ACCO receives go-ahead on Esselte acquisition

ACCO Brands Corporation, one of the world’s largest designers, marketers and manufacturers of branded business, academic and consumer products, has announced that it has received clearance from the relevant competition authorities related to the pending acquisition of Esselte Group Holdings AB.

The completion of the transaction remains subject to the satisfaction or waiver of certain conditions. The company expects to complete the transaction by early February.

The company also announced that it will release fourth quarter 2016 financial results on Wednesday, February 22, 2017 before the market opens. At 8:30 a.m. Eastern Time the Company will host a conference call to discuss the results.

The call will be broadcast live via webcast. The webcast can be accessed through the Investor Relations section of The webcast will be in listen-only mode and will be available for replay for one month following the event.

The Moleskine phenomenon

From spelling out New Year’s resolutions to jotting down designer brainwaves, sometimes only a pen and paper will do, even in the digital era.

And those are the kind of niches that have enabled Italian notebook manufacturer Moleskine to leverage its historically evocative brand into the kind of rapid growth not usually associated with the staid world of stationery.

The Italian group’s sales have more than tripled in the last seven years. Turnover in 2015 was 128 million euros ($134 million); 200 million is the target for 2018 with Asia in the front line of the company’s plans to expand its retail network from 80 outlets to 120 over the same period.

According to business expert Alessandro Brun, the growth has been driven by Moleskine’s ability to successfully pitch an “extremely ordinary” item as being an object of desire imbued with history and an essential lifestyle tool for the contemporary creative.

“It is fair to talk about a Moleskine phenomenon,” said Brun, professor of company management at Milan Polytechnic.

From its launch as a brand in 1997, under then-owner Milanese publisher Modo & Modo, Moleskine has hammered away at the idea that it has revived the classic notebooks favoured by the likes of Picasso, Van Gogh and Hemingway.

Those now sold under the Moleskine brand are indeed modelled on those once manufactured by a French provincial bookbinder for Paris stationers. But they are made in China, rather than the Loire valley.

Knowledge workers

With their rounded edges and distinctive elastic binder, the original notebooks were known as “carnets moleskines” in French, because their smooth black covers were thought to resemble moleskin.

They were a classic of simple design but production stopped in 1986 when their original manufacturer, based in the town of Tours, closed.

Famously, travel writer Bruce Chatwin was so distraught he went round buying up as many as he could find, then wrote a lament to the notebooks in his book “The Songlines” that came out the following year.

Inspired by that account, Modo & Modo registered Moleskine as a trademark almost a decade later and the notebooks are still instantly recognizable, even if the new owners have substantially expanded the range of sizes, formats and paper quality on offer.

So who buys them? According to company boss Arrigo Berni the primary market is among so-called “knowledge workers” – designers, architects, engineers and lawyers.

“Our customers are marked out not so much by their level of income as by their level of education,” Berni said.

The advent of the digital era has not reduced the importance of physical experiences, he argues. If anything, the opposite is true, particularly for the 30-something generation.

“Consumers are sometimes a little more astute and intelligent than financial analysts give them credit for,” Berni adds.

As with the revival of vinyl in music, an aesthetically-pleasing, robust notebook provides an add-on to what the iPhone or a laptop can do, he argues, citing a survey of 4,000 designers which found 65 percent of them prefer a pen/notebook combination for recording ideas.

Moleskine Cafes

So how does he explain Moleskine growing sales at 20 percent a year in a global stationery market expanding at 3-4 percent?

“Beyond having a quality product, it’s about selling a brand and a sense of belonging (to a community), which is exactly what Apple does,” he said.

That vision has been behind Moleskine’s recent diversification with the brand now found on pens, accessories such as backpacks and, less obviously, in cafes.

The first Moleskine Cafe opened at Geneva airport in 2015, the second in July in central Milan.

Customers can enjoy a cup of coffee and light fare surrounded by exhibits such as sketches done in Moleskine notebooks. And of course stock up on Moleskine products.

“The cafes are about creating a link between customers and the brand,” said Brun.

Currently listed on the Milan stock exchange, Moleskine is now 95 percent owned by D’Ieteren, a Belgian group best known for its car dealerships.

The new owners are planning to take the company private but Berni is not expecting any other changes. “They have a long term vision,” he said.

By Celine Cornu for

Value for money is always going to be a key motivator when it comes to shopper behaviour. But to keep customers loyal over time, their overall emotional connection with your shopping centre is vital, says one veteran shopping-centre manager.

“The most significant positive impact of a great customer experience is long-term loyalty,” says Olive Ndebele, general manager of Menlyn Park Shopping Centre in Pretoria. And one of the many challenges facing shopping centres today is how to consistently give their customers this great experience.

The 37-year-old four-level Menlyn Park mall has just undergone a two-year, R2-billion, three-phase expansion and refurbishment project that will position it as the largest shopping centre in Africa. Usually during giant projects of this kind, shoppers tend to swap loyalties to other malls to avoid the chaos and inconvenience of construction but footcount numbers to the centre actually increased during some phases of the building at Menlyn Park Shopping Centre, showcasing unusual resilience. Included in the reasons Ndebele cites for this atypical customer behaviour is the fact that the centre went to great lengths to ensure their customers were inconvenienced as little as possible, and to keep them engaged throughout the process. “We ensured that our customers continued to have great customer experiences in our mall, regardless of what was happening behind the scenes,” she says.

This philosophy is being carried over into the new Menlyn Park mall, which is much more than “just” a shopping centre: aside from a greatly expanded fashion wing hosting a range of international and local fashion brand stores, there’s the reconfigured two-level food and entertainment hub that includes 3D Nu Metro cinemas and the massive Fun Company centre, and a number of restaurants situated around a beautiful outdoor piazza. And, acknowledging the ever-growing number and diversity of its client base, a Prayer Centre will cater to Pretoria’s growing Muslim community.

The key to delivering a great customer experience, says Ndebele, is finding out what your customers need and want, and giving it to them. In the case of Menlyn Park Shopping Centre, which has long been a popular mall in the country’s executive capital with its 100+ foreign embassies and consulates, customers include “residents of all the surrounding and outlying suburbs of Pretoria, a large contingent of foreign business people, diplomats and holidaymakers, and keen shoppers from other African countries, such as Nigeria and Mozambique, where big-name items are hard to find”, according to Ndebele. And, she adds, “We’ve put together a comprehensive tenant mix that caters to all our shoppers.”

But having great tenants doesn’t necessarily automatically translate into a great customer experience. “We live in a dynamic age of technology and innovation, and one in which caring for our customers has never been more important,” says Ndebele. “An unhappy customer can instantly share a negative experience with thousands of people through social media – but so can a customer who’s had great service. Customers are always looking for ways to feel valued, and ways to make their lives easier.”

Delivering this, says Ndebele, comes down to the personal touch – arguably, the one thing that online shopping can’t compete with in the bricks-and-mortar version. As an example Ndebele cites Menlyn Park Shopping Centre’s lightbulb concept of a “concierge service” during the last phase of the refurbishment, when friendly, efficient and well-trained staff members were stationed at busy nodes in the mall to answer queries and give directions, spoil shoppers with refreshments, and generally make sure that everybody felt genuinely cared for.

While many of today’s shoppers regard a visit to a mall like Menlyn Park Shopping Centre as an outing in its own right – during which they not only treat themselves to luxury purchases, and perhaps see a movie, play games or have a meal with family or friends – there are still those who want to simply “get in and get out”. “Career and business people, especially, don’t regard grocery shopping as a social event,” Ndebele points out. “They’re just trying to get a lot done in often very limited time.” For these shoppers, convenience and accessibility are paramount, and that’s the essence of the thinking behind the mall’s “Grocery Avenue”, with a Checkers Hyper, a Food Lovers Market and a Pick n Pay alongside each other in one section, with easy access to parking. The Pick n Pay offers even more for the busy shopper: banking services, drawing social grants, booking flights and car hire.

And proving that Menlyn Park Shopping Centre truly has gone the extra mile to cater for everyone, there are options, too, for those who like to shop at leisure while they stock their kitchen cupboards, says Ndebele: “There’s an in-store coffee shop and a take-away burger bar in the Checkers Hyper, and a seated eating area in the Food Lovers Market.”

Lost something? Track it!

Mobile phones have become the one accessory we cannot live without – from answering e-mails, to contacting friends, or catching up on the news, we literally use them all day long.

That sense of dread that kicks in when you get to work and realise you left your phone at home often leaves people feeling “lost” – a sign that we cannot imagine live without our phones! But what happens when you lose your phone in a bar, restaurant, or in a taxi or public place?

The chances of recovering a lost phone are slim. It is believed that only around 2% of cell phones that get left in public transport vehicles (busses, trains, etc.) are reunited with their owners. Not only is it very costly to replace a cell phone, but the hassle of losing valuable contacts, photos and information if your phone is not backed up, is an even more daunting thought. So what can be done to avoid this?

Keys, mobile phones, cameras, i-pads, laptops, passports and wallets can all be a nightmare when mislaid. Yet, when they arrive at a lost-property office or police station, only approximately 25% are returned to the owner because there is no simple way to track them down. After less than a month, the 75% of items that are unclaimed are usually auctioned.

Up to 20 million bags are mislaid in airports every year, and in London alone, 50 000 mobile phones get left behind in taxis annually. South Africa is no different, with thousands of personal belongings making its way into Lost & Found containers nationwide every year. Cell phones are one of the most commonly misplaced items, and are seldom reunited with their owners. HomingPIN offers an innovative solution to this global problem with the HomingPIN tag.

HomingPIN offers baggage loops with tags, key rings and stickers that have a unique identification number on them.

This number gets activated online prior to using the tag, and is linked to the owner’s email address and cellphone number. If someone finds a cellphone, keys, baggage, or any other item that has a HomingPIN tag on it, they can easily notify the owner by visiting and entering the unique identification number, as well as their contact details. The owner is immediately notified via SMS and email, and is able to contact the founder to retrieve their belongings. Finders are not given the owner’s contact details, however, so it is up to the owner to make contact first.

HomingPIN is integrated with the worldwide World Tracer system, which all baggage handlers have access to. For airlines, HomingPIN will instantly provide information on the bag’s whereabouts when it is found. The airline will then contact the owner to arrange transfer of the goods. What’s more, is that HomingPIN can provide reasonably-priced transportation of your found goods, from anywhere in the world. Because HomingPIN works internationally, your phone will be protected anywhere around the world.

HomingPIN tags, stickers and key rings allow you to tag a variety of items including, but not limited to, luggage, laptop computers, mobile phones, keys, wallets and passports. Easy-to-use and practical, they’re a life-saver for the whole family. With this handy tool, cell phones have a much better chance of being returned to their owners, and owners have peace of mind too!

Staples is ready to test a technology that lets companies order office supplies by voice. Developers and e-commerce experts at the company worked with International Business Machine’s Watson artificial intelligence system to build the Easy System, which Staples expects to test with customers before the end of the year.

The retailer joins a range of large companies, including Facebook, Automatic Data Processing, and Humana, using AI to build intelligent software agents that understand natural language and field multifaceted requests. Some see bots as the next user interface beyond swiping and clicking. Staples, for example, wants to let business customers order supplies that it may not carry, offering to find and deliver such products, says Faisal Masud, executive vice president of global e-commerce at the office supply retailer.

The Easy System users initiate by pressing a red “easy” button is designed to learn with each interaction, says Masud. The cognitive computing scheme behind Watson lets Staples’ algorithms learn the habits of individual customers. Eventually, for example, the system will understand that a customer’s reference to “blue pens” means an 18-pack of Pentel ballpoints.

Staples uses application programming interfaces to connect its inventory and ordering systems to Watson, via IBM cloud technology. The system checks contracts and business processes set up for each customer, to ensure an order meets appropriate approvals, he says.

If an order exceeds a spending threshold, for example, it could be routed by text or email to a supervisor for an override. If there’s an issue the Easy System can’t resolve, it will automatically invoke a live link to a human customer service agent.

“We want to become the right-hand for the office administrator,” says Masud.

By Kim S Nash for

Why is white ink taking off for digital printing? Among others, popular uses include its application onto clear film and on metallised substrates.

One colorful trend seen during September’s Labelexpo centered on the growing use of white ink on digital presses for labels and packaging. What’s the big deal? And what does this mean for brand owners? We present insights from four industry experts.

On the surface, white seems to be the least colorful, most “vanilla” of all the ink hues. Yet at Labelexpo white ink seemed a white-hot ticket for digital printing of labels and flexible packaging.

Why is interest in white ink heating up?

“For the label and the flexible packaging market white ink is imperative,” says printing expert and industry consultant Mike Ferrari. “It is not as much about the color white as it is about the opacity capability. This is needed when using a clear label or clear film for a bag. White high-opacity ink is necessary to block the contents from the print. When white ink is not so opaque the printed graphics look dull or gray.

“Analogue presses could deal with opaque white ink because they have the ability to deposit a very heavy layer. By definition digital presses deposit a thin layer of ink. Many of the new releases are technical improvements to the white ink to be more opaque. In the past, there has been a big gap between digital and analog capability in this area. Now the gap is starting to close.

“In the case of the new HP ‘premium white ink’ more opacity can be achieved with a single hit versus before requiring multiple hits. This is a big speed improvement and therefore productivity gain.”

We chatted with Mark Sullivan, label systems manager vertical markets, Allen Datagraph Systems Inc. (ADSI) both during Labelexpo and after when he responded to our questions.

What’s the big deal with white ink digital printing and why is it on-trend?

Sullivan: White ink allows a label to offer a “no label look.”

Before, if you wanted to offer this type of look for your product, you would need to screen-print the package itself. Screen printing (and screen print ink) offers an ink film that is thick enough so the colors remain true and are unaffected by the product color of the packaging. It was also quite expensive, so you found this look only on premium brands

White ink allowed other methods of print to be used to achieve this effect. If you printed on a clear substrate and put down a base of white, your colors could be unaffected by the color of the product or the color of its packaging.

What does it do for brand owners’ labels and packaging?

Sullivan: White ink allows a user to enjoy the look of expensive screen printed product packaging for a fraction of the cost of screen printing. Now, almost any product can have a perceived, premium look.

What substrates and applications are center-of-target for this technique?

Sullivan: The substrates we are getting the most reaction from are clear and foil. Clear labels offer a “no label look.” By printing white first, and underneath other inks, foils can be utilized. The white is used to prevent the underlying substrate color from affecting the graphic colors.

We’re getting feedback on using white as a graphic element on other unique substrates like white print on kraft paper. Customers now have the ability to print white on dark face stocks, giving brand owners another way to stand out on the shelf.

Is white an ink breakthrough or a press breakthrough?

Sullivan: White ink has been around for a while in both traditional and digital printing. For us, white is a platform breakthrough, offering a combination of printer, toner and price. Our 5-color W+CMYK product configurations (as seen above) will start at $50 000. Previously this feature was only available on devices costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. We think we will be able to bring this kind of high value printing to a much broader segment than has previously been available.

What kind of interest are you seeing with this capability?

Sullivan: We’re seeing tremendous opportunity. There are converters considering our technology that we have never spoken to before, strictly because of our white capabilities.

By Rick Lingle for

BIC reports strong BTS sales

BIC has reported that its stationery net sales for the first nine months of 2016 decreased by 0,6% but grew by 4,6% on a constant currency basis.

In Europe, the increase in nine-month net sales was in the high single-digits. The back-to-school sell-out was good, especially in France (where BIC gained market share for the 12th year in a row) and in the UK.

In North America, BIC registered low-single digit growth in the nine-month period. Market growth during back-to-school was in the mid-single digits (in value terms) with gains market share thanks notably to the performance of its top selling products.

Sales growth was in the low-single digIts in Latin America, with gains in market share in Brazil. In the Middle-East and Africa, BIC delivered very strong growth along with market share gains in South Africa and a good performance in Morocco.


Pick n Pay has a warehouse somewhere in the Cape dedicated to supplying online orders, and driving sales in that, to be honest, pampered geography.

Now another is planned, in Isando outside Johannesburg.

50%+ of online shoppers make more than R20 000 a month, while 30% earn between R6 000 and R20 000. It is this latter group that Pick n Pay want to target.

In addition, 80% of South Africans do not own cars, but do 60% of all grocery shopping, and you can kind of see where this is going.

An argument may be made that an opportunity exists for the Group to bring online to its middle-income shoppers, perhaps through the Boxer Superstores chain. What remains to be seen is whether delivering to these shoppers at a time convenient to them may be made profitable.

Pick n Pay, an early adopter in online grocery retail, is trying. And when the profits do flow, they will be among the first to cash in.

Source: Trade Tatler

An interview with Sugar Paper

If sugar, spice and everything nice were the motto of a stationery company, I’m pretty sure it would look like Sugar Paper. The brand is preppy and polished to the core, yet without pretense. Products range from stately letter-pressed monogrammed note cards to a pastel pink and gold polka dot phone case to a brass “snail mail” letter opener in the shape of a snail.

The business was born when college pals Chelsea Shukov and Jamie Grobecker started designing custom letterpress cards after graduation as a hobby. Over time, their designs became popular and the co-founders opened a retail shop neighboring Beverly Hills in Brentwood, CA.

Now their designs are carried in 1 500+ shops around the world. Past Sugar Paper partnerships include Target and J.Crew, and they currently have a pop-up shop running throughout the holidays in Harrods, London’s famous luxury shopping destination.

They’ve come a long way in 13 years — as Co-Creative Directors Shukov and Grobecker have a 35-person team and operate a production studio outside of Los Angeles where all of their letterpress products are made by hand. With no outside funding, the cofounders have grown profits significantly in the past year. They project 2016 net profits to be more than ten times that of 2015, and online sales to date are nearly double that of 2015.

Shukov and I indulged in the scrumptious breakfast at Farmshop, a bustling Brentwood establishment where she ran into not one but two friends (clearly, it was the place to be on a weekday morning). We talked about a surprise phone call from J.Crew CEO Mickey Drexler, receiving criticism and her pact with cofounder Grobecker.

Julie Sygiel: You have a shop here in Brentwood and also sell in shops around the country. Why did you decide to expand into wholesale?

Chelsea Shukov: My son was born in 2010 and now I had this tiny human to care for, so I wanted the work that I was doing to easily scale. Our first trade show went bananas and all of a sudden we had to figure out how to run a wholesale business.

We had a retail store at that point and a lot of women would look at our custom work and then say, “Do you have a set of pre-made ‘thank you’ cards that look like this?” For five years we would just say, “No.” Finally one day one of our pressmen said, “We should just start saying, ‘Yes.’” Now we’re currently running five business models: retail, partnerships, online, wholesale and custom. We had 10 years of trying new things, and now I have really strong opinions about our models that are rooted in customer experience versus, “Well, the data says” or “This book I read said this.”

Sygiel: That resonates with me. In the beginning of starting Dear Kate, I would meet with someone to get marketing advice and be totally into their ideas, and then just three days later someone else would give me the opposite advice and I would think, “Wait, that’s what we should do!” I felt like I didn’t have a backbone or a point of view when vetting suggestions, but after seven years now I do.

Shukov: The same thing happens to me. I’ll sit with someone and all of a sudden feel like I’ve gone through a blender and I’m not as confident anymore about what I thought I knew. I have to remind myself often that I am the expert in this business. I’m not the expert in all businesses, but I’m really good at this one.

Sygiel: Over the last 13 years, what has been the hardest thing to figure out or overcome?

Shukov: There have been moments of heartbreak. One time Mickey Drexler [the CEO of J.Crew] called me out of the blue. I picked up my phone and he said, “I’m sitting with your client Amanda Ross and I’m holding her business card and it’s the most beautiful business card I’ve seen in my life. Are you the best stationery company in the world?” And I said, “Umm, well, uhhh.” And he said, “Well, I’m actually looking for the best stationery company in the world, so your answer should have been, ‘Yes,’ but send me a package anyway.” I hung up the phone feeling like I really did the “girl” thing. I couldn’t just say, “Yes, I am,” because at the time I’m not sure I believed it. A few weeks later Jenna Lyons from J.Crew called me saying, “Got the package. It’s not quite what we’re looking for.” It was that moment when you’re told you’re not good enough and I felt like everything I had worked for wasn’t ever going to be on that level. That type of stuff fuels me, though, so I figured out what about our line wasn’t the best in the world to me, not to Mickey, not to Jenna, but what about it wasn’t good enough to me. We changed the line and five years later, we have a partnership with J.Crew.

Sygiel: I’ve personally been thinking a lot about criticism. Multiple people I’ve interviewed have talked about how they thrive on criticism. But I don’t thrive on it. I want a compliment sandwich when someone’s giving me feedback.

Shukov: I want that too, but there’s a difference between a generous critic, as Seth Godin describes, someone who is trying to help you, versus someone trying to tear you down. Jamie and I decided that in every design review we want criticism first. We tell our team, “Don’t come in here and tell us how beautiful that design is because it’s actually not helpful. Tell us the one thing as a group that you think is not great.” Ultimately the work becomes better because of their criticism.

I was talking with someone the other day about the idea of growth and she said, “Well, what do you want to be?” And I said, “I want to be the best stationery company in the world.” She was like, “That’s a bold statement. But there’s no such thing, nobody’s going to win that award. So what does that mean for you?” I think that defining your own vision for success is actually really important for founders because if you don’t define it for yourself, you could be on a never-ending quest that will make you crazy.

I’m still working on what it means to me to be the best stationery company, but our focus truly is on making fine stationery and putting something into the world that isn’t about us. It’s about the person who receives a note on our paper handwritten by her mom that’s going to get tucked away in a book because it’s so beautiful and the sentiment is so real and the handwriting is her mom’s. And it wasn’t just scribbled on a post-it. That’s what we’re trying to achieve.

Sygiel: So now what is your role on a day-to-day basis? You and Jamie are both creative directors?

Shukov: Yes, we actually sit in the same room. Any call she’s on, I’m hearing 50% of that call and vice-versa. One of our rules is that we both have to love a design in order for it to be approved.

Sygiel: I think that’s really rare and admirable to be able to work with the same person for so many years.

Shukov: Totally. There has to be a lot of trust and respect. You can disagree but it needs to stay above board. We agreed on the biggest rule about seven years ago. A lot of times when we go to cocktail parties, people will try to stir up stuff between us individually. I’ll say, “I’m really tired because we’ve been traveling and the catalog is due.” The first question is often, “Well, what’s Jamie doing?” as if I’m tired because she has not done something to help. We both noticed this pattern, so we had a long conversation about how we’re going to have each other’s back. When this goes down, whether it’s a parent or an investor or a collaboration partner, that is a line you don’t cross. This person is sacred and it works.

By Julie Sygiel for

For the fifth consecutive year, BIC is visiting schools across Gauteng on its educational roadshow. This year, the stationery brand continues its efforts towards improving the quality of education in our schools with the message: ‘If You Can Dream It, You Can Be It’. The aim is to motivate pupils to strive for greatness regardless of their circumstances.

The activation, presented by the brand character ‘BIC Boy’ and a team of brand activators from Zinto Marketing Group who have partnered with BIC since the outset of these national educational roadshows, imparts key educational messages ‒ emphasising the importance of making good career choices and planning for the future from a young age. The format engages learners to interact with the brand which encourages pupils to strive towards creating and leaving their own legacy.

BIC has also launched a colouring-in competition being run concurrently with the roadshow, which inspires learners to get creative. It brings excitement to schools and awards cash prizes to the winners as well as the teachers and schools with the most entries.
The winning school will select an under-resourced school of their choosing as the recipient of a cash donation. In addition, BIC will refurbish one other school in need of maintenance and repair.

Launched in 2011, the ‘Buy a pen. Donate a pen’ initiative has donated over five million pens that assist under-privileged learners across South Africa by contributing a pen for every one purchased. The aim to ensure that our future learners are able to change opinions through education with the notion: ‘The Pen is Mightier than the Sword’.

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