To be or not to be? So goes the timeless Shakespeare question, but for many of us, the real and rather existential issue is more along the lines of, how can I reach my potential? — especially if one is a creative, right-brain person attempting to succeed in a rational, left-brain business landscape. That’s where Rob Fortier, Creative Talent Wrangler, comes in. Taking a lighthearted, humorous approach, Rob has helped dozens of entrepreneurs create, sell and win in today’s marketplace.
Simply put, Rob helps creatives in the art and business worlds bring out their passion and do their best work. He is also co-author of Pushing the Envelope: The Greeting Card Manufacturer’s Guide to Working with Sales Reps and Showtime! The Greeting Card and Gift Company’s Guide to Trade Show Success.
I first became acquainted with Rob when he was exhibiting Paper Words at National Stationery Show (NSS). His greeting card and stationery designs appeared in several leading industry magazines (including of course Stationery Trends), and Rob has even been featured on HGTV.
But I will always remember him as probably the best-ever emcee of the LOUIE awards ever in May 2012. In keeping with the “Greatest Cards on Earth” theme, he and Merle Hooker donned ringmaster costumes and sang — yes, sang! — an opening musical number that after a brief, stunned silence from about 300 observers, brought down the house and kicked off an incredible show.
With NSS — now renamed and redefined as signature mix marketplace (SMM)— on the horizon, I suspect many small companies are weighing whether they should go, and if so, how to best present their line. Never fear, Rob to the rescue!
1. SS: How did you get into this crazy business?
RF: Like a lot of other creatives in this industry, I was having trouble finding greeting cards that fit my style and expressed what I wanted to say, so I started making my own. I went from printing cards on my ink jet printer at home to making handmade cards and invitations, and then finally moved into digital printing. When I did my first stationery show with my former company, Paper Words, I had about 10 different styles going on. It was quite the mess! After that, I pared everything down so my line had a more cohesive look, and the marketplace responded positively.
2. SS: To your mind, when has a small company reached the point where they are ready to exhibit at SMM? What is the most common mistake you see young card companies make?
RF: I feel that companies are ready to exhibit at SMM when they have a minimum of 60 designs (enough to fill a spinner rack, and then some). I always tell young companies to go by my 1 out of 3 rule: A buyer may only like 1 out of every 3 of their designs. If the buyer needs to order 14-16 styles in order to place a minimum order, and you’ve only got 25 styles in your whole line, the buyer is going to be hard pressed to make that minimum. Buyers need choices, and the more choices they have, the better the chances a company has of getting a nice, big order! I also think companies should have some experience selling on the wholesale level to retail stores. They should make sure they have a strong sense of their target audience and what types of products they want.
It’s important for companies to make sure that their line has a cohesive look and feel. One of the biggest mistakes I see is young companies trying to please too many different types of customers. They are so excited about creating their designs and selling their work, they often end up with lots of different styles, hoping that they will attract a wide array of buyers. They are going for a variety, but what they end up doing is confusing potential buyers. Buyers need to be able to look at a line and be able to quickly determine if it’s a good fit for their store.
3. SS: What letter, card or invitation first comes to mind as the best you’ve ever received?
RF: A few years ago, I received an amazing New Year’s card from Heather Centurioni of HB Designs. She has this great line called Fabritations where she combines paper and fabric into cards and invitations. The card came in a box, and as I opened it up, I found this wonderful card that was backed in this pink and silvery fabric that reminded me of shag carpeting. It was fantastic and very special. I remember gasping when I took it out of the box!
4. SS: What are your three favorite paper lines?
RF: Just 3? That’s a toughie!
Great Arrow Graphics: I love the rich silkscreened colors and simple sentiments.
Compendium: I love to laugh, and they have tons of funny cards. Part of their line has all this great use of patterns with touching (but not sappy) sentiments that I love, too.
Old Tom Foolery: Their cards are so clever and funny, and I think they really helped to bring letterpress out of the “dainty floral” ages.
5. SS: Is there anything you do personally to keep letter-writing, card-sending and invitation using alive.
RF: I am a big believer in thank-you notes. I always send them after I’ve received a gift. I also send them after meetings with potential clients. I feel it makes a thank-you so much more personal than an email and it makes a nice impression. And birthday cards! I send lots of birthday cards! To me, wishing someone a “Happy Birthday” on Facebook just isn’t the same!