Always on the Lookout

New NSS Director Discusses Latest Trends

Kelly Bristol is enjoying her role as the National Stationery Show Director.

Kelly Bristol, the new director of the National Stationery Show (NSS), hasn’t been at the helm for all that long, but she is already “seeing stars” … we’ll explain a bit further in this story.

This year’s event is May 21-24 at Javits Center in New York City, and Bristol and her team have a great line up of educational program and exhibitors in place. We were able to catch up with Bristol to discuss her background and long-term outlook for the industry.

Bristol, who joined NSS in 1999, has had many roles and responsibilities over the year, but her focus has always been on working with exhibitors and searching for new companies to join the show.

“Before working on the NSS, I worked for amfAR, the American Foundation for Aids Research,” she said. ‘One of my roles there included working with Gift For Life, the gift and home industry’s volunteer group united against AIDS. This is how I first started working in this industry, and the relationships I made eventually brought me to the NSS.”

In her role as show director, Bristol said, she travels to a number of other live events across the country, and also participates in conventions and other meetings.

“My philosophy is that I’m working for the buyers when I’m on the road and working at other trades shows and participating in industry events,” Bristol said. “I’m on the lookout for products that the NSS buyers would love, and things I think would work in their stores. My goal is always for our buyers to be delighted by the new products and companies that they find at the NSS.”

Keeping up with changes in the industry presents unique challenges, she explained. “The industry has changed with technology. When I started, people were taking pictures with film cameras. Baby announcements did not include photos of the baby, but now consumers can add pictures of their newborns into their announcements immediately if they choose.”

The NSS moved up in the ranks this year to 190 in the 250 top trade shows of 2016 (as named by TSNN), Bristol revealed.

“It’s important to recognize the resiliency and evolution of both the industry and show over the last 72 years,” she said. “Continual innovation and creativity, by artists, buyers and retailers have kept this show an important component of the stationery and lifestyle gifts community throughout the years. Although cursive handwriting is no longer taught in our schools, the millennials have found a true love for the authenticity and uniqueness of papers and pens, expressing thoughts and feelings to others through the written word.”

When it comes to predicting where the industry is headed, Bristol said, “I’m seeing stars! Celestial and zodiac themes are appearing on all kinds of product in our universe right now, including matchboxes, cards, invitations, notebooks, gift wrap, tote bags and more. The trend is out of this world.”

“It’s fun to see trends emerge and take hold,” she added. “So much of what we see in other products start on paper! Right now, there is a great deal of interest in handwriting and hand-lettering. It seems that since our public schools stopped teaching cursive, handwriting became a “lost art.” And as an “art” people are interested in it again. Script has been appearing on framed prints for the home for a few years, now. Various handwriting styles (as opposed to typeface) can be seen on greeting cards, invitations and much more.”

Retailers, she explained, are teaching classes in their stores, manufacturers are hosting classes and workshops in their workspaces and warehouses, new books are being published on the art, and talented artists are being featured on talk shows and blogs, to name just a few.

As a result, products perfect for handwriting are trending. This includes a myriad of writing instruments, calligraphy sets and inks, special papers and accessories. Retailers should be stocking up on products to help their customers practice and perfect their handwriting again, Bristol encouraged.

“And what may follow this in our industry is a renewed interest in other elements of an elegant invitation; wax seals, for example, are becoming popular again, and NSS buyers are looking for more vendors making them,” she added.

Other trends she mentioned include:

  • Metallics are still trending, with holographic foils now on the rise. Rose gold is continuing to appear on more products every day. Gold and silver foil and metallic inks are right there, too. We’re still seeing metallic foils on greeting cards, invitations, wall art, tote bags, pouches, and more.
  • Men’s gifts are making a comeback. After casual workdays took a strong hold, we noticed that the traditional men’s gifts (from novelty items such as desktop dartboards to high end writing instruments) went away for a while – it was as if no one knew what to make for men anymore! But we’re now seeing products coming into the market that are “just for men.” This includes personal grooming products (for those beards) to cards and notebooks and journals that are more appealing to the guys in our lives. I’m looking forward to seeing more men’s gifts come back into the NSS as this “trend” grows.
  • The “lady boss” trend / empowerment motto has been around for a few years now, but we’ve seen an increase in women embracing their “girl power” in these past few months. With the current political climate, we’ve seen many of our greeting card and stationery exhibitors creating products that support women, through the messages on the products, and in many cases with donations being made from the sale of certain products. The manufacture of cause-related products is likely going to increase this year, and retailers should be looking to include these items in their stores this year, if they haven’t already.
  • I’m loving the “flair” trend. (That’s a nod to a great movie, Office Space). What a time to express one’s individuality! I honestly think the enamel pin trend started at the NSS two years ago with a giveaway that one of our exhibitors did from their booth. This one company had a cute giveaway pin; and the next year, enamel pins were everywhere, and being made by a number of companies. Naturally, buttons (the pin kind) and patches couldn’t be far behind, and buyers will see all sorts of them at the NSS this May. We even have a company selling button making equipment- every store should have one!

In terms of educational opportunities at this year’s show, Bristol said from Sunday – Tuesday, the NSS is hosting two seminars each day at 9 am and at noon.  The topics include driving traffic and boosting store sales, a panel discussion of changes in the wedding industry and increasing wedding invitation sales, a session on color and design trends, and an all women stationery-star panel sharing their tips and tools for success in the stationery business.

In addition to the seminars, the NSS will also hold interactive, FREE fun workshops at the NSS Theatre on the Show floor.  The Gift Wrap Company Studio will present Clever Giftwrapping Hacks each day at 10:30am and at 1:30pm, Hallmark’s creative team will present Envelope Decorating Ideas to Increase Card Sales.  Additionally, each day at 3:30pm, a pair of top independent gift and stationery retailers will show and share their finds of the day representing new trends and innovative products that they’ve discovered on the Show floor.

The Best New Product Display will be located on the Concourse Level – near the NSS registration, and by the 1-A escalators. This feature area is very popular. The Best New Product Display and Competition has been going on since before I joined the Show in 1999. Our buyers love visiting this area. It helps them see new products from a large cross section of exhibitors at one time. They spend time in the showcase with notebooks in-hand, and write down the names and booth numbers of the companies with products they love, so that they can make tracks to those companies’ booths, once they’re on the Show Floor.

The Greeting Card Association’s LOUIE display will also be in the Concourse Lobby, just above the 1C escalators leading to one of the entrances of the Show. This area features the finalists and winners for this year’s LOUIE Awards. The LOUIEs program honors the best cards in the industry, and culminates with an awards event on the Sunday night of the Show. Buyers visit the display at the Show to view award-winning cards that they may want to carry in their stores.

For the first time, the Show will host First Look: NY NOW @ NSS. Buyers at the NSS will get the first look at these new products – and will be able to order them first and have in their stores well before they are next seen at the summer (August) edition of NY NOW.

More information about the 2017 NSS can be found at