August 23, 2017 • Sarah Schwartz
Ready-to-Wear — and Print!
There was a time — not very long ago — that imprintables were an essential component of any stationer’s merchandise mix. Due to sites like Evite and Paperless Post, as well as Etsy’s plethora of buy-and-print-at-home designs, this has changed — but what remains is that some customers are still seeking this product, specifically to be created at brick and mortars, no less.
“My perspective is that this market is right-sizing,” observed Sadie Piller, senior merchandise manager, Paper Source. “It’s not a growing category for us, but I don’t ever see it going away. Invitations make up about seven percent of our core stationery business annually — and we’re seeing an increasingly last-minute customer, who may come in the store at 2pm and (want) her invites in the mail by 6pm. That’s where we have historically served our customer.”
“There is no doubt the blank stock business has experienced change,” agreed Sheri Scruggs, owner/creative director of p. press papers. “Most stationery companies have left the blank stock business altogether, but many consumers still want to invest in personalized paper for party planning from a storefront. My initial goal was not to focus on blank stock product when I got into the wholesale stationery business in 2013, (but) after researching, I learned that (customers) are still searching for blank stock imprintable resources.”
Be ready for any last-minute need with offerings from Printswell, p. press papers, Ann Scott Design, Matrick and Eve, and Page Stationery.
But while the market still exists, it doesn’t receive the space it once did, Scruggs underscored. “Storefronts do not want to stock as many designs as they used to, but will order consistently to fulfill individual orders.”
Retailers, then, find themselves in a delicate balancing act. They don’t want stock gathering dust — but do want something for the in-a-rush client, pointed out Allison De Meulder, founder and president, Matrick and Eve. “Stores that buy imprintable invitations from us buy them on demand rather than stocking them. They have our catalog on hand (for) customers (to) look through. (But because) customers are coming into stores at the last minute, this isn’t the best situation.”
For more extravagant events, these pieces from Kleinfeld Paper, Smitten on Paper, Carlson Craft, Oblation Papers & Press, Colobox Design & Letterpress, and Lemontree are up to the task.
Tips from the Trade
So what is a retailer to do? First off, from a technical standpoint, stock strong designs that are easily “understood by both customer and printer,” recommended De Meulder, who observed this information gap when they printed imprintables in-house. “A strong design has clean lines, and this is not only the responsibility of the designer, but of the printer as well. Clean lines are often associated with minimalistic design, but this isn’t the only definition. Some designs are quite intricate with fine lines, and some printers cannot hit those lines cleanly without them being jagged. A clean design can still be complex and have lots of color and detail, I just like the lines and detail to not be created or printed with distortion. A practical design is a successful one.”
Winning designs should also be able to easily printed on a home desktop printer with lots of white space by the grab-and-go customer, reminded Scruggs (though it’s smart to offer in-store printing as well). “Everyone loves funky and fun layouts, but it’s essential to have a clean and defined white space to print text layout.”
Color and flexibility are also key, noted Scruggs. “It’s important for us to have a wide variety of color schemes and patterns that appeal to a large number of buyers. We also stick to non-specific motifs and themes in order for our products to transcend more than that one themed event. Meaning, we hope that one best selling pink striped invitation can be used for a bridal luncheon, graduation party and a baby shower.”
To make this category work for you saleswise, De Meulder suggested paying attention to four factors. Have a good selection of designs from each brand you choose, don’t offer too many brands — that gets confusing — and make sure your stock is clean, not faded, damaged or dusty. Finally, offer consumers what they are unable or unwilling to do themselves — namely, print them perfectly with just the right wording.
Creating an environment where imprintables are easy to shop and select is key, De Meulder added. “Successful stores have imprintables arranged by theme neatly, (and) there is usually a seating area around them for consultative purposes.”
“Consumers often have trouble visualizing the finished product, so seeing a printed sample is key to moving product,” emphasized Scruggs. “We include a free printed sample with every blank stock order to help!”
Definitely consider dedicating some wall space to finished creations, Scruggs continued. “Binders work okay, but display boards or display walls help consumers see multiple options without getting lost in a catalog or binder.”
Think about how you can convince existing customer to turn off the computer and visit the next time she’s planning a get-together. This can be as simple as signage saying that you offer a free emailed proof, as well as discounts and incentives similar to those you’d offer for any product category. And, don’t forget to post your creations on social media — with the customer’s permission, of course!
“We live in a world where consumers want fast and easy, so streamline your blank stock selection and ordering process!” Scruggs described. “Party planning and entertaining are a big part of our culture, so many shoppers desire the best paper and personal printing that can only come from working with a knowledgeable sales person one on one. We hear many consumers are unhappy with online invitation purchases because it’s hard to judge the paper quality, paper texture and print method from a computer screen. This desire for quality and efficiency is driving consumers back to the storefronts.”
Finally, don’t forget to build the sale with easy add-ons such as thank-yous, stated Emily Wiggins, wholesale marketing and account manager, Waste Not Paper by Paper Source. “Showing gratitude and following up post-event is still strongly rooted in hand-written notes. We’ve seen steady results in multi-pack and single card thank-yous, and I am optimistic that there will be a similar renaissance with invitations in the future.”
A seamless experience leads to future sales and word-of-mouth publicity, finished Mark Smith, president, Envelopments. “What usually brings back a customer is the experience of working with the designer. If you can develop a relationship with your customer, make the experience pleasant and reduce the customer’s stress, most likely you will get referrals from the customer and they’ll be back for their next milestone event.”
Neat and tidy displays, as well as display boards — showing backers as well — are essential to any mix. These are from Envelopments and p. press papers.