A Penchant for Words
In 1992, Jodee Stevens created Cardthartic, a greeting card company that is “dedicated to honoring emotions.” Stevens, founder and chief creative, launched the business to fill what she considered a void in the industry. “I wanted deeper and more meaningful cards that carried messages that sounded more authentic, and there were just not a lot to be found,” she explained.
The company’s name stems from a play on the word cathartic — it was an idea that was born during a time when Stevens was writing intensely and emotionally —sharing memories and wishes for her father who was dying. One evening Stevens remembered thinking: “What a cardthartic experience!” That phrase made her laugh at what her “Midwest farmer father” would think of the word she just created.
After her father’s passing, Stevens recalled receiving a lot of cards offering personal messages that were heartfelt and impactful. The personal missives she received conveyed more meaningful emotions and sentiments than the actual cards. With her extensive background in marketing and a belief that she could create cards with a real connection, she began her journey of sharing real-life messages.
“Cardthartic is staffed by a very lean, tight-knit team. We respect and rely on each other, and we truly enjoy each other,” she said. The team’s collaborative efforts are inspired by “simple truths people say to each other every day.”
Stevens said that the creative process is based on synchronicity. “While we’re very disciplined about releasing new products each January, May and September, those roughly 150 new designs come to be because I am happily at the right place at the right time,” she explained.
She mentioned she has a “gift” that enables her to notice the amazing things people say to each other and she takes “pride and pleasure” in asking people if she can share the amazing words or phrases she has heard.
Approximately 60% of Cardthartic’s cards begin with a message, which is then paired with an image or illustration. More than half of Cardthartic’s 930 active designs were written by Stevens and the remainder of its designs were developed by its cardies, a term Cardthartic developed to identify its consumers. Eleven of the top 20 designs were written by its cardies and Stevens shared that it is “cardsourcing at its finest.”
Cardthartic’s website is a hub for its Cardie Community, and it is one method consumers engage with the Cardthartic team. Twice per week, Cardthartic sends 6,000 newsletters to its cardies to foster deeper connections with its followers.
Three distinctive lines are available, each with its own look and voice. The Passages line offers 409 designs that marry “evocative images with meaningful messages and is best known for ‘saying a lot with a little.’” This successful, versatile line sells well in a variety of store settings such as high-end stationery stores and gift boutiques.
Cardthartic’s Little Reminders collection offers 106 designs that Stevens described as “wise, playful and true.” The cards in this collection feature colorful and light-hearted designs that perform well in party stores and gift shops.
The Meanings of Life line features 155 designs that focus on popular symbols, painted by watercolor artist Joanne Friar, that have a special significance. Stevens said the messages explain both the provenance and popularity of the symbol featured on the card. This line is well-suited for museum stores, garden centers, furnishing stores and even apparel boutiques.
In It Together
Almost every message originates from a note or feelings shared between individuals. “Beyond the strength and authenticity of our messages, what’s most different about Cardthartic may be how much we believe in a win-win-win way of doing business. The clearest example of this is our In it Together program,” she explained.
During the spring of 2020, the direct-to-consumer business was very successful. “Sales exploded because stores were closed and rather than just pocket the additional income, we saw an opportunity to funnel it right back to our retail partners so they might ride it out,” she recalled.
The In It Together program allows consumers to name a local Cardthartic merchant so that Cardthartic “can split the income with that retail partner and give commission to the rep as well.”
“The way we see it, we don’t have to share this income, we GET to share it! It’s the least we can do for the store owners and reps we admire and appreciate so much for their talents and tenacity,” she emphasized.
Cardies adore the In It Together program, as it allows cardies to “buy local” in the sense that half of the income from the purchase goes to the selected retailer.
Cardthartic knows the importance of retailers and before adding new partners, it ensures there are no other existing stores in the region that would cause a conflict. As a perk, new partners receive a free fixture when product is purchased to fill it. The fixture fits Cardthartic’s card size exclusively and provides merchants a way to highlight that the cards are Made in the USA and are printed with soy ink on recycled paper. New partners also receive a welcome packet and access to Cardthartic’s social-media ready posts that can be used on Facebook and Instagram.
Stevens recalled advice she received: “Slow pockets equal slow money.” She feels this advice also benefits retailers. “We’ve seen too many buyer/owners select product they like and then keep it on the shelf long after it’s proven it simply doesn’t turn,” she said. To assist retailers and help them avoid keeping product that doesn’t move, Cardthartic created its Full Exchange Program for retailers to utilize because “when a pocket doesn’t sell through — when the cards are slow-moving — income is slowed, too,” Stevens stated.
Cardthartic values its retail partners and the challenges they have faced over the past few years. “We are blessed to see the best of humanity every day,” Stevens explained. “I would encourage them (retailers), on their darkest business days, to consider that they are valued and appreciated more than they will ever know.