So last week I went to the Inaugural Manchester Stationery Show, the northern counterpart to the London Stationery Show that was put in place a few years ago. I volunteered to go along as part of United Inkdom to see if there was anything of interest. It was being held at the Victoria Quays in Manchester, so if nothing else, the building was going to be interesting.
|Not Mood Lighting|
|But at least you can see where the demo stalls are|
There were a reasonable number of stands there, many of them from the larger manufacturers rather than small independents, and given that it's a new show, that's understandable. I went around the stalls in no particular order, caught up with Penny from Manuscript and had a good long conversation about how the show had been going.
Now the thing here is that all those present said similar, but there wasn't a sense of despair about it, everyone got the notion that it's a new beginning, so they weren't expecting it to be loaded to the gunwales with people. A few more wouldn't have gone amiss, but there was enough to recommend the idea of coming back the following year.
There wasn't much for the casual buyer, the show is mostly geared towards those in the trade, and I'll come to that in a moment. What I did find is that those exhibiting had very different perspectives, from the independant shops
|This is with the Camera flash on...|
Lucy Hart (www.stationery-geek.co.uk) produces a variety of her own artworks and adds them to notebooks, postcards, and the like. A small operation, but with intentions on increasing her customer base, she was more looking to expand the interest in her range, but hadn't found many contacts that could help with that.
|Still with the Flash on, range of less than two metres|
Zebra was the next stand, and it was apparent from those present that they were only interested in increasing market share. Nothing wrong with that from a business point of view, but as I'll come to in a moment. They were only interested in things that would move a hundred thousand units at a time, they weren't interested in looking at the japanese markets or the less immediately marketable things, and they had no interest in the community beyond selling mass volume. Worse, they didn't know their whole range, and had no idea if there were other products in the pipeline. It might have been because it's a small show and they weren't expecting much from those attending, but it didn't make a good impression.
|But bring your own lights, and it looks like this|
Lime Stationery and Art were next, www.limestationery.co.uk, and I spent a while talking to Michael Owen, one of their team, about how he saw the future of pens and stationery. While it was obvious that he needed to make a profit on things, he was stocking the entire range of writing implements, from individual pencils to £1000 fountain pens. His interest was more in seeing how to keep what is essentially a dying industry from going under.
I know that it's heresy to discuss the nature of handwriting being a dying art, but lets address it momentarily. There aren't the classes for it anymore, and the focus on how we teach children is in how to make it using computers, rather than learning how to write properly. Michael's thought was that if you give people the joy of writing at an early age, they may carry it forwards, bring their creativity up, and that in turn will keep them around till they consider buying other pens, different papers, and all the things that keep the industry alive.
|Polaroid, and as bright as you might expect|
On to Polaroid, and the idea of three dimensional drawing, which was fascinating, but took a degree of artistry (and money) that I don't possess. Loved the idea of being able to draw in three dimensions, but when you consider that the bus in the picture above would have cost the best part of £30 just in materials (if you were sparing with the pen), it's an idea too rich for me.
|Draw, or build with your pens...|
That brings me to Magnetips, a new series of coloured fibretips that have the additional use of being magnetic, allowing you to make sculptures of the pens. Full review of the product to follow, but I spoke to Noam Yohai, the man behind the product, and this is just the first of many different things that he's intending on putting out there.
|You cna even hang the pens up when you're done.|
It's an interesting idea, and well presented, I'm not sure it has any place in the every day market, but Zebra are already there for that, so I suspect he's positioned well for those who can appreciate the pens.
|Be proud that you're getting people to write.|
And that brings me on to Stabilo, and the most enthusiastic of the larger resellers present. Where Zebra were only interested if you were wanting an order for a Hundred thousand, the Stabilo team were happily talking about the programs they're running to get kids writing in schools, how they're trying to keep the prices of the handwriting pens down, how they're supplying free equipment for schools, and most of all, how they want to get others into writing.
Might well have been a spiel, but it didn't feel like one, and when you've got people on your stall that are clearly passionate about writing, that are cheerful that they're doing things to get kids to write, and know their products inside and out, it's going to leave a good impression.
My second to last meeting was with Penny Parkin from Manuscript, an excellent and lively debate on the way the world of pens is, we ended up swapping stories of inks and pens, and we'll be in touch with her in the new year to see all the new things they're planning going forwards.
Aside from the traders and storefronts that I spoke with at the show, there was an interesting encounter with Christina Strange, a Graphologist who had volunteered her time offering free examinations of peoples handwriting. She'll be going along to the next shows, and I'd strongly recommend getting an appointment with her while she's there, fascinating to see how your handwriting matches up to your personality (certainly was for me), and excellent to see that there's a correlation to how we choose to write and who were are. Those who are interested can find her at www.christina-strang.com
My final meeting of the show was with the organisers of the show. As most know, I do organise a number of conventions and across a variety of disciplines, so found myself discussing what was good about the show (range of different stands and activities) and bad (lighting mostly...), with a view to how things could be improved. The thing that struck me was that most of the stands didn't have a demonstration section where people could check out the wares first hand, and as most of writing is understanding what you like and wanting more of it, having a place to test the merchandise before deciding to buy it might well be a golden opportunity. We talked about the layout of the show, the possibility of opening it to more traders who would be interested in engaging with the general public rather than keeping it primarily trade with nothing to engage with the people on the ground, and I've arranged to catch up with them in the new year to see if there's anything we can do to improve things all around.
It's been a good first show, little more light wouldn't have gone amiss, but the interest is there, not to the same level as London, but that was to be expected. The next show is the same time next year, and I'll be going along to it.