Spring 2010
Greeting Cards Galore! By Sharon Anne Waldrop

Greeting cards continue to be a vital part of the gift retail market. Find out what’s trending up in this important stationery segment.

Patti Stracher points out: Greeting cards and gifts go hand-in-hand. “Any time a person buys a gift, they need a card, so there is every rationale for stocking greeting cards,” says the manager for the National Stationery Show. Stracher describes opening an envelope with a greeting card as the new “ah-ha” in today’s high tech world.

Why greeting cards still work

Whether or not a customer is buying a present, greeting cards form an essential component of most celebrations. They are especially useful as inexpensive pick-me-ups—a customer can get a lot of mileage from sending just the right message through a card. Barbara Miller, spokesperson for the Greeting Card Association, says greeting cards are an integral part of the gift market. She adds that the more intricate handcrafted cards and ones with lots of bells and whistles (such as audio and LED display components) often make for gifts in and of themselves.

With the ailing economy and customers’ tight budgets, the association has heard anecdotally that many consumers are purchasing specialty cards as gifts, especially for more casual acquaintances.

Space and service requirements for greeting cards are minimal. “Greeting cards in a specialty store environment don’t require long runs of service intensive shelf space like you see in a drug store. One or two spinner racks can produce hundreds of dollars in revenue time and time again,” Stracher points out.

Who’s buying now?

Unity Marketing’s Greeting Card, Stationery, Gift Wrap & Party Goods, and Paper Gifting Market Report suggests that greeting cards are the top sellers of the various stationery categories reviewed. The November 2009 report says that 91 percent of women and 89 percent of men purchase in the segment.

The report also concludes that the average greeting card buyer is 43.4 years old, more mature than the average buyer in the other categories.

If one was worried about the younger demographics, the report says that over 80 percent of young adults, aged 24-to-34 years, purchased greeting cards in the past year and spent on average $85 on their card purchases. There is, however, one category of greeting cards that this segment of consumers seems to be less excited about—they are far less likely than consumers 35 years and older to send Christmas cards.

Humor is a hit

Perhaps because of the tough economic times we’re just coming out of, greeting cards with a touch of humor or inspiration are doing really well. “Thinking of you” cards are also popular. Miller adds that customers pick cards depending on which message they think will work for the recipient.

Stracher says that the kind of intelligent humor that pokes gentle fun at our shortcomings is a popular category. She explains that with such cards, the illustration and copy work together to draw the customer in. For example, a hand-drawn “sassy lady” holding a cocktail pairs up with quotes on the cover of cards by Mary Phillips Designs. Artist Mary Phillips, owner of the Raleigh, NC company says, “If you’re going to say it, say it good,” and lives by this when choosing the quotes to use with her artwork. Most cards are embellished with glitter and other accents. Matching cocktail napkins can be paired with the cards to make an inexpensive yet substantial gift.

Related to the overt humor is the kind of whimsy embodied by Endo Print a greeting card company in Bend, OR. The images often juxtapose miniature people or animals against real-world props making for a fun and whimsical statement. This example is perhaps best demonstrated by the card that displays a full-sized bowl of cereal with three miniature scuba divers sitting on the edge of the bowl, ready to dive in.

A dose of inspiration

Inspirational cards offer comfort, encouragement, and express gratitude. Sometimes there is a religious element to it, according to Stracher.

Quotable Cards in New York City sells 5″ x 5″ inspirational cards in color or black and white. Sales manager Krista Ohlsen says that many of their retailers stock square frames with the cards. She reports that customers often buy the frame as a gift to house the card. One of the company’s best sellers is a card with the quote “Dance as though no one is watching you, love as though you have never been hurt before, sing as though no one can hear you, live as though heaven is earth.” Another top seller: “Good friends are like stars. You don’t always see them, but you know they’re always there!” The company has new releases in winter and early summer each year and offers retailers a 56-pocket spinner with 12 of each style per pocket.

The 3-D world

“Three-dimensional continues to grow, both in terms of handmade embellished greeting cards and pop-ups,” Stracher says.

Up With Paper’s popularity should be ample proof. The Mason, OH company’s Pop-Up Snow Globe Greetings received the Best New Product Award at the National Stationery Show in 2005. Since then the company’s lineup both of snow globe greetings and cards of other kinds, has increased dramatically. Bridget Pemberton-Smith, owner of Cameron’s in Chapel Hill, NC says that the snow globes did really well last year and she had to re-order a few times to keep up with consumer demand. “Many customers bought a dozen or two to give as small gifts to acquaintances, or as teacher or business gifts. They were definitely a big hit at Christmas,” she says.

George White, president and COO of the company, explains that the popularity of the cards can be explained by intricate paper engineering that “makes things happen.” Pop-ups, pull-tabs, wheels, and embellishments with glitter, ribbons, foil, lace bows, soft plush, and other enhancements make up these cards that shift and change. New seasonal designs are on tap for this year—an especially large number of new designs are being released for the company’s Treasures, Turning Points and Panoramics lines.

Pumpernickel Press uses embossing to bring out 3-D effects in their cards. The company’s cards feature nature, wildlife, and/or animal scenes. Pumpernickel uses hand-tooled brass embossing dies that bring out detailing like the spines on a feather or the whiskers on a dog. “We drill down into the detail on the print and bring out physical, three-dimensional aspects of the image,” says Jim Thomas, national sales manager of the Berryville, VA-based company.

The embossing and artwork of Pumpernickel Press cards impresses Dave Dorsey, owner of Dorsey’s Hallmark in Oakhurst, CA. He receives positive feedback from his customers as well. “I have never had to put one single box of Pumpernickel Press holiday cards on sale. They always sell out before the holiday,” says Dorsey.

New for Pumpernickel is its licensing agreement with Willow Tree that will enable it to sell greeting cards featuring the popular figurines. “It opens the door for us because there are over 10,000 card retailers that carry DEMDACO figurines that don’t sell Pumpernickel cards. To bring synergy, the cards can perfectly convey the meaning of the figurine,” Thomas says.

Many other cards feature pets and animals. Graphic artist Johnnie Scoutten, owner of CatArt Cards in Franklin, TN uses colored pencils to draw the cat images reproduced on the covers of her Purrfect Occasions greeting cards. She draws the eyes first, which gives her a focal point. Scoutten has five cats, but her love for the animals isn’t the only reason she draws them. “Every hair and those wonderful eyes draw you into its soul,” she says.

Other trends

Although letterpress is an old technique associated with top-of-the-line luxury invitations on very fine paper, Stracher says that it’s moved into the greeting card sector effectively and affordably. She says that the combination of letterpress techniques with humorous messages is another trend, calling it old time tradition mixed with contemporary verse.

Embellishments with ribbons, lace, buttons, beads and other adornments, is another popular trend, according to Stracher.

Miller cites cards embellished with LED light designs, audio cards, and that allow senders to record a personal message as probably the most notable in today’s cutting-edge cards.

Stracher is seeing more designs and imagery inside cards working to complement the copy. “It adds to the excitement of opening the card,” she says. Stracher reports that antique photo imagery is being used more widely. Cepitone images, which are those that bring a brown tone to a black and white photographic image, seem to be gaining in popularity.

Serious efforts at sustainability

For some companies, green is the way to go. Quotable Cards are produced using 100% recycled post-consumer paper and certified wind power. Vegetable-based inks are used. Endo Print also uses soy-based inks and all paper and printing manufacturing is fully wind-powered. Pumpernickel Press and CatArt Cards are both made with Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) recycled paper, and the former uses agricultural-based inks.

Customers expect gift shops to carry greeting cards and Barbara Miller knows why. “Greeting cards are me-to-you messages that create a special bond between sender and receiver and have a keepsake value,” she says. “A greeting card is very different from a gift tag, not only in terms of its aesthetics, but [also in terms of] its emotional impact.”

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Sharon Anne Waldrop

Sharon Anne Waldrop resides with her family on a horse farm in northern Georgia. She writes about business and finance for national and trade magazines, and has contributed to Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and Hotel & Motel Management.

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