museums&MORE Spring 2015
Beyond the Birthday Card

(Pictured: The Carnegie Museum of Art Design Store in Pittsburgh)

By Zeke Jennings, Managing Editor

American shoppers will likely spend at least $7 billion on greeting cards in 2015. If it’s a good sales year, that total will exceed $8 billion.

Those figures, reported by Greeting Card Association, don’t even account for sales of other stationery merchandise that gift shops typically stock, including postcards, journals, stickers, scrapbooking materials and writing utensils.

Clearly, there are some serious stationery dollars out for the taking. Are you doing enough to maximize your stake to that sizable chunk of change?

Like anything else, stationery sales hinge on factors specific to your customer base and location. A hospital gift shop stocking a wide variety of get-well cards or a zoo store offering animal-themed birthday cards are no-brainers. However, don’t sell yourself short by confining your selection to just the obvious — greeting card buyers tend not to stop at just one. Just seeing a birthday card will likely remind the shopper of an upcoming loved one’s birthday or a holiday soon approaching. Vendors stress a well-organized and diverse display of cards, stationery and add-on items to boost sales.

You need to start with a large enough selection to attract attention and generate browsing interest,” said Pat Wallace, head of marketing for Leanin’ Tree Inc. “Cards should be grouped by selling occasion to make it easy to shop. Simple things like prominent signage, keeping your display tidy and organized and refreshing your display periodically will help you maintain strong and steady sales.”

Depending on the size of your store, space could be a challenge. While you may not have space for a large selection of styles and lines, a visually stimulating and diverse display is still attainable, said Cindy Kolling of Kolling Cards in Gully, Minnesota.

“Even a very small store should consider choices of cohesive designs with a strong statement in style and mission statement,” Kolling said. “Small stores can extend their offerings in fewer designs by offering varied packaging choices — i.e. individual blank notecards, small boxes of cards and large boxes of cards.”

What to stock

Birthday cards are far and away the top-selling genre of greeting cards. No matter how small your display, some sort of birthday option should be represented. From there, it depends on the store.

“Stores with heavy repeat business often carry more styles and selection, and different occasions, than stores with mostly tourism traffic,” Wallace said. “We recommend a strong selection of birthday cards since that is the No. 1 sending occasion. Selection needs to be broad enough to address most of the major card occasions if you are trying to be a destination card shop.”

Denise Morrow, president of Wise Cat LLC in Tucson, Arizona, said a good strategy is to pick styles that accentuate the store’s overall atmosphere.

“If it’s a lively, energetic shop, find some cards that reflect that energy,” she said. “If it’s a quiet, picturesque tea house, then go with a more elegant type of card. Emotions and feelings can play a big part in customers buying something.”

A mix of proven sellers and new products is ideal, but, most of all, pay attention to what’s moving.

“You can’t sell off an empty cart,” Kolling said. “Reorder your bestsellers and freshen up with a few new designs. Once you know your bestsellers, order more depth in those.”

Maintaining good communication with vendors cannot be overstated. After all, your success is their success, no matter the size of your operation. Sharing the ins and outs of your store, such as demographics, price points and what percentage of your sales tends to be from repeat customers. Shelly Walczak of Journals Unlimited Inc., said she’s happy to work with retailers to find a supply right for them.

“Vendors want your business and many times are willing to bend their rules on minimums,” Walczak said. “Journals Unlimited has been most successful by allowing customers to mix-and-match styles and having no quantity minimum per item.”

Trending up

Consumers are expected to seek designs off the beaten path in the near future, at least off the recent beaten path. Independent designers may use vintage looks, or what Kolling referred to as “lost art styles,” as inspiration for fresh and modern creations.

“High-quality artsy photography,” Kolling said. “All will have real or abstract content showing a place or collection (with) clean styling. Pure — but not necessarily cold — modern.”

Mary Bruno of Bruno Press in St. Joseph, Minnesota, said she sees card-buyers gravitating toward themes they haven’t seen before, including content that pushes the boundaries.

“I think that things that are more edgy and less vanilla are really paving the way,” Bruno said. “People want less Hallmark-looking things and more handmade and unique.”

Wallace agreed content is moving toward the satirical, even risqué. He added card messages continue to meld with design, which he sees trending toward the colorfully bold.

“We continue to see an emphasis on humor, particularly adult humor with a sarcastic, wry or sassy edge to it,” Wallace said. “Contemporary design with bold colors (using) words as art and creative use of typography and embellishments continue to be popular.”

Beyond greeting cards

Postcards are a long-standing gift-shop staple and remain an “absolute must, no matter the venue,” Kolling said. However, stocking scrapbooking materials and any sort of mementos that can be put into scrapbooks — stickers, for example — is important, too.

“Postcards and greeting cards definitely, but also scrapbook materials seem to be very popular,” Morrow said. “I would suggest carrying items like stickers and cutouts related to the business or attraction that can be incorporated into a scrapbook or collage shadow box.”

Journals, notecards and writing utensils should not be overlooked. If space is an issue, cross-merchandising by color or theme can be a good way to feature several categories in a small area.

“A silver pen next to a box of notecards featuring winter trees, or a black pen next to a black-and-white image on notecards,” Kolling suggested. “(Create) strong visual displays with healthy volume of all the items.”

Walczak added: “Retailers benefit most by keeping the most popular items and best-sellers stocked in a variety of sizes and colors. … Offer quality, useful products. People are tired of spending money on souvenir-type disposable trinkets that have no useful purpose and invariably end up in the trash.”

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