How To Market Stamps in the 21st Century

Long ago, there was one way to sell a rubber stamps—sit by the phone and wait for an order! After all, no one bought a rubber stamp unless it was needed. Rubber stamp manufacturers (RSMs) made a very comfortable living advertising only in the Yellow Pages. Buyers were not overly price conscious. Times were good, and one description fit just about every RSM.

The First Wave Of Change

Marketing methods have changed significantly since this Golden Age. Almost every RSM has a story to tell of the years that followed and how he or she honed new methods to sell stamps. However, it helps to review how the industry arrived at these methods in order to understand how to apply them.

By the mid-1900s, RSMs were making sales calls, telemarketing and soliciting by mail. Larger companies developed their own catalogs. A few of the largest RSMs hired outside sales people to sell Perma Stamps, a pre-inked stamp developed by Johnson’s Wax in the 1950s. By 1970, the Marking Device Association was bringing experts to industry meetings to train owners how to market stamps. Success stories were showcased with RSMs sharing their methods with peers. RSMs became more aggressive in selling products. Second-generation owners, some armed with sales and marketing degrees, transformed their family stamp shops into professional sales corporations.

A Time For Concern

By the turn of the millennium, busy customers demanded appointments for sales presentations, cities required soliciting licenses for salespeople and an annoyed public successfully lobbied for do-not-call laws. The business for bank-endorsement stamps for local RSMs dried up as regional and national banks used central purchasing to buy marking devices. On-demand printing performed many functions previously requiring hand stamps, thereby reducing demand. As the RSMs’ largest wholesale outlets, office supply stores, began to disappear, brick and mortar RSMs faced new competition from the big box office suppliers, catalog merchandisers and Internet retailers. Suddenly this sleepy industry was feeling a little uncomfortable.

The Expansion Of Product Lines And Markets

Facing a less certain future, stamp companies examined their product lines and customer bases and expanded both—quickly, and in many different directions. The average stamp shop today has a mix of roughly 60% marking devices and 40% other products, including engraving, signage, identification products and promotional products. RSMs have expanded their sales territories by acquiring other shops locally, regionally and nationally. Today, not all stamp companies look alike, and the marketing of stamps has changed considerably.

RSMs Embrace The Electronic Age

In the 1980s, Tom May, a young RSM from Atlanta, developed an electronic ordering system for his largest customer, Office Depot. He successfully marketed his product by making it easy for his customer to order. He sold Office Depot a service, not a product. You could say this effort was the beginning of the electronic age for the stamp industry. In the late 1990s, M&R Marking Systems, Piscataway, NJ, (now part of Trodat USA) became the first supplier to offer its customers a personalized website. Other suppliers followed, attracting subscribers by allowing competitors’ products to be shown on the RSM’s custom pages. Today, almost 75% of storefront RSMs have websites, with several hundred subscribing to supplier-based websites.

Most stamp websites contain basic information such as an “About Us” page, a “Contact Us” e-mail link, and a map and driving directions to the store. Typical websites have photos and descriptions and sometimes pricing of products—an electronic catalog. Very good websites allow on-line ordering with shopping-cart functions. The most advanced websites allow consumer composition of stamps and seals. Mike Beaulieu of Connectweb, Peabody, MA, a pioneer in designing websites for RSMs, has developed an interactive software program, Stamp Shop Web, for remote order entry, whereby a customer can design his or her own stamp, choosing different fonts and sizes and then seeing the finished impression right on the screen.

About 400 stamp companies now use the Stamp Shop Web program, and the company is designing similar software for the engraving and sign industry. Mike points out, “While a website can be a powerful marketing tool, it takes effort and input from the RSM to put up an effective one.” You can see a demo of Stamp Shop Web at www.stampshopweb.com.

Paying for search engine positioning, while costly, has been a successful strategy in driving sales for a few RSMs. The stamp company pays for every “hit”, whether a stamp is ordered or not. Some RSMs elevate their free listing positions by using techniques learned on their own. A few RSMs sell online only, and several brick and mortar shops attribute up to 50% of their sales to the Internet. One Florida stamp manufacturer has over 20 different websites, each targeted to a different audience, including bargain hunters!

Suppliers Help RSMs Market Electronically

Suppliers use their websites to help their customers, the RSMs. They advertise their own products and list the RSMs that sell them by state or zip code. Sections of supplier websites are accessible only by password to prevent the public from ordering stamps directly. Like RSM websites, they vary. Some have shopping cart ordering functions. Most of the supplier websites have graphics that customers can download to use in their own advertising.

COSCO Industries’ BuildAFlyer is a very unique Internet marketing tool. RSMs can go online atwww.buildaflyer.com and personalize one of four product flyers designed to sell selected COSCO products. The personalized flyer can be downloaded and printed or used as an e-mail piece. “BuildAFlyer offers a professionally designed sell sheet with completely customizable list and sale pricing columns as well as imprint information,” according to Marc Cobb of COSCO Industries, Harwood Heights, IL.

Cindy Thomas Chaffin of U. S. Stamp & Sign, Cookeville, TN, a supplier of stamps, signs, stationery and other graphic products, believes a key to marketing for the RSM is to become a provider of solutions for its customers, not just being its “stamp guy”. “You’re gathering their customers’ personalized information for stamps, but why not offer it on business cards, stationery, labels, magnetic signs, name badges, etc.?”

U. S. Stamp & Sign stores vast amounts of personalized information and graphics from stamp orders and provides easy retrieval of that information for customers to place orders for other products or for reorders. Although expensive to manage, providing such an easy on-line solution is a great way to make yourself indispensable. US Stamp & Sign offers this service to selected accounts.

Selection of key partners to deliver products is not a new concept in the stamp industry. Shachihata of Harbor City, CA, has licensed selected RSMs in key locations around the country to manufacture and distribute its well-known pre-inked product, Xstamper, to diverse markets including other RSMs, Internet sellers and catalog retailers. Supplying stamps from multiple locations has been a successful strategy in the marking device industry. Customers perceive having multiple distribution channels as a strong point when deciding on a vendor for stamps.

The E-Newsletter—A New Marketing Tool For A New Millennium

The e-newsletter is an important new marketing tool for RSMs. Bryan Croft of Holmes Stamp Company, Jacksonville, FL, has built a permission-based subscriber list of over 13,000 customers. The e-newsletter is sent out every month to wholesale and retail customers, and to everyone that places an order on Holmes’ website. The newsletter is concise, featuring different products every month as well as links to Holmes’ website. In addition, Bryan provides some levity to keep reader interest. The newsletter offers a prize drawing to readers that respond. What kind of prizes?

“Whatever is hot! Last month, it was a $50 gas card, and 1,100 people replied,” according to Bryan. He adds, “While I cannot give you an exact dollar amount that it has generated for us in sales, I can tell you that (the e-newsletter) is by far the most economical means of advertising. I can get my company name, logo and products in front of 13,000 previous customers for less than $100 a month.” To view Holmes’ archived e-newsletters, visit www.holmesstamp.com/newsletters.html.

Roanoke Stamp & Seal Company, Roanoke, VA, publishes a successful e-newsletter, providing useful tips and news of particular value to RSMs. For example, last year Editor Tom Kirchner reported in advance how the massive changes made by the U.S. Postal Service would drastically affect the cost of mailing a single rubber stamp. Although the object is to keep readers mindful that Roanoke makes finished products for the trade, the e-newsletter contains a minimal amount of advertising. Tom states, “Most industry newsletters that I read are too product oriented and not really helpful.” His strategy has resulted in a click-through rate well above that of most e-newsletters.

Targeting a particular buying group can be effective. United Marking, Rolling Meadows, IL, publishes an e-newsletter for its “partners” that have purchased Xstamper lasers from the company. The e-newsletter features helpful articles about how the partners are marketing Xstamper products. It also gives them advance notice of new products and special promotions. Partners are encouraged to share marketing ideas with each other in an interactive user community.

You can find an inexpensive, easy-to-manage e-newsletter program with lots of on-line help atwww.constantcontact.com. Constant Contact allows you to see how many recipients actually open your e-newsletter and tracks bounces so you can correct your contact list each time you send a communication. An unsubscribe feature prevents you from resending your publication to those who opt out. Constant Contact has many other useful features and offers local seminars to help you start your e-newsletter.

Don’t Forget About Direct Mail

Direct mail is still an effective way to reach customers. Your mailing address list in most cases will be more complete than your e-mail list, and most recipients will at least glance at a colorful, short presentation; for example, an oversized postcard. A 5 ½" x 8 ½" postcard can be mailed for about 27 cents using the USPS Standard Rate. Using an “Address Service Requested” imprint on the front of the postcard helps you keep your mailing list up to date. You can use direct mail to solicit new e-mail addresses for your e-newsletter. Direct mail is a key ingredient in Guerilla Marketing by Jay Levinson, a best-selling guide for companies with small marketing budgets.

Using direct mail to promote an Internet website can be effective. Tom Kirchner of Roanoke Stamp & Seal says, “We are successfully using direct mail to drive interested recipients to a special website for order placement. Results have been very positive.” U. S. Stamp & Sign has just launched a new stock and custom pre-inked stamp product called “CLIK!” According to Cindy Thomas Chaffin, “Coming up with a great new product required creative marketing to attract attention. You can’t just have the attitude that ‘if you build it, they will come.’ We mailed a sample of the stock product to key contacts on our customer list. It wasn’t just a stamp sample, though. We included it in a unique package with a catchy message and invited recipients to visit our new CLIK! website to order a free custom CLIK!.”

Other New Strategies To Market Stamps

Supplier catalogs personalized with RSM imprints are industry standbys. Today, suppliers offer more sophisticated advertising pieces. Millennium Marking Company, Elk Grove Village, IL, has developed five industry-specific catalogs for the legal, financial, medical, educational and business communities. These custom product presentations influence purchasing of marking products relevant to the five industries.

Don Dowd of Millennium reports, “RSM’s tell us that seeing specific examples of stamp applications has helped purchasers make their buying decisions, which in turn has proven beneficial to the RSM’s sales volume growth. Putting the RSM’s contact information on each catalog increases the market’s awareness of the RSM and its capabilities, leading to further sales growth. Repeat orders for our industry-specific catalogs are about 97 percent.” To view these catalogs, visit www.millmarking.com and click on the blue Marketing Materials button.

Trodat USA, Piscataway, NJ, advocates a higher-dollar-sales concept to RSMs, and provides the tools to make it successful. Trodat’s “Value Strategy” marketing initiative promotes a mindset to help RSM’s grow their top and bottom lines even if unit sales remain the same. “Helping our customers squeeze more out of every sale is a top priority for us,” says Mike Mauro of Trodat. “We are aggressively promoting a top-down selling approach and providing our customers with the products and marketing support to take this initiative to their customers.”

At the core of the idea are two upscale Trodat products—the Professional Line of metal self-inkers and the unique Multi-Color self-inking stamps. Chris Boyle of Trodat adds, “Our research clearly indicates that consumers do not have a preconceived price point in mind when purchasing a rubber stamp. Tailoring your catalogs and websites with these higher ticket products as lead items is a sound approach that already has a track record of success.” One large Trodat customer who has employed Trodat’s Multi-color Value Strategy reports a clear-cut success story. Consumers visiting this account’s website are given the choice of a one-color stamp or a Multi-Color impression stamp priced at a 30% premium. One out of every four stamps sold on this site are the premium price Multi-Color impression stamp.

Of course, every marketing plan should include personal sales calls. There is no better way to sell than to look a prospect in the eye and tell him or her that you want their business! Marketing stamps or any other product is a process that requires constant work, management and development of new ideas.

Interested In Learning More?

While you may not be making or selling stamps, you may be surprised at the sophisticated marketing methods that have been developed by RSMs with help they receive from their suppliers. You can learn more about stamps by attending the industry trade show to be held in conjunction with The Awards & Custom Gift Show (www.nbm.com) September 3-6, 2008 in Indianapolis.