There’s Nothing Stationary about Stationery

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Jun 6, 2012

The National Stationery Show (NSS) marked its 66th anniversary on May 20-23rd. The NSS is one of the world’s most comprehensive collections of stationery and related lifestyle products. The show brought together over 11,000 buyers and 800 exhibiting companies, who were showing greeting cards, invitations, imprintables, giftwrap/ribbons, stationery, party supplies, paper tableware, customized/personalized products, paper-crafting supplies, calendars, and more.

The stationery market is an attractive market for service providers looking to expand their revenue channels. For manufacturers, these print centric products fit well within existing workflows and production infrastructures. For retailers, these products can become complementary to existing products. For example, wedding photographers can offer Save the Date invitations along with engagement photo shoots or birth announcements along with newborn baby photo shoots.  The retail market size for these paper products and stationery goods, by some estimates, is $41 billion. The National Greeting Cards Association estimates that the annual sales of greeting cards alone are around $7.5 billion dollars. In addition, stationery products are supported by life events and are less susceptible to the volatility of the holiday season. In contrast, the photo market is a Q4 dominated industry

The stationery market, however, is under significant pressure. The poor economic climate coupled with the emergence of online retailers has caused many brick-and-mortar stores to close their doors. At NSS we spoke with industry veteran Jack Tanowitz who was attending his 35th NSS. Tanowitz shared stories of witnessing this transformation first hand. Tanowitz started his first brick and mortar stationery store in 1978, and went on to successfully open 8 additional stores. Having built a reputation for providing high quality custom announcements and invitations for his client’s life events, Tanowitz was on the front line of the tidal shift. “At one time I was producing about 100 birth announcements a month and within the past five years the business started to dry up. When I talked with former clients and mothers-to-be, they told me that they were shifting their purchase preferences from visiting stores in person to ordering announcements online,” Tanowitz said. In the past five years Tanowitz has seen a rapid decline in the number of brick-and-mortar stores still in operation. Even with this as a backdrop, the entrepreneurial and artisan spirit of the industry as a whole was very alive and present at the National Stationery Show. The annual Louie Awards and gala, which celebrate and award creative excellence within the industry, is a testament to the energy and passion attendees have for the stationery.

Figure 1: The Louie Awards recognize creative excellence within the greeting card and social stationery industry

The challenges facing the stationery market, mirrors the trends shaping the independent photo retailers. Where declines in photo print sales have caused many photo retailers to close their doors or to explore new sources of revenue. Tanowitz recognized early the impact the migration to digital was going to have on the stationery market. So, in 2009 he closed his brick-and-mortar stores and transitioned into a role as a print specialist with StationeryHQ.com, a leading wholesale provider of personal stationery products and gifts.

While difficult, these challenges to traditional business models present significant opportunities to those willing and able to change. Within the photo market, online retailers like Shutterfly, Snapfish, and Blurb have introduced consumers to new products, unique applications, and reasons to create hardcopy photo merchandise. In response, we have seen independent photo retailers expand their portfolio of services and products to include photo merchandise and gift items. With the rise of companies like TinyPrints, Moo.com, Minted.com, and StationeryHQ.com the traditional business models of the stationery market are being challenged. Just like the photo market, service providers within the stationery market are being presented with a unique opportunity to expand their services and product offerings.

In an effort to better understand the market opportunity for custom stationery, and an expanding product mix that includes wall décor and novelty or gifting items; InfoTrends is preparing to launch a study that looks at the Next-Generation Personalized Printed Products. With the new “Next-Generation Personalized Printed Products” study, InfoTrends will provide valuable and relevant information about this market derived from detailed research that will identify and profile buyers and non-buyers, investigate interest levels and needs, examine workflow issues and the creative process, analyze the purchase decision-making process, look at the impact of pricing, and more.

For service providers looking at market opportunity for these products this body of research have great value. Backing a go-to-market strategy with a solid understanding consumer behavior, gives service providers a competitive advantage in expanding their business and opening up new revenue channels.

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