8 Techniques to Get Your Greeting Card Line into a Store

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Courtesy Snafu Designs

By Carolyn Edlund

If you’ve got a greeting card line and want more retail stores to carry it, these techniques can help get your foot in the door. Choose carefully what you will offer – it should meet the needs of the buyer, and give them the incentive to try your line. Experienced sales reps and savvy card companies make these irresistible offers and deals from time to time – and so can you!

  1. Offer a free fixture to display your card line. If the account is close by, deliver the fixture, build and stock it. Or have your sales rep do so for total customer service, and to make sure the display looks terrific.
  2. No minimum order. Even if you normally require minimums, waive that for new accounts. Let them order whatever they want, just to get in the door. Quite often they choose enough product for a minimum anyway.
  3. Buy out dead stock. This is a super incentive that works quite well. Every store has really slow sellers hanging around from other card companies whose products they no longer carry. Buy out this stock in exchange for “real estate” (the pockets those dead cards were sitting in). You don’t have to buy for full wholesale – make an offer – half of wholesale or less may get a bite. The total dollar amount of the dead stock you remove from their store becomes a credit towards their new order from you!
  4. Free shipping. Every buyer is looking for a way to make better margins, and free shipping cuts their costs.  It’s a great incentive at a trade show to encourage buying right there and then, or make it a limited-time offer to drive sales.
  5. No-risk guarantee. Let the buyer know you are so certain of success, that you will take back all remaining stock if your line doesn’t sell after a certain period (six months, for example). At that point, they pay only for what they sold.
  6. Extended dating. Many card vendors require pre-payment for first time orders, or they give net 30 terms. Extended dating means allowing extra time to pay for their order (60-90 days, typically), which may make the difference in getting that order. Offer this only to prospective accounts you feel sure will pay their bills.
  7. Take back holiday card leftovers. Got Christmas cards, Valentines or other holiday cards to sell? Most card companies allow returns on unsold seasonal cards, and store buyers expect it. Allow returns of all leftovers in exchange for credit on their next order from you.
  8. Allow ongoing returns for credit. Some of your card stock will become damaged in the store, or just be slow sellers. Allow a percentage (typically 10%) of stock to come back to you as a credit on the next order. Buyers sometimes ship these back or the rep picks up the return for you (obviously this is more popular). It’s typical for the rep to destroy those returned items, as many times the value of the product doesn’t justify the shipping charge.

Do you know other “tricks of the trade” to get wholesale buyers to try your line? Please comment and share your experiences!

Many thanks to Scott Austin of Snafu Designs for the photo. Visit his site to see the full line and the great offers he has for retailers.

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Comments

  1. I promised myself I would stop spending so much time on the computer, but I can’t help myself from responding to this article.

    As a prior card manufacturer for 15 years, # 2 and #6 are the only one’s I might agree with, but the others I disagree with.

    Some of these go against industry standards such as #3. This list might be doable for a huge corporations 100+ employees who can swallow huge losses, but as a start up card designer I would not encourage these other things.

    It sets up bad practices that only lead to becoming a “card-slave.”

    For example: You can’t imagine the overhead of time involved tracking returns for cards. Not only does the rep have to ship them back to you, but you have to credit her commissions back and keep track of all this on paper as-it-is-happening: Typical things that happen: Did the store actually return them or just say they were going to? Did they give them to the rep? Did the rep mail them to me? Is the store sending them COD and I will I have a huge shipping bill? When I get them, are they shelf worn, damaged and unsellable? What if half of them are missing? What if they sent me the wrong artists cards?

    Just a few examples….

    I could go through each item with comments, but I’d be “complainer Kate” which is not my goal in life! My main mission is to help independent artists create a business that is a win-win for them, for the store, for the rep.

    • Thanks for your input, Kate. I’m always interested in your take on things!
      As a former rep on the front lines, I saw many opportunities that could have been lost, sold with a little incentive. As mentioned in my intro paragraph, my recommendation is to use these from “time to time” to land an account, and I know that these can definitely work.
      Free shipping on an initial order, for example, is an incentive used quite often at trade shows or on sales calls, and it gets results. Others are used less often, such as buy outs (and yes, they are against industry standards, but are commonly done to clear out stock from former vendors, often at the request of the retailer).
      Every business person must make their own decisions about what is practical for their business, strategies to use to obtain important accounts, and what they are willing to risk. This is why I suggest that anyone wanting to use such incentives “choose carefully what you will offer”, because they could be detrimental to your business if used indiscriminately.
      Any suggestions that you have on techniques you use to land new accounts would be really appreciated! Please let me know if you post on the subject – I would be happy to link to your article.

  2. Great information as usual, Carolyn! Even though my experience is on the creative side of things I still enjoy learning about what happens out there in the “world of the reps” (sounds like a movie title, doesn’t it)! Having a good, strong product line is important, obviously, but without some tricks up your sleeve to get the product out in the market your designs may never see the light of day. In fact, when I developed a new card line for my last employer we took advantage of a local store and supplied the owner with product and a spinner free of charge. This was a new market for us and we really needed some firsthand feedback. Not only did it get us into the store but it gave us invaluable information on what was selling and what wasn’t.

  3. Thanks for your comments, Don. Providing a free spinner can make the difference between getting into an account and getting rejected, and I have placed many lines into retail stores with that incentive.
    You mentioned that you supplied free product as well, so I suppose your company was willing to provide that for test-marketing. I wouldn’t suggest giving it all away!
    The beauty of the card business is the repeat orders that are placed. Every great account you have is a very important part of your income. Each year you will need to replace approximately 20% of your accounts (on average) as existing accounts go out of business or stop placing orders from your company.

  4. Thanks for the great read. It’s nice to learn about how some companies get their product in the door. But for a small manufacturer like myself, many of these would not work because of logistics. From this list, I have found that free shipping is a nice incentive. I have offered this for orders over a specific amount at our shows. It helps to get into the store and retailers don’t have an added cost.

    • Thanks for your comment, Louisa, it’s great to hear from you again! Small manufacturers looking to attract clients have thought of some very interesting ways. One idea is to contribute money to a charity through purchase of greeting cards. I interviewed Melissa Cook about this for my blog at http://bit.ly/SceneEast. She has incorporated a method to logistically make this work for her company.

  5. Hi Again-to follow up: Rather than go through each item, I’d rather say: In general I prefer:

    -To have the same policies for all stores. This is essential if you have thousands of accounts. And actually there are legal issues around this. When you offer different policies to different stores, you are treading into unfair trade practices.

    -Artists have a responsibility to create a product that sells. We (nor the rep) should push bad products on stores. This is the artist’s responsibility. If the product doesn’t sell, then no amount of coaxing will make it sell. A bad card won’t even sell for 10 cents at a yard sale.

    -I feel like the rep is the most critical and valuable person in this entire formula. A store trusts an experienced rep to give them straight advice on what will sell. If a store is so frightened to try something new, and they don’t trust the rep, then that in itself is already a problem. The rep should carry products they believe in, and know will be profitable.

    -I have no statistics on this, but I have found a pattern over my years that surprised me: Accounts that demanded the most, were the same one’s that often did not pay their invoices on time or at all. Stores who want free products or make unreasonable demands may not be an account worth having.

    -I have a dozen stories of giving free racks, and having someone else’s cards put on it. Even after the store signed a contract the rack would only be for my cards. They then refused to purchase or return the rack.

    -For every bad account, there are 100 good accounts of stores who are thrilled to have a win-win relationship with an artist and a rep.

  6. Doesn’t one have to have a lot (I mean a mega-lot) of cards out there to make any money? The admin costs and time in handling/selling costs have to be huge.
    One is no longer a creative person but a sales/admin person.
    Of all the ways to make money being creative I would think that selling cards has to be one of the toughest things to do.
    Better to try to license one’s designs to an established card company.

    • Charles, I agree with you that licensing designs to an established card company is an alternative. But that is easier said than done. There are thousands of artists out there who would love a licensing deal, but cannot get one. You also need to be licensing quite a few designs to make a living at it. Also, if you are using an agent to represent you, they take 50%. That’s a lot.
      If you walk the National Stationery Show in NYC each May, you will see many, many artists who follow their dream by creating their own line which they manufacture and ship to stores. Yes, there are administrative and sales duties.
      As an artist who had a production jewelry studio for over 20 years, I was also in sales/admin.
      If you want to license, you need to contact prospective companies to license to, do trade shows, make presentations, etc. You are also in sales/admin.
      There is no way around it. If you are a self-employed artist, you are a businessperson as well. That’s just a fact.

  7. Thanks for your reply. At least with trying to sell one’s card ideas to an established card company one is not going to go bankrupt for trying.
    :-)
    And if all the card companies out there do not think an artist’s ideas are worth buying….isn’t that a tip that going deeply in debt to start up an iffy card selling business might be a bit too risky?
    Did you also note that all the tips you list above are increasing the costs on the artist?…the last thing any start-up business needs.
    You mention following one’s dreams….dreams are fine, but the hard reality of doing business can quickly become a nightmare.
    I would be interested in seeing an article here on the actual costs and time involved in setting up this type of business. (For example: How much does it cost to attend to have a booth at the National Stationery Show that you mentioned…including all costs such as travel, hotel, booth, materials, etc, etc, etc.)

    • The items listed are used all the time in the card industry with larger vendors. They are not meant to be a list of must-dos, but suggestions of ways to get that initial order from a store. For example, you will frequently see offers such as “free shipping” as an incentive to place orders at trade shows.

      The real money of course is made through reorders and building a relationship with clients,

      I don’t dispute that it costs money to get traction – in any industry. NSS booth fees for 2012 are listed at $27.50/sft. (average single booth size is 8×10 or 10×10). It would definitely be interesting to interview an attendee about total costs. Currently I have two interviews on this site with trade show promoters. Surtex http://bit.ly/iU3K3b and the BMAC http://bit.ly/qkJrI0, which discuss expenses and expectations in some depth.

      Meanwhile, you could get more info about the card business, costs and challenges by joining LinkedIn groups devoted to the industry, which are quite active.

      Thanks for the article suggestion!

  8. Another subject for an article on this theme (if you have not done it already):
    “How Does an Artist Know When She/He is Ready to Start Their Own Greeting Card Selling Business?”

    Does one just wake up one day and say I am going to open a Greeting Card business?
    How do these people know they are good enough, their art and cards are good enough or ready or that they are the type of person to jump into such a risky and potentially costly endeavor?
    (And sure the artist can come up with 5-10 card ideas at first…but can they do it every quarter or season or how ever often one must bring out new product?)

    The reason I ask is I knew a guy that was kind of an artist and decided to open his own gallery and exhibit his own art.
    But, I said, you have never exhibited your art anywhere and never shown the art to any gallery, how do you know people will like your art? His answer was basically: He was an artist.
    So approximately one year later and about $15,000 invested in his gallery (rent, etc, etc,), plus all his time, his gallery closed and he never sold a thing.

    What are the 10 things one needs to know that they are good enough/ ready to open up a their own Greeting Card business?

  9. Regarding your comment above about an agent: “Also, if you are using an agent to represent you, they take 50%. That’s a lot.”
    I have an illustration/art agent and she takes between 21 and 25%, depending on the project. (Still a lot, but not 50%.)

  10. Charles, the standard commission for an art licensing agent actually is 50%. You can read about this in my interview with agent Julie Ager here http://bit.ly/jKB3Lt.

    With regard to your other questions, I have posed them to the LinkedIn group called “Greeting Card Professionals” and will let you know the feedback. Please feel free to join the group and voice your opinions!

  11. I would suggest finding a new agent.
    :-)
    Or do it oneself. Thank you, internet!

  12. I actually think that every one of Carolyn’s techniques is valuable, and I find that I use a fair number of them in my sales to larger retailers. Many of them won’t consider a company that does not offer: free shipping, a display rack, returns on holiday items, etc. So if one is interested in getting one’s product into those stores, one has to consider doing these things. In my main account, I use every single one of the techniques on the list!

    • Claire, you are right. It is standard practice to provide displays, take returns on holiday cards, and even do resets. Buyers understand the way the card business works, and it is extremely helpful to work with them this way.

  13. I appreciate all the advice on here, the pros and the cons. It’s a lot to think about. I’d like to know the answers to Charles Kaufman’s questions about really being ready to start up. But now that I look again…. original post was in 2011. :-(

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