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DotMine Day Planners

Ann Arbor, MI

Sarah Nicoli, relaunching a 20th Century business in the 21st Century

Sarah Nicoli took an extended vacation from her business and soon realized many of her customers wanted her back on the job.

Nicoli stared DotMine Day Planners in 1999 after working several years in product development for Proctor & Gamble. The business took off with growing retail sales until technology and failing retailers took the wind out of the company's sales.

DotMine Day Planners stopped making day planners in the spring of 2013 and focused on a digital version. A year later she was back to making the old school paperback day planner on the heels of loud demands from her customers.

"In essence we took a year off," Nicoli says.

That got people's attention. Nicoli immediately got emails from concerned customers who didn’t want to live without their DotMine Day Planner. Some of the emails she received include:

- "OH NO! I am so sorry! I LOVE your planners...heartbroken for you, heartbroken for me!"

- "OMG! Such horrible news! I live with my day timer! I even sleep with it! I LOVE your product!! I am a busy mom of 12 yr old triplet boys who is a realtor and teaches at several dance studios. What am I gonna do with out you??!! I'm so sorry. You really produce a fabulous product. I am a "pen & paper" girl. I don't care for keeping my personal & work schedule on a computer. I love keeping notes about each of my days! I consider each of my day timers a personal diary that I will leave behind."

- "So very sad to hear this...I have over the years come to call my dotmine calendar my bible...don't know what I'll do without it...so very sad."

- "NO, NO, NO!!!!! Not after I finally found the perfect daybook!! Oh, please try to find some way to stay afloat for another year. The economy is finally inching forward, and you never know what one more year could bring. Do try!"

Nicoli took the response to heart and decided to relaunch DotMine Day Planners a few months later.

"We heard this all the time from our customers," Nicoli says. "They would come back and say we can't plan our lives around (a digital option)."

When she announced the return of the day planners, the response from customers was immediate.

- "So glad you are printing them again!!!!!  I never found anything the same & do NOT care for the one I am using now!"

- "This email was THE best news I've had in ages....Please don't go away again! There is no other product available that even comes close to your planners. I am truly struggling this current year with my planner and its obvious inferior design. Thank you for making your product available to me again."

- "Thank you SO much for resuming business... This is the first year in forever that I had to make due with someone else's day planner, and it just isn't the same!"

- "I am so happy to hear you guys are back. your planners are the only ones I really like. I have just read your email and I immediately placed my order. please don't go away again. I have a planner that I bought from some other company. but believe me I will be dumping that planner. you made my day."

The closing of Borders bookstores initially led DotMine Day Planners to brink of shut down. The retailer served as its main distribution point and when it went down so did about 80 percent of the DotMine Day Planners' revenue.

"That really hurt," Nicoli says. "From a customer standpoint it really hurt that we lost 400 distribution points across the country."

Now that DotMine Day Planners has relaunched, Nicoli has realized several important things about her target audience. First, there is a large subset of the population that grew up with paper planners and doesn’t want to switch. Second, that people remember and absorb information differently when they physically write it down as opposed to entering it into a smartphone. It all adds up a solid customer base that isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

"One of the misconceptions is that paper planners are going down," Nicoli says. "That no one is using them anymore."

When Borders was alive, DotMine Day Planners sold about 100,000 units annually. That number shrunk to 20,000 without it. Nicoli has gotten the sales numbers back to 20,000 units in the first year back but expects to add another 10,000 sales next year. She thinks that is a more realistic goal in a digital-dominant world.

"What's most important to us is that we continue to have profitable and sustainable growth, whether or not we ever reach that volume we once had," Nicoli says. "Being the right size is more important than being the biggest."

- Written by Jon Zemke

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