Ask the Retailer: Samantha Smith, Hello Time

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Samantha Smith
Samantha Smith

What inspired you to work in the stationery industry/retail?
The short answer: My relationship with time and how I was managing it.


The long answer: I have always loved stationery, always been a devotee of paper and pen, writing notes, lists and ticking them off, but what really inspired me when it came to HELLO TIME was that I wanted to fix a problem that no other product, from my research and experience, was able to do.


I had an unhealthy daily existence with time. I almost found that ‘time’ in general was in direct conflict with what I was trying to achieve. I was having a daily battle with it. I would finish each day more disorganised than when I started. Time freaks me out, still does if I allow it to.


I’d had enough of the endless passwords, two-step verification, battery charge points, hunting for WIFI and 3G signals, rushing from place to place only to arrive late in a state of panic. Why was time so cruel to me, why couldn’t I manage it, why was it always an hour later than I wanted it to be?


At the time I was putting my appointments, meetings and to-do lists in a week-to-view diary, using a crazy made-up system that pushed me to my limits and overwhelmed me every day. I was running two businesses and carrying around a notebook, a to-do list, scraps of paper with notes on and a layout pad. I was always playing catch-up, was always tired and late!


Carrying around all these items each day would add to my anxiety. There had to be a better way. Something had to change. I needed to start looking after me, my schedule, my to-do list, my notes, my appointments, and my relationship with time. I looked for a book or planner that had everything I needed in one, so I could keep everything together, to find some balance and order in my life.


I couldn’t find a product that offered this. I could only find planners with systems, lots of structure, extra prompts and information to fill in each day, stuff I didn’t particularly want or need to record. They would only add more admin to my day.


I just didn’t have the time or the headspace for all of this and as much as I love stationery I grew out of stickers some time ago. I wanted something stylish, so that when I went to meetings it looked the part, something grown up (no stickers), but above all, everything in one place. If I wanted to help myself and others manage their time better, then, I had to start from scratch.


In 2016 we designed and developed a planner which took 2 years of research, design, development and production. We called it the HELLO TIME planner. Nowadays, my to-do list for each day is more realistic, my time is more organised, and my notes are all in one place. I have greater satisfaction, a better balance and more time for me. Ok, I’m still a little late from time to time but we are all a work in progress!


So why ‘HELLO TIME’?

I wanted people to look at the book and be consciously aware of ‘their time’. The ‘HELLO TIME brand name acts as a natural break from the daily chaos and invites you to take a deep breath and say “hello” to the most precious thing we have.


Your CV in a nutshell.

I’ve been a designer for more than 23 years and have worked across many market sectors, (from motorbikes to groceries, nightclubs to clothing and construction to education). My core skills and specialism lie in branding and design for print, environmental brands and experiences, but I’ve also designed all sorts of communications, from brochures and adverts to packaging and websites.


After working in London for several years, I became a creative director at Linney Design, based in the Midlands, working on brands such as Mars, The Post Office, Whitbread, Mothercare, Triumph, McDonalds and Bupa.


I am a creative but am also very brand-savvy. I have gained a great understanding of marketing principles and techniques throughout my career.


I decided to leave the agency world and set up on my own. I moved to Worcestershire and set up Alilia Studio in 2009, where I also designed my own range of art, commissioned by interiors clients and Heals, London. My design clients range from small start-ups to regional companies and multi-nationals like Budweiser Budvar, Pizza Hut and Butlins.


In 2011, I set also set-up online retailer with my business partner, Emma. We produced bespoke wedding albums, unique wedding guest books, cool hen party books, clever baby journals and a one-of-a-kind family book.

After 7 years co-running Illustries and designing books for all life’s occasions, I decided it was time to move on and grow my design business further and jump into the world (with both feet) of stationery. 2018 saw the launch of the second edition HELLO TIME planner under Alilia Studio.


Tell us about your company, service?

We believe in challenging the idea that we simply have too much to do and not enough time to do it.


We want everyone to wake up each day never feeling anxious, too stressed and lost in the daily myriad of stuff that needs to get done, never feeling that sense of achievement or satisfaction. We’ve been there, didn’t think too much of it, so we’re here to change that.


We believe you can have the space to throw down the clutter, reduce the anxieties, cease the panic moments, wipe away the worry and move into a more positive relationship with time.


That’s why the HELLO TIME planner doesn’t tell you how to organise your time, it just gives you space and the tools to manage it better.


Oprah Winfrey said “I believe one of the most valuable gifts you can give yourself is time, taking time to be more fully present. Your journey to becoming more inspired and connected to the deeper world around us starts right now."


The way we allow you more of life’s most valuable asset is to give you the most beautifully designed, simple to use, easy to follow layout on the market. A time planner to give you the space to plan your time so you can feel more ‘you’. Our planner is designed around you, ready to begin when you are, start any day, any week, any month, any year, because time is simply what a clock reads.


Time is something to be treasured, respected and above all else, enjoyed.


Describe your role.

At the moment it’s early days so I’m keeping everything in-house, doing most things myself to get the brand up and running. I’m very fortunate to be able to do a lot myself because of my background and experience. I’m also a ‘roll-up your sleeves up’ kind of gal, so am happiest when I’m getting stuck in and involved. Some may call that a control freak, but I call it passion!


I’m also very lucky that my husband comes from a marketing background and is a photographer. My brother is an online marketing expert and I have Ari my chocolate lab who keeps me company in my studio every day, so you could say it’s quite the family-run business these days.


What are you proudest of in your career so far?

In the stationery world that is yet to come, I guess, but in my design career it’s got to be presenting to Sir Richard Branson and the Virgin team and creating the famous ‘Chinawhite’ brand.


How do you see analogue and digital working together in retail over the coming years?

Some years ago they said print was dead when email and the internet came into play. I knew it wouldn’t kill the print industry. For sure it’s had an effect and printers have had to adapt, become more creative and move with the times, but digital will never take over, it will only enhance and ease the way in which we communicate.


I do not believe in technology for technology’s sake. Paper is still valued by young business professionals despite other digital opportunities.


We often use low-tech ideas in the retail and customer experience design work we do at Alilia Studio. Budgets are driving that of course, but it allows more creativity and imagination. Customers are demanding more from their experiences, be that on the high-street or online, but more than anything they are seeking the niche, the expert, the authority and the skilled to make their purchases. They have always wanted great customer service but now they want great customer experience, and that is what is driving successful retail brands.


Being digital also does not mean rejecting physical objects. Even in the age of digital, people are still very much aesthetically aware and with that comes the desire to have attractive things.


What are your desk essentials?

A candle, I take the Hygge approach to my studio, it helps me feel calm. My trusty Mac Book Pro in its marble cover (cheap buy on Amazon) that has had so many compliments.

A wooden grey striped ruler from Hay (the gods of stationery) and a HELLO TIME planner of course!


What do you use notebooks for?

There are lots of people I speak to that have a different notebook for different things (shopping lists, handbag size, work, home etc). This to me, only causes more stress, especially if you are out and about and come across the perfect cupboard for your office, but you left the measurements in a different book! I use my notebook section in my HELLO TIME planner to make notes at meetings and work out design costs.

Why do you think stationery is important in the digital age?

It’s a fashion item, the book you pull out at a meeting is as important in reflecting your style as your handbag or your reading glasses or the outfit you wear. You also don’t get the same satisfaction or clear focus as when you are writing things down or sketching things out. I’ve never been able to design anything straight on a Mac, I’ve always had to think it through, draw it out on paper first. The computer is only a tool to build and bring those thoughts, ideas, plans and the genius inside you to life.


Not to mention a paper diary or planner is silent and unobtrusive in use; it has no batteries to go flat; no password, it doesn’t break if you drop it; it helps you remember things because you have actually written them down; you can scribble in it during meetings and stuff doesn’t get mysteriously deleted.


Do you have a favourite stationery item?

When I was a kid, it was rubbers! I had quite the envious collection in a tin, and when you opened the lid, well, the smell was amazing! I must have a thing for stationery and smell because my favourite pen is a Pentel N60. I always start my ideas off by writing out the title of the project and the key points with one of these pens - they smell divine!


Do you have a favourite Pantone?

Any type of grey, warm or cool, I’m not fussy but my fave at the moment is Cool Grey 1.


What’s the Next Big Thing?

Building my brand and adding to the range. I’ve always been obsessed with design (brand, graphics and interiors) and stationery so it seems fitting that I continue in that direction. Just being in that industry is a big thing for me, a dream come true.


Who is your typical customer?

Realistically, female. A busy woman, a professional, a stay-at-home mum, employed, self-employed, any age from millennial to retired.


The planner market is just not as big for men at the moment. It was funny because when we exhibited at wedding shows, brides and bride-maids would love our hen party books and would often ask, ‘Do you have one for the stag do?’ We all know deep down, girls, that the last thing they are going to do on a stag is to write messages to one another, participate in a quiz about the bride and make a scrapbook of the experience. The same can be said for men and keeping a planner, I think!

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