Even in the digital age, it still makes sense to think on paper.
Whether it’s for staying organized or setting goals or as a meditative practice, writing things down is personal. With this in mind, Pierre Martichoux, president and co-founder of Gilroy, California-based Chameleon Like, Inc., stays true to his boutique business, making customized notebooks that appeal to clients like coders at tech powerhouses and everyday list-makers and note-takers.
Martichoux, a native Parisian, has created a unique company culture by fusing two influences: America’s strong work ethic and France’s time-honored value of all things made to measure. It’s Martichoux’s emphasis on distinction — insisting on high-quality materials, releasing limited runs of bespoke products and promoting a workshop-style office environment — that has kept Chameleon Like ahead of the pack.
In Context Sidebar
His business smack-dab in the middle of California’s Central Coast wine country, Martichoux finds similarities between France and the Golden State — especially in the shared traditions of great wine and food.
What are your top places to visit in California?
Yountville for the wine, and Big Sur for the sights.
Where do you like to unplug?
On a sidewalk café in Paris, or during my yoga practice.
Where do you go to be inspired?
On any flight after a few drinks — that’s where my best ideas come from!
Where are you most productive?
In my office in Gilroy, because so much of what I do is coach and relate to my employees.
Do you prefer breakfast, lunch or dinner for meetings?
I love a long, French-style lunch with a good wine and taking the ensuing afternoon off.
Marque Asks – An Interview with Pierre Martichoux
Describe your passion for the printing and manufacturing process.
When I started Chameleon, [co-founder] Emmanuel [Marchand] and I were coming from the retail art supply world. We were working for a French company, selling artists’ portfolios and sketchbooks. While friends were recommending that we just outsource [production] and focus on marketing and selling our design, my desire was to be part of the manufacturing process from the raw material and blank sheet of paper to the complete product. To this day, I still believe that the true soul of our company is in the workshop and in the people that make the products.
How did you and Emmanuel decide on your core principles — developing a boutique design ethos and process, staying U.S.-based as a manufacturer, and committing to sound environmental practices?
When we started, we were barely 30 years old. We also came from the retail European
market, so we wanted to do things differently. We never aspired to be the cheapest guys out there, and we never competed on price. Distributors, at least the good ones, liked that approach.
What was the first product designed and released by Chameleon Like, Inc.?
Chameleon had modest beginnings. Our first catalog was only 18 pages. 2016’s was 104 pages. The first innovative design we introduced in 1999 was our flap journal using bright poly covers, not unlike the first iMacs that were launched in the early ’90s. Most of the vendors in our industry were then offering black, burgundy, red and navy as standard color options. We immediately attracted the interest of techie customers, who wanted fresher designs.
Did you think about diversifying your products when you started the company?
Yes. We tried in 2004 to launch a line of executive desktop toys. It was a total bust. Our customers actually really liked us as the journal and notebook specialist and did not understand what we were trying to sell. That was a great — and expensive — lesson for us.
What makes Chameleon Like’s manufacturing process unique?
Rather than just importing and decorating stock items, we make most of our products from scratch. We also have integrated a lot of small steps into our process that very few people do in the U.S. because they are labor-intensive. When we give factory tours, people are shocked by how manual a lot of our process still is. We prioritize craftsmanship over mass production. This allows us to make a truly special product relatively fast and at a low quantity.
Where do paper goods fit in as technology advances?
A few years ago — mostly when the tablets became super popular — I was genuinely concerned that paper would go away. No more! Forty percent of our production ships to high-tech [icons] like Twitter, Facebook, Google and the many Bay Area startups.
Do you look at computers, mobile phones and note-taking apps as competition?
At first I did, but I think that ship has sailed. When you are in front of a computer screen all day in a digital environment, an actual journal is cool — much cooler than a USB drive or yet another power bank. Look at the tremendous success of Moleskine as an example.
How does a notebook make a good promotional tool?
First, a journal has tremendous real estate for information, pictures and much more than just a logo. Then, by adding the logo on each page, you have a constant subliminal message in your journal.
What tactile qualities make your products enjoyable?
We definitely pay a lot of attention to the materials we use, and we have noticed that people judge and appreciate quality and design by touch and smell as much as by looks. To that effect, we have been using a lot of soft-touch leatherette covers and felt cover stock for our paper covers.
How do you approach sustainability?
Chameleon was green when it was not cool. And we are still strong believers in sustainability. Our line offers 100-percent post-consumer waste recycled options. Our products are truly useful and do not get thrown away and end up in a landfill. Give a journal or a notebook to someone, and they will keep it to use it.
I have a classic spiral [notebook] on my desk, a small commuter-style journal in my car, and always one — like an Essentials Moleskine-style — in my laptop bag. I can’t work effectively without one nearby.