Planner Guru Erin Condren Dishes on the Internet's Agenda Obsession
The entrepreneur behind the wildly popular Erin Condren Life Planners opens up about the planner culture and community as well as on the future of paper planners in a digital world.
If you follow fashion bloggers on Instagram, you may have noticed that fancy planners (in addition to a cup of coffee, perhaps an issue of Vogue and a pair of quirky-cute yet usually unnecessary reading glasses) are the new requisite items for a like-worthy flat lay or #OnMyDesk shot.
But these agendas aren't your boring, mundane books — they're part of the customizable world of planners that have inspired the cultural phenomenon of #PlannerAddicts.
A simple Google search for a new organizer unleashes the madness behind the obsession with personalized planners, as well as the orderly and picture-perfect lifestyle of the people behind them.
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The movement, which comes complete with its own hashtags (#PlannerJunkies, #PrettyPlanner, #PlannerLove, to name a few), includes hundreds of Pinterest pages and Instagrams, as well as scores of YouTube videos (with some videos reaching hundreds of thousands — even millions — of views) comparing brands and swapping "glam planning" notes, in addition to identifying the best planner accessories (clips and stickers and bookmarks, oh my!).
From Franklin Covey to Kate Spade to Etsy-native shop Plum Paper, the planner possibilities are never ending. But the one planner that seems to rule them all is the Erin Condren Life Planner ($50-$75), which has fans in YouTube stars Elle Fowler and Dulce Candy and is available online as well as in select Staples locations. The El Segundo, Calif.-based business, which launched in 2009, has become the planner du jour for many a planner addict. And despite the rise in digital planning solutions, Condren’s company only continues to grow, proving that the desire for a physical, customizable planning solution is not only alive and well, but thriving.
Pret-a-Reporter penciled in a chat with Erin Condren herself (who has 139k Instagram followers and 36.8k Twitter followers) to discuss all things planners — from the phenomenon of popular planner culture to the digital competition (or lack thereof).
Pret-a-Reporter: How did you get into the planner business?
Erin Condren: The business I started was all really about stationary and business announcements that I started from my own desktop printer. The business was really based on custom stationary stickers. So when I became partners with Al Marco — he’s been in the fine art printing business for 25 years at the time when we met — I walked into his state of the art printing facility and I sat down and he said, “What is it that you want to do? What do you feel there is a blank space in the world that you could fill?”
And I said, “You know what, I have an idea and it’s about a planner."
At my first job they gave me a Franklin Covey planner for sales and day-to-day living but it was not personalized. It wasn't colorful. It wasn't inspirational.
So at first he sort of looks at me and says, “It’s 2007,” and he pulls out his iPhone and says, “the iPhone is just released and we’re just going to be living on our phones.” And I said, “maybe so” — again, I’m a graphic designer, I have my iPod, my iMac, my iEverything — “but there’s something about this book. So I said, “Give me a couple of days,” and I went ahead and put together this sample and I had it coiled over at Kinko’s and came back and he said, “Let’s give it a shot, let’s do it. If you think you need it then maybe others will like it too.”
What was the business plan with planners being a relatively "risky" business?
We really started it small with the vision being 'let’s not go heavy on the inventory and have something that’s going to bury us,' especially when we’re beginning to grow. Let’s print them on paper. Let’s start something that’s special that she can add stickers to and add her name and pick her colors, and there you have it. We sold close to half a million planners this year.
I actually have one myself — I love it.
Yay! Well then you know — it’s funny, you either get it or you don’t. I have some friends that are like, “you carry that book with you everywhere?!” And yes and no, I do carry it with me. It’s funny, when people ask me “Why are people who are using it more successful, less stressed? What makes it more diverse than some other planner or calendar?” And I think it’s because they had a role in creating it. And it’s something that’s super special to them because they helped design it — and let’s face it, it’s adorable — so you bring it with you and it makes you happy. It is a calendar, but there’s something about it being customizable that makes it special and you like having it with you.
In the past 5 or 6 years the planner business and planner obsession has really blown up. What are your thoughts on that culture?
It’s wild! It’s amazing. I think it’s so exciting to see not only women that are sharing these products but that they’re sharing their ideas and ways that they can be better time managers. And you know, I learn so much from the community. I’ve watched them come up with creative ideas that inspire me and my team to make our products better. So I love what’s happening.
How does it feel knowing that your planners have inspired this phenomenon?
I don’t know if I created this — it probably already existed. Social media was a big part of it. There always has been this element of gals that are truly living by our tagline — it’s more than just scheduling everyday, it’s celebrating everyday. And by decorating their planners and by showing their stickers and by color coding and all these things — I think all this was happening, like I was doing, I was trying to make my Franklin Covey look good, but we didn’t know it was happening because we didn’t have social media, we didn’t have Pinterest. But I think it’s exciting that these communities are encouraging each other to be better time managers.
I know for me — I’m raising twins, a boy and a girl — and they’re 14 and to watch sort of the stress of school and sports and trying to get into college and the volunteering and there’s just a lot to juggle and if [my daughter] is able to have fun with it, it’s not too stressful. Instead of like, “Ugh, math exam on Friday,” there’s a sticker, it's like “Math exam on Friday!” There’s something about it that makes it not so daunting.
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With digital options becoming available and the younger generations growing up with iPhones in their hands at all times, how will planners continue? Will there be a digital option that replaces this?
I think my business continues to defy what people have said about. It’s just impossible with the way we’re growing. We’re literally gaining between 1,500 and 2,000 new purchasing customers every single day. So it’s not going away.
Either way we’re excited about modifying. I’m thrilled to be working on an app so that somehow connects, so that if you are out and you don’t have your book then there’s a way to integrate it and I think that’s great.
It’s not just this 45-year-old woman who’s lost between the digital age which is what we thought when we were beginning. I’ve watched the demographic skew younger and younger. I’ve had young women come up to me and tell me, “Thank you so much, I truly credit being here at USC or wherever to my planner and really being able to accomplish the goals I set out for myself with just some digital app,” so I feel most proud when I hear from so many that it’s so much more.