Last month, Oblation co-founder and owner Jennifer Rich was invited to participate in a panel discussion on retail trends for stationery. Here we share her answers to questions she received during the panel.
Last Vegas Market
“trends in stationery retail”
in this interactive panel, stationery trends editor-in-chief sarah schwartz sits down with three paper & gift retailers to learn more about their approach to retail, what’s they’re seeing, and what’s selling.
joan schnee, on paper, columbus ohio
chandra greer, greer chicago, chicago
jennifer rich, oblation papers & press
What you offer in your store, from product categories to workshops and the like. who do you see you as your competition, and what do you do to compete?
oblation papers & press offers papers and pens from around the world, for writing, wrapping, gifting and making. our competition is primarily online sellers, so we try to enhance and extend the experience of beauty and belonging at our store.
5 years ago we began a ‘catalog card program’, with vintage paper catalog cards. when the customer signs up, pulls their card out of our old-fashioned card catalog and completes 6 purchases, they receive a gift certificate for 10% of the total spent toward their next purchase. this has outgrown its boundaries several times, and people love feeling that they belong.
we have also cut our pen prices, added a staff bonus to share the benefits of increasing monthly sales, and implemented a beautiful book of sample ink colors to show directly from the bottles.
we are also working hard at extending the oblation experience through multiple online channels.
do you sell online? when did you start, and how do you decide what to sell from your brick-and-mortar wares? how have you changed your approach to it as you had more experience with it?
yes, i agree with jia wertz’s recent assessment on forbes.com, that “more and more, consumers are shopping with their emotions instead of their wallets...while nearly 25% of baby boomers shop on facebook, millennials, prefer to buy products they discover on instagram.”
we have been developing an e-commerce website over the past 5 years to extend the experience of our retail store online, with a curated selection of things we like best, that may not be found everywhere.
this continues to evolve with lifestyle photos, artful gift wrapping, and a ‘shop our instagram’ option. we just added a blog that is fun and educational … yes, blogs are still a thing!
what is your strongest social media channel, and what advice would you give for best taking advantage of it?
our strongest channel is instagram. we post photos of new product we love, videos of our papermaking and letterpress printing processes, advertise monthly promotions and events, and even post positions available within the company, which as worked surprisingly well. customers can now click on products they see on our instagram posts and buy them directly from our website.
what do you customers tend to get most excited about?
pen-lovers love our pen selection, and we love to hear all about their pens. we sell lots of fountain pens to people who are rediscovering the art of writing, and we have an international pencil bar with lots of options. pencils are hot. especially blackwing!
we also have many, many card racks. single cards is our best selling category.
and our parakeets. get a shop parakeet! adults, kids, even dogs drag their owners in to visit the birds!
we run a half-off letterpress business card promotion every october. they look forward to this, and we are swamped that month, which used to be one of our slowest times.
what do you see as your biggest challenge, and what are you doing to offset it?
the increase in online shopping is a tough one for retail stores. we try to entice the 5 senses in our store, so people feel great and are surprised by rare treasures they encounter as part of our ‘experience economy’.
the “shop locally” motto isn’t just for brick & mortar any more, it applies to multi-channel marketing. we try to add beauty and belonging both vertically and horizontally.
vertically: as we help the customer find, understand, purchase and leave satisfied with great products from our store.
horizontally: as we greet our customers through their 5 senses, entice them with instagram, include them in our vintage card catalog rewards program, reward the staff for going the extra mile, offer aesthetically pleasing gift wrap and gift bags to take home and reuse.
recently i found myself on a plane back from the paris show, seated next to a former artist i bought from years ago. now she is our paris ephemera buyer, sending us shipments of paper treasures she finds there, which delight our portland customers. anything you can do to surprise and delight … this experience of ‘happening upon the unexpected’ is seldom found online.
what are you excited about that you are seeing at market? please don’t hesitate to name vendor names, showrooms and specific product.
foil is still great, and being used in new ways. we’re loving it on handmade paper cards and invitations. also love pop cards, even though they sell for $15 each. local artist cards and letterpress humor, like hat wig glove company.
how do you think your region or location affects your business? how do you take the most advantage of it?
portland has kind of a mild and gloomy weather pattern, so we don’t see too many terrible weather events. when it does snow, it shuts down the city. its also a hipster magnet these days, especially in the pearl district, where we are located. hipsters want hip things … they don’t mind paying more for them, we just have to keep coming up with the latest, which pushes us to find the next great thing!
we prepare for the buys seasons with lots of portland themed cards and product, like the very fun allport dish towels.
what product or products do you have the hardest time keeping in stock?
any limited edition or special releases in fountain pens, blackwing pencils, and field notes. also european and japanese notebooks, like traveler’s notebook, go quickly.
we also sell refurbished vintage typewriters, which are sometimes are a little tricky to keep in stock. wax seal initials in every letter and red wax. letterpress birthday cards.
what were your holiday ’18 bestsellers?
$2 stickers are suddenly a hot category, desk calendars by illee and snow & graham, lamy, sailor, and pilot fountain pens.
what do you suspect will sell well in 2019?
correspondence that is tangible and interesting, but as succinct as possible: bullet journals, “proper” letter sheets with simple designs, small note cards with few words.
in this age of texting and quick pics, the new generation of buyers, with millennials as the largest category now, want stationery that connects people, but doesn’t require an attention span beyond that of a goldfish!