April 29, 2010 •
Pictured: Bonnie Marcus. Photo courtesy of the Bonnie Marcus Collection.
One mom puts runway to paper to create a distinctly design-driven line
Stationery is a mother-driven industry. You can find them in every segment, as designers, executives, buyers, retailers or, of course, end consumers. But perhaps no mommy has woven her role into her work quite like Bonnie Marcus, who launched her line while seven months pregnant in 2002.
Design-wise, at the heart of the Bonnie’s line is her love of fashion — and her innate understanding that women want runway style on their bridal, baby and everyday stationery. Bonnie, who suspects “pink ink runs through my veins,” distinguishes her line with a signature splash of hand-applied glitter and a bevy of chic beauties. This aesthetic has earned the Bonnie Marcus Collection placement in more than 1,000 venues and 2009 revenues of $1.3 million.
Stationery Trends caught up with Bonnie to learn more about her vision and business, and where she’d like to take them next.
Finding Her Footing
ST: How did you get into the business?
BM: Prior to launching my company, I was the director of special events at the 92nd Street Y. I planned hundreds of magnificent events for notables in politics, arts and entertainment, such as Clint Eastwood, Neil Simon, Martha Stewart and Al Gore. Designing the invitations was always my favorite part!
I then helped a friend launch ChelseaPaper.com, one of the first stationery Web sites. I remember walking NSS 10 years ago explaining to manufacturers about our new Web site, and that customers may soon purchase invitations online. It’s amazing how the industry has changed!
After working with hundreds of brides and corporate clients on their invitations, I ambitiously decided to launch my own business. Soon after, my company was featured as a “Best Bet” in New York Magazine and in O The Oprah Magazine, and there was no turning back. Although the first few months were tough, working at the computer and answering the phones while nursing the baby, somehow we got through it!
ST: Please tell us about your experience with Diane Von Furstenberg.
BM: One of my first jobs after college was working with Diane Von Furstenberg in her private design studio — the best experience anyone could ever have in running a business. Although most people know her for her huge empire, back in 1995, there were only three of us working in her fabulous Fifth Avenue studio overlooking Central Park.
Working in a small business setting involves wearing many hats, (so) I managed everything from press requests to QVC appearances. In addition, I helped to coordinate her son’s wedding and all the related parties. It was then that I fell in love with the industry and knew I’d found my calling.
ST: Can you name some other early influences?
BM: I was a true fashionista when I lived in New York City. My roommates also worked in fashion and were knowledgeable about every trend. Gucci, Prada, Louis Vuitton — I was definitely influenced by them all. The brides I was working with weren’t interested in invitations with traditional wedding motifs. They came to me for fresh, fashionable designs with illustrations that resembled themselves.
ST: How did maternity fashion impact your creations?
BM: When pregnant with my first child, I realized there was a market void for stylish stationery for moms-to-be. Although fabulous designer maternity clothing was available, the stationery and baby shower invitations at the time featured teddy bears and rattles — definitely not what my style-savvy customers would be interested in purchasing. My first collection of baby shower invitations, Expecting in Style, featured glamorous moms-to-be in sunglasses with shopping bags. I saw all the pregnant women strolling on Madison Avenue and knew there was a market for (it).
ST: Please describe your experience with American Express.
BM: American Express has been a wonderful partner in the success of my business. In 2006, I stood on a stage in front of over 1,500 prominent men and women in business, including Suze Orman and Hillary Clinton, and validated my small company as a viable business poised for growth in the “Make Mine a Million Dollar Business Contest” sponsored by American Express. I won the contest and gained the confidence to take my business to the next level. We recently filmed an amazing video for American Express. See it for yourself at http://bit.ly/chZDE9!
The Mom Factor
ST: How did you get such a neat location at NSS, against the wall like it is?
BM: My unusual location at the NSS was actually a stroke of luck. In 2003, I ambitiously contacted the manager for a booth at my first show. Since I was pregnant with my first child, I had no idea if I would be bringing my baby with me or nursing. I hesitantly explained to the woman on the phone that the only way I could take a booth was if I was next to the ladies room. Thankfully, they were able to make a booth for me, and seven years later, this very convenient booth is still our home.
ST: What are your boys’ names and ages?
BM: With three little boys at home, my pretty pink office is definitely my girly outlet. The glitter and ribbons balance out all the dinosaurs and super heroes around my house. I feel I have the perfect balance! My children are: Benjamin, 6 years old; Joshua, 5 years old; and Asher, 1 year old.
ST: How do you juggle home and work life?
BM: With a smile! Although everything may not always be balanced in my life, I don’t let it get to me. I enjoy going into work, I love what I do and I have a wonderful support system of family and friends, plus a helpful, understanding husband, Andrew, who takes his vacation every year to come to the NSS with me. When I first started the business, I had some guilt about not being home all day, but I soon found that I was a happier mother because I was pursuing my passion. When I went to play groups with my son, (I’d hear) other mothers worry if they could go back to work when their children started kindergarten. I feel very fortunate to have the flexibility of a business owner, and I often run from board meetings to music class, with a smile on my face, feeling lucky that I could do what makes me happy. And as they say, if mom is happy, everyone is happy.
ST: What role do your kids play in your business and in terms of inspiring your line?
BM: Our office is family friendly and my children often come visit me. It’s wonderful for them to see where “mommy works” and to know where I go each day. They know all the women who work with me, and many of them are actually mothers of their friends. Our children inspire our creativity. One of our new PerfectPad designs, Super Mom, was actually inspired by my children and their love of super heroes. There have been days when I have a full schedule and the school nurse calls that one of the children is sick. Instead of getting stressed, I think of myself as “super mommy” and just deal with the situation. I know there are many other super mommies out there!
The Big Picture
ST: How do you differentiate a good designer from one who is merely average?
BM: Having walked NSS as a buyer for many years, I am a designer who always tries to think like a buyer. There are so many designers who are extremely talented, but don’t have the customer in mind. A good designer will focus on what will sell (e.g., packaging, pricing), not just a pretty design.
ST: Where do you see yourself in five years?
BM: I hope to have many more successful licensing relationships in a variety of different areas. We are fortunate to have developed amazing licensing partnerships over the past few years with companies such as Kodak, Tiny Prints, Creative Converting and Sellers Publishing. This is an exciting avenue of growth, as we are able to partner with experts in other fields and focus fully on the design aspect of the projects.
ST: Tell us about your philanthropic and green efforts.
BM: I have strong ties to many charitable organizations and feel it is so important to give back to the community with each dollar that we make. We currently donate a percentage of profits to organizations that promote breast cancer research and education. To date, we have donated over $30,000 to this important cause that has affected so many women. Our office is also passionate about implementing environmentally friendly procedures. We have switched all of our designs to recycled, FSC certified paper stock and have changed the entire way our office is run: We use traditional hand towels instead of disposable paper towels, print on both sides of a sheet of paper and recycle all of our boxes. We have actually saved money by putting many environmentally friendly procedures in place.
ST: Do you enjoy the business or creative side more?
BM: I would describe myself as a creative person. However, I have actually grown to love the business side as well. In this economy, it is imperative as a business owner to have knowledge of the business side of the company as well, knowing how much money the company needs to make on a monthly, weekly and daily basis. I have encouraged all of our creative staff to also be familiar with the stats for each design. We don’t want to just release pretty designs. We want to release designs that sell and our customers will re-order.
ST: What marketplace trends do you find exciting?
BM: I definitely find colors and patterns to be very exciting. Although I started my collection with a few classic fashion-forward illustrations, I now have a library of hand-painted patterns to work with as well, which has added a fresh new twist to our classic designs.
ST: What tend to be your biggest inspirations?
BM: Every time I walk out of the house or out of my office I am inspired. By the snow falling on the trees, by a sunny day at the beach, by the children’s section at Barnes and Noble, I live each day to be inspired and I love seeing my inspirations come to life in our designs.
Bonnie at a Glance
Defining Moment? I answered my cell phone during a meeting and it was Katherine Heigl telling me what a big fan she is of my designs and asking if I would help her with Ellen Pompeo’s baby shower invitations. What a fun project!
Signature style? Fashion-forward, fresh and exciting. My goal is to bring the latest trends from the runway to our new design collections each season.
New for 2010? We have some fabulous new gift ideas at very reasonable price points. We’ve designed a wonderful new collection of photo frames that are perfect for baby shower gifts, bridal shower gifts and bridesmaid gifts.
Hot product this season? When four women in my office (including me) were pregnant last year and all of us had our precious sonograms tacked up to our bulletin boards, I realized there was a need for a special frame for these precious photos. Our “love at first sight” sonogram photo frames will definitely be a hit with our customers. They are fashionable, functional and reasonably priced at only $20 (suggested retail).
Direction of the line? Our silhouettes have been our best sellers since 2003, and they continue to be popular. Although most people think of silhouettes as traditional, our silhouettes are stylish and fashion-forward, just like our customers. The beauty of silhouettes is that they do not discriminate. Hair, eye and skin color are not issues, which broadens the customer base. Personal Favorite? I absolutely love our entire Expecting in Style Collection. The celebrity following for it has been amazing! Halle Berry, Britney Spears, Ellen Pompeo, Christina Aguilera, Cindy Crawford and many others have used designs from it for their own special events.
Designers, music and movies that inspire you? I am truly inspired by everything I see in the world around me. Wherever I go, I usually say, “How would this pattern look on an invitation?” My all-time favorite movie is Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I absolutely love the style of the movie, and all of Audrey Hepburn’s movies. When I first launched our collection, many buyers told me that our designs were very “classic Audrey Hepburn,” a tremendous complement. In terms of music, I also love classics, like Frank Sinatra, as well as contemporary artists like Alicia Keys.
If you couldn’t do this, what would you do instead? I have always been an event planner at heart. I coordinated my own Bat Mitzvah and not only designed my Bat Mitzvah invitations, but for all of my friends as well. If I wasn’t designing stationery now, I would probably be enjoying planning fundraisers and events for local non-profit groups and my children’s schools.