The journey from a newsstand to an 80-location gift store
By Jessica Harlan
When Bob Anderson purchased a newspaper stand in the mid-1960s, it’s unlikely he envisioned what The Paper Store would become more than 50 years later: a thriving 80-store regional chain of gift stores, run by his entire family.
“The store I bought in 1964 was absolutely nothing like we have today,” he recalls. “It was just 700 square feet, and we sold newspapers, magazines and tobacco. We added onto it, bought another store, and then another. The most exciting thing is that as each one of my kids graduated from college, they came to work with us.”
It was around 1989 when Bob’s oldest son, as well as his wife, Peggie, joined the business, and Peggie spent the next few years expanding into different product categories. As they completed college, three other siblings as well as other family members joined the family business, and Peggie stepped back in order to help take care of the grandkids, numbering 18 now.
Evolving the mix
While the name, The Paper Store, has never changed, certainly the merchandise mix has, as consumers’ use of paper has evolved in this digital age. Meg Lavoie, Bob’s daughter and co-owner and general merchandise manager of the store, says, “Over the years, our backdrop has been Hallmark,” which Bob initially started carrying in the early 1970s. “In this changing, high-tech world, with everything that’s going on, the sentiment Hallmark represents: family, community, and celebrating life’s occasions, like birthdays, anniversaries, housewarmings … those are never going to go away and will always be essential elements of The Paper Store,” Meg adds.
The management team changes and curates its product mix based on what’s trending in society, with its target customer being today’s busy woman, whether she’s a working professional or a stay-at-home mom with a full schedule. The company wisely locates its stores in local communities next to grocery stores, to make it convenient for customers to quickly drop in to pick up a birthday gift for a Saturday morning party, or a hostess gift for a book club on Friday night.
Providing what’s needed
Paper goods comprise about 20 percent of the store’s business, and focus on what Meg sees as the most important incarnation of how women use stationery and paper: “It’s what women keep in their lives to make it more beautiful,” she says. “If you open her purse, you’ll find a pretty notebook. We sell a lot of notebooks and agendas from brands such as Kate Spade, Lilly Pulitzer, Ban.do,” as well as the store’s own private-label line, Legacy & Main. And of course cards, thank-you notes, stationery, wrapping paper, gift bags and other items are an important component; the company chooses to focus on these paper categories at the moment, rather than custom stationery.
“We are fortunate to have developed a loyal customer base,” says Meg. “This is due in part to customers knowing they can count on The Paper Store to always have the latest on-trend products plus essential go-to gift items.”
Anticipating customers’ wishes
The store has evolved to become a lifestyle boutique fulfilling many needs. Among the many current categories are: fashion apparel and jewelry, spa gifts, baby items and children’s toys, local sports team merchandise, giftware, home furnishings, and so on. Apparel and jewelry are a big part of the merchandise mix. “The customer used to come to our store to buy a gift and attach a card to it,” says Meg. “But what we realized was that this customer’s life was getting busier. While she was in here, she wanted to gift herself. Now she can grab a new sweater or a cute dress.”
The addition of Alex and Ani was one brand that truly helped propel The Paper Store into an entirely new and younger audience. The family recalls customers literally lining up out the door for the chance to buy it. “It really changed our business; we did so much volume in it for a period of time,” recalls Bob. Similarly, becoming a Vera Bradley retailer helped the store grow and increase its customer base.
Shopping for inspiration
The management team prides itself on sourcing the most timely trends and covetable brands in the industry, which they research by talking to vendors and other industry players and attending markets. AmericasMart is one of the few markets which most of the sales team attends: 10 to 12 staff members, including Bob, the management team, the lead merchandiser, and other buyers.
Seeing merchandise in manufacturer’s showrooms is crucial, says Meg. “The product is displayed in such a sensory-fulfilling
way, with such pride and creativity by the people who represent it,” she says. “We become the shopper, and we go there for our inspiration for the entire year.” The team also is known to revisit showrooms throughout the show to check out traffic and excitement of other attendees around certain products and showrooms. “When we leave that show in January, it sets the stage for the year,”
says Meg. And they come home with notebooks (pretty ones, of course) filled with notes about what they’ve seen and what they plan to order.
Continuing to evolve
With locations in seven states throughout the Northeast, Meg says there is a bit of differentiation about how items trend from location to location. “We always try and personalize our assortment to the area such as Red Sox gear for the Massachusetts area,” she says. “But no matter where the store is, they all consider us their local store. We’re there in their community so they don’t have to drive 20 minutes to the mall.”
Going forward, The Paper Store plans to be even more convenient to its community of customers. The company is putting the technology in place to offer in-store pickup for online orders, and even hopes to evolve into curbside pickup.