Mom and Apple Pie!

How did you celebrate the fourth of July? Family gathering?  Neighborhood picnic? Fireworks? Did the kids in your neighborhood decorate their bikes and parade through the streets? I remember those days! Independence day is the quintessential American holiday!

I’ll admit that over the years, I sort-of forgot what the day was about. Same with Memorial Day, Labor Day and a few others. They became more of a holiday from work, a fun day to relax and spend with the family. As I’ve grown older, I’ve begun to reflect more on what the day commemorates.

But when did holidays become a shopping day?  Was your answer to how you celebrated the 4th to go shopping? That, to me, is very sad. When did certain, if not most, holidays become merely a reason for a sale at Macy’s? Why do malls require their stores to be open, hoping to catch one more sale? I can see running to the grocery store for last-minute fix-n’s, but did you really need to pick up that new dress or pair of sandals? And why do some customers feel entitled to shop whenever they feel like it, almost indignant at the thought that a company might be closed so their staff can have time off on a holiday? What has happened to our priorities?


Cash, please!

We have one of those signs at the check out area in our store asking people to pay with cash on purchases under $8. Most people don’t even notice it. And truth be told, we don’t even say anything unless it’s a ridiculously low dollar amount where the customer wants to use a card.  I’ve seen people pull out a card for a $1 purchase.

In an electronic world, few people carry cash anymore, and even fewer people carry a checkbook!

But in actuality, we’re only asking people to accommodate us by paying with cash. That’s because we can’t require it. The credit card companies have seen to that. We’re not allowed to refuse a card in any instance. Nor can we charge an additional fee for a credit card/debit card purchase, though I’ve had that happen to me on numerous occasions.

But part of the reason we have the sign there is to educate our customers. See, most people are unaware that banks and card companies charge retailers fees to accept credit and debit cards.  In an amazingly convoluted manner, there are different percentages for different types of cards (personal, business, rewards, debit, credit) and for different companies (MC/VISA, Discover, AX). Then there’s the fee just to “call in” the charge. This doesn’t even cover all the charges associated with internet purchases. It’s so complicated that, even though I have to deal with it, I couldn’t accurately explain it to you.

What I can explain though, is that at the end of the month, those card companies take a big chunk of my sales right out of my account. Ouch.

But what most people don’t realize is that the smaller the sale, the relatively larger the portion that goes out the window. Say for a $2.95 card, on average, about $.35 goes to the banks, or 12%.  On a $1000 wedding order, it’s more like 3.5%. While that’s still a very large amount, it’s the nickels and dimes that kill us.  Every time someone pulls out a credit or debit card for a $3 purchase, I cringe. And I wonder if they know what they’re doing to the cost of items they purchase.

Because it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that retailers have to recover those fees in some way, and that typically means that prices have to go up. They have to recover their lost earnings in some way. Credit card companies are also looking for ways to recover their lost earnings, all the while offering miles, money back and anything else they can think of. It’s not out of the goodness of their heart. The money comes from retailers, which ultimately means it comes from you and me, the consumer.


Wedding Etiquette - doesn't anybody care anymore?

I love owning a stationery store.  I realize just how much I love it when I think of giving it up. That’s when it hits home.  But one thing I don’t love is feeling like the ‘keeper of etiquette.’  Afterall, why is that my job?  Well, I guess it is part of my job. And part of what sets Sarah B. Fine Stationery (and other professional stationers with a brick and mortar shop) apart from the others is our knowledge of etiquette.

Much of our business stems from weddings. And a lot of our business has gone away. Either it’s the internet, where customers get no assistance, or just friends or “graphic designers” or other shops where they make your invitations for you (high-end or cheap), I have seen or heard every faux pas imaginable. That includes minor things such as the beginning of each line being capitalized (you know, Word does that when you’re typing on the computer) to mis-spelled words (I guess the “designer” didn’t know how to spell hors d’oeuvres) to really big things like, no where on the invitation was there a last name! (This was an invitation my husband and I received and couldn’t figure out who it was from! A bit of detective work – the return address was the parent’s address, luckily, but that was the only hint of who these people were!) All the way to the granddaddy of no-no’s, the dreaded gift registry on an invitation.  I can’t tell you how many people ask me about that, wanting to add it to the invitation. There are a lot of grey areas where I tell the customer “it’s up to you” but this isn’t one of them.

Stickers are another one. You’ve just spent hundreds (thousands?) of dollars on beautiful invitations. This is one of the biggest events of your lifetime, and perhaps one of the most expensive of yours and/or your parents. Everything is just so. From the flowers to the dress to the venue and food.  Now you’re not going to even bother to write out your guests names and addresses, you’re going to print them off on a label? Well, it’s a clear one with a pretty font, you say. I’d be rich if I had a dime for every time I’ve heard that. For an event this important, take the time, make the effort to use your best handwriting to address the envelopes! It makes it so much nicer and so personal! This becomes YOUR invitation, not just a bunch of envelopes you dumped in the mail.

Probably the invitation that upset me the most was written so that the bride’s parents invited people to the wedding where the groom was listed before the bride. So it went:

Parents of the bride
request the honor of your presence at the marriage of
John Smith
Susan Doe… etc.
I’ve NEVER seen that done on an American wedding invitation. The bride is always first. Always. We stressed how that was incorrect, to no avail. They liked the way it ‘flowed.’ I still feel sick over that one. I feel it reflects badly on the groom and his family. I feel it reflects badly on the bride and her family. I also feel it reflected horribly on our store. But the customer insisted.

At Sarah B., I feel it is our obligation to teach people about etiquette. Ultimately, if they choose to go a different way, and they do, it’s up to them. But at least they have done so knowingly, not through ignorance.

But why do I get so worked up about it? Why is it so important to me for people to do it “right”? I guess part of it is that it’s a reflection on me, personally, and my store. But it goes way beyond that. I often feel like I’m trying to hold the line, no, floodgates, against all the people who just don’t care. Some people just don’t know, and are so happy when we tell them the proper etiquette. But others just don’t care, and they will openly, proudly admit that. I don’t get it. Why not care? Why isn't it important to make things nice, to do things correctly or politely, to hold on to some semblance of tradition? Why is the attitude that “this is good enough” good enough?  It really saddens me.


A gift too pretty to open?

I just have to share this idea that I found on MarthaStewart.com...  a beautiful way to wrap a gift that any mom would love on Mother's Day!

Print out a photo in color, or b&w, as shown here.  Wrap the gift in a neutral or coordinating color, then add a band of ribbon or paper and attach the photo to the front. Simply beautiful!  Mom won't even want to open the gift! Be sure to attach the ribbon with double-sided sticky tape underneath the photo, so the ends won't show.  Martha always has good ideas!


Fair Trade? How about American made!

Recently a customer entered the store asking if we had “fair trade cards.” Hmmm, I had to give that one some thought. I know about fair trade clothes, fair trade coffee, but cards, I hadn’t come across that one. After a moment of thought, I remarked that there really isn’t such a thing, rather, we make every attempt to buy American.

Buying American to us means many things. Among them, it can mean supporting a small business. It means supporting American jobs and moms and pops. It means being more ‘green,’ as it may be shipped from Chicago, Arkansas, or some other American city, rather than China. And it's often produced using cotton or recycled paper.

That’s not to say we don’t sell items made or printed in China. But we do seek out cards, stationery and gifts that are made in the USA. And we can proudly say that a huge amount of what we sell is American made!  Here are just a few (but there are way too many to credit them all!):

Crane & Co., an American standard, featuring custom wedding, stationery, birth announcements, boxed stationery and more.

The News LA, featuring recycled newspapers and magazines that are laminated, stitched and turned into totes and accessories.

BOBO gift wrapping scarves, Korean-inspired, American made.

Delphine Press, letterpressed stationery using a vintage press, on 100% cotton paper with soy ink

Green Paper Company, with imprintable invitations and notes made of 30-100% post-consumer recycled paper

Smock, featuring 100% post-consumer recycled wrapping paper and bamboo notecards printed with soy inks

Old Tom Foolery "Footnotes" birthday cards, letterpressed on 100% cotton paper

B Design notecards, with small, simple designs, letterpress printed on recycled paper

This is just a sampling of the many American-made products that we are so proud to sell, but there are so many more! Please stop in when you can and always keep in mind American artists and entrepreneurs when you make your purchases!


Getting Comfortable with Social Media

If you're reading this blog, chances are that you are on the computer a fair amount. Perhaps you follow blogs, perhaps you are connected to friends, family and businesses by 'social media'.  I hardly knew what that was six months ago...  Now I'm writing a blog (nearly) weekly, and posting on Facebook daily! My family has a 'group' and even our store has a FB page!

While trying to learn the whole social media thing (and believe me, I'm still learning!), I looked to other businesses I was familiar with in the stationery world to see how they did it: what they posted about and how often. I was surprised that some of the big ones aren't there. It seems to be the younger, smaller businesses, mostly vendors rather than retailers, that have a stronger presence. Not much for me to go on.

But I look back, and we've been blogging for over a year now!  And we've been on Facebook for two years, posting consistently for seven months now. It took Renee and I a while to get a rhythm. But now that we have, I can't imagine NOT using social media! It's not only a great way to get news out about our business, it's a great way to stay connected with our 'followers' and 'fans'!

So we're encouraging friends and followers of Sarah B. Fine Stationery and Swanky Stationery to follow us on Facebook. We plan to start offering promotions (if I can figure out how!) exclusively to our followers. In fact, we just announced "tax relief days"coming up April 15th and 16th. Be sure to check us out on Facebook for the details and come in to take advantage of this and other good things to come! We look forward to seeing you online!


DIY'ers, take notice!

Oh, I can't wait!  This picture recently arrived from Envelopments (R) telling us that our new cardstock colors are on the way! Yea!

Come in soon to see 113 new colors and two new shapes, bringing the collection to 230 colors! Perfect for those who want to make their own invitations and announcements for weddings, graduations, births, birthdays and just about any event you have in mind!


I can no other answer make, but, thanks, and thanks. ~William Shakespeare

Silent gratitude isn't much use to anyone.  ~G.B. Stern

One of the most common complaints we hear at the store is that people don't bother to write them a thank you note following a gift. That, or that their grandchildren haven't been taught to write a thank you note. They're left wondering if they even received the gift, got it and didn't care for it, and/or just didn't have the manners to thank them for it.

These days, thank you notes come in so many forms - elegant, cute, fun! I love these fill-in thank you notes we have from Penny Laine to help children get started. The child writes (or attempts to write) a few words, and then colors the picture with the set of crayons that come in the package. It's never too soon to start teaching children good manners! And what a treat to receive one of these from a child you love!

We often think of the weeks following Christmas as a common time to write thank you notes. Makes sense, with all the gift giving. But think about it, thank you notes are one of our best sellers year-round!  So many events lead to gifts, which (should, at least) lead to a hand-written thank you note. You've got birthdays, Mitzvahs, wedding and baby showers, let alone weddings! And then there's graduations, thank yous following job interviews and notes to the professors who gave a good word and helped you land the job of your dreams! Then there's anniversaries, retirement, the list goes on and on!  We all have so much to be grateful for, don't we?

Writing thank you notes is a part of life, and all gifts should generate a hand-written thank you note. One exception is if the gift-giver is present at its opening, and the person is able to personally thank the giver. Even in this case, however, a thank you note is always appropriate.

Traditionally, a thank you note was written on an "informal note," which is why they are now sometimes referred to as an informal. It would typically be personalized with a name or monogram, such as these from Crane & Co.

Many people, however, use a simple note or correspondence card with "Thank you" pre-printed, which is also fine. Remember, the sentiment is what is important.

Sometimes writing thank you notes can seem monotonous and repetitive, such as notes acknowledging wedding gifts. Thank you notes should be a warm, sincere expression of gratitude, and you want to convey that feeling to your gift-giver. Some helpful hints include

  1. consider the gift you are writing about, even picture it in your mind.
  2. think of the person who gave you the gift, and (hopefully) what they mean to you.
  3. mention the specific gift. If it's money, mention that as well. (thanks for the check...)
  4. say something about the gift, such as 'we've always needed that', 'we plan to use the money towards remodeling the kitchen' or if you have no idea what you'll do with it, mention how pretty, colorful, unusual (fill in the blank) the item was. 
  5. wrap up with something like how great it was to see them, you look forward to seeing them again, sorry you missed them, or something like that.
Thank you notes don't need to be lengthy. Keep it simple, but sincere. Also, be sure that you thank them for the correct gift! (Thanks for the kitchen utensils wont go over well when it was a vase from Tiffany's!) Also, if you have many notes to write (lucky you!), break them up. Write five or 10 a day, then stop. Come back to it again when you're fresh!  You'll get through them in no time!

And I meant that "lucky you!" sincerely! Remember, no one has to give you a gift, even for a wedding. A gift is just that - a gift!  Enjoy and be grateful!


Finally, a stamp for square cards!

The US Postal Service is expected to announce the unveiling of a new $.64 stamp at the National Stationery Show in May.  The stamp will be available for sale beginning May 17, to be utilized for square or irregular-shaped envelopes. The stamp will always have a butterfly design on it, and in addition, manufacturers will begin to imprint the same design on envelopes, indicating a need for the special stamp.

Finally, a stamp for the ever-popular square card!

Look for this design to begin to show up on square envelopes before long:


International Women's Day

Today, March 8, is International Women's Day.  It is a day when men and women celebrate the economic, political and social achievements of women the world over, past and present. In some countries, today is a national holiday. I first learned of this day a number of years ago in Italy, where the women were given a sprig of Mimosas (the flower, not the drink!) at a restaurant. While hardly even heard of in the United States, I would like to recognize the women in my life, who inspire me every day.

From my mom, who got her bachelor's degree in medical technology at a time that few women even attended college, to my sister, who's about to be sworn in as the Department of Justice's Director of Violence Against Women, to my daughter, who is by my side every day in business and inspires me to do my best always, to all the other women friends, family and business associates. Here's to you, and thanks for all you do!