We asked rubber stamp industry experts to weigh in on the past, present, and future of the rubber stamping world. Utilizing their combined expertise of over 150 years — we looked into the ways the industry has changed, what keeps rubber stamps relevant in today’s world, speculations on the “next big thing”, and much more. Without further delay, let’s get started!
Rubber stamp industry experts include:
- Paul DeMartini, Trodat USA President & CEO
- Craig J. Petersen, Contact USA (Former Owner of Millennium Marking Company)
- Steve Hewitt, Executive Director, IMIA
- Steven Vogel, Trodat USA National Sales Manager
- Keith Betti, Consolidated Marking
- Martin Clemente, National Sales Manager, Shachihata Inc
- Ed Sobota, Sales, Consolidated Marking
What is your background in the stamping industry?
Paul Demartini (PD): A relative “Newbie” (16 years) vs. many of my customers. I like to think my background brings a larger perspective from an end user standpoint. I started my career in sales and then marketing for large consumer package good companies. Eventually moving to office products and then stamps. I have always tried to keep the end user need and distribution method in mind regardless of the industry or product.
Craig J. Petersen (CJP): I started working for Cosco in 1984 as the Midwest sales rep for their Garvey division (label guns). Transferred into Consolidated stamp in 1987 and started Millennium Marking Company in 1991. Sold MMC to Trodat in May of 2015.
Steve Hewitt (SH): My Father and I started US Stamp in 1981. Initially formed to supply pre-inked stamps to check printers through a fulfillment program (order forms in check boxes to homes and business) I developed a process for manufacturing stamps in “forms” with a gel material similar to the then Perma Stamp) people heard about us in the industry and started contacting me to see if I would sell the gel and Swedish mount line and teach them how to make it. Within a year or so we had formed the “Associate manufacturers “ program and after another year or two had 41 US Associate manufacturers and 10 in Europe, Canada and Asia. Each Associate was given an exclusive territory and contract. At one point, we had almost a one year waiting list. We sold to Johnson’s Wax (owner of Perma Stamp) in 1989.
Steven Vogel (SV): I started in the stamp industry with US Stamp and Sign in 1999 (after a failed attempt in playing golf for a living) selling gel and other stamp components to Rubber Stamp Manufacturers (RSMs) in all of North America. I left US Stamp in 2002 when I saw an opportunity with MMC. They were just starting to use a new technology called flash. I joined MMC in April of 2002 as a sales manager selling the new maxlight preinked stamps. In 2006, I was promoted to National Sales Manager. I did that until June of 2015 when Trodat USA purchased us. Now I’m VP of sales with Trodat USA which is the largest supplier of stamp components in the world.
Keith Betti (KB): I’ve been working for COSCO (an industry supplier/manufacturer) for 14 years. Over my time here I’ve held various positions in Customer Service, Product Management, Channel Marketing and Sales, leading to my current role as VP of Sales and Marketing. I’ve worked primarily with the manufacturer customer base for stamp and seal supplies but also spent a few years working with the big box superstore channel on “stock” (non-customizable) products.
Martin Clemente (MC): I have worked with Shachihata Xstamper for over 21 years now. I started in marketing then moved to product development and I am currently the national sales manager.
Ed Sobota (ES): This fall will “mark” my 24th year. The first 8 were with Shachihata, the next 4 with MMC, another 8 with United Marking and the last 3+ with Consolidated Marking. Let’s just say I’ve seen a lot of stamps in action!
Looking back, what has changed the most?
PD: No question it is the development of flash and laser production technology and Internet selling making buying a stamp easier.
CJP: One of the biggest changes is in the simplicity of making stamps. Lasers and flash technology has had a profound impact on the making of the stamps, while software and the Internet has simplified the ordering process. All in all, I suspect the same amount of stamps can be made with 30-50% less labor today when compared to 20-30 years ago.
SH: The number of “traditional” stamp makers. In the early 80’s there were 2500 traditional stamp makers in the US. Now there are 1200. Large companies in similar businesses started seeing the large profits being made by traditional stamp makers and got into the business, e.g. Big Box Stationers, Direct mail houses, check printers and most recently VistaPrint and other online companies selling like products. Interestingly, according to a major supplier, about one half of the components they sell go to this relatively new group of stamp makers. Many like myself think that there aren’t any fewer stamps sold (maybe a little more) then there were 20 years ago, they’re just being made by other companies, in addition to us.
SV: The Internet. More and more stamps are being purchased through the WWW than ever before. Small mom and pop shops can still compete with the “big boys”, but they do that more on a local level. As websites get more and more sophisticated, the consumer has more choices to where they can purchase from and more buying power. Great for the consumer, but make pricing more important at the vendor level.
KB: I think the way end consumers purchase products (overall) has been a huge change. Many people (myself included) do a lot more online shopping than when I started here back in 2001. Technology has advanced in our market specifically by stamp makers being able to offer end consumers tools to design, preview, and purchase products online. For us as a supplier, we too now have an online store for our manufacturing customers to purchase housings and platemaking materials. We continue to see more shop owners and purchasing people migrating to using it. Outside of the purchasing trends, there’s also been a lot of consolidation of suppliers, manufacturers, and independent office product dealers.
MC: The way stamps are manufactured. This has allowed for faster and cleaner production.
ES: How stamps are purchased. It use to be the old “brick-and-mortar” stamp manufacturer in every major city. Today people are more comfortable purchasing online, even customized products. New manufacturing technologies allow stamp manufacturers to deliver product quickly regardless of their location. There have also been big improvements in communication tools that give the end-user a “hands-on” experience while simplifying the ordering process.
What do you feel is the real value in stamps?
PD: In the most basic terms it is the psychological experience of enabling someone to see their name in print. Regardless of age, a 5 year old loves to make the impression as does someone who is 80. The key is to find or create usage occasions be it for business, legal, or personal satisfaction and creativity.
CJP: Stamps simplify the life of the user and authenticates papers that has already been printed.
SH: It’s always been the convenience of quickly putting your message on paper without having to write it over and over.
SV: Where else can you get a truly one of a kind custom product for under 20 bucks. Most other items you need to purchase in bulk to have it produced, but not in stamps. Each one is truly unique and I would venture to guess that 90% of what everyone sells is a one up, one of kind custom stamp. Not going to find that anywhere else.
KB: “Writer’s cramp? Buy a Stamp!” That old adage still hits home in terms of time saving for anyone who is constantly writing things over and over. It’s a great low cost personalized solution. There’s also a very “official” element stamps bring to the table for businesses, government documents, etc.
MC: Anytime you have a repetitive message and/or need to add your stamp of approval on something there will be a value in stamps and marking devices.
ES: I see two areas of value – low cost personalization and consistency. Buying a stamp is a small expense for the personalization it delivers. Stamps allow you to make the same quality impression time after time, regardless of who is using it. It certainly beats writing!
Why do you think stamps continue to do so well in modern communications?
PD: Because of the above basic mentioned human experience and psych.
CJP: I remember a person with the trade association mentioning that the stamp business was doomed due to software that allowed the user to drop in pre-canned messages……like paid, received and signatures. This was about 15 years ago. I was confused since I always saw a stamp as the device used to mark paper after it was printed. A stamp makes a “non perfect” impression…..may be at an angle, in a different color or filling in a blank spot. In any case, such impression stands out means the paper was reviewed or approved. Could you imagine showing up at a real estate closing and having the notary impression pre-printed on the documents?
Thank goodness that the designer stamp category was created. I am pretty confident that such category creates over 1,000,000 extra stamps being sold annually. Such category did not exists 10 years ago. There is something to be said about the manual, colored impression on the envelope. It shows paper and stamps are far from dead.
SV: Many people still want to have hard copies in this digital age. Furthermore, as US manufacturing makes a comeback, stamps are used even more. From small little inspector stamps at Boeing, to very large metal frame Justrites at battery companies, stamps are used every day to mark many items. You would be amazed how many stamps are used in the auto industry!
KB: We know there’s still a lot of relevant applications for stamps in the business world, but on the personal use side of things I think we’ve actually seen a rise in monogram/address stamp users over the past 10 years. Despite advances in modern communications no one texts a Wedding Invitation or sends a Christmas Card by email.
MC: As long as people are still using paper and filing products there will be a need for stamps.
ES: Stamps are beautiful in their simplicity. They are easy to use, portable (in most cases) and simple to order. That sounds pretty modern to me.
What do you think is the next big thing to happen to stamps?
PD: I still think the vast majority of end users do not own a stamp (ask your neighbors) but would buy one immediately if given an easy and simple opportunity to do so. The Internet has just begun! I also think if anyone can bridge the gap between wood art craft stamps and self-inking or pre inked stamps there is much business to be done!
CJP: I believe that more non-traditional resellers will start selling more personalized products, including stamps. Software and the Internet will make this almost too easy. As brick and mortar stores fight to remain relevant, their sales counters/kiosks will offer a greater variety of products that ship direct to the customer. I believe that many of these sales will be incremental.
SH: Well, hard to say but maybe the pre-inked stamp will be so cheap to make, it will diminish the sale of self-inkers just as self-inkers has almost eliminated the traditional rubber stamp, except for specialty uses such as very large or quick dry needs by consumers.
SV: That’s a great question. I don’t have a perfect answer, but stamps find a way to keep reinventing themselves. A few years back, the 3 line address stamp changed. Went from a boring name and address rectangle, to a square or round stamp with fancy borders and graphics all around it…IE the monograms and designer stamps. The old saying goes, if you write something more than 3 times a day, get a stamp!!
KB: I’d love to see stamps go digital at some point. The technology is out there but the price point will be tough to drive down into such a compact device for it to make sense. Outside of a huge step like that I don’t foresee anything else drastic. Housings will modify from time to time but the principal methods of delivering the image to paper will remain the same amongst the current methods of traditional, self-inking and pre-inked stamps.
MC: New manufacturing technology to increase the speed and quality of manufacturing and assembly.
ES: From a manufacturing standpoint, Thermal technology. Thermal provides a “direct to print” experience allowing the customer to go from typesetting to a finished product in minutes. The convenience and ease of use will open up new selling channels.
What do you love most about this industry?
PD: It’s both a love and hate aspect. It is so intertwined and overlapped that it always amazes you how complex such a small industry can be. At the same time this can be charming but also frustrating,
CJP: The ability to have close relationships within the industry. I always looked at the “smallness” of the industry as a positive…and what made my nearly 30 years so enjoyable.
SH: The people. They are for the most part true entrepreneurs. Many started with one little machine. Some took their father’s business and made it even better. They forego decent pay while growing but never give up on the dream of a viable, profitable business that will support their family or even more. The absolute best kind of people! I love them all, and love this job where I get the pleasure of helping many who ask for it and many who just expect it, as it is my job to.
SV: That’s an easy question. The relationships. I truly feel this industry is vastly different than others. RSM’s purchase from people and not companies. Many of my dear friends are folks I have met in the stamp industry. Traveling and being away from my family is made easier when I’m calling on friends and not just customers. I hope it stays that way and I’m sure it will.
KB: The people. There’s a lot of great people in this industry with passion about what they do and the products that they sell. Many stamp makers are 2nd or 3rd generation and have passed down tremendous values and work ethic.
MC: The best part about the stamp industry is definitely the people. It is a relatively small industry and for the most part everyone gets along. I have made a lot of friends over the past 21 years.
ES: My customers or better said … my friends. I’m fortunate to work in an industry where you are dealing directly with small business owners. They are passionate about their companies and the products they sell. We need more of that in the business world. What’s not to love?
Favorite stamp order ever?
PD: I think it has been the emergence of the monogram market. This concept includes many of the elements I mentioned above. Human enjoyment in seeing their name in a tasteful or classy environment, bridging the gap between art craft and self-inking, and it is offered to the masses via the Internet.
CJP: Imagine fielding a call asking if flash material smells less than rubber, and then being asked if orange flash ink was available. The next question was my favorite……will flash ink be able to mix with highly concentrated perfume. Of course I answered yes and then got to work. 3-4 months later an order that exceed 100,000 flash stamps with orange “perfumed” ink was attained.
What was the use of these stamps? They used them to stamp a patron’s hand with the idea that as they smelled it, they saw the brand/logo of the perfume.
SH: While President and Marketing/Sales manager of Carolina Marking, our two biggest banks merger, Wachovia and First Union Bank. An $88,000.00 order for stamps. 6 per teller plus office stamps. Now when you look over the bank counter you see maybe 2 per teller. Also there’s hardly any tellers anymore. They don’t want us in the branches unless we are borrowing money. I use ATMs, have not been in my bank for over a year and haven’t had checks in 5.
SV: I guess when my kids want me to make them and their friends some sample stamps with their faces and pets on it that gets pretty fun. As far as a real order, we had a maxlight XL2-535 end up on an episode of The Walking Dead season.
KB: “WWCND?” (what would Chuck Norris do?). It had a silhouette of Chuck’s head wearing the Walker, Texas Ranger hat . . . had to order one for myself!
MC: I would have to say making the stamps for the original Men in Black movie. Xstamper N95’s were used to mark passports in the movie.
ES: My first pre-ink order at United Marking. At that time we were struggling to find our identity as a new company and that first sale put us on the map. It also taught me the value of building trust in a business relationship.