Where Paper Presents Profits
Stationery Is Still a Core Seller for Certain Shops

By Hilary Danailova

When today’s customers choose to put sentiments on paper rather than sending a text or email, that paper matters. It’s a deliberate expression that calls for more personalized, distinctive stationery.

Merchandise engagingly displayed at a Tender Loving Empire location. “We have a great merchandiser who comes in regularly and gives the store a nice facelift to present different artists, and we put a lot of time into window displays,” a manager said. Photo by Jaclyn Campanaro.

“The demand these days is for custom products,” affirmed Princy Agrawal, who sells made-to-order cards, journals and other paper crafts at her recently opened Bellevue, Wash., business, Kraftgali. “People want something with their name on it, with the kid’s or the friend’s name on it.”

From cards to calendars to wedding invitations, personalized papers are also what sell best for Katie & Co., a Houston stationer. “People like to have their name printed on stuff,” said Owner Katie Hackedorn, whose 1,000-square-foot store generates annual revenue upwards of $250,000. “It doesn’t have to be something expensive, but it shows you put some thought into it if you put someone’s name on it.”

Across town, personalized stationery is also the category best-seller at Avalon Stationery & Gifts in Houston, where Manager Charlene Littleton said her Southern customers still cherish old-fashioned, handwritten letters and cards — along with one-on-one service. 

An exterior view of Tender Loving Empire, which has three locations in Portland, Ore. Handmade cards are in high demand at the stores. Photo by Jaclyn Campanaro.

“We’re in an area that still understands the importance of being gracious,” reflected Littleton, who said she thinks handwritten communiqués are more popular in the South. “They still do write thank-you letters.” 

Since her customers appreciate personal gestures, Littleton has upped Avalon’s service game in a bid for patron loyalty; in addition to wrapping gifts, she’ll address and mail out invitations for stationery clients. “People go into a store because they want to be waited on,” she explained.

And while Avalon — like many stationers — has expanded its giftwares, upscale stationery is still the core of its business. Littleton said boxed invitation sets are a popular choice for showers and parties, while monogrammed letterhead from upscale lines like Crane’s are a consistent strong seller. Calendars, which start at $20, also do well at Avalon and other card shops around the nation.

Artisanal or handmade cards are another way to express personal style — and they are in high demand at stationers like Tender Loving Empire, which has three locations in Portland, Ore. Meghan Westby, a manager at the downtown store, said cards from local artists and a Portland company called Eggpress do well, along with cards handmade in-house. 

Novelty socks, soaps and funny cards are all successful additions to the inventory mix at Paper Moon in McGregor, Iowa. Shown, from left to right, Co-owner of 18 years Jennifer White, with Co-owner and her mother Louise White, and Sales Associate Ashley Christenson. Missing from the picture are Sales Associates Stephanie Fox-Dixon and Colleen Bouzek.

With a strong tourist business, Tender Loving Empire sells a lot of cards with Portland and Oregon themes, as well locally crafted pins, T-shirts and magnets. “That’s a huge percentage of what we sell in this store,” said Westby. “We have a great merchandiser who comes in regularly and gives the store a nice facelift to present different artists, and we put a lot of time into window displays.”

Non-paper gifts are a strong addition to stationers’ bottom line, sold to complement cards and to create a one-stop gift shopping experience. At Paper Moon in McGregor, Iowa, Owner Louise White said that while her three best-selling categories — novelty socks, triple-milled lavender soaps and funny cards — might not have much in common, they all contribute to a happy ambiance that’s inviting to shoppers. “The way the salespeople are, the lively way they interact with customers, we play real upbeat music. And of course the soaps have a nice scent,” said White, who also relies on daughter Jennifer’s attractive displays. 

Even with the popularity of gifts, paper remains essential to most stationers. “When it’s slow, some days all we sell are cards,” said Jennifer White, who estimated that stationery takes up about 10 percent of the 2,500-square-foot, three-level store. White merchandises greeting cards on spinners, complemented by two walls of stationery, including journals and boxed sets.

An exterior view of Katie & Co. From cards to calendars to wedding invitations, personalized stationery items sell best for this Houston, Texas, store.

Her strategies include working with vendors who don’t require large minimum orders. “With six of each, they don’t get as beaten up,” White explained. Other tips include stocking humorous cards — White said funny designs are “the majority” of individual card sales — and price points of $20 or less.

In Houston, Katie Hackedorn of Katie & Co. has turned to social media to drive sales. “We do a lot of posting on Instagram and Facebook, and we try to update regularly,” said the Katie & Co. owner, who also advertises in wedding magazines. “We try to stay relevant that way.” 

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