My first National Stationery Show (NSS) was 1998, so I consider myself an old-timer. But that’s nothing … Up With Paper actually started exhibiting there 20 years before I found my way to the press room for the first time. Thus the stories of Up With Paper (or Popshots as it was then known) as well as UWP Luxe, are intrinsically woven into NSS. Each cutting-edge, fantastic creation either brand releases adds to a heritage slowly built at May shows.
To take us back through the evolution of these brands, I have George White, President & COO, and Monika Brandrup, VP and Creative Director, to answer my many questions. If we’re going back to 1978 — when I assume a lot of my readers weren’t even alive — be aware that it’s not just American lifestyles that have changed since then. We’re venturing into the pre-digital landscape and discussing how pop-up cards were mass-produced — perhaps that is why Popshot’s first release consisted of just six painstakingly designed cards.
“When I started working with the original founders of PopShots, computers weren’t available yet,” recalled Monika Brandrup, VP and Creative Director. “It’s hard to believe, but we started each pop-up card by composing collaged mockups using Xerox machines that only printed black and white. The finished prototype was then shared with an illustrator who hand-painted or airbrushed the flat artwork. We’d then engineer the cards by drafting the die lines on vellum and generate numerous hand-cut prototypes to confirm that the design was perfect. To start mass production, the original art was sent to the printer to be scanned and generate match prints and film for printing, and the vellum drawings were sent to the diemaker to create the dies.”
The next year, 1993, the company purchased Macintosh computers, color scanners and color printers, she continued. “We all became self-taught (in) Photoshop and Quark, which revolutionized our speed; (now) we could design and produce about 25 cards per year. We had six internal designers back then, actually the same as today — but we now generate 400+ cards per year with help from an international team of freelancers.”
To this question, George responded, “Let’s see … I was in kindergarten then, so I have no idea …”
The glimpses you see above into Monika and George’s personalities should give you a hint of what’s to come in their Q&A responses. All kidding aside, both of them have navigated the company to release award-winning gems like that you see below.
SS: How do you differentiate between a well-designed and not so well-designed 3D card?
MB: A well-designed 3D card starts with a concept that resonates with the appropriate market it is intended for. The card needs to function effortlessly when opened and closed and result in an emotional response from the recipient. The quality of the paper, printing, finishing, die lines, and hand assembly all separate fantastic from average pop-up cards.
GW: To me, the most important factor of a well-designed 3D card is the same as that of a well-designed card in any other format: It must, first and foremost, enable the sender to convey the sentiment and relationship-building content that the sender wants to the recipient. If it does not do that, it does not matter how amazing the card looks; it would not be a good card. That said, if the card can convey the right sentiment, AND generate an appreciative “wow” from the recipient, then we have really done our job.
SS: How many times have you exhibited at NSS and NY NOW in all?
MB: We exhibited at every NSS since opening in 1978. The booth location in the 70s and 80s is lost to time, but we were always up front, next to Avanti, with which we have always enjoyed a great relationship as very complementary lines. We found ourselves needing more space about 10 years ago, so moved back to obtain a larger footprint with three open sides of viewing.
GW: I missed our giant column that forced us to have a weird booth shape, as well as our location at the bottom of the escalator AND our friends at Avanti after we moved. Not necessarily in that order.
When NSS was co-located with NY NOW in 2019, we simply kept our NY NOW space in the 7600 aisle, as we liked that location for both the Winter and Summer shows.
SS: Not only have you renamed Pop Shots as Up With Paper, you brought UWP Luxe into the fold. What year did it debut — and what role did NSS play in its launch?
MB: We really launched UWP Luxe at NY NOW in February 2014, but our earliest LUXE lines such as Desktop Notes, Boxed Notes, and Sticky Pads were launched at NSS in 2012. At this show, we won Best New Product and Best in Show for our Desktop Notes! We found that these lines were pulling away from traditional Up With Paper product, so we decided to launch the UWP Luxe line at NY NOW in Winter 2014, with these lines and a new soap line and all new card formats as well.
GW: The first show with UPW Luxe in a separate booth was Summer 2014. That was such a great show. I remember the amazing “suspended table” we had, as well as our incredible soap line. Both got people to stop at our booth to find out what UWP Luxe was all about. And we grew nicely from there, even though we have since gotten out of some of those lines, like soap and Desktop Notes, as we found that cards are what retailers and consumers really want us to focus on.
SS: Up With Paper also introduced the Jumping Jack Press imprint of interactive pop-up books. The three represent a huge amount of product, so I am wondering where you find inspiration for all the products under your rather large roof?
MB: We pull our inspiration from multiple sources. Our Creative Team visits numerous domestic and international trade shows to gather inspiration and predict trends. The majority comes from personal tastes and trying to create product that we ourselves would like to purchase in a retail environment. We also receive feedback from our customers who sometimes have great ideas for new designs.
GW: And I sit in our corporate headquarters and cheer.
SS: What are your favorite memories, on and off the show floor, from past NSSs and NY NOWs?
MB: We have so many memories, from winning awards to launching new products, but one of my fondest memories of the NSS was the year I chaired the 25th Anniversary LOUIE Awards. With a fellow artist friend, Isabel Uria, we developed a stunning paper tunnel to set the stage upon entering the gala. It was an amazing experience to collaborate with so many Greeting Card Association members and associates to pull of this event.
GW: That tunnel was so amazing! That was my favorite year as well, as I got to present at the LOUIE Awards wearing my tux and Doc Martins, with one Sarah Schwartz as my co-presenter. I remember showing her the thrill of making the teleprompter go backwards when you veer off script.
(Ed. note: Everyone needs to experience this in life at least once!)
SS: Over the years, what have been your most successful releases at NSS and NY NOW, amongst all your brands?
MB: One of my original designs won Card of the Year at the 2005 LOUIEs. Additionally, we debuted our Pop-Up Snow Globe Greetings at the 2005 NSS and Desktop Notes in 2012 — both won Best New Product awards — or the launch of UWP LUXE at the August 2014 NY NOW.
Oh, and our Dear Alchemy Sardines card won Best New Product at the last May NSS, in 2018.
GW: For me, clearly 2005. That was my first NSS with Up With Paper. We won the Best New Product Award at NSS, and then the Card of the Year LOUIE. I had been president of UWP for less than a year. I thought, “Man this is the greatest gig ever!”
SS: Are you exhibiting in October at NY NOW? GW: NY NOW is a significant part of our sales plan each year, for both Up With Paper and UWP Luxe, and we always exhibit at the Winter AND Summer shows. Our plans for the summer show this year, now moved to October, are largely dependent on retailers — are they ready to return to live shows? As such, we really appreciate Emerald’s lead and transparency in their effort to ensure the health and safety of all. I know the tough position they are in, as I had to make the call to cancel Noted in San Francisco in May —clearly the right decision. I know they are monitoring their retailers and will make a good decision for all of us.
MB: What he said.
SS: Is there anything else you’d like to share with TPC readers about #NSS20/NY NOW, or your thoughts on the show generally?
GW: We appreciate the gathering of retailers that NY NOW brings together twice per year, including not only those throughout the Northeast that sell greeting cards, but buyers for national accounts and international distributors and retailers as well. Every show we make at least one good connection — and usually more than one! — that makes the show worthwhile, even if sometimes it does not pay off immediately. That’s what good trade shows are all about — making those long term connections that benefit both businesses.
Thank you so much Monika and George! I don’t know about you, but reviewing this post has made me miss NSS all the more. Start planning your next visit here!