Greeting Card Entrepreneur Designs Her Own Success

by Carolyn Edlund

How one artist created a successful greeting card line.

 

Louise Huang started her own greeting card business. Read about it at www.ArtsyShark.com

 

Eight years ago, Louisa Huang was working on her PhD in Education Administration when she made the decision to stay at home with her children. At the same time, a friend encouraged her to design a card line based on a charming birthday invitation Louisa had created for her son’s party.

Completely self-taught, Louisa designed about 30 greeting cards, forming her line which is known as Paper Musings. Simple yet elegant, these cards are printed professionally. Louisa and an assistant then hand-apply glitter, rhinestones, quilled paper,  felt and other attachments to make each card very special.

Her first step was to pound the pavement near her California home, approaching independent stores with her products. When no buyer was available for an appointment, she left samples. About half of the stores decided to try her line, and her business was born. One buyer passed a sample along to a sales rep they knew who got in touch with Louisa. Eventually she met with the rep group manager and they signed an agreement to take her line into their showroom, and on the road via their reps.

The first suggestion made to her by the reps? Double the size of your line! She diligently kept creating, and now has about 250 different titles.  Louisa indicates that birthday, wedding and baby cards are her most popular.

What makes this line successful?  Many different factors:

  • Sales reps from two rep groups have given her lots of exposure.
  • She has a professional website, which presents her work to retailers.
  • Louisa has a paper catalog and sends samples along with it to potential accounts.
  • She targets more upscale retailers who can handle her retail pricepoint and do well with it.
  • Her style is clean, whimsical and charming. People connect instantly with the designs and love the added handmade touch. Her paper is a heavy card stock, with scalloped edges and translucent envelopes.
  • A $150 minimum opening order with $50 reorders makes the line easy for wholesale buyers to try with little risk
  • Her line is “amusing, surprising and inspiring” with touches such as windows and colored dot brads which provide different and fun formats to the cards.
  • Counter cards (individual cards) and boxed sets of Thank You and Notecards are available.

Although Louisa considers herself “fortunate that people discovered me”, she is an excellent example of how we make our own luck. If you are an aspiring greeting card designer, consider how you are going about creating and marketing your line.

Take a critical look – are your designs visually strong, easily recognizable and impactful?  What is special about your line – including the paper, envelopes and format? Is your line large enough to provide variety and be taken seriously? (see What you Didn’t Know About Starting a Greeting Card Line and Greeting Card Biz Insider Secrets for more tips).

How are you marketing – trade shows, internet, sales reps, catalogs, or other methods?  To drive traffic to your website, are you optimizing incoming links which will provide a pathway to your prospective customers?

Louisa recalls that she “tried everything and made many mistakes along the way”.  One of the greatest reasons she has been successful with her line is the sheer persistence she has shown in growing and adapting even in a tough economy. She continues to develop her line, using concepts and embellishments in new and unexpected ways to create “whimsical artistry with clever musing, playful illustration and heartfelt pondering.”

Make a plan and set goals for your business. Be willing to change and take suggestions from mentors and other professionals. Be persistent and work from the heart.

 

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Comments

  1. Great article! I launched my line Wimzie Prints one year ago and am plugging along slowly. I know that doubling the size of my line would really help me out, too. I’m hoping to find some sales reps in the future to help market my cards beyond my local retailers. Thanks for inspiring me to keep going.[img]http://cache0.bigcartel.com/product_images/12421191/Love_Bug_sm_sq.jpg[/img]

    • Thanks for the comment, Tanya. There is no replacement for sheer determination and persistence in business. I wish you the best with your line!

  2. Louisa’s story is inspiring for anyone that wants to be a stay at home mom. Her passion resonates through her artwork. Her desire to be at home with her children drives her success. She truly is a multi-talented individual.

  3. I have launched a stationery and invitation company, Spring Day Studios. I have an online shop and a blog (http://www.onespringday.com) and in the coming months I hope to double my line and add sales reps to my marketing efforts.

    • Exquisite work, Laura! Your blog is also beautifully designed and just makes me feel good looking at such lovely things.

  4. A thoughtful and inspiring article. I started a line, Butterfly, two years ago which took off locally. I saved every penny and recently employed the services of a printer to print and glitter a large quantity. I decided to spend the extra money on a quality linen paper, hoping that along with my designs, it will make me stand out in a competitive industry with wonderful designs like Louisa. The cards and catalogs arrive next week and I start trying to find reps! I am expecting twins in the Fall and hope this can me something I can do while spending time with my babies. My line can be viewed at: http://www.butterflydesignstudio.com

    • Best of luck with your twins and your card line – you will be incredibly busy, that’s for sure! I checked out your website and really enjoyed your wonderful card line. Spending the time and money to work with quality materials is always a good idea and you won’t regret it.

  5. I’m a huge Paper Musings fan and am so impressed with her line and now her story. You have to see her cards in person to truly appreciate the artistry, creativity and intricate details in her work. She is an inspiration for all the hard-working moms and business women out there!

  6. Thanks so much for the great inspiration and tips!!

    I too am a mom – and started my business a few years ago. It is called All Moms Go To Heaven – a gift line for Moms and Grandmothers that I sell on my site and Amazon. I started my business because I had always thought Moms deserved more appreciation and recognition.

    This spring I am launching my new ‘card’ collection called ‘You’ve Got Halo’. These are keepsake magnets with a gift card and envelope. I have some for moms, grandmothers, dads, grandfathers, nurses, teachers, and some that work for everyone.

    My cards are all about telling someone they’re extraordinary – as we all would love to be recognized and inspired.

    Currently I just have 20 designs – and have had a custom display made for these.

    I am not a vendor at the National Stationery Show – I was just a bit late pulling all that together for this year. But instead am thinking of attending the show to meet with reps and get a feel for the show.

    I would very much appreciate any tips or ideas!!

    [img]http://skydrive.live.com/play.aspx?path=/photomail/{f758811b-ebac-4cee-bd5c-80d9b9c951be}&image=F6C392C7380575DE!423&imagehi=F6C392C7380575DE!421&CID=-665526935584672290[/img]

  7. It’s always a great idea to walk a show to get a feel for how it works – and possibly meet reps, find out what the competition is doing – and make some good contacts too.

  8. Any ideas on how one could “possibly meet reps” without being an exhibitor? The show prohibits showing portfolios on the floor and I am not sure how one would distinguish a rep from another attendee …. Ideas on an appropriate and professional way to approach reps at the show would be appreciated.

  9. The people manning the booths may very well be reps, working on behalf of some of their lines. If you engage them in conversation, find out if they are multi-line reps and ask for their card. You can always call them at a later date about your products. Of course, they are there primarily to meet prospective customers, so don’t enter a booth with buyers in it. The end of the show day is often less busy. Converse with exhibitors, and ask if they know of rep groups who may be looking for lines. Discretion is advised, but much business is done by networking. As a potential future exhibitor at the show, you should be able to get the opinion of exhibitors on whether it was worth doing. Most people are pretty willing to talk business.

  10. Thank you for the tip!

  11. After being laid off work 18 months ago and without any promising prospects for employment in my area, I turned my hand from crunching numbers to my sketchbook and watercolor pad. I invented a character called Sally who I think is awesome cool and adorable. I depicted her in 60 different watercolor designs which comprise my line of greeting cards which is known as Down Sallys Alley.

    I designed a website using Dreamweaver, but being a novice with this software, it was no surprise that it didn’t work very well. I turned to the pros for help and soon discovered professional development of an e-commerce website was in the thousands of dollars. With my tight budget I knew that wasn’t an option for me so I contacted the International Academy of Design & Technology here in Chicago. I spoke with a placement advisor to determine she would be willing to put me in touch with any recent graduates with expertise in web development and looking for a freelance assignment. She was all too happy to accomodate and she put me in touch with 3 candidates. My e-commerce website went live last week and can be found at http://www.DownSallysAlley.com. I hope you’ll stop by and take a look. My next step here is to learn how to optimize my site by using links and key words.

    I have a published blog, which can be found at(www.judy-downsallysalley.blogspot.com) which offers Sally’s news, a sampling of cards and some other fun stuff. I’ve linked my web-site and blog to with, Facebook, and now Linked In.

    In early 2010 I met with the general manager of Barnes & Noble University of Chicago Bookstore and he liked my line. I thought he was just being nice, but he actually offered to feature a sampling of my cards in the store to see how they would be received. I’m waiting for feedback.

    I sold my first complete line of cards to the News Shop in the lobby of the CDW Building Plaza in downtown Chicago last week. I filled up Sally’s spinner and it was so wonderful to see Sally spinning ’round and ’round in the shoppe’s window.

    I am thinking of exhibiting my line in the stationery show at the Chicago Merchandise Mart in July, and am doing some research about this. I am interested in getting a distributor interested in repping me – and am trying to figure out how to do that. So, that’s where I’m at as of today – I’d love to hear any advice or comments that you might have. Thanks a million for listening…

    • Judy, I give you tons of credit for picking up the pieces after being unemployed, becoming an entrepreneur and getting out there to make sales. This is what it’s all about! I did check out your site and your card line is adorable – I wish you the best with it.
      As far as connecting with a rep, I suggest checking out Meryl Hooker’s new book about working with reps. See her blog at http://roadrageblog.livejournal.com/ – it’s also on my blogroll.

  12. Great story and wonderful information. Sounds like my start to my new Card line! So hard to hear..” we love the line and will get in contact” never to be heard from again!
    I am now researching reps for my line!
    any help I could get would be so appreciated!
    Here is where you will find my Faerie cards~
    http://www.cherihiers.com

  13. I started a handcrafted greeting card company this year! It has been quite a challenge. I hired someone to assist me w/social media and a website. But neither has yielded results that I thought they would. The comments are very helpful! I need to beat the pavement and leave samples of my cards to independent stores.

    Thanks for providing such helpful information!

    • Monica Thanks for reading! I checked out your website – a very nice line! There are lots of things you can do to promote your line and create new opportunities for your business. Check out the other greeting card articles on Artsy Shark to get started.

  14. THANK u for the encouraging words and reviewing my site! 😉

  15. There are two of us plugging away on this card line, our biggest downfall is our inexperience with selling the product. We have been to the New York Stationary Show 2x and although we get a positive reaction to the cards we have never landed a huge sale. We are determined and try to stay positive, it is hard not to beat ourselves over the fact we can’t sell. Both of us are outgoing and have a good sense of humor until we are faced with walking into a store with our card line we turn into shy intimidated people.

    • Cathy, it can be really hard when you are inexperienced with the business. I checked out your site and a number of things jumped out immediately to me that may be hindering your sales. The greeting card business is a mature industry – sales are made and buyers act in predictable ways, which have been the same for a long time. When you understand the business, and can tailor your product and marketing activity to what works, you should have better results.

      I frequently work with greeting card artists to improve their lines and their sales. Contact me at [email protected] if you are interested in speaking with me.

  16. I am approaching retirement and would love to use my creative skills to supplement my income. I started painting over a year ago and have thoroughly enjoyed it and I thought I could use my art for notecards. One painting in particular I have written a story about rescue animals for children and have made it into a story booklet. I am a newbie to this industry and would like any comments you may have. Since my website was originally madeI have added additional paintings. Any inout you have would be greatly appreciated.
    Shelba

    • Mike Hawthorne says:

      Hi Shelba,
      I too have just retired and am trying to get into the industry. I live in the west of Ireland and have produced a lot of designs but as yet have had no success. The best responce has been from UK manufacturers.

      Kind Regards
      MH

  17. My greeting cards evolved from growing flowers and photographing them. I love what I do, but am finding it hard to sell them. I am not really a sales person. I feel my product is well presented and most feed back I have form people is positive. Finding a rep. is good advise. I am not ready to give up. [img]http://www.joyofcards.com.au[/img]

  18. Donna Hunter says:

    All the comments were very helpful. I am very new to the industry. I have been writing over the years but thats where it ends for me. What is my next step I imagine getting a graphic designer. Can you advise me on what I should be doing.I would love to start my card line. I would love to leave my children and grandchildren a legacy they would be proud of. I will appreciate your helpful advice.

    Donna Marie

  19. My daughter & I started Lilybart greeting cards two years ago in our little Colorado mountain town.
    We will be at the NSS in May in the #fresh section. Although, initially our line was location specific, we have
    started making cards for any location & occasion.
    We love what we do. Each card sold has an insert which tells Lily’s story of her fight with Cystic Fibrosis.
    We are entirely family run… Lily and I make the cards, aunt Susan is the graphic artist & my husband’s printing company prints our cards.
    Our website was done on the inexpensive side by a local person. It does not represent who we have come to be & has only a small sampling of our cards. At this point it exists to tell Lily’s story.
    We desperately need to design a new site as soon as revenue permits the expense.
    Any feedback or suggestions would be so much appreciated.
    http://www.lilybart.com
    Facebook: Lilybart
    Thank you!

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