Spring 2014
Say it Write By Poornima Apte

Think greeting cards are a thing of the past? Think again! With annual retail sales close to $7 billion, the stationery category is as vibrant – and relevant – as ever.

Michael Rance will tell you: There are some things for which only the written medium will do. You just can’t send a sympathy e-card, says the owner of Nashville-based The Greeting Place. Or at least you shouldn’t.

Despite the worries about social media displacing the relevance of a greeting card, industry experts have largely found the anxieties to be misplaced. In fact, says Susan January, Vice President of Product Development at Leanin’ Tree in Boulder, CO, “greeting card usage for special occasions is more relevant and important than ever, as certain life occasions and experiences are simply too important or special to be minimized with just a Facebook shout-out.” January adds that “the emergence of texting, Facebook and digital greetings has created a new term for those people to whom one sends a paper card—these are closer friends and relatives that have been deemed to be “card-worthy,” a term that well captures the power that still resonates in the sending and receipt of a greeting card.”

The right sentiment

AbbeyPress5-copySo what exactly are these “card-worthy” recipients getting? Generous doses of humor for one thing. It’s the driver for MikWright’s greeting cards, says co-founder Phyllis Wright-Herman. The Mikwright cards are quirky and pack a fun punch enough to make the recipient smile.

Humor is also a big component of the cards from The Greeting Place, says Michael Rance, who adds that identity is very important for success in greeting cards. “You don’t want to confuse the consumer,” he says, by adding selections that don’t speak to your target audience.

Gina Bugee knows her target audience well – women between the ages of 35-65. In over 30 years in the greeting card industry, Bugee has fine-tuned Gina B. Designs to such a perfect pitch that the cards pretty much sell themselves, she says. For Gina B, it’s simplicity – both in terms of design and message – that has worked well. Bugee adds that the cards’ small size and relatively low price points (MSRP is usually less than $3) also make them an attractive proposition.

A card for every mood

ArgusUSA10-copyGina B plans on expanding its faith-based Christian line this year. “We have cards with little scripture lines that are doing very well for us,” Bugee says.

It is this market that has worked consistently for Abbey Press based in Saint Meinrad, Indiana. The press got its start more than 150 years ago when it was owned by a Benedictine monastery who used the press to run prayer and correspondence cards. Sue Ann Kloeck, Director of Trade Marketing for the company, says that sacrament cards for First Communions and related religious occasions are best sellers. “Our demographic is mainly parents and grandparents and godparents – the immediate family for sacramental occasions,” Kloeck says, adding that the cards are popular sellers at Catholic and other Christian outlets. An additional selling point for Abbey Press is a line of gifts that matches the sacrament cards in terms of design and thematic elements. “It might be a rosary box or a First Communion keepsake box, we try to match the gift and the card together,” Kloeck says. This makes for a more complete gift-giving option.

In addition to these occasions, birthdays, anniversary and sympathy cards continue to stay in high demand says Susan January of Leanin’ Tree. “There are two categories of greeting cards – Seasonal and Everyday. Total card sales are split approximately 50-50 between the Seasonal and Everyday categories,” she adds. The company offers cards in a wide array of categories and themes including western, Native American, horse, wildlife, fantasy, southwest or Christian/inspirational designs.

CoryoGraphics1-copyTim Cross of Legacy Publishing points out that the company’s impressive selection of cards also does good. Through Legacy’s Buy a Card|Feed a Child program, a portion of the proceeds from every card sold (with the exception of the 99¢-retail value cards) is routed to a charitable organization that works to end hunger. “Last year, we were fortunate enough to be able to donate a sum equivalent to over 350,000 meals to such highly respected organizations as Feeding America, Food for the Poor, Feed My Starving Children, the Be Like Brit orphanage, No Kid Hungry and the International Rescue Committee, among others,” Cross says. At the Stationery Show (see sidebar), Legacy plans on unveiling a new line of greeting cards called Yesterboard Keeper Cards, made from reclaimed book covers. “Each card includes a fold-out stand on the back so it can be re-purposed as a decorative accessory for the home or office,” Cross says.

Just as in other giftware trends, cards too must keep a pulse on what’s new says Augusta Levy, Director of Marketing for PAPYRUS. “Highlights from this upcoming spring release are products that incorporate the new neon trends with bright colors in a variety of materials that really pop,” Levy says. “We also focused on a Baroque styling with a modern twist. This series is a more sophisticated offering with stunning color palette with rich gold and purple accents,” Levy adds.

The young and the restless?

BlackEyedGuy7While the most popular demographic for greeting cards seems to be middle-aged women (many will just buy and save cards for later use), the market is open for pushes in other age brackets as well. While Rance of The Greeting Place says that the young probably won’t be buying a card anytime soon, there is still plenty of growth opportunity in the industry. It’s not for nothing that annual retail sales in the industry is estimated at $7 billion (source: Greeting Card Association).

“When designing greeting cards for younger consumers, the focus has become on having contemporary appealing artwork or graphics with greetings that reflect the younger generation’s authentic voice,” says Susan January, “Gen X, Y and Millenials want product whose greeting card verse sounds like the way they communicate with their friends and family.” Cross agrees. “Greeting card designs and verses can change and adapt to today’s generation by using modern styles of speech, pop culture references, and current style trends,” he points out. Cross adds that the card-buying habit grows as one grows older so there’s a continual market for them. “To assume that the buying habits and methods of communication utilized by today’s youth will remain static and unchanging is a false assumption, in my opinion,” Cross says, “They are the future of greeting cards and I think that future still remains bright, even if it might be a different environment for card companies than where we are now.”

Tech trends

Cardthartic-Two-Brides-Card-copy-copyAnd as tech savvy as the young are, it actually works to the industry’s advantage, experts say. “The fact that our younger generation is technologically savvy isn’t necessarily a threat to greeting cards. It just gives this industry an opportunity to reach them through multiple avenues and in many places through online purchasing,” Cross says. “Electronic or
hi-tech greeting cards (e-cards) will remain popular with certain generations because they are casual, fun and spontaneous—and in fact serve as a gateway into the sending of paper cards to friends and relatives over time,” says January.

And when it comes to tech, it has revolutionized even cards for the better, says Patti Stracher, manager for the National Stationery Show. We can now add voices to cards and personalize messages that way. Stracher says that technology has improved printing processes too so cards are getting increasingly exquisite. “Technology has actually created a wider appreciation of and participation in this sector,” she adds.

Bugee points out that a greeting card is a tactile experience, a beautiful work of art. She encourages retailers to showcase them on spinner racks to maximize visual impact and sales.

“No one disputes that modern technologies have enhanced our means of communicating with one another instantly and impulsively. But when we want to show our particular affection or concern for another, we turn to the greeting card as the means of expressing those feelings,” Cross says.

Take it from a man who has been married for 22 years: “I can’t imagine what the reaction would be if I failed to get my wife a birthday card, an anniversary card or a Valentine’s card, and I don’t plan on finding out anytime soon,” Cross says. “I don’t think a Facebook post or Tweet would cut it for my wife, and I don’t think I’m alone in that.”

Cross is right. He is not.

Poornima Apte

Poornima Apte is a Boston-area freelance writer and editor specializing in retail and the book publishing industry. Learn more at wordcumulus.wordpress.com.




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