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Greeting Cards — and More

BY Marianne Wilson

E-cards may be popular, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t still a market for greeting cards. Just ask Dominique Schurman, CEO of Schurman Retail Group. The privately held, Fairfield, Calif.-based company owns and operates some 400 stores in North America, including the fast-growing Papyrus brand.

“Card revenue has not gone down at Papyrus,” Schurman said. “And I think the reason why is that our cards are very unique and so differentiated from an e-card that people seek us out when they want something memorable.”

What’s more, a younger generation is now discovering greeting cards — many of them for the first time.

“Our customer base now includes a lot of teenage girls, many of whom who are treating greeting cards like they are a brand new phenomenon,” Schurman explained. “They didn’t grow up using cards, and for them cards are almost a fashion statement.”

Founded by Schurman’s parents in 1950, Papyrus started out as a wholesaler and importer of fine art-inspired cards and fine paper, mainly from Europe. The company opened its first store in 1973, in Berkeley, Calif. Schurman joined the family business in 1982, and took over as CEO in 1991 upon her father’s retirement.

“My parents operated under a very traditional entrepreneurial model,” she explained. “They were very hands-on and very close to the business. They never had aspirations to make it a big company. For them, it was a means to support the family and a way of life.”

Schurman had a grander vision.

“Having been born into the business, I was interested in growing its profile and building a brand that would be nationally recognized,” she said.

There is no question that she succeeded. With 185 stores, Papyrus has earned an enviable reputation for its distinct greeting cards; fine stationery; personalized announcements and invites; and upscale, inviting store environments. Greeting cards remain the cornerstone of its business, but there is also a growing emphasis on other categories.

“We’ve been in retail for some time, and we’ve learned that in order to be able to endure over decades you have to continue to evolve as a brand,” Schurman said. “As we evolve Papyrus to more of a lifestyle experience, we are expanding our gift offerings. Many of our customers that come into our stores for a special occasion often have a need for a gift as well. We want to provide more solutions in those areas.”

Some of the gift items that Papyrus sells are exclusive to it and some are not. In fall 2011, the company launched its own line of jewelry and fashion accessories under the Niquea.D label. Developed in-house, the brand is available only at select Papyrus stores. A freestanding Niquea.D store is in the planning stages, tentatively opening this spring. And the brand ultimately will include home decor.

With an average footprint of 1,400 sq. ft., Papyrus will open 14 stores this year. Upscale malls and busy downtown areas are the preferred locations. In 2010, it entered Canada, where it now has 10 locations.

Papyrus is Schurman Retail’s lead brand, but not its only one. In 2009, it acquired the retail operations of American Greetings, which included nearly 400 stores under the American Greetings and Carlton Cards banners. In the same agreement, American Greetings acquired the wholesale division of Schurman Retail and 15% equity interest in the company.

“We are expanding all our brands — Papyrus, American Greetings and Carlton Cards,” Schurman said.

The company, which puts its annual revenues at $200 million, is expanding in other areas as well.

In June, American Greetings acquired the remaining assets of troubled U.K. retailer Clinton Cards (400 stores). It hired Schurman Retail to manage the U.K. operation and named Schurman as the CEO.

“We are leveraging some of our team to bring leadership and direction to the business,” she explained, “along with our branding expertise and strategic experience. Basically, we are taking our strengths to the U.K. and partnering with the team over there.”

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Study: Amazon, Trader Joe’s and Costco Tops With Consumers

BY Marianne Wilson

Amazon.com, Trader Joe’s and Costco Wholesale Corp. came out on top with consumers in a survey by global consulting firm OC&C Strategy Consultants. Rounding out the top five were Zappos and iTunes.

Respondents in the “OC&C Retail Proposition Index” rated retailers they had shopped at on the overall strength of their offer, and also on the following individual elements: low prices, value for money, fashionability, quality of products, wide choice of products, products that are suited to me, service, trust, and store look and feel (or, if online only, quality of website).

Amazon ranked first in the overall segment of the Index, and also came out on top in several individual elements: value for money, wide choice of products, products that are suited to me and online shopping. The online retail powerhouse was rated No. 1 across all consumers, regardless of gender, household income or price sensitivity.

When it comes to low prices, Dollar Tree came out on top, followed by Aldi and Ross Dress for Less. In fashionability, the leader was Zappos, followed by Zara and Forever 21. In store look and feel, Williams-Sonoma was rated highest, followed by Crate & Barrel and Nordstrom. Williams-Sonoma also claimed the top spot in quality of products, followed by Whole Foods Market and Apple Store.

Trader Joe’s was the leader in service, followed by Zappos and Bath & Body Works. Zappos ranked as the most trusted retailer, followed by Amazon and Costco.

TAKE-AWAYS: Rambaut Fairley, associate partner in OC&C’s retail practice in Boston, summed up one of the biggest take-aways for retailers from this year’s Index: Pick your battles.

“It would be easy for competitors to become obsessed with combating Amazon’s broad set of strengths and look for ways to beat the retailer on all fronts simultaneously,” he said. “However, the challenges in setting strategy are not just about choosing what to do, but also include selecting what not to do.”

Fairley noted that a review of leading retailers reveals that those who are successful in building strong customer propositions are aggressively pursuing the key areas in which they want to compete and win — even if that means making sacrifices in other areas.

“As a result, the leading contenders to Amazon’s crown produce much more polarized performances than the online giant, with Trader Joe’s and Zappos investing in service at the expense of price, Costco sacrificing choice to compete on value for money, and Whole Foods and Williams-Sonoma focusing on product quality ahead of value for money,” he explained.

As to the overall strength of online retailers, Fairley said the reason it should be so concerning for brick-and-mortar players is that while online companies have always had the structural advantage in areas such as price and range, they are now also beginning to outperform in areas that were traditionally the store’s key strengths, most notably service.

“While Trader Joe’s took the overall prize for service in this year’s Index, both Zappos (2nd) and Amazon (6th) are in the top 10 for this key proposition element, which is often cited as the store’s last remaining source of advantage,” he explained.

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Bombay Company Is Back!

BY CSA STAFF

For many retail brands, Chapter 11 is not always the end of the story. Just consider the sequel being crafted by home furnishings retailer Bombay Company, which was founded in 1978 as a mail-order operation and grew to a national presence with 461 stores before filing for bankruptcy in late 2007 and closing all its U.S. locations.

Wil Hollands, who served as VP merchandising for the former Bombay Company, is now president of Hermes-Otto International USA, the U.S. division of the global lifestyle and fashion company Otto Group. Its holdings include Bombay Company. Hollands talked with Chain Store Age contributing editor Connie Gentry about the return of the brand and the launch of its e-commerce site.

After Bombay Company shuttered its stores in 2008, what happened to the brand?

Bombay was, and still is, a vibrant, popular brand. When the stores closed, retailers began bidding for the brand, but the IP rights were purchased by Hilco Consumer Capital and Gordon Brothers Group.

After that, Hermes-Otto International, which also owns Crate & Barrel, acquired the master license for Bombay Company. Hermes-Otto was looking for another home furnishings brand in the U.S., and Bombay was a highly recognized brand with positive association.

I joined the company in October 2009, and convinced our board to buy the brand outright. For me, the Bombay brand is a personal commitment — it is very important to finish what should never have ended.

When was Bombay introduced back into the market?

About 18 months ago we launched the brand through a series of shows on QVC, and about one year ago, Bombay products began selling in select retail stores. Although we are maintaining a controlled environment for the Bombay brand, there has been such enthusiasm and so many eager inquiries on our Facebook page about where to buy product and when stores might open that we knew the next step was to launch an e-commerce site. [Bombaycompany.com was due to go live at press time.]

Did the bankruptcy filing negatively impact the brand’s image?

Most people did not realize Bombay went out of business; they just thought the local store closed. That speaks to the overall positive perception of the brand, and it’s important to remember the stores didn’t go out of business because the product was bad or customers lost interest. It was simply due to a shift in real estate strategy at a time when the economy plummeted. All of the company’s assets were leveraged and, as banks were going under, they pulled businesses like Bombay Company down with them.

How have you kept Bombay fans interested and engaged?

Primarily through our Facebook page, which not only talks about what we’ve been doing, but also engages fans to describe what they’ve been doing with their homes and decorating styles and share photographs that show how they are using Bombay products they bought over the years.

We also email, tweet when we have something important to say, and use Pinterest to create a buzz around new ideas and new products. Similarly, we reach out to bloggers to encourage talk about our website and the launch of products in stores.

What are the biggest challenges of resurrecting the brand?

The growth of mass-market retailers and value-priced stores altered the retail landscape. The challenge is to combine value and style while remaining true to the brand and still find a niche within this marketplace. We’ve been able to do this because it really didn’t matter what a person’s income bracket was — Bombay had something for everyone. Shoppers could walk out of a Bombay store with a $10 purchase and feel phenomenal, or they could buy a bedroom set or home office set for $2,000 and still feel incredible. The range of price points made it possible to bring the assortment into different levels of retail.

A number of retailers filed Chapter 11 in recent years. When does it makes sense to resurrect a historic brand versus introduce a new brand?

That’s a tough question because every brand would have a different answer. Bombay is unique because everything we sell is designed and manufactured for us; the brand has such a loyal following, and brand awareness remains high. In fact, a recent study showed that seven out of 10 people would purchase a Bombay product. Other brands that have gone out of business did not have that same business equation. They carried multiple brands in their stores, and the retail brand stood for a place to shop but didn’t necessarily stand for a particular style.

Are there plans to open Bombay stores?

I had a discussion about that very topic this week. No, there aren’t immediate plans for brick-and-mortar locations, but it is definitely something under consideration.

Do you have a favorite Bombay piece in your home?

Yes! I gravitate to the interesting designer pieces, and my favorite is the wingback bed that was introduced in 2005. It’s a great example of Bombay innovation. We were the first to introduce many products, including the wingback bed, and other retailers followed.

What is your vision for Bombay Company?

This year I want to continue building great retailer relationships and successfully launch our e-commerce site. Next year we’ll continue to identify strategic partners to help grow the brand, and possibly re-evaluate when to open stores. I’m committed to steady, planned growth.

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