Bart Robinsoin, left, Paul Thorogood and Dean Daigle speak to local officials on Friday at Crane Stationery.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The owners of Crane Stationery are doubling down on their commitment to the company and to the community by investing $3 million to $4 million in rebranding and growth over the next few years.
The high-end stationery maker on Curran Highway was purchased last year by Mohawk Fine Papers, a family-owned paper company based in Cohoes, N.Y. At the time, Mohawk's officials pledged not only to continue Crane's operations and brand lines but to invest in its products and the workforce.
"We're going to double our size, there's no doubt in our mind that we can do that," said Bart Robinson, chief revenue officer. "It's going to take us time, it's not to happen this year or next year but we need to start looking at talent we can tap into as we move forward."
Company officials laid out their plans on Friday morning to local officials from Adams and North Adams and educational leaders from area schools and colleges after a tour highlighting the company's workers and processes. 1Berkshire had helped facilitate the presentation.
"We really think there is a great opportunity to expand," Robinson said. "We have a rich history but we've been doing the same thing for a long, long time and we think we've been put in a box and we need to get outside that box.
"We need to be able to design products for a larger audience and be more inclusive."
The brand's been linked for years with an exclusive clientele ranging from the White House to Beyonce to Tiffany & Co. Robinson described it as "affluent country club," West Coast, New England and Texas. It's boxed products have barely been available in its own home county, something Robinson said they're working to change.
Paul Thorogood, chief product officer, said the objective was to rebuild the brand to be more in line with contemporary needs while maintaining its luxury cachet. Back in 1801, Crane & Co. had been a disrupter and an innovator in the ways people communicated, he said, and it had the capability to be so again.
"We don't want to just redefine Crane, we want to redefine what stationery means, how people act and interact with each other," he said.
One factor will be an attempt to bring back the "& Co." to the name, a second will be a completely new website, a third will be to expand the company's products and partnerships.
A design team is working on a rebranding scheme that will start rolling out by the end of the year, one that will integrate a focus on services, fashion, design and lifestyle.
Thorogood, who spent time in Silicon Valley and seven years at Moo.com, said the company's true competitors are printing businesses like Moo, Shutterfly and Minted — easy access online purveyors that have had tremendous growth over the past decade. Both Moo and Minted had revenues north of $100 million and Shutterfly at least three times that.
"We can act like a 200-year-old startup, and we can look at what all the other players in the digital market are doing, see what their problems are and leapfrog them," he said. "We don't want to build to get to them, we want to get built to surpass them."
The company's customers break down to about equal thirds for wedding invitations, boxed goods and occasional or event products. But barely 20 percent of its orders come from online — the bulk are from retailers. Thorogood said the goal is to make that closer to 50/50 through growth.
"We want to start comparing ourselves to this and we don't see any reason we can't get there eventually," Thorogood said. "We are behind a firewall of retail — we need to connect with our consumers in a faster way. ...
"We need to shake off a little bit of the cobwebs to kind of move ourselves out where we are and be more appealing."
Officials anticipate buyers will begin to see incremental changes by the end of the year and going into 2020.
Some of these changes will be behind the scenes in making the company leaner and more agile: for example, it's simplifying its sample books from 14 to 6 and has already reduced its inventory over the past year by $1.5 million, largely because Mohawk is able to directly produce paper for Crane.
Another factor will be investment in equipment and workforce hiring and training. Crane anticipates hiring a director of engineering and several other in-house staff including a photographer to help focus on social media. It's already added an in-house sales team.
Its greatest asset is the equipment and its 270 or so skilled workforce ranging from million-dollar ink printers and 50-year-old letter presses to employees who handcraft thousands of items a day. Dean Daigle, chief operating officer, said one order could go through 16 touchpoints before completion.
"There's not another print facility that has the unique capabilities that we do under one roof," Robinson said.
Crane's also investing in the workforce monetarily, through training and development, and by building an esprit de corps through company picnics, parties and activities.
"The one thing that I will glowingly talk about all the time is the pride the people in this facility take in the work that they do," said Robinson.
Daigle said he wanted to keep in touch with officials on how to help the community and work with area schools on how to develop future employees.
"I want to see the workforce needs that you have filled by people here," said Mayor Thomas Bernard. "And if we can't, that we're bringing people to North Adams, to North Berkshire to live, to work to be part of what you're trying to accomplish."
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