Businessman Eyk Nölte and his wife Susanne Stuhlmann run SchreibBar Berlin e. Kfm with all their body and soul. They have become the contact point for paper and stationery lovers and have established themselves as a source of inspiration for creative people, because with a range of varied and low-threshold workshops, they prove to every customer and passer-by time and again that everyone can be creative.
Mr Nölte, could you please give us a brief introduction to SchreibBar and its assortment.
Eyk Nölte: We are a shop in the Spree-Center shopping mall, with 230 m² of retail space in the Marzahn-Hellersdorf district of Berlin. Our customers come here to buy stationery, writing materials, gift articles, school satchels, craft, painting and artists' supplies. We also offer a printing service. We have handicraft books in our shop, or customers can order books through us.
How did you come up with the name SchreibBar (German for “writeable”)?
Susanne Stuhlmann: The name came to us in a flash of inspiration over a bottle of wine on the sofa. We love the play on words of “writing” (“schreiben” in German) and “bar” (a German suffix meaning “able”) and “writable” (“beschreibbar” - which can also be translated as “describable”). We wanted to create a place that had a café-bar where people could try things out. Unfortunately, with this innovative store concept of ours, we encountered so many bureaucratic hurdles that the Berlin authorities quickly scotched this symbiosis.
The sale of writing and craft supplies has long ceased to be the sovereign territory of the writing and craft trade. What do you do to counter cheap offers from other shops?
Eyk Nölte: You can buy cheap things or you can buy good things. In that respect, I can only recommend trying out the offers of discounters and comparing them with the products of brand manufacturers. Starting with paper. Naturally, my paper expertise – which I've acquired in my 20 years of work as a trained printer – helps me to do this.
How do you get the value of quality products across to your customers?
Eyk Nölte: I show them examples. That convinces them. I can fold good brand papers in the right direction so that the fold doesn't break. That doesn't work with cheap paper. If you do handicrafts, you want to achieve the best possible result so you don't skimp on paper.
How do you convert the business ideas from online shops into cash for your own shop?
Susanne Stuhlmann: Not everyone has the time and leisure to do their own handicrafts. There are online platforms where you can buy homemade things. We attracted the revenue for homemade things into our shop. We handle handicraft orders from customers – whether it's a matter of cards, gifts of money or 15 minutes' time off as a gift.
A retail shop is not a logistics centre. What do you do when customers want something that is not in stock?
Susanne Stuhlmann: Customers often arrive with very specific product wishes that we sometimes can't satisfy. In that case, I always ask first: “What do you want to do exactly?” I am then almost always able to offer alternatives and tips on how to carry them out. Most customers then leave the shop satisfied, well advised, and carrying the alternative products – and they like to come back. Because I think there's nothing worse than a customer who leaves without having bought anything.
You also offer workshops. How do you come up with new ideas for them?
Susanne Stuhlmann: The same thing applies here, too. Only if our customers tell us what they want can we help them. I talk to customers, artists, colleagues, sales reps or suppliers in order to come up with new ideas for workshops or campaigns. The essential thing is that we always keep our eyes and ears open and dare to try out something new.
Which workshop premiere do you remember most fondly?
Susanne Stuhlmann: We keep asking ourselves, "What else can we offer besides stationery? " Once, we were very brave and invited people – via Instagram and Facebook – to come to a Chinese tea ceremony, with Chinese ink painting. A customer who was enthusiastic about China led the tea ceremony. Eighteen children took part in the ceremony, because they were currently doing a China- themed week at school. Whether they used ink and a brush to create characters or birds on paper, they all went home with a sense of achievement – and so did we. The next time, we invited a sales rep who talked about the theory of the brush and ink technique, and the third time we did the Chinese tea ceremony on our own.
Do you also benefit from the workshops you offer?
Eyk Nölte: For us, the workshops are something of a springboard for crossover offers. Before and during the handicraft courses, we advertise the corresponding books and handicraft accessories. Should there actually be any downtime in the workshops, we use this time to make up the handicraft orders. How many people take part in a workshop is not decisive, but the long-term potentiation is. When we organised our first ever school bag party, we had 10 interested people. The following year, we had 30 participants.
How do you deal with the subject of school – apart from school bag parties?
Susanne Stuhlmann: We want to win over first-time writers. With that in mind, we've set up our own writing corner where pupils can choose their own fountain pen. After all, fountain pens all feel very different when you actually hold them in your hand. The kids notice that we take them and their personal writing feeling seriously. This way, they build up a relationship with their fountain pen. Most of the time, they end up handling it much more carefully.
What do you think most deters retailers from offering promotions?
Susanne Stuhlmann: Nobody should let the mental block "nobody will come" slow them down. Just start and set up a craft table. As soon as children come by, they ask the icebreaker question: "Can I join in? " And it doesn't take long before they and their parents are feverishly making things and they are bubbling over with creativity and eagerness. And I encourage hesitant passers-by with my mantra: "Anyone can be creative".
What other activities do you use to draw attention to your shop?
Susanne Stuhlmann: I heard on the radio that thousands of school children in Germany have to go to school without any school bag, because many families don't have enough money. We asked people to tell us of children who were going to have to start school without a school bag. When school started in autumn 2019, we were able to make five children happy by donating school bags from our suppliers and two school bags from us. This is how we help to spread a bit of joy here in our district.
What is your marketing claim?
Eyk Nölte: We want to always be present and friendly. Which is why we make sure people talk about us. To achieve this, we place a small permanent advertisement in the Berliner Abendzeitung newspaper – a classic advertising measure. When we advertise with posters, we only use a maximum of 20 posters within a 500-metre radius. Facebook and Instagram, on the other hand, bring us into contact with completely different target groups. This is especially true with regard to Facebook groups in our Marzahn-Hellersdorf district. If, for example, a petition is launched for a new site for the district library, we register as a place where people can come and sign the petition.
What retail promotion tip can you give to other retailers?
Eyk Nölte: I can only recommend that you constantly rethink your own concept and view it critically. People and customers change. And people who are new to the district in particular often accept new concepts more easily than people who have been here for ages. In any event, retailers should simply try out new ideas and do them themselves. You can't do anything wrong; you just learn a bit more.
Ms Stuhlmann, Mr Nölte, thank you for talking to us.
When it comes to retail promotions, simply get started and set up a craft table. It is not about the number of participants but about exponential growth and word of mouth advertising. Even if no-one takes part, you still create content and a chance to get into discussions with your customers when you announce a sales-promoting activity.