Monday, August 29, 2005

Fairfield's Papyrus rolls out greeting cards

Article Last Updated: Saturday, Aug 27, 2005 - 11:12:15 pm PDT

Papyrus rolls out greeting cards

By Christine Cubé

- When Marcel Schurman was looking to move his company Schurman Fine Papers from Emeryville, an old friend convinced him to come to Fairfield.

That friend was Herman Rowland Sr. and he owned a company called Jelly Belly.

For a time, the two companies - Schurman Fine Papers and Jelly Belly - were neighbors in Emeryville. Rowland and Schurman became friends through business, stemming from the first time Schurman vacated a building Rowland bought and moved Jelly Belly into it in the late 1960s in Emmeryville.

That's happened a couple of times and they've been friends ever since.

"(Marcel's company) has an incredible history," Rowland said. "I remember Marcel and his wife talking about how they got started. They came here and sold cards out of the trunk of their car going down the street.

"It's the American dream."

Best known today by its retail arm Papyrus, parent company Schurman Fine Papers, which moved to Fairfield in the mid-1980s, also has a wholesale division named after the founder of the company, Marcel Schurman. The entire operation employs more than 800 people nationwide, including those staffing 112 Papyrus stores across the country. Schurman Fine Papers also has a design center in San Francisco and a distribution facility in Nashville, Tenn.

Papyrus is a healthy fish swimming in the same water with big fish, such as American Greetings, Hallmark and Carlton Cards and it's doing just fine.

To Papyrus devotees, each store is a little slice of heaven, and Shawn Pauli, vice president of stores, likes to keep it that way.

"It's all about expressing oneself through paper," Pauli said. "My favorite part is we have an amazing interaction with the customer. Without that, retail is boring and it's the same experience from store to store and it's forgettable."

By year end, Papyrus plans to add three new locations nationwide. There are 32 Papyrus stores In San Francisco and throughout Northern California. The closest location to Fairfield is a store just off-campus of the University of California, Davis.

It all began in 1950.

The Marcel Schurman Company was a small operation founded by Schurman and his wife, Margrit. It wasn't fancy: The European couple (Marcel was from Switzerland, Margrit from Germany) worked out of their home, importing post cards from Europe.

"They identified an opportunity in the market to bring in product with a European flair," said Dominique Schurman, the Schurman's daughter and CEO of Schurman Fine Papers. "They sold it, shipped it and ran it out of their home."

Steady customer growth allowed the Schurmans to expand their offerings and Margrit Schurman opened the company's first Papyrus store in Berkeley in 1973.

By the early 1980s, the company began designing its own product and relied less on European sources for material. Dominique Schurman said it allowed the company to "drive its own vision and customize things to the American market."

Schurman explained the European pace and cultural differences - simple things as American Christmases typically using red and green colors versus European Christmases' more rust tones, brown and gold - began to show through.

"We recognized if we were going to meet the needs of the customer, we were going to have to develop our own product," she said, adding it started with straight-forward, color printing of cards. "It was not nearly as ornate and sophisticated as today's offering. The consumer's tastes and expectations have also evolved over the years and they're looking for uniqueness and quality - that extraordinary product."

She's referring to the popular handmade cards at Papyrus. Each piece is a work of art, requiring a steady hand and the expert use of tweezers. The execution and quality, from materials to presentation, make each card special, Schurman said, mentioning cards mostly are handmade in India and China.

"It takes 18 to 25 steps per card to create a handmade card, so the finished product is a gift in itself," Pauli said, adding that 45 percent of Papyrus cards are the handmade, high-end type.

Selling cards makes up about 40 percent of the Papyrus business. Cards range in price from $2.95 to $9. A new card line debuting in November will retail as high as $19 per greeting.

Papyrus' custom printing for parties, wedding invitations or baby announcements takes up 16.5 percent of the business. What's left: Stationary, gifts, wrap and trim.

In early 2006, Schurman Fine Papers will undergo a landmark change when its two divisions will come under its top Papyrus brand.

Before then, Rowland expects to have his yearly lunch with Marcel Schurman, who is the board chairman of Schurman Fine Papers. It takes place the same time every year: December, just before Christmas.

"It just became something that was very special to us," said Rowland, CEO of Jelly Belly. "We would get together and have lunch at Trader Vic's in Emeryville. We still do that today even though he's retired."

Reach Christine Cubé at 427-6934 or

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