How retailers can harness the power of personalisation18-Apr-2017
Personalisation is an ongoing trend we've been covering regularly on our blog. This time we decided to talk to a designer maker to find out what drives this trend. Over Easter we caught up with Helen Lang (pictured) to discuss her personalised print and gift business through Notonthehightstreet.com and to find out why she thinks there's a trend for personalised products? Who's buying them? Are they mainly gift items or personal buys?
Helen is the founder of Wetpaint. The illustrator and designer was born in Devon but now lives and works from a bright, suburban London studio. She is powered by builders tea, BBC6 music and bourbon biscuits and is both chef and personal trainer to Desmond, the Border Terrier who keeps her company while she works.
Helen's work has been featured on numerous interior and lifestyle blogs as well as publications such as the Stylist Magazine, Creative Review & The Independent. Currently, Helen’s business is composed of several different revenue streams. She is a creative partner on Notonthehighstreet and also sells via Etsy.
When she’s not in the studio, you’ll probably find Helen digging in the garden, coveting a real ale, rummaging around a flea market, or trying to find a warmish bit of sea to swim in.
At what point did you decide that personalisation was the right thing for you as an illustrator?
It took me a while to come to the realisation that my illustrations could become something that I could personalise and make suitable for gifting. Since going freelance in 2011, I worked for a number of high profile clients in the UK, Europe and beyond including Boden, Tesco, Harper Collins, Chipotle and Virgin Trains but this was advertising and packaging work. A very different beast.
However, in these early days via a big leap of faith and a fat dollop of luck I was able to get to work with John Lewis on an exclusive product range of accessories. The buyers at John Lewis were amazing and this opportunity opened up my eyes to my illustrations being reproduced and sold on a larger scale.
How did it all start and who was your first customer?
My first foray into personalised gifts began when I was asked to create a large personalised painting for a friend's wedding which was to be gifted to the happy couple. This commission incorporated the couple's first names entwined together in the shape of an oak tree surrounded by elements from their life together and completed with lovebirds, delicate foliage and floral elements.
This one request led to another commission and then another. My personalised painting business initially grew by word of mouth and gradually the personalisation the customers required became more detailed and intricate. The range of painting choices and shapes now on offer has expanded to include a Ganesh, an Elephant ride, a heart-shaped tree, and even a VW Camper Van.
These paintings are mostly commissioned to celebrate weddings, but I’ve also had commissions for remembrance, engagements and births. I like to think that these decorative, illustrative paintings incorporating the very significant stages in people’s lives make for a timeless gift. My hope is that these personalised gifts amuse and delight long after their initial “day” is over.
It’s so nice creating these pieces and receiving pictures of the painting being held by the bride and groom on the day or getting thank you messages from the customer after the big day informing me that the gifted paintings have produced joyful tears at the wedding. A sobbing bride and weeping husband could just be down to the copious amounts of booze and the couples sheer exhaustion of course … but I’d like to think it’s because they truly loved their present and the huge amount of personalised detail in the gift. Ha!
How did you manage to scale your personalised range?
While brides across the nation were being overwhelmed with emotion (jokin’) and my range of personalised paintings was developing I was also beginning to realise that the price tag and time scale involved in each piece limited many customers from purchasing. It was at this point that I was accepted to be a creative partner with not on the high street and through this platform I launched a range of personalised prints which are digital reproductions of my illustration work and which allowed for much simpler and speedier personalisation and for which the price was always under £20.
This is when things got really interesting!! The range of occasions I catered for had to expand rapidly and I began to offer hand personalised gift prints for not just Weddings but for Christenings, Baptisms, New Baby Celebrations, Civil Partnerships and Anniversaries.
What are you working on at the moment?
Recent additions to my range now include personalised New Home gift prints and Teacher “Thankyou” prints and I am currently creating and building up a range of personalised dog prints which allow for a customer to include three things their dog is “famous” for…. be it Bin raiding, Cat chasing, Pillow stealing or for simply being a Super Snuggle Buddy.
Why do you think your customers want personalised gifts?
Every print I dispatch is hand finished to a customer's specific requirements and as such, every personalised order is a completely unique gift. I think this is why they are so popular. Most orders I receive are purchased as gifts for an occasion but every once in a while I see that the names on the orders match those to be included in the personalisation. That’s a really nice thing to see that people want to treat themselves too.
What are your bestsellers?
My best sellers are currently the anniversary gift print range. I think that it’s still quite hard to find contemporary gifts for those occasions and I believe my range offers a more modern take on previously more traditional gifts.
Tell us a bit about your collaboration with retailers...
In a weird twist, personalisation has now entered heavily into the work I have been asked to do through my agent Illustration Ltd and I was recently chosen to be an 'in store’ illustrator at a huge Valentines event at the Fossil watch store in Oxford Street. I was invited to bring my decorative illustration style to the signature Fossil tins and worked completely live from a table in the centre of the store, fulfilling all the artistic requests of Fossil customers after they had purchased their watches.
I had a vast number of customers asking for personalisation - from grooms to be; giving their best man a personalised tin & watch, to partners personalising their watch tins as extra special Valentines gifts to one another. I had fathers - one in particular, personalising the tins for his twin daughters' birthdays. Personalised birthday messages and quotes in all kinds of languages. I had to illustrate mermaids, the Eiffel tower, elephants, flowers, hummingbirds, pet dogs. It was an exhausting but brilliant day!
It’s becoming apparent that personalisation is not simply a nice option to have when buying a gift but its also a very powerful marketing tool that I think more retailers will learn to harness and use.
25th wedding anniversary
Giraffes - christening