With National Stationery Week running from Monday 15th to Sunday 21st May 2023, and the London Stationery Show taking place at the Business Design Centre in Islington on the Tuesday and Wednesday of that week, we decided to get in touch with Sarah Laker to have a chat about all things stationery.
Sarah is the owner of the award-winning Stationery Supplies shops in Marple and Wilmslow, plus this year she’s heading up the rebrand of National Stationery Week along with its organisers Ocean Media, who also run London Stationery Show. We’ll be attending this exciting industry event too, so make sure to come see us at Stand G108 and ask us about guilt-free memorable moments created in the UK.
Hi, Sarah. Can you tell us a little about what you do?
I’ve had the Stationery Supplies shop in Marple for 17 years, and the other store in Wilmslow was my lockdown purchase. When everyone else was at home baking bread, I decided to take over an existing stationery shop from a man who was retiring, as you do. This was just three weeks before the second lockdown, so we were only open for seven weeks during the first six months, but it’s doing well now that normality has returned.
When did you realise you were a huge stationery fan?
It was probably during my teenage years. I was living in Lincolnshire at the time and went into my local town centre, which had a fantastic stationers. They sold paper by the sheet, envelopes, coloured inks, and I had my eye on a Parker fountain pen until my parents finally got me it for Christmas, which I still have safely tucked away.
When I left school I took nurse training and worked as a nurse until my mid-thirties, at which point I changed careers and bought Stationery Supplies in Marple, which was three years old at the time. It was a very functional place when I took it over, but I soon injected colour, life and my own style into it. Even though it’s been 17 years, it still feels like yesterday. In that time, Stationery Supplies won the Stationery Awards in 2020, the Boss Industry Awards Retailer of the Year in 2021 and 2022, and the RETAS Greeting Card Retail Awards in 2022. It really is an incredible feeling having your hard work and perseverance recognised on a national level.
What does your collaboration with National Stationery Week involve?
I’ve always taken part in it, so this is a very exciting year for me. National Stationery Week is owned by the people who run the London Stationery Show and they needed a new person to manage the campaign, so they asked me. I was surprised and over the moon when they got in touch so I snapped their hand off! I took over in February and have been busy running the whole thing ever since, which includes planning the campaign, finding sponsors, managing the social media and advertising, and heading everything up.
My daughter works for me in the Wilmslow shop and she’s been helping out with National Stationery Week by managing and scheduling social media posts, which is a massive support. It’s been a real challenge as I’m used to selling physical products, so I had to put on a different head for selling a campaign, an idea, a shared experience.
I’m happy to say it’s actually been very smooth, as our sponsors are as excited about National Stationery Week as we are. So many companies and stationery shops are running events, competitions and special offers, so there’s been a lot of anticipation for the big week ahead.
What are you looking forward to the most during National Stationery Week?
I can’t wait to watch the social media channels and see the interaction of people who get so passionate about pens, notebooks, highlighters and so on. They’ll be sharing photos and stories about their favourite stationery items, which will be easy to find by searching for the hashtags #NatStatWeek, #WritingMatters
How would you describe London Stationery Show to someone who has never attended it?
It’s an industry event and the only show in the UK where you can see an enormous range of stationery products under one roof. It’s a riot of colour and creativity and there’s such a buzz in the air from start to finish.
Stationery brings joy to so many people and attending the London Stationery Show as a buyer is a great way to explore new products, make valuable contacts within the industry, and find out the latest trends.
That’s interesting, what kind of trends?
A current example is that purple pens are really big right now, as lots of schools are marking in purple instead of red. A relatively simple change like this in the education, commercial or healthcare sectors can make a huge difference to stationery retailers.
What’s your absolute favourite piece of stationery at the moment?
It’s always changing but right now my favourite is this Kaweco fountain pen that I’ve been using today. I also have a Leuchtturm paper diary nearby at all times, as I’d be lost without it.
Why is stationery still so popular in an increasingly digital world?
People love stationery and I don’t think that will ever go away. The coronavirus pandemic brought people more in touch with their feelings and emotions – they were blogging, journaling and practicing mindfulness a lot more than before. This resulted in a surge of new customers who wanted stationery products that had special meaning.
Another factor is that stationery has permanence; it creates order and structure. You can’t delete a notebook like you can an email. Stationery is tactile, visual, you can use all your colours, create a thing of beauty, get your thoughts down on paper and bring a sense of calm into a chaotic world. Stationery inspires excitement and joy in a way that emails and WhatsApp can’t. If you send someone a letter or greetings card it’s nothing like an e-card; the recipient knows that you put a lot of effort into choosing the design, writing the message by hand and popping to the post box, which is a far cry from electronic correspondence.
What role does sustainability play in stationery?
There’s a lot of people out there who want sustainability to translate into their stationery world, particularly because it’s a simple and affordable change that can make a big difference. A lot of large suppliers are making changes as a result, such as replacing blister packaging with cardboard, increasing the percentage of recycled materials used in products, and offering refillable versions where in the past there was only disposable.
Around 90% of the greetings cards we sell today are recyclable and they come naked, which means there’s no plastic wrap. We’re also seeing a rise in popularity of recycled envelopes, FSC board and eco-friendly printer paper from sustainable forests. There are so many stationery products with a sustainability message behind them and I actively seek them out. More and more people are choosing them over types that are wasteful, and customers are voting with their money for the greener world they want to belong to.
Our customers also like it when stationery and gift wrap are made in the UK, as it means the carbon footprint of the products is much smaller than those that have been shipped over from the other side of the world. Last Christmas we also sold much higher quantities of brown kraft paper because not only can it be recycled but it looks beautiful when wrapped up.
Thanks so much for your time, Sarah. Are you looking forward to the London Stationery Show?
I certainly am! National Stationery Week is going to be extremely busy for me and the London Stationery Show will be great fun. I’ll be around throughout the event, getting my networking head on and cementing new relationships. There aren’t as many stationery reps out on the road as there used to be, so the London Stationery Show is a great opportunity to meet suppliers and fellow stockists, talk about the latest products, and celebrate the bright and beautiful world of stationery in vibrant surroundings.
Connect with all things stationery
Do you love stationery as much as Sarah and the team here at Hansel? Here are some social media channels we recommend following:
- Stationery Supplies – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn
- National Stationery Week – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn
- London Stationery Show – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn
View our range of eco-friendly gift packaging
We loved having a chat with Sarah, as it’s so good to meet people who are passionate about infusing sustainability into everyday life. For inspiration, take a look at our plastic-free recycled and recyclable gift wrapping products in our online shop.
Also, if you work in the stationery industry and will be attending the London Stationery Show in 2023, make sure to come say hi and have a chat with us at Stand G108 in the Boutique Collection.