A decade ago, the most exciting item of stationery you could buy was probably a highlighter pen. But today stationery is a dynamic retail sector with new entrants shifting products from the functional to fashionable, emphasising style rather than price.

Whether it’s Smiggle confirming its plans to open one store a week for the next three years, or earlier stage expansion plans from Kikki.K, Typo, Flying Tiger orHEMA being put into action, stationery appears to be a growth engine for the UK high street. This is largely driven by international retailers who understand the importance of graphic design, colour and innovation, and know how to create brands which resonate with younger consumers.

Two questions naturally offer themselves:

Is there really enough demand to support the ambitious rollout stated by Smiggle and other international stationery retailers?

And if so, what competitive advantage do these retailers offer that domestic retailers can’t?

The popularity of stationery is such that you can identify stationery “addicts”, obsessed with getting hold of new items which will organise their desks whilst adding colour and fashion to their workspaces. The star pupils within the category – such as adult colouring books – even helped lift the likes of WH Smith high street out of the doldrums last year. But it is school-aged teens and young adults who are the target audience and driving sales for these new retailers.

Stationery offers consumers a guilt-free indulgence whether bought for themselves or for their children. In the UK Paperchase has always embraced style and colour well but we see a big opportunity for retailers to learn from these new kids on the block and re-invigorate their existing ranges and launch new brands. Tinc is an example of a new British brand which offers colourful and funky stationery for children.

International retailers have recognised the true value in this category. Smiggle’s model of constant innovation – introducing new products every week – and interactive stores, has driven demand amongst younger consumers for their bright and fun products. Kikki.K recruited the efforts of design agency Dalziel & Pow to design their flagship store and to emphasise their rustic Swedish identity, targeting a consumer who wants sleek design.

Expect more new entrants, and more innovation. And how long will it be before the demand for stylish stationery from staff permeates the workplace and shakes up the large office suppliers?

Michael Little