The Story Behind a Beautiful Wishbook
We all love artists' wishbooks,
and when a printmaker friend showed up here from Texas with a Savoir
Faire catalog under her arm I was prompted to contact them and find out more
about this curious company which imports exclusive artists' materials into the
U.S.A. from Europe and Asia. I talked with Deirdre Sproul, the sales manager at
this distinctive little transnational company. (Here at World
Printmakers we're partial to transnational mini companies for some
reason.) Deirdre has been at Savoir Faire for five years and knows their lives
and legends. Here are our questions and her answers:
How long has SF been in business? What were the origins?
Answer: Savoir-Faire was started
by Maureen Labro 20 years ago. Maureen, with a French father and American mother,
came from France to study at Berkeley and it was there that she started importing
Sennelier Silk Dyes out of her kitchen and selling them around the US. Sennelier
are the makers of what we consider to be the world's finest oils, watercolors
and pastels. Dominique Sennelier was a chemist in France in the mid-19th century
and artists would come to him to ask if he could mix certain colors... impressionist
colors. Thus his company was born with the French Impressionists and continues
to expand and prosper today. This was the first relationship forged by Maureen
Labro, but today Savoir Faire imports art materials from 20 manufacturers all
over Europe and Asia.
met her husband, Pierre Guidetti, at Berkeley where he had also come from France
to study, and he joined the company soon after. Today Savoir-Faire is a husband-and-wife
team devoted to importing the finest art materials for America's most demanding
clients. Those of us who work for Savoir Faire think of ourselves as a French
run company, except those who are French and like to say they work for an American
company. Both French and English are spoken in the office and this really helps
when dealing with Continental manufacturers.
was the original business case?
A business opportunity to sell
little-known top-quality imported papers in the giant US market?
all of your products imported?
Yes, everything is imported - from
Europe, and Asia.
paper the mainstay of the business?
Paper is just one component
of our company. We import a diverse range of are materials, and the papers round
out our line. We've been importing fine papers for artists for 20 years. Currently
we import Fabriano from Italy, specifically the Tiepolo, Rosapina, UNO, Artistico,
Roma, Classico-5, Ingres, Murillo and Biblos varieties. Also Larroque from France,
Awagami from Japan, and Lama-Li from Nepal. We recently brought in a new line
of vellum papers from Switzerland called Optix. Our best selling paper is Fabriano
UNO. It is a watercolor, fine art, digital paper as well as a good etching paper.
Our decorative papers also do very, very well. Paper is just as important as the
other art materials - paints - brushes - canvas etc...that we import.
many staff did you start out with? How many staff are there today?
If you really go back to the beginning- it was just Maureen and Pierre. Today
we are a total of 28 people working for Savoir Faire.
is your segment of the market, professional artists? Also schools?
We are importers. We sell directly to art stores and distributors. We work directly
with schools and also sell to bookstores. We do a lot of promotion in the schools,
as well as in stores to educate the public about our products, but we don't sell
direct to individuals. Our products are the finest high-end art supplies that
artists can use. So our principal market is, of course, the professional artist.
Nevertheless, we feel very strongly about making efforts to have our products
used and priced so that all artists can have access to them. We concentrate on
retail stores and distributors. We do not sell on the internet, but many of them
your Unique Selling Proposition? Why do your clients buy from you and not somebody
It has to do with many things. We forge close relationship
with artists and teachers, as well as the business community- art stores nationwide.
We work hard to understand the American market and import according to what the
market is asking for, knowing what they want and giving them the best products,
competitive prices, and finest customer service. Our staff is very well trained
and thus can answer technical questions about our products which is a big plus.
you the exclusive distributors in the U.S. of certain products? Which?
Yes, Sennlier, ArtFix, Fabriano, CretaColor, Lascaux, Charbonnel, Annesley panels,
Jullian easels, Coate's Charcoal, Isabey, Raphael, Lama-Li, Herbin, Awagami, Larroque,
Lama-Li Metal, and Industrielle.
were impressed with your catalog. It's a real artist's wish book. How much do
you charge for it?
Normally we don't charge for it as we don't
offer it to the end-user. It is mailed to our retail-store, mail-order and distributor
customers. We work very hard on our visual image. We are a small company but many
people think we are much bigger because of the look of our catalogs and mailings.
buys your elegant stationery products?
Everyone from the smallest
stationery store to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to famous stationery stores
- Kate's Paperie in New York, for example. Martha Stewart Living buys from us,
the Sundance catalog, Levenger, more than 50 museums. Basically gift and craft
stores thoughout the U.S.
us an example of "helping manufacturers to develop new products American
A good example is the case of Fabriano
UNO, which we helped to develop a few years ago. We did our research on what artists
wanted and back and forth went the samples...into the hands of a team of artists
until we came up with UNO, which is today our best-selling paper. We work directly
with schools (teachers as well as students), artists and stores to find out what
the market trends are. We send out questionnaires, and we lecture across the U.S.
Feedback from everyone is very useful. We take that feedback and discuss with
the manufacturers what is possible to make for the artist. Once we have an idea
of a new product, or even how to improve on an existing one, we work hand in hand
with the manufacturer to see to it that our specs are carried out. We have a great
marketing team that helps develop new products and our manufactures are always
coming up with new ideas for us to review, too.
What are the factors which motivate your clients to use
your imported materials?
Absolute quality and the knowledge and
service behind each product.
thanks to Deirdre Sproul and Savoir Faire.