials and inspirations, (so) even a beginner can make their own.”

This homespun environment essentially birthed the entire handmade movement, said Jennifer Vance, director of marketing, Lifestyle Crafts, which “is also influencing consumer behavior, as seen through the explosion of venues such as Etsy.com.”

Interestingly, Domine described that website as going “from $0 to over $100 million in sales in less than five years. It’s become so popular that in 2009 they were invited to speak at the World Economic Forum. Warren Buffet, Bill Gates and Etsy all talking about how hand-crafted products will change the global economy.”

Market Offerings & Selling Tools

Within the stationer’s world, however, customers aren’t trying to profit for the most part, but simply cut some corners with polished results. Fortunately, commented Anna Griffin of Anna Griffin, “I think people are realizing that do-it-yourself does not have to be hard and there are a lot of products out there that make DIY easy. With all of the beautiful choices, it’s easy to achieve professional looking results on your own.”

If anything, the stationer is hard-pressed to find exactly which option to share with customers. After all, a stationer is not a craft store, but it must speak to what its clients are looking for.

A tiny sample of marketplace offerings includes: Soho Paper’s invitations in various sizes, colors and patterns that can be mixed with layers, cards or other inserts; Waste Not Paper’s exclusive palette of 40 fashion-driven colors; Anna Griffin’s invitations featuring “a new level of embellishment with elaborate finishes such as glitter, flocking and intricate die-cuts;” and Hambly Screen Prints’ huge range of hand-silk screened papers and overlays.

Finally, Lifestyle Crafts made headlines at this past National Stationery Show by unveiling its L Letterpress System, which enables people to create high-quality letterpressed projects with a variety of paper, inks, accessory products and printing plates, with retail prices ranging from $6.99 to $149.99.

Whatever line is chosen, it should be positioned correctly in the stationer environment. Finished samples should be displayed, and self-contained kits are always a good option here.

“Empowering customers is definitely the key to selling more DIY product,” Elliot said. “Show them what they can do by layering an A2 card on top of an A6 card. Showcase unusual color combinations, ribbon knots and fonts. Provide printing and layout tips – or offer printing in house for those who want to design and assemble, but are frightened by their home printer.”

“If I were a stationer, there would be project ideas displayed all over my store,” Griffin echoed. “Sometimes people need inspiration to light their creative fire. I would have special how-to demonstrations. In the craft world we have ‘make and takes’ where you get a few supplies, learn a quick technique, and get to take home what you’ve made. It’s a fun experience for everyone!”
Retailers should try to offer many options for customers, all the while guiding them gently through the process. Versatility is key, or as Elliot put it, “On a custom project, it’s important to make sure you make each consumer feel like they have a custom experience.”

Of utmost importance is that retailers make sure that they are profiting, too. Take offering assembly services. “Handwork is the cornerstone of DIY invitations,” Griffin noted. “While many of our retailers charge a fee for assembly, some offer the customer the option of assembling it themselves to save money. My advice would be to carefully look at the costs associated with handwork to make sure you are getting paid for your time.”

In some cases, such as the L Letterpress system, some retailers use it themselves to produce product for the customers. “We work with each of our retailers to come up with a solution that works best for them,” Vance stated.

A blog can only help any DIY program, Abad emphasized. “(There) they share the newest products that just arrived, plus tips and techniques for them. It can keep customers coming back. A blog in combination with small classes and/or examples in the store will also help with this new and growing DIY market.”

The best conclusion a stationer can draw is that the category is not going anywhere anytime soon, Griffin finished. “DIY is here to stay. Not only does it make a more memorable event, but the creative possibilities are endless.”

Retailer Update
In our Fall 2009 issue, we introduced readers to two stationers who incorporated DIY offerings. Both reported continued success, as well as some interesting results.

“We’ve found that the brides that start out as DIY customers end up being our custom design customers,” said Karrie Brock of The Birds & The Bees, Maumee, Ohio. “After adding up the cost of DIY supplies and realizing they don’t have the proper software, printers or knowledge for the actual set-up and printing process, (most brides) find our custom-designed invitations to be just what they’re looking for. Brides are finding that it is about the same cost, and they still (get) a unique, custom look.”

“We’ve also had quite a few brides bring in DIY kits they’ve purchased elsewhere and have us print them,” Brock continued. “I truly believe brides are realizing DIY is not cheaper or easier, and sometimes ends up costing even more than custom printed or even custom designed wedding stationery.”

Gayle O’Donnell, All About Weddings, Tukwila, Wash., reported similar findings. “The main reason customers are (taking) the DIY approach is for the cost savings, rather than a desire to be creative. (So) we see many customers who don’t really want to do the full invitation production themselves. Many want us to do the printing, and they do their own assembly.”

Finding its printing services more in demand, the store has modified its availability, O’Donnell added. “I had hoped to primarily sell the products (but) have learned that the demand is great for the in-house printing. Because our customers are willing to do their own assembly and like to do that for favors as well, we have increased our selection of different dies for our Accucut die-cutting system so they can do their own cutting and assembly once we’ve completed the printing.”

Regardless, O’Donnell concluded that the market is flourishing. “It is growing fast and furious. There are far more brides at least exploring (DIY) options than we ever thought there’d be. Not all brides go the DIY route when they actually weigh all the costs and look at the time factor involved. Many end up finding a cost-effective option we have available; many of our custom printed lines combine great style with reasonable cost, and far less headache. But by having both DIY and custom available, it gives the customer options, and we know we’re capturing a clientele who may not have otherwise come to see us.”

Photo: Lifestyle Crafts

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P.O. Box 128
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