Features Industry Profiles

January 7, 2015 •
Southern Charm

Dan Collier transitions from wholesale to retail with great success

The Southern region of the country is noted for its hospitality, charm and grace. A friendly greeting always welcomes guests upon arrival — and good deeds are followed up with a note.

“For generations Southerners have followed the tradition of putting pen to paper and thanking hosts or gift givers. It’s a nice way to show appreciation,” explained Dan W. Collier, owner of The Merchant at Howell Mill, a paper and gift shop in Atlanta.

Many Stationery Trends readers will recognize Collier from his rep group Daniel Richards, which has its flagship showroom in Atlanta as well as permanent showrooms in Chicago and Dallas. Founded in 2001 with his partner, Richard Pfeiffer, Collier assumed sole ownership and became principal of the company in 2009.

Not content to stay on the wholesale side of the gift industry, Collier unveiled The Merchant at Howell Mill in 2013. “My crew believed that there was opportunity to open a paper and gift store on the West side of Atlanta,” Collier noted.

This was a good hunch, as there’s quite a buzz in the area. Atlanta’s West side lures a large lunch and weekend crowd. The real estate market in the surrounding area is also booming. Apartments, condos and high rises are sprouting up all over the Midtown and West Midtown areas.

As a result, the shop expanded rather quickly, and a new storefront now faces Howell Mill Road, which inspired the store’s name. The space was originally 2,000 square feet, but has doubled to encompass 4,000 square feet of space. A shop within the shop, called Accidental Home, also debuted and offers furniture, bedding and tabletop.

Merchandise Mix

However, stationery seems ideally suited to the shop. The building that houses it was once home to Print Time, which printed brochures and magazines. Collier describes the shop’s aesthetic as “industrial chic.” Upscale urban wares fuse with stylish home furnishings, and lots of design-focused paper goods entice customers.

A vast selection of greeting cards is complemented by home accents of every conceivable kind. An assortment of style-centric books, colorful candles and personal care items are offered, as well as products for children and pups.

Eye-catching displays are carefully arranged and keep visitors engaged. Merchandise is housed in vintage one-of-kind fixtures that Collier personally sources at local markets.

The paper selection includes colorful counter cards, stylish fold-over notes and invites, as well as pretty notebooks and journals. Party décor, decorative gift wrap, calendars and planners are also part of the mix. Customers are always eager to snap up The Merchant’s selection of both framed and unframed prints, which celebrate various themes from flora and fauna to font-driven prints.

Average prices for counter cards are $4.50, while journals and notepads are generally priced around $8. Wrapping paper ranges from $4 to $7. Calendars boast $25 price tags while gifts are priced at about $30 and books at $40. Other items such as pet products (toys, bowls, etc.) are $15, while jewelry is generally $25 and candles, $36. Prices for home items range from $25 for tabletop to $60 for pillows, $150 for bedding and $750 for furniture.

Top selling brands include Rifle Paper Co., Sugar Paper, One Canoe Two Letterpress, Bella Ink Designs, Hammerpress, Karen Adams Designs, J. Falkner, Betsywhite Stationery, Smock, Mr. Boddington’s Studio, Emily McDowell and Rosanna.

As for curating the mix, Collier doesn’t have a blueprint for this task. The Merchant is constantly evolving and Collier challenges himself to continually uncover the emerging trends. “I shop, read, attend shows and question my peers about what works for them,” he revealed.

On the Move

Whatever it is that this visionary is doing is certainly working. Business has blossomed.

“Our summer (was) great,” Collier said. “Each month out-performed the previous one. Our counter card business has been amazing and I can’t keep birthday cards in stock. I’ve never seen people buy so many cards at one time.”

Strong sales during a weak economy certainly make people wonder about its formula for success is. “We stay true to who we think The Merchant is. We focus on lines that we love and try to respect our competitors. We don’t shop local businesses, so we don’t know what they have. I believe there is plenty of business for everyone,” Collier said.

Thanks to Collier’s vision and talent with crafting displays coupled with an enticing assortment and a prime retail space, there’s been growth. “We spend an insane amount of time merchandising and doing floor moves. I laugh when repeat customers are shocked that we switched the store up. We must keep evolving,” Collier said.

The Merchant offers other perks and personality. On Saturdays, Collier brings his dog “Jack” to the shop. When the weekend rolls around, some customers come looking for Jack, who ends up starring in lots of customer selfies.

Speaking of selfies, Collier believes in the power of social media to promote the business. A full-time social media person is on staff with responsibilities that range from posting on Instagram and Facebook to managing the shop’s website. Email blasts are also regularly sent to clients. At press time, The Merchant at Howell Mill was seeing great results from its Instagram posts.

More traditional tactics such as advertising, special events and promotions are also employed. Beyond advertising in local magazines, Collier does Partners Card, a two-week event in fall that entitles customers to a 20 percent discount. The proceeds benefit a special needs camp in Georgia. Other events include book signings from local writers such as Danielle Rollins who authored a book on entertaining. The engaging shop also hosts open houses, weekend sales and late night holiday events.

Aside from a warm welcome and ultra chic merchandise, exemplary customer service and amenities continually lure clients. The shop offers complimentary fold over/flat note printing (laser and ink jet) and custom invites with Waste Not Paper. Complimentary gift wrapping is offered and The Merchant at Howell Mill will conveniently ship any size package to any destination in the country for $20. Complimentary furniture delivery is offered as well.

Since there’s so much growth still happening in the Atlanta area, another store location is already being explored. “We have been actively searching for a unique, non-traditional retail space,” Collier said.

Since this shop proved to be such a success, any neighborhood will certainly greet Collier’s new locale with that warm welcome that is expected in the South.

Quick Q&A with Dan Collier

Quick Q&A
Dan Collier

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. A thank-you note or monogram that has just the right amount of cache to keep it current for years to come.

Q. With new stationery designers cropping up daily, how do you recognize the talented entrepreneurs among the hobbyists?
A. I shop all lines and I have a good idea of who is doing what and who started the trends. My gut instinct tells me if something is cool or sellable. Sometimes I like the hobbyists if the work is fun and marketable.

Q. What are your three top-selling vendors?
A. Rifle Paper Co., Kate Spade and Rosanna

Q. What have you learned about running a stationery business that’s surprised you?
A. There are so many people — young and old and male and female — who walk into the store and declare their love of paper products. I feel the same way. I can’t get enough of it.

Q. If you were a stationery product, what would you be?
A. A sticky note that says “get it done!” or “crack the whip!”

Q. What is the best buy under $50?
A. An 11-by-14-inch framed city print from Rifle Paper Co.; $50

Q. What is the best splurge item?
A. A sea salt and chocolate gourmet bar from Mast Brothers Chocolate; $8.75.

Photo Courtesy of The Merchant at Howell Mill


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