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Greetings Card Business

Discover how to set up your own profitable greetings card business from scratch. Cash in by making your own cards or by selling your designs to companies.

Be it a Birthday or Christmas, Mother's Day or Father's Day, wedding or some other special event, you can be sure that someone is cashing in with a card to celebrate the moment.

In recent years the explosion in the numbers and styles of cards available has led to a boom in the card business, with many being produced and/or designed by home based enterprises.

Where a traditional card will contain a heart felt verse, modern greetings cards have rejected religious imagery and nature and replaced it with cynicism, dry humor and sex. The Purple Ronnie brand of cards, for instance, has had a profound impact on the market due to their light hearted perspective for any occasion.

Another successful area has been hand made cards. Their attractive design and 'one-off' nature makes them highly attractive. They are often made with recycled materials, giving them extra appeal with eco-friendly types, and they usually contain no message or wording, meaning they can be used for any occasion.

By developing an original idea for greetings cards you too could prosper from this continually growing market.

Contacting Card Companies

One option is to send your designs to major manufacturers, thus earning a regular commission for your work, or they may buy your ideas on a 'one off' basis. If suitably impressed, you may be offered freelance work or even a full time position. The Greeting Card Association (listed under Contacts) offers information regarding possible freelance work.

Though there are pitfalls, it's possible to earn a substantial amount by working for a greetings card manufacturer. Take the example of cartoonist Allan Plenderleith, whose break came when he submitted some comic strip ideas to Viz. While Viz didn't think his cartoons suited their particular brand of humor, they liked them enough to forward them to card publishers Emotional Rescue.

Allan struck lucky: the firm liked his designs and he walked away having sold 50 designs for 1,000. He was also awarded a regular contract. Allan is now writing an animation series based on his Odd Squad cartoons (a dysfunctional family featuring the characters Jeff, his 'big boned' girlfriend Maud, and parents Lily and Alf) which he plans to sell to Channel 4 or BBC2.

If you want to emulate Allan's success, contact card manufacturers with samples of your work. Cartoons featuring witty wordplay and strong characters are ideal. If your artistic skills aren't great, don't worry. A firm may simply purchase your 'concept' and hand it to a staff artist to produce the final design. Or you could get together with an artist and have them produce pictures to accompany your words.

Sadly, tales of card companies ripping off people's ideas are commonplace. The problem is that you can't copyright an idea - if you tell someone at the company about an idea for a range of cards you might have, and they then use the idea without paying you a penny for supplying it, you have no legal comeback.

Printed materials, on the other hand, can be copyrighted. The cheapest way to copyright your greetings card business designs is to put them in an envelope, post them back to yourself by recorded delivery and store them unopened. That way you'll have sealed and dated copies of your work to prove the designs are yours. (Note that this still won't necessarily stop firms copying your designs - their financial muscle may be enough to deter small designers from challenging them in court.)

when discussing your ideas with a company it's a good idea to have them sign a Confidentiality Agreement, meaning they agree not to pass on any of your ideas.

If you're considering working on a freelance basis then discuss ownership with the company in question. Generally you'd sign over the rights to an image, but you should establish exactly what your legal position will be.

Making Your Own Cards

Rather than signing away your designs and profits to a card company, a more practical route to success is to make and sell your own range of cards.

While it involves a little extra marketing effort, it's not difficult. You can copyright your own printed materials, meaning that card companies can't steal your designs. You can start small, working from home, and expand production as demand increases. Any profit, of course, goes straight into your pocket. And there's always the chance that at a later date a big firm will spot your success and purchase your designs for a decent amount of money.

The materials you use and the equipment required depend on the kind of cards you're making. If you're making cards with a cartoon, caption, joke or message you can simply hand your original artwork to a printer, who will print up your designs in larger numbers. For an individual hand made card you can use any materials you like - beads, material, ribbons, glitter, pressed flowers or an original painting/drawing could be glued to colored card to make an original design.

A good PC may be a worthwhile investment. With the right software it is possible to create, store and manipulate images/captions. A computer retailer will advise you on the best equipment to buy for your greetings card business. You can even print cards direct from your hard disk using a top quality color printer and printer compatible card, although if you are planning to produce your cards in bulk it is more economical to take them to a professional printer.

If you are making hand crafted cards you will also need to consider the costs of pens, pencils and artwork equipment as well as a guillotine. You may be able to purchase a guillotine second-hand for around 50.

Finally, don't forget the envelopes. These can be bought in bulk from wholesalers at a cost of around 30 for 1,000 envelopes.

Expect to spend at least 1,000 on your initial costs. This is necessary if you don't want your finished product to have the appearance of a market stall photocopy.

Getting Ideas

When searching for ideas it is a good idea to take a look at the racks in card shops to see what sells. Popular culture is a good source of inspiration. You will get some great ideas from adverts and magazine articles, but make sure you are not infringing any copyright laws by using other people's work.

The possibilities for style and content are limited only by your imagination. If you ensure your designs are original and eye catching you won't go far wrong. Risqué cards, featuring innuendo packed captions and suggestive images, tend to sell well, and computer art - fractals and eye catching abstract images - is popular too. If you are making individual cards by hand, ones containing an environmental or humanitarian message or image are always a big seller.

When it comes to pricing, take a look at what similar cards on the market sell for. Most retailers will expect to make a minimum of 50% profit, so aim to sell your designs for at least double the production costs. Mass produced cards generally retail for between 1 and 2. Individual, hand made cards are generally priced at between 1.50 and 5, reflecting the time and effort spent on creating a unique product.

Where to Sell Your Cards

Shops

Start by getting cards stacked in local shops and other outlets. Initially this may be on a sale or return basis, although if demand is sufficient, retailers may place a regular order. As sales increase you can progress to shops further away, promoting your wares to a wider audience and to larger retailers.

The kind of shops you approach will depend on the style of greetings cards you produce. Usual outlets include card shops, newsagents, stationery shops, gift shops, art shops, book shops, department stores, market stalls and university shops.

For small, independent outlets you simply need to approach the shop manager. For large chain stores such as Woolworth and W H Smith you will need to seek out the person responsible for purchasing stock for the whole enterprise. Be tough and try to get as good a deal as possible. It might take just one major countrywide distribution deal to set you up for life.

Trade fairs and exhibitions

You can generate sales and interest for your greetings card business by attending a trade fair/exhibition. They do not only cater for UK interest, but also attract the attention of overseas companies. The largest is an annual event known as The International Spring Fair, which attracts wholesalers and retailers from Europe and beyond. Unfortunately, due to the size of the event it is very difficult for a small scale, one man operation, to secure a stall.

The places are limited and the costs are high. However, do not be disheartened - even if you cannot display your designs you can spend time talking to the major players and finding out useful contact addresses. Take a couple of examples of your work and hand out flyers. You may attract the attention of an interested party simply by being persistent.

Craft Fairs

Craft fairs up and down the country offer a great chance for newcomers to try out their designs on the general public. You will find event schedules in most craft shops, tourist information centers and local newspapers. Compile a portfolio of your designs to hand out to interested parties.

The Internet

By promoting your designs and taking credit card orders via the Internet you can take orders from around the world. One English store makes more money selling cards in Japan than it does from counter sales!

Magazine Features

You may be able to get a feature in a trade magazine. This will create great free publicity for your greetings card business and draw you to the attention of some important industry insiders. Contact trade and business related publications and ask if they would consider running a feature on you and your designs. They may wish to adopt a different angle than simply featuring a new designer.

For example, you could propose a feature on the difficulties of getting your work recognized or the shifting trends in greeting card designs.

Expanding the Business

You may be happy working on your own, earning more than enough by supplying small, independent outlets locally. Do work hard on marketing and on obtaining a favorable deal with stockists, but equally, make sure you also allow enough time to work on your designs.

If any designs are not selling, try to discover why. It is a good idea to drop the less successful designs and concentrate your efforts on promoting the successful ones.

Ultimately though you may want to be in the position where you can supply cards in bulk to the whole country, or even internationally. Remember that W H Smith or whoever will need solid evidence that your cards are selling. You will also need to give serious consideration to your production methods - your kitchen table will no longer be suitable and you will have to consider taking on extra staff, moving to new premises and buying more equipment.

Alternatively, you may want to licence your designs to a major card manufacturer (basically meaning that they produce and market them, with profits being split). Although not necessarily as profitable as manufacturing them yourself, to a small card maker such as yourself it is a sign that you have made it, leaving you time to concentrate on new designs, take a holiday, perfect your golf swing

Remember, by designing witty, original pieces, it is possible to make a lot of money from your greetings card business. Keep an eye on popular social trends and be able to manipulate these into marketable ideas for any occasion. You will also need to be tenacious and hard working. The current greeting card industry is dominated by large manufacturers like Fine Art and Carlton, making it difficult for small ventures to get their foot in the door.

However, if you can devise your own unique cards which will appeal to a broad cross section of the community, you may soon be receiving greeting cards from your new, millionaire friends.



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