Bring them on.
That always has been the philosophy of Marilyn Silverman, whose Word Center Printing seemingly has cornered the wedding invitation market in the greater Mercer County area for decades.
Small businesses talk about how important customer service is, but Silverman lives it with clientele so tough they make TV shows about them. For her, it's just doing business.
“For our brides we provide an insanely amazing experience,” she said. “We schedule a two-hour appointment after the customer fills out our pre-appointment questionnaire online.”
That's right, two hours with — if you believe, dare we say, wives' tales — people their own mothers don't want to be around.
Silverman does. Her goal in the Hamilton business she owns with her husband, Jerry, is to make her part in a bride's special event truly special.
“We know ahead of time what the venue, theme, color scheme, etc., are and can help the person pick out their dream invitation,” she said. “We have a vast selection of papers, embellishments, jewels, brooches, ribbons, lace, pockets, etc. And we'll help you put it all together. Once you decide on all the elements, we create a physical sample for you to look at in person so you know exactly what you are getting. Then we print and hand assemble each invitation ensemble right in our shop.”
In an era when thousands of examples and tools are available on the Internet, Silverman's customer service is the difference.
And it sets the tone for how small businesses can and should operate, according to Laurie Ehlbeck, the N.J. director for the National Federation of Independent Business.
“(Customer service) is how a small business stands apart from big box stores and big business,” she said. “They might not be able to offer the variety or amount of product, so specialization of each customer is key.
“It's what makes a small hardware store stand out from the chains.”
Silverman has been doing that for five decades.
The company started as a home-based business in 1972 before moving to a brick-and-mortar store in Hamilton in 1984. She has been at her present location since 1989.
Silverman has seen the industry go through many changes, but she keeps adjusting to maintain her space.
“We began with copiers, bought printing presses in the mid-'80s, but sold the presses about five years ago,” she said. “Now we're all digital.”
It's all part of being a small business owner.
“There's never a dull moment,” she said. “There's new challenges every day, especially in our industry, where the technology has changed dramatically over the 30-plus years we've been in business.
“I am always learning new equipment, new software, new ways to 'wow' our customers.”
The biggest change, of course, has been the rise of online publishing.
But while others have used it as an excuse for failure in the printing business, Silverman has used it to her advantage, thanks to the one thing the Internet cannot provide: Human contact with the customer.
“The Internet is a challenge, but it is a two-edged sword for us,” she said. “Many people are ordering online, but many others say they want to touch and feel their printed materials and invitations instead of ordering 'blind' online and getting stuck with something they dislike.”
Silverman said Word Center Printing has survived and thrived by offering a variety of products and services.
“We have three distinct areas: full-service printing and graphic design; custom and semi-custom social invitations; and resume writing,” she said.
The key, she said, is not the service, but how it is provided.
“Service, service, service,” she said. “We go the extra mile — sometimes many extra miles — for our customers.
“We schedule appointments on evenings and weekends outside of regular hours to accommodate busy business owners as well as individuals planning special events; we shop trade shows looking for new and exciting products to offer our customers; and we are always willing to work with you to bring your vision to reality.”
Even if you are a bridezilla.
Lori Bergeron is a freelance writer based in Morris Plains.
THE BIZ IN BRIEF
NAME: Word Center Printing
OWNERS: Marilyn and Jerry Silverman
EMPLOYEES: Three (full time)
ONE MORE THING: Being true to your community is key, Marilyn says: “We live in Hamilton, educated our two sons here, and contribute to many local non-profits and charities. The dollars we earn are plowed back into the community as try to buy all our supplies locally.”