Greeting Card Business - How I Defined My Brands

November 29, 2016

Greeting Card Business - How I Defined My Brands

I was stuck. I had a lot of ideas, a ton of stories and illustrations, and a half-assed plan. Basically, I was hopeful that if I made something funny or good or meaningful or inspiring or or or people would come. Turns out that in this business just building it doesn't guarantee they will come.

I came to the greeting card industry by a roundabout route. After many years as a spa director, I went back to school to earn a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, published a few books and sold the large-scale paintings that were my bread and butter. 

One of the books I wrote was about the complicated relationship between sisters. The Complication of Sisters is a compilation of very short stories - micro-stories - that reveal the good, bad and ugly of sharing biology with another human being who knows you too well to let you off easy.

The illustrated book was a hit and pretty soon people were contacting me asking me to turn some of the stories into art prints and cards. At the time I had an Etsy shop where I was selling prints of my paintings so expanding my product line wasn't a problem.

It turned out, though, that once I began to design cards my brain wouldn't turn off. I began to boil every event, every interaction, into a pithy saying or a very short story. And it was so much fun that I put my third novel on hold, put down my paint brush and decided to figure this new obsession out. 

Could I make a career of this? Should I walk away from the careers I had already built (as an author and artist)? Can you make a living at this?

I was beyond confused. And it showed.

Eventually, I came upon a link to Katie Lawler Hunt's Paper Camp. She is the fantastic woman behind Tradeshow Bootcamp, in which she helps people prepare themselves, their products, their booths, etc., for tradeshows. Paper Camp, on the other hand, is a class that teaches the ins-and-outs of the paper (mostly greeting card) industry.

Considering I'd been foundering for about six months trying to figure everything out on my own, attending the camp sounded like a great idea. On the other hand, as I'd pretty much abandoned my paying jobs while I foundered, and my wallet was barely gasping for survival, attending Katie's camp in California sounded like a really stupid idea. 

But on the other hand, I needed guidance.

Happily for me, Katie offers a once-a-year Paper e-Camp. It is a 7-week online course that includes coursework, live interviews with industry hotshots, step-by-step how-to's, intros to amazing resources and great companionship with the other 29 attendees and Katie herself. And, being online, it was considerably less expensive than flying out to California for the in-person version of the course.

Even more happily, I signed up. The same week I signed up for the National Stationery Show in May 2017 at the Jacob Javits Center. The same week I opted for a corner booth because it is a better booth (than inline), larger, and more expensive.

My wallet was hating me. I began to dip into my retirement fund.

So, yes, I was still foundering, but I was committed. 

If you are in the greeting card (paper) business, or if you are even considering going into it, you must attend Katie's course. Now that I have been through it, I can honestly say that I would have gone broke without it and would never have figured it out on my own. Basically because I would have been dying of starvation and the brain doesn't work so well on cheap coffee alone.

One of the most important things the course taught me - and the point of this post - is that a greeting card line needs a minimum of 48 cards. That's 48 cards that go together, that have a theme, or a recognizable design, or a "voice." 48 cards that knowing nothing about the collection you would recognize as a collection at first glance.

I had about 15 separate ideas for collections, but had fully designed (written and illustrated) about 10 to 20 in each.

Basically, this means I didn't have a collection. I had a lot of disparate parts and a lot of ideas.

So I went back to the proverbial drawing board. I chose three of my collection ideas and decided to concentrate on those and to work at them until I had at least 48 completed designs in each.

Now, side-story, you might be wondering why I didn't just concentrate on one collection before branching out. Basically because I can't work that way. I need multiple things to focus on or I get bored or distracted. Counter-intuitive, I know, but it is what it is. Probably some sort of ADD thing but it works for me.

So, I chose three of my ideas and got to work. The first one I completed was what would turn out to be the centerpiece of my company. Its working title was "Greeting You", a terrible name but that was just a place holder.

Eventually, Greeting You morphed into Postal Notes Greetings. As an artist, I have color lust so I let this collection be as bright and colorful and out there as it wants to be. Postal Notes Greetings does the heavy work for me - it encompasses all the kinds of cards that a card company should have, from birthday to holiday to just because. The tag line for Postal Notes Greetings is "Great Occasions Cards."

The second collection I worked on - not necessarily sequentially, but at the same time - started out as Let's Pretend, as in "Let's Pretend it Didn't Happen." This line of cards is where I let my dark humor fly. While it offers some event-specific cards such as references to birthdays for new babies, it is more about the story than the event. These are laugh-out-loud stories that are meant to make you, well, laugh-out-loud. In fact, Let's Pretend Story Cards kept its name and its tagline. Let's Pretend's tagline is "Laugh-Out-Loud Story Cards."

The third line I have been working on started out being called "Word - Words with Meaning." Another crappy working title, but very indicative of what I was trying to accomplish. That is, I was trying to come up with meaningful definitions of certain powerful words. Words like "sobriety" and "divorce" and "lust." You know - words about real life.

Word eventually morphed into "Sage Street Greetings" when I realized that some of my definitions were pretty damn wise. That and the fact that somehow without meaning to, I'd designed all the cards with a sage green back.

So.

I wanted to start the new year off with a great inventory of cards and my deadline for getting the designs to my printer was fast approaching. In the end - which isn't the end but is an on-the-way - I sent in more than 48 designs each for Postal Notes Greetings and Let's Pretend Story Cards. I only sent in designs for a few more than 20 designs for Sage Street Greetings. The rest are pretty much written out, but not committed to digital design yet. That will take me a few more weeks and once I have them ready, I'll send them out to be printed. I just didn't want to miss my self-imposed end-of-the-year inventory deadline.

In addition to Postal Notes Greetings, Let's Pretend Story Cards and Sage Street Greetings, I have a line of specialty cards from my sisters book. It is not yet up to 48 cards, but I'm OK with that (for now). I think card shops will accept the core line on its own as specialty cards. I call this collection "Complications" because it is about relationships and relationships are complicated. 

And because I can't seem to stick to just paper, I've have also been rolling out complementary gift items (mugs, tote bags, shirts, etc.) for each of the collections. I'll be adding to these as I go along.

Remember when I said I had ideas for about 15 separate collections? Well, I haven't given up on those. In fact, in February or March of 2017, I'll be rolling out the core 48 designs of at least two of those collections, Taken Literally and Frank & Folly. 

I know. It's that ADD thing again. 

 

 



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