Friday, 4 February 2011

Adventures in Selling Greeting Cards - Part 2

‘Start small!’ chorused the friends and relatives when they heard about my Christmas sales in local shops but even so, I was utterly torn about whether to take this further or not. I’d previously decided to concentrate on stocking my online stores this year and hoped to have more time for painting  - and for the rest of my life!

When I finally made up my mind – after a great deal of agonising! – to continue what I’d begun before Christmas, it appeared that I could save myself time and trouble by getting the cards printed professionally. Unfortunately, this can be less straightforward than it seems as almost all printing firms want to print a minimum of 50 of each design. However, one of our local firms was willing to print fewer than 50, though at a price that was too high to even consider selling direct to the retailers but which just about made sense for selling on consignment (sale or return) .

So I narrowed my designs down from more than 500 to about 150 of those that have been most popular and compiled a catalogue to present to the shops – and made a second copy this time!

'Shabby Shack' gift Shop, Abergavenny
Abergavenny is in quite an affluent part of Wales and the town centre hasn’t so far appeared to be too much affected by the ‘economic downturn’. But the post-Christmas atmosphere in the shops was quite depressing with several shopkeepers I approached telling me that they weren’t sure how much longer they could survive. The bad weather was obviously a factor in the slow sales in the run up to Christmas but confidence is at an all time low because we know that the full effect of the Coalition’s ‘savage cuts’ has yet to be felt! I also heard that a couple of greeting card publishers have recently gone out of business, one of them quite a major player in the field.

I had always assumed that ‘sale or return’ (consignment) meant no risk at all for the shopkeepers because they were only paying for cards that sold. But I soon discovered that the risk of my new, fresh cards selling better than the cards they'd already bought and paid for was a deterrent to some shopkeepers when it came to taking my cards. This very thing had happened to the newsagent  at Christmas, when he was left with a lot of his old stock Welsh Christmas cards and had to offer them at half price after Christmas.

' Shabby Shack' Gift Shop, Abergavenny
However, I succeeded in interesting three local shops – two busy newsagents and a new small, but lovely gift shop (left and above)! Between the three of them, they chose 21 designs and the printer agreed to print 10 of each at almost exactly the same price as it costs me to print them myself with my thirsty new printer. The price didn’t include envelopes or cellophane packages so there was still work for me to do but at least I didn’t have to bother with the trimming and folding and the cards have turned out very well, being on heavier card than I’ve been able to obtain.

But thinking ahead to when it comes to re-stocking, outsourcing the printing is going to present me with another problem. The printer has recently printed 10 identical cards for me that were ordered through my website as a result of my e-newsletter. And the price he charged me was OK for a website sale, with no retailer to take their ‘cut’. But it wouldn’t make sense for selling through shops. So it’s looking as if I’ll have two alternatives, neither of them perfect:

1. Wait until all the shops need restocking and get them printed at the lower price all together – but this will probably leave some of the shops with gaps in their displays.

2. Print the small re-stocking orders myself – but the cards would be of a slightly lower quality as I can’t get the 300 gsm card myself.

This is as much of a new venture for the printer as it is for me and he’s inclined to say that we’ll have to ‘play it by ear’, which isn’t very satisfactory - but I can understand his caution. He has already shown himself to be the most flexible printer in town and I’m grateful for that.

But this all leads me to wonder, is it really feasible to ‘start small’ in this business? I don’t want to discourage anyone who wants to have a go at selling their greeting cards through retailers but at the moment it seems to me like an awful lot of work and worry for quite a small return. My profit is only slightly higher than the commission I receive from Greeting Card Universe for far less work.

On the other hand, a very helpful post by 'ArtsyShark' has made me wonder whether, in future, I could solve at least part of my problem by only offering my cards to retailers who have a similar customer-base, thus reducing the number of different designs to be printed. Do have a look at this post from someone who has years of experience in the business!



Carolyn said...

Judy, thanks for this post - it gives a real "snapshot" of the business of a small greeting card artist and its challenges. I believe the issues you ran into were mainly because, due to the nature of a seasonal card (Christmas), your window for sales was small. As far as future planning, I would suggest taking your large "everyday" line and choosing the very bestsellers. You can have those comfortably printed in larger quantities, thus cutting the cost, with the knowledge that they will sell. Create a catalog of these, whether on paper on online and take orders from retailers, preferably for outright sale rather than consignment. Good luck!

Judy Adamson said...

Hi Carolyn - I'm very grateful for your advice - it makes a lot of sense.

Interestingly, though, my 'very best sellers' through the online stores were totally ignored by all the different types of shops I approached in favour of other categories!

So, if I do decide to go ahead and get a range printed in larger numbers, I'll have to rely to a large extent on my own judgement of what I think is likely to be popular, probably based on some research into what is selling well in the UK.

I sometimes wish I just had the one style!

Carol said...

A great article, Judy; extremely helpful. showed me see why my cards are not selling on Etsy (too few selections).

Your card designs and artwork are brilliant. I can see why you're so successful! Thanks for sharing the Shark blog -- an eye-opener!

Judy Adamson said...

Thank you very much for your kind words, Carol.

Yes, Carolyn's (ArtsyShark's) blog is very, very useful! I'm no expert but I just hope that by sharing my MISTAKES, that too may be useful to anyone just starting out!

Mahmood Ali said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.