ON THE CARDS
“Tuesday isn’t a very romantic day for Valentine’s Day to fall is it?!” quipped Nigel Williamson, co-owner of House of Cards to me, as to why sales for the first Spring Season event were “steady, only marginally up,” for his seven stores.
However, after all the challenges being thrown at us, “steady” is good.
As I write this, the industry is reeling from the latest blow from Royal Mail that the price of first class stamps is to rise by 16% to £1.10 on April 3 - and Second Class stamps will go up by 10% to 75p.
This is all we need on the back of the Royal Mail strikes that severely dampened the volume of Christmas cards sent in 2022 (see Viewpoints pages 23-25).
The GCA, led by ceo Amanda Fergusson is fighting hard on this on the industry’s behalf, and has already attracted the ear of government minister Kevin Hollinrake (see page 11). While we will not be able to reverse these price rises coming into effect, it is imperative for the sake of UK society as well as the industry, that we do our utmost to push for a reliable and affordable postal service as well as ramming home the merits of greeting card sending generally.
I was at a lengthy GCA Council meeting yesterday, during which the strategy for how this could be best achieved was discussed, with great input from those who are far cleverer than I will ever be!
There was some icing on the cake. Coinciding with the meeting (which was hosted at Hyve’s HQ) which took place on
International Women’s Day (March 8), it was announced that morning that Amanda has been recognised in the inaugural Women in Trade Association Powerlist, highlighted as one of the top 100 females heading up trade associations.
Congratulations Amandaand well deserved!
And staying with the positives, I was delighted to hear the news that Postmark won the tender to take over all five of Paperchase’s Network Rail sites (in London stations as well as Birmingham New Street), plus the shop in the fabulous Battersea Power Station and a few others to boot.
When Mark Janson-Smith, who heads up Postmark with his wife Leona, committed to doing his first London Marathon last year, enduring the necessary gruelling training schedule, little did he know then, that it would stand him in good stead for what will require a marathon retailing effort that will double the size of that particular retailing estate in the next few months!
As Michael Apter, owner of Edinburgh’s Paper Tiger (see pages 31 and 33) summed up in his recent LinkedIn newsletter just after Paperchase’s demise was confirmed, “there is an opportunity for independent retailers to take a slice of, perhaps, a £100m chunk of the market previously taken in the Paperchase tills. That is a lot of cards and stationery, a great opportunity to grow businesses within current footprints, and a chance to recruit some experienced retail staff who are passionate about paper products…the opportunity is up for grabs.”
And…just think, Valentine’s Day 2024 will fall on a Wednesday, which I am sure Nigel Williamson will agree, is a much more romantic day!
BRAND NEW RANGE FOR 2023
OVER 85 NEW SCOTTISH DESIGNS AVAILABLE
CONTACT US FOR THE SCOTTISH CATALOGUE
All the latest happenings and developments in the trade.
18-19 Over The Counter White Belt Mentality
David Robertson, co-owner of JP Pozzi shares his musings on leadership.
Chasing The Paper Trail
The business failure of Paperchase for the third time in as many years leaves Cardsharp with a sour taste.
Christmas Card Crunch Time?
PG canvassed opinions about whether the drop in Christmas card sending in 2022 was just a blip or a trend that needs to be reversed.
The Filtration Process
PG homes in on four current design themes on greeting cards.
31-33 Retailer Profile
The Mighty Roar
Recently marking its 25th anniversary under Michael Apter’s steer, there is still plenty of roar in Edinburgh’s Paper Tiger.
34-35 In conversation with…Penguin Ink
Inking In Penguins
Penguin Ink’s recently forged relationship with Alpha Colour Printers has been a joyful collaborative experience.
Publishers’ new ranges and designs.
43-45 In conversation with…Simon Nevin
A Funny Story
Drawing on his many years in the industry, Simon Nevin embarks on writing a book about humorous greeting cards.
47-51 Focus on Giftwrappingnds
Wrapping & Rolling
The latest developments and design trends in giftwrappings.
53 Art Source
Greeting card artist Millicent Venton shares her story and his creative inspirations.
55-56 What’s Hot?
A quad of retailers share their best selling ranges.
57-67 Sources of Supply
As doors close, others open
Postmark picks up prime Paperchase sites
Chequing out at Cardgains
As PG went
press Paperchase’s stores around the country were in the midst of closing-down sales, with all 100+ standalone shops and concessions preparing to shut, following the company going into receivership in January.
However, quick work by the Postmark retail group that is headed up by Mark and Leona Janson-Smith has seen it win the tender to take on the five outlets in Network Rail sites - in London’s Victoria Station, London
doubling its current estate of seven stores. Also, with the Birmingham New Street store, it will expand the Postmark brand outside of its London homeland.
“It is an extremely exciting time for Postmark, we are delighted to be able to grasp this huge opportunity to grow our brand and offer even more members of the public our curated mix of quality greeting cards and stationery,” commented Mark Janson-Smith, managing director of Postmark. “I can’t thank our suppliers enough for the support they have shown us as we ramp up for this business expansion.”
These additional Postmark stores will be jointly owned by the JansonSmiths and Cardzone , as part of the joint venture agreement forged with the two retailing businesses in April 2021 for future stores.
There was a crowd chequing out the Cardgains Village at Spring Fair, as the buying group handed over the amazing £26,645 proceeds from its latest charity challenge.
And there were 4,645 extra reasons to be happy with the cheque handed over to the Alzheimer’s Society as that was the sum the UItimate Ullswater smashed its target by thanks to the generosity of the greeting card industry.
“We had a target of £22,000 because it was 2022 - and it just went mad!” commented Cardgains managing director Penny Shaw . “It was good to have the presentation at Spring Fair so the people that took part can see where the money goes.”
Bridge, Waterloo, Kings Cross and Birmingham New Street - as well as the Paperchase unit in Battersea Power Station along with a handful of other stores.
By the end of the summer, these new store additions will take Postmark up to 15 stores, more than
Tesco yet to unveil its Paperchase plans
The Postmark branded store is planned to open in Battersea Power Station on April 7 with the majority of the station units to have been converted to Postmark by the end of April.
Top: Paperchase is in its closing down phase.
Above left: The Postmark empire is set to expand.
Left: Paperchase’s Battersea Power Station store will be resurrected as Postmark.
Having acquired the Paperchase brand and certain assets from the receivers, Tesco has yet to reveal how it will be bringing it to life in its stores.
Jan Marchant, md of home and clothing at Tesco, said of the deal: “Paperchase is a wellloved brand by so many, and we’re proud to bring it to Tesco stores across the UK. We have been building our plans to bring more brands and inspiration to the ranges we currently offer, and this will help us to take those plans further.”
Hallmark Cards’ md Tom Rolt has resigned
Tom Rolt, who joined Hallmark Cards as group managing director for the UK, Ireland and Australia last July has resigned as a director of the company for personal reasons. He is however to stay on with Hallmark until his replacement is found.
Tom, who joined the greeting card publishing company seven months ago, had spent his 15 previous years in the beauty sector, latterly as general manager of commercial operations UK and Ireland for L’Oréal’s consumer products division.
The buying group is bringing the event down south this year with a 25mile walk in the London vicinity planned for Thursday, 29 June , in aid of MND, a charity close to the greeting card industry following last year’s death of legend David Hicks who suffered with motor neurone disease. You do not need to be a Cardgains member or supplier to participate.
Above: Charity cheers as Cardgains presents the cheque to Alzheimer’s Society.
WHS’ Curi.o.city venture
WHS is to open several high-end stationery and souvenir shops as it looks to capitalise on the space that will be left by Paperchase stores once they all close shortly.
The retailer will open Curi.o.city in Gatwick Airport’s north and south terminals on 16 March, as well as one at St Pancras International in London at the beginning of April, and the standalone stores will sell cards, gifts, stationery and souvenirs from a mix of third-party brands including Biscuiteers, East London Liquor Company and Soapsmith.
Chief executive Carl Cowling told The Times newspaper that he saw “fresh opportunities” following Paperchase’s demise, and WHS is already moving into the chain’s former concession in Selfridges’ Manchester store.
Having also hired several former Paperchase employees from the buying and merchandising side, Carl said that WHS had no plans to open more High Street stores but would be expanding its relevant ranges in outlets near where there used to be a Paperchase shop.
Stamp price rise anger
Greetings industry condemns Royal Mail’s inflation-busting move
Universal condemnation has greeted Royal Mail’s announcement of an inflation-busting 16% increase in the price of a first-class stamp, smashing through the £1 barrier with a 15p rise to £1.10 from 3 April.
Even the second-class price, capped by regulator Ofcom “to make sure an affordable option is always available”, is rising by over 10% from 68p to 75pand the timing means the increase comes into force the day before the first King Charles III stamps will be released.
Publishers and greeting card retailers are united in their disgust at the move by Royal Mail, particularly as first-class post no longer guarantees next-day delivery.
The price rise was the first point GCA ceo Amanda Fergusson raised at an IRC meeting on 7 March, with Kevin Hollinrake, MP and parliamentary under-secretary of state for enterprise, markets and small business.
Amanda said: “Royal Mail’s announcement of a further, above inflation, increase in the price of a firstclass stamp is really disappointing, particularly following on from a period of strikes that has had such a detrimental effect on letters delivery, significantly reducing the amount of Christmas cards posted in 2022.
“We note how closely Royal Mail’s announcement has come following the government’s decision last year to uphold the six day-a-week letter delivery Universal Service Obligation (USO). Royal Mail’s latest price increases could appear to represent an attempt to force through their desired changes.”
Amanda urged for “the government to consider the benefits to the country of a more robust stance in relation to these price rises”.
In response, the Minister stated that the USO is not negotiable. He finished by saying that he “understands the [greeting card] industry’s concern and the points made” and gave the reassurance
that he will give the matter more consideration and is keen to hear of specific examples from GCA members as to how Royal Mail’s actions have impacted on business.
GCA president and Second Nature’s general manager Chris Bryan commented: “With the economy as it is, and after all of the issues at Christmas, in no small part down to Royal Mail, the timing of this announcement is truly shocking. The public and small businesses should be entitled to rely on as an essential, accessible and affordable postal service but Royal Mail seems hell bent on pricing itself out of the marketwe need the government to step in.”
GCA council member David Byk, ceo of Swan Mill Group which owns Ling Design, Penny Kennedy and GBCC wants the government to get involved to stop Royal Mail’s “monopolistic arrogance”, saying: “Royal Mail is forcing its inflation-beating agenda on a public that’s suffering with a cost-of-living crisis and an industry which had its Christmas market disrupted by the strikes in 2022. Having not been allowed to stop the Saturday letter service without a surcharge they appear to have pushed this increase through to the whole week in order to price out cards and correspondence and make themselves a parcel business by stealth.
“They’re doing this while at the same time issuing a stamp to celebrate our new King - there is nothing royal about this behaviour!”
Adding her wrath, Hazel Walker, senior buyer of Waterstones said: “It’s so disappointing to see stamp prices soar yet again. Royal Mail’s argument is that letter sending is down, but increasing stamp prices are only going to further this. After the strikes impacting Christmas card sending, this latest increase is certain to have an impact on everyday sales too.”
VIEWS OF THE NEWS
l Danilo md Daniel Prince said: “It’s beyond disgraceful how much the cost of stamps has increased in the last four years, going from 67p in December 2018 to £1.10 and massively outperforming inflation (RPI).
“The biggest problem is the service in the last six months has been atrocious. First class letters often don’t arrive within the stated timeframe, and consumers have lost confidence in the postal service. These rises will harm it further and, long-term, it’s not good for consumers. Surely the government has to intervene or where does it end!”
l Publisher Emma Ball, owner of Emma Ball Ltd, raised the issue of Royal Mail’s privatisation, saying: “it deserves so much more than just feeding shareholders. It's a little part of what did make this country what it was - caring. Posties care about their jobs and their customers (the general public) but, recently, their bosses seem to think less of us all, what with strikes and, most recently, the hacking debaclewhich still isn't sorted, parcels are still missing!
“Royal Mail would be best placed to oust ceo Simon Thompson and actually get someone in charge that understands what it’s about and get it back on track to the company it could be!
“I do still believe that even for £1.15 you’re making someone's day when sending a card, however, this could be the last nail in the coffin lid for many senders - maybe this is just what the heads at Royal Mail want, the death of the letter, so they can concentrate on more lucrative parcels.”
Above: Royal Mail ceo Simon Thompson, who publisher Emma Ball thinks should be ousted.
l Jo Wilson, founder of Dandelion Stationery, called the rise “extortionate”, fearing it will make the difference on whether people struggling with the cost of living choose to send a card.
She added: “The service they have delivered over the past few months has been poor, so to see such a price increase is like a kick in the teeth. If customers bought a first-class stamp, and knew their letter would be delivered the following day, then £1.10 possibly could be palatable - just - but the reality is that people no longer have confidence that post will arrive on time.”
l Sales agent Neil Greenwood, of Reil Agencies, fears “this will be yet another nail in the greeting card coffin. “We’re already faced with the problem that younger generations don't even send cards and instead rely on text messages or posts on social media. The positive effect that receiving a physical card in the post has on someone’s mental health cannot be emphasised enough. However, it seems Royal Mail is trying to focus more on its parcel service, cards and letters are now nothing more than an inconvenience to them.”
Ceri Stirland becomes UKG ceo
James Conn retires and Darren Cave is promoted
UK Greetings’ long-serving ceo
James Conn retired on March 1 after 39 years with the business. Ceri Stirland, formerly the publisher’s customer and channel director has been appointed to the role, becoming the first woman to lead the company. And coinciding with this, Darren Cave, the company’s commercial director has been promoted to customer and channel director.
James was ceo of UKG international, which includes UKG, Carlton Greetings, and John Sands for the past five years, and under his impressive leadership the business has grown, despite having to navigate various global challenges, not least of which, being the pandemic.
James started his career with the Dewsbury-based company in 1985, joining as a trainee sales executive for Andrew Valentine which was later absorbed into UKG. His talent for business and innate people skills were quickly spotted and promotions came thick and fast thereafter.
Ceri meanwhile joined UKG in 2008 as business unit director, having previously worked on the retail side with stores including Asda, then became director of marketing in 2012, and in 2018 was made customer and channel director.
Commenting on her new role, Ceri said: “I am absolutely delighted to be the
first woman to be appointed as ceo of UKG International, and I look forward to working closely with the talented team at UKG and our customers.”
Ceri reports directly to Joe Arcuri, ceo of parent company American Greetings.
Synchronising with the changes, Darren Cave has been appointed as customer and channel director at UK Greetings.
Prior to starting his greeting card career, Darren spent almost 10 years in retail at Tesco, then joined Watermark Publishing in 2005 working as part of the commercial team before progressing to associate commercial director in 2011.
In 2014, Darren took his first UKG role as director of merchandising, before adding independent sales to his remit in 2017. He has been part of the senior team in the role of commercial director since 2018 and his remit was expanded further with the addition of the business improvement and international business units.
Ceri said: “Darren has gained a wealth of experience in our business and industry, and this, along with his retail experience and proven track record, ensures he is well placed to take on his new role and ensure we continue our growth trajectory.”
Andrea’s fundraising wrap up
Indie retailer Andrea Pinder has charity fundraising all wrapped up with a £1,000 donation following her efforts at Presentation Cards & Gifts in Barrowford
She raised most of the cash by offering customers a giftwrapping service instore, with the option of making a donation to Rosemere Cancer Foundation, then rounded it up with a £70 personal donation to reach a grand total.
The long-time award winning greeting card and gift retailer told PG: “No gift leaves here unwrapped unless the customer wishes to wrap it themselves. I buy the paper and ribbons and do the wrapping. Customers have the option of making a donation for the service and I am very grateful to all those who did.”
Andrea has previously cycled across India and Cuba to raise money for the foundation, as well as taking part in the local Ribble Valley Ride.
Rosemere Cancer Foundation works to bring world-class treatments and services to patients at the specialist cancer treatment and radiotherapy centre at the Royal Preston Hospital, and eight local hospital cancer units across Lancashire and South Cumbria.
Barley Bear hits the TV screens with Ant & Dec
Barley Bear hit the big time recently as International Cards & Gifts’ cute character was a star in the first prank of the new Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway TV series.
ITV1’s prime-time weekend show kicked off with a 17-minute segment helping new mum Amy Gorman get her revenge on serial prankster hubby Liam that followed through from the ultrasound scan and antenatal classes to a photoshoot with four-week-old baby Finlay - which is where Barley Bear stepped in.
The programme saw the new dad dress up in a Barley Bear’s suit for a photoshoot, but unbeknownst to him the TV stars Ant McPartlin and Declan Donnelly nipped in to be in the pictures, to the soundtrack of Teddy Bears’ Picnic.
“We were so pleased and excited that ITV wanted our little brown bear to have a guest appearance on the first of the new Saturday Night Takeaway series, especially as the programme has over eight million viewers,”
IC&G co-owner Ian Wagstaff told PG.
The opportunity came about as a result of Rainbow Productions, who designed and made the Barley Bear costume, saying ITV was looking for a bear outfit.
“The ITV team came and picked the suit up - they also took five of our large Barley Bear plush and two of each of the small bears as they were doing a theme with loads of teddies, and all of ours were included in the shoot, which looked great!” said Ian.
The show’s rules meant nothing could be revealed before it aired on TV, so only a few teasers could be shared on Barley’s Instagram and Facebook feeds, but the whole series 19 episode one show is still available to watch on ITVX.
Top: This black and white image was shown fullscreen after Ant and Dec pranked Liam Gorman following the photoshoot.
Above right: Some IC&G’s social media action.
PG Live’s global reach
Overseas exhibitors and visitors sign up
PG Live 2023 is going mega international with the largest contingent yet of overseas exhibitors signing up for the 6-7 June show and a raft of buyers from across the world registered too.
The exhibitor list already features almost 200 fabulous companies. Those adding an international flavour include Avanti Press, Up With Paper, Designer Greetings and Quilling Cards who will be making the trip from the US for their PG Live exhibiting debuts; Greetings From Lowlands Studios will be setting up stall from The Netherlands; Germany’s Perleberg is all set for the journey; P&G Cards will be hopping over from Ireland, while Origamo and Cromo are coming from Italy, while the longest trek of all sees Simson Cards’ Licensing side coming from Melbourne in Australia.
Warren Lomax, co-owner of Max Exhibitions which owns and organises PG Live said: “This is going to be our most international show yet with the number of overseas publishers and buyers already registered. With under three months to go it’s time to start getting excited about the show that will bring the global greeting card community together.”
Carousel goes back to lectures
Simson Licensing is part of Simson Cards, one of Australia’s leading designers and distributors of greeting cards and stationery, and owners John and Bindi Simson often make buying trips to PG Live to source products.
Explaining the rationale behind its decision to exhibit, John said: “Simson as a design resource is totally under-utilised so our aim with our stand is to showcase what our studio creates to engage with UK publishers and internationals that venture across to London.”
Registration for retailer buyers is open, and exhibitor stands are still available, to suit all budgets. Contact Tracey Arnaud on email@example.com or ring her on 07957 212062.
Members of the Carousel Calendars team found themselves back in the lecture hall recently but they were on the other side this time helping business students at Exeter University.
Licensing and business development manager Martin Rees-Davies headed up the Carousel team’s lecture after the Uni, based in the same Devon city, got in contact with a quest to address an audience of 50 students about how a local firm operates.
The lecture lasted just over an hour and was extremely well received by the students. “It prompted lots of questions and discussions, especially around the environment and sustainability.”
Carousel was well equipped on the latter, especially with its wildlife haven in the making on wasteland behind its offices as well as its on-going sustainability credentials, including signing up to the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTI), reducing greenhouse gas emissions, changing power sources to renewable electricity and biogas, all fleet cars now electric or hybrid, significant reduction in plastic usage in products and packaging, and encouraging the use of sustainable materials in the supply chain.
Alongside Martin, Carousel’s licensing manager Ruth-Anne Hurst, licensing assistant Lily Costin and head of editorial Nicola Bowerbank shed insights about the opportunities of working in the industry, and going forward will be involved in further research on business challenges and opportunities.
• Carousel Calendars will be exhibiting at PG Live in June
Avanti Press teams up with Niquea.D
Humorous card specialist Avanti Press has teamed up with Dominique Schurman’s Niquea.D lifestyle brand to distribute the greeting cards and stationery exclusively to the North American retail trade.
Former Clintons’ boss Dominique, who is also ceo of the 400-store Schurman Retail Group, America’s second-largest greeting card speciality retailer, made the announcement on Friday, 24 February, that Niquea.D will be added to Avanti Press’ awardwinning ensemble of Avanti, America and A*Press greeting cards brands.
Avanti’s communications manager Dave Phipps told PG: “We're chuffed about the addition - many brands have approached us over the years, and this was the first time the stars lined up and everything clicked. It is a great fit with our other brands.”
While Avanti Press will be exhibiting at the Progressive Greetings Live 2023 show in June (6-7 at London’s Business Design Centre), the Niquea.D range will not be on the stand.
“Unfortunately, we won't be showing it on the PG Live stand as our current agreement is for North America distribution only, but we’re looking forward to putting together something cool for London!” assures Dave.
Above: Avanti expands its brand selection to include Niquea.D.
Lucy Maggie’s off to market
Liverpool-based publisher Lucy Nichelson has taken a small shop space to sell her Lucy Maggie Designs and Sunshine Llama wares direct to the public in the recentlyrelocated Red Brick Market in the city’s Baltic Triangle area.
“It’s an area brimming with creative and independent businesses showcasing the best of what Liverpool has to offer,” said Lucy.
The market works by allowing customers to select their own products from the unmanned units, then pay at the joint checkout, with the retailers paid monthly for all sales.
• Lucy Maggie Designs is exhibiting at PG Live 2023
Dragons and publishers fired on all cylinders
GCA speed-dating event was a high octane adrenaline rush
“Thanks to all for yesterday’s high octane adrenaline rush!” was the positive message from Louise Martin, director of Peartree Heybridge having participated in the GCA’s Dragons Speed-dating event held recently at London’s Business Design Centre, which brought together over 70 greeting card publishers with 18 top retail buyers for a fast paced few hours of pitching, learning and networking.
“The event was incredibly positive. The variety of retailers involved was great and fingers crossed I’m looking forward to new business collaborations, and follow ups!” added Louise, echoing the views of the vast array of publishers - from brand spanking new businesses to established brands - who pitched their ranges and companies to buyers in a series of fast and furious 10-minute slots.
Continuing a successful formula, the publisher participants were divided into two groups, with one half first going in to face the retailer Dragons in the ‘Den’ while the other half were treated to insights and experiences on all manner of business matters from fellow publishers, with Will Miles, partner of legal beagles Briffa also sharing some top tips on copyright and licensing issues.
The benefits of the event were there in abundance even for experienced publishers. “I have got so much from today, you always learn something new,” said Rosie Tate, director of Cath Tate Cards. “Our business has been going for over 40 years, but at this event, everyone is equal and you have just as much chance as being picked by a Dragon as a brand new company.”
Having led the organisation of this year’s event, Adriana Lovesy, GCA membership and marketing coordinator (and founder of Mrs Lovesy card company) was delighted by the positive reactions from both publishers and buyers alike.
“I know from having participated myself, just what an invaluable event it is, being able to pitch your company and your ranges to buyers is just one element. Being able to network with other publishers, share experiences and feel connected is
also so beneficial. This year the mix of publishers participating was even more varied than usual, from brand new start-ups through to more established players,” said Adriana. “It was also great to see so many black-owned publishers participating, reflecting the GCA’s commitment to encouraging diversity and inclusion.”
Retail buyers from multiples and small groups such as Card Factory, WHS, John Lewis/Waitrose, Scribbler, Between the Lines, Postmark and Utility joined a host of leading independents to be all eyes and ears to the pitching publishers, each going home with a bulging bag of samples from all participating publishers.
As Ellie Kleinlercher, buyer of Between the Lines said: “It has been fabulous. There is nothing like meeting people face to face. It has been great to see so many new suppliers of such high calibre.”
The next GCA Dragons Speeddating event will take place in March 2024
UK publishers up for a Louie
A magnificent seven UK card publishers have cards in the finals of the US greeting card awards, The Louies.
Notes & Queries’ Alan Harnik’s Counting Cards
Cramming 43 years of greeting card industry experience into two volumes is pretty good going, and that’s what Alan Harnik, founder of legendary US distributor of many UK card publishers has managed.
Notes & Queries’ president Alanwho was presented with the Honorary Achievement trophy at The Henries Awards 2022 for his championing of UK greeting cards - and his managing director daughter Vanessa have just self-published Counting Cards: Confessions of A Card Shark, which is available as a PDF download, as well as a hardback.
Of the volumes, Roots And Branches and On The Ground And In The Weeds, Alan said it was initially going to be “a history of Notes & Queries, but it has turned out to be the history of the
alternative greeting card market in the United States, the differences between the US greeting card market and the UK market. It’s stories about sales people that I've met, retailers that we have traded with, and companies that we have purchased from overseas.”
In his advice to potential publishers, Alan urges: “Do your research, set up a marketing plan, understand who your customer is, and then full steam ahead. You can't be a part-time entrepreneur, you have to throw yourself in entirely, to enjoy what you do, be driven by a passion.”
Making up almost 10% of the 79 companies in the 2023 US greeting card award finalists are Alljoy Design, The Art File, Louise Mulgrew, Paper D’Art, Paper Salad, Redback Cards and Tache. Louise Mulgrew has an astonishing eight cards up for the awards.
The winners will be announced on 26 April, at the General’s Residence in San Francisco, the night before the US GCA, which runs the Louies, opens its Noted greeting card expo at the city’s Fort Mason Center For Arts & Culture.
The 34th Louie Awards have been judged by a panel of 52 card publishers, retailers, sales representatives, and stationery industry leaders at five regional hubs across the US, with entries over 60% up on last year.
with her eight nominated cards.
Resignations and retirements have been a huge part of the news in the last few weeks - both within the trade and outside. Great leaders are hard to find and UK Greetings loses a true company man in James Conn as he decides to retire as ceo, someone who started at the bottom and has gone on to reach the very top.
James was perhaps not the most famous leader to announce that he was stepping down - a certain, Nicola Sturgeon definitely had that honour. It got me thinking that how people lead is vitally important, not only at the top of business or government but within businesses like ours.
White Belt Mentality
UKG’s ceo James Conn is a great and honest guy. When we started our business, 35 years ago this June, James was our area manager. In all the ensuing years through Rustcraft, Carlton Cards, Gibson Greetings and many other parts of UKG, James has always been very supportive of our small family business.
It is oft said that how you maintain the smallest cog in the wheel results in the smoothest journey and I always felt valued by James and his team. Mum and I wish him a long and happy retirement.
In the very same week as UKG issued the announcement that James was to retire, and Ceri Stirland is to step up into the role, the news hit about Scotland’s First Minister’s decision to retire from the post. I am not going to go into politics, but Nicola Sturgeon has to be admired in her work ethic, strength and sheer determination. Whether you agreed with Scotland’s separation from the UK or many of the policies she championed no one could deny that she has made strong decisions and in true great leader form was loved and loathed in equal measure. Running any political party in the last few years has been a pretty eventful place to be. Covid of course was a once in a lifetime event and Ms Sturgeon gained many admiring glances from the rest of the UK for what she did in Scotland during that time. Sometimes leaders are there simply for too long (I am not inferring this in
James Conn’s case though!). In football parlance, you become tired of the same voice. If the manager doesn’t keep changing things up, introducing new players and tweaking the approach to team talks things can lose their impact and become a bit samey. Perhaps that is one of the reasons that Nicola felt she had to step away. She perhaps sensed that her message needed a new voice to deliver it.
Many of you will be both a leader and a janitor, but even if you just have one or two members of staff, how you work with them and structure their jobs will have a huge impact on the success of your business.
I suppose the first thing to really look at is if leadership and management are the same thing.
If you really think about it, leading is the high level thinking part. You are tasked
with instilling your vision in others and being able to motivate them to take ownership of what they have to do. Co-workers need to believe in their leader and what they're trying to accomplish, and they will then willingly work towards those same goals.
A great manager, on the other hand, is tasked with making that vision happen. They don't come up with the vision, but they use it to guide them on a path to get it done. Great managers can co-ordinate schedules and budgets, oversee productivity, and even resolve conflict. These are very important aspects of any business, and I dare you to find a business that isn't thriving with good managers in place.
As I said you are probably both the leader and manager in your business…oh and the tea maker and janitor!
So, finding a way to strike the balance between these roles will be crucial to your overall success.
As a leader keeping this white belt mentality means you need to work on things that you can try with staff. Ask how they feel? Look at what happens when you do certain things? Analyse the good and bad decisions that you make and the impact it has on your business.
The next part of the theory is that black belts are only white belts that kept working and practicing.
Praising both individuals, the team and recognising all the good things while gently pointing out the issues has been key for our business.
“Leadership is unlocking people's potential to become better” -Bill Bradley
“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other”- John F. Kennedy
I enjoy being part of my local business group and Chamber of Commerce. I can’t speak highly enough of this as it brings you into contact with some really high level operators from whom you can learn. I have got to know some excellent MDs who work alongside business coaches and use this form of mentorship to improve. I also find it very interesting when owners of a business also bring say a non-exec chairman, to again give that impartial helicopter view. As a leader, the natural instinct is to be front and centre leading the charge but in reality standing back and looking at what is going on can also make a lot of sense.
Staying calm and controlled at all times is one skill which again improves with age I think, and delegation of tasks - trusting someone else to do the work is also something that you get better at as time passes. Delegation also becomes a necessity due purely to the massive workload many of us face.
New leaders bring new voices. New leaders bring fresh impetus and fresh ideas. Regardless of how good James Conn has been or how much Nicola Sturgeon was respected, leaders can and will always be replaced.
You only need to look to the Premiership to see how ruthless some businesses are in terms of those who lead them!
Being able to move from manager making the day to day work, while then pivoting back to leader mode and making sure your business is where you want it to be is not easy.
Your leadership style may work for a short or long period of time. It may be that you are really happy with it but in reality the people you are leading will change and the same thing will not work with everyone. They may also get bored of it so switching things up is important.
One theory I really like is called the White Belt Mentality. In martial arts a white belt is the entry level belt. If you are a white belt you are a novice, excited to learn as everything is new and you are willing to try anything. You are not afraid to make a mistake or get things wrong, you simply want to learn and improve.
Remember you are not only helping your team but yourself to keep focused on the much larger goals of the business. In Japan they describe something as Kaizen. This translates as incremental improvement and that is what you need to expect with leadership.
It takes time to improve as a leader. I have definitely lost good people and money over bad leadership decisions, but you shouldn’t be too hard on yourself. Equally as important as speaking is listening. This is where I really need to work on things as I get so excited and often interrupt, not because I am not interested but because I am so keen to get my points across!
As each test comes up in your business you will make the decisions you think are right and then you just need to keep practicing.
Leadership can be a lonely place and it is not for everyone, but I love it, probably like many of you, for all the frustrations, moans and self-questioning that comes with it.
“I am not afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep; I am afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion” -
Paper Trail Chasing the
Cardsharp thinks it was Winston Churchill (the master of great quotes!) who said: “Capitalism is the worst economic system, other than all the others.”
And it was capitalism and entrepreneurship that forged the greeting card industry. In the first half of the 20th Century it was Joyce Hall and Irving Stone, whose rags to riches stories saw them build from nothing the two behemoths of the US and later global greeting card publishing giants, Hallmark and American Greetings respectively.
And in the late 20th century it was those qualities, combined with huge creativity and an eye for an opportunity, that made the titans of our modern UK greeting card industry a world leader. Personalities such as Simon Elvin and Andrew Brownsword with their eponymous companies, Jeff Bottomley, founder of Kingsley Cards, Stephen Haines, founder of Carte Blanche and Dean Hoyle, cofounder of Card Factory possessed an entrepreneurial flair in abundance. Not only that, but they also displayed an important virtue, one that is seemingly rare in many businesses these days - integrity.
To Cardsharp’s mind, the Paperchase story shows how integrity can degenerate over a period of time to crony capitalism.
However it was not always thus. Paperchase’s roots go back to 1968, when two idealistic art students, Judith Cash and Eddie Pond brought to life their
shared dream of bringing high class quality stationery to the masses. The company went on to become part of WHSmith in 1985, before being acquired in a management buy-out in 1990s for £1million led by Timothy Melgund and Robert Warden. In the noughties, American book store owners, Borders acquired a considerable stake in the chain, which enabled Paperchase to expand its portfolio considerably in the UK
and in the US where it set up many concessions within Borders stores.
Cardsharp recalls this was the golden age of Paperchase. Under the inspiring leadership of its ceo and later chairman, Timothy Melgund and his business partner and product maestro Robert Warden the stores were alive with innovation in both gift stationery and greeting cards, always aiming to find and support new creative talent. The company’s management and buying team reflected Timothy’s characterpassionate and determined, but at the same time gentle and fair-minded.
Cardsharp recalls Paperchase had to overcome some huge obstacles but managed to survive and prosper. In 2010 it was unwittingly embroiled in a plagiarism case that led to unwelcome publicity. And worse still in 2009, its major shareholder Borders went bust, meaning that Paperchase not only lost its distribution in the US, but in the concessions it had in Borders’ UK stores. Timothy and his team managed to negotiate another management buy-out, this time with private equity company, Primary Capital Partners as the backers. This enabled Paperchase to expand to 130 retail outlets by 2013 and also grow in the Middle East and Europe. Profits were healthy for a few years, helped by its expansion of its own
The business failure of Paperchase for the third time in three years and now the imminent disappearance from the high street of its retail outlets leaves a nasty taste in Cardsharp’s mouth and even makes him question his belief in capitalism, at least in its 2020s’ guise.
brand products. While some of these own brand products lost some of their lustre over the years, in their hey day, they were the envy of many, with its notebooks becoming akin to fashion accessories.
Looking back though the warning signs were there when Primary seemed to be taking rather large ‘management fees’, even when the profits were not there. It meant that Paperchase was not in a good place when Covid hit in March 2020. So, in January 2021, the company filed for administration and was bought by a hugely rich and successful private equity group Primera Capital who had just made shed loads of cash with its investment in Dr. Martens footwear. But surprise, surprise, rather than using some of this cash to bail Paperchase out, most creditors received a pittance in the £pound and the new business was ring fenced by setting up a
new legal entity called Aspen Phoenix Newco. Many creditors were furious, even more so when all the Christmas stock they had supplied the previous year and had not been paid for, appeared in Paperchase stores around the country boosting the new owner’s profits.
Primary did not hang around for long. In August last year, after tidying up nicely no doubt, they sold it on to a private investment firm led by a certain Steve Curtis. Curtis beat off interest from Hilco, another of those corporate bottom feeders who fuel themselves off retail misfortunes. What Curtis’ motives were for buying Paperchase remains unclear, but it was certainly not for the long term. Having traded through the golden retail period for card retailers, ie the run up to Christmas, shockingly the retailer once again went into administration at the end of January this year. This time in a left-flank move Tesco swooped in and bought the brand and a few other assets, no doubt for a song.
As PG went to press, the administrators were squeezing out the last few sales from the public before closing the whole retail operation.
What a sad end for a business which for so many years was a shining example of the UK greeting card retailing at its best, aspirational, inspirational and the place for publishers’ cards to be seen.
It ends a rather gloomy state of affairs. Even if some of the Paperchase sites are clinched by some decent operators, as seems likely, they are not all going to live on as greeting card retail locations.
Cardsharp does not claim to offer any answers. All he is pretty sure of, is that Primera, Primary and Curtis certainly didn’t end up bankrupt by all these shenanigans! Many blameless creative suppliers are seriously hurting as many publishers and suppliers are out of pocket for a third time in just over two years due to Paperchase. Over 800 retail jobs have been lost and the debts to unsecured creditors, many of them small to medium sized creative businesses. The damage is appalling - £20 million from its first period in administration and no one yet knows how much from this final demise.
The whole sorry shoddy and shameful debacle of Paperchase in the last few years leaves the most revolting taste. So much for the so-called Free Market in the 2020s. Quite frankly to Cardsharp’s nose, the whole thing stinks!
Whatever happened to market street?
Cardsharp observed another recent example of the ‘Curse of Private Equity’ as it has been called, with the UK’s former top four supermarket chain, Morrisons. It used to be famed for its fresh food sourced in many cases from the farms it owned. Remember the adverts for Market Street? In many ways Morrisons was the epitome of a solid traditional Yorkshire family grocer, built over generations by the Morrison family and in particular the charismatic, Sir Ken Morrison, who worked for the company for 55 years. A kind of mass scale, ‘Open all Hours’.
In 2021 it was acquired by American private equity giant, Clayton Dubilier and Rice (CD&R) and the fairy story seems to have come to a shuddering halt. The private equity model loads a business with debt, fine when interest rates are virtually nil, but not so fine when the cost of borrowing shoots up, especially in the grocery trade where margins are wafer thin. The last year has seen Morrisons lose its place in the top four to Aldi and is in danger of dropping down to 6th position and being overtaken by Lidl.
So observed Cardsharp, it has resorted to pushing up its prices to make up the shortfall. A typical Morrisons’ shopping basket when compared to an identical one of goods in Tesco and Sainsbury’s is now more expensive than these two rivals. And then it has pulled another of those tricks out of the private equity playbook by screwing suppliers into the ground at the same time, something that the greeting card sector has not escaped. Recently Morrisons upped the retail price of the cards in its brokered displays by around 10% but refused to countenance an increase in the trade price from publishers. And to rub salt in the wounds the grocer apparently asked publishers to take back stock and re-price it at their own expense! No doubt next they will pull another private equity trick of selling some of its properties and then leasing them back. Whatever happened to good old fashioned entrepreneurship? Now it seems to Cardsharp that too much business activity is about sharp practice and financial restructuring, leading to long term loss of value. No wonder so many of the younger and indeed older generations are losing their faith in capitalism.
Christmas Card Crunch Time?
While, by most accounts Christmas single card sales held up well for the majority of retailers, Christmas boxes and packs sales were down with the timing of the Royal Mail strikes severely impacting on volumes sent, with 72% of the indie retailer respondents to PG’s Independent Retailer Barometer believing their customers sent fewer Christmas cards in 2022 compared to the year previous.
Just a blip or a worrying trend that requires full gusto to reverse? PG canvassed opinions…Kaye Thurgood
owner of Sincerely Yours in Shenfield and Hornchurch is championing the need for a whole programme of initiatives to promote and encourage Christmas card sending.
“We sold approximately 25% fewer Christmas boxes and packs in 2022. I have now spoken to all of my reps and agents, who without exception, reported the worst Christmas returns they’ve ever seen, some eye watering stats! They also agree that this is not a blip and that we need to tackle this head on as history has shown us that consumer confidence is key and once lost it is extremely difficult to regain.
On the upside there is a general trend towards buying higher price point cards for special occasions, not just Christmas. However, while this trend helped Christmas 2022 trade, it is not significant enough to mitigate the lost turnover on packs and boxes.”
How to kickstart Christmas card sending? “We cannot sit back and let Christmas card sending dwindle away. It will require action and engagement from retailers, publishers, charities, Royal Mail, GCA and some effective PR to ram home to consumers the full impact of not sending Christmas cards, including the effect on those charities who rely on the donations from the sales of packs and boxes.”Matt Genower managing director of Five Dollar Shake
“If you’re over the age of 40, I think the custom of card sending (here in the UK) at Christmas is in your DNA. Whether you buy a card to post, put it through someone’s letterbox or to present it personally by hand, it’s a national habit. Royal Mail’s strike action gave us a reason to break that habit. In our time precious lives, it gave us all reason to question the motivation of sending the card in the first place.
So, do I think Royal Mail has possibly irreplaceably damaged Christmas card sending here in the UK? Yes, I bloody do! Did I receive as many cards as I did in 2021? No. Maybe a third less. Did I send as many cards as I usually do? Absolutely I did. However, the reality is the cards missing from my mantelpiece just might not be ever replaced.”
What can we do to up Christmas card sending? “I couldn’t be more aggrieved by Royal Mail’s actions. Last Christmas as a UK consumer we had next to no confidence in the service.
I’m not sure there has ever been a stat in our industry so stark and worrying regarding one category as “72% of customers sent fewer Christmas cards”. This is the most pressing issue for anyone who cares about the industry and I am so glad Kaye Thurgood is championing the cause. Kaye is a brilliant retailer with a fabulous business background. She and I chewed the cud at Spring Fair and I am up for the fight. We at Five Dollar Shake visited local care homes during November
and reaffirmed our belief that card sending is not just a tradition but important. We sat down with residents and helped them to write handfuls of cards to their loved ones, friends who hadn’t heard from them in years and grandchildren who immediately felt compelled to send back.
Ever since my TV producer brother was instrumental in putting the Old People’s Home for 4 year olds programme together with Age UK for Channel 4 (https://www.ageuk.org.uk/get-involved/brighter/old-peopleshome-for-4-year-olds/) I realised what amazing good we as an industry can do for the elderly and the lonely.
Here’s my idea…we at Five Dollar Shake send a dozen of our Christmas cards to other publishers, whoever wants to get
Mark Janson-Smith managing director of Postmark:
“Worryingly, as a family we probably received over 50% fewer Christmas cards in 2022. I really hope it was a blip, but I can't hide the fact that some people will definitely see this as a reason to stop sending as many cards. Unfortunately I think we will see fewer Christmas cards sent in 2023, but hopefully more than in 2022!
There will be a trend towards more special cards, with a higher RRP for the fewer cards that people do actually send, but it is the number of cards sent that is the worry.
As a business, we will carefully monitor the trends this year as I don't think we can use 2022 as a guide. If we see a decline in the volume again or in line with 2022 then we will definitely look at how we buy for 2024 with different glasses on and I imagine we will offer a smaller range of packs and put a lot more focus on higher RRPs as well as further expanding our relations card offering.”
involved. They in turn then send a dozen cards to us and we then each visit care homes, all of which are crying out for activities to do with their residents, with a selection of Christmas card styles. The more publishers that get involved, the more care homes can be reached. Every publisher also connects with their local paper which will hopefully result in lots of free goodwill stories that also promote the benefits of Christmas card sending. It’s not like any of us will be missing massive sales from care home residents. Do I care that I’m sending free stock to other publishers? Not one bit! It will result in lots of collective feelgood for the industry that will go a long way with the consumer. It is the essence of why we send Christmas cards.”
Amanda Fergusson ceo of the GCA
“It is crucial that we as an industry do everything in our power this year to try and gain back those lost Christmas card sends of 2022, by reminding people of the power of connecting through tangible cards.
At a recent meeting with Royal Mail I reported the significant impact the November/December 2022 strikes had on the greeting card industry. We discussed Christmas cards sending, along with a shared ambition to promote the resurgence of card sending for Christmas 2023. Following on from this meeting, the Royal Mail consumer team has confirmed that they are keen to look at initiatives to promote Christmas card sending to customers and are taking this up with teams within the organisation, something that I will be following up on after the next GCA Council meeting which has promoting Christmas card sending at the top of the agenda.”
What can we do to up Christmas card sending? “I'd like to see industry initiatives to get people sending more Christmas cards, not just from a business point of view, but a sentimental one too. Sending and receiving cards is such an important part of the festive season. Without cards hanging everywhere and shelves overflowing with warm greetings, our house was definitely missing something this year.
We really need to get Royal Mail on board with the effort to get people sending higher volumes of Christmas cards (and more cards in general). I don't think it is the cost of the cards that is prohibitive, but the price of the stamps. If I was Royal Mail and bound by the USO then I would be looking at how to increase volume rather than increasing costs to the consumer as this has the opposite effect and decreases volume, yet they are still bound by the USO so the infrastructure must remain and therefore incur the inherent costs. Maybe that is what Royal Mail wants so they can justify changing the terms of the USO.”
Jarle Tatt managing director of Noel Tatt
“Having spent Christmas 2022 overseas, where Christmas Day felt like just another bank holiday, I was struck how important the season is to us in the UK. Very likely due to our short, winter cold days, we cheer ourselves up with a huge build up to Christmas.
I definitely received fewer cards to decorate the walls at home this year. Many arrived in January, due to the postal strikes and clearly, we hope this does not manifest itself in an unwelcome legacy of reduced card sending. On the upside, we received more captioned cards than before and this mirrors our business findings, where higher ticket caption cards, more often than not hand delivered, enjoyed an upsurge. On a positive note, taking sale or return credits into accounts, 2022 Christmas saw a 7% reduction in volume
Right:Above: Amanda Fergusson with some members of Royal Mail’s senior management.
but a slight increase in value, with Christmas boxes and multi-packs suffering at the expense of single cards.
We have experienced very unpredictable Christmas seasons over the last few years. 2020 and 2021 (the pandemic years) saw unexpected demand coupled with supply chain issues which resulted in ambitious ordering early in 2022, for fear of losing out on last minute sales. Despite the threat of a cost-of-living crisis, few considered a Royal Mail strike and consequently returns have been higher than hoped for.
So, what lies ahead for us in 2023? With waste and environmental issues also to the fore, we at Noel Tatt are encouraging a more measured approach to Christmas boxes and multi-packs, alongside a greater emphasis on single cards - and have increased our caption card offering by 33%. We expect to see less initial stocking coupled with a better sell through. Overall, the net end result is likely to be better than 2022, but probably not as good as the pandemic years.”
What can we do to up Christmas card sending?
l An early settlement in the Royal Mail dispute would help for starters.
l Target younger people, via social media, to develop their own card sending habits - extolling the virtues of tangible Christmas cards, which are displayed in homes and enjoyed for several weeks.
l We can remind everyone that Christmas is the season of goodwill, where we come together as friends and families and no one should be forgotten. A hand delivered card helps to relieve loneliness. A Christmas card can show just how much you care.
l We can remind those who tell us that they no longer send Christmas cards but give a donation to (an often unspecified) charity instead, that the charity they are supporting will gain from brand awareness growth with the sharing of cards. Yes, it takes more effort, but it is worth it!
I missed the celebration of Christmas throughout December last year - it is a joyous time and the way we celebrate it is to be treasured.”
Nigel Williamson co-owner of House of Cards
Nick Carey managing director of Abacus Cards
“My hunch is that around 15% fewer Christmas cards were sent than in 2022 compared to a normal year. I think it’s a blip. The stalwart senders were put off by not being able to send to their families and friends and knowing they would arrive in time. I think this will make then even more determined this year. 2022 was a perfect storm, Truss’ and Kwarteng’s budget scared the life out of the country with rising mortgage costs, this on top of the cost-ofliving crisis, soaring inflation, and then the rail and postal strikes reducing high street footfall and the impetus to send.
I think most retailers will be very much viewing it as a blip. They will plough on creatively and look for growth from this very important season.”
What can we do to up Christmas card sending? “Making consumers aware of the huge sum that is donated to charities as a result of Christmas card sales is a strong PR story that needs telling. I’m a little tired of seeing the Facebook posts by those saying that instead of sending cards they will be donating to charity. Perhaps if these people fully appreciated that buying Christmas cards and sending love and well wishes also delivered for charities we could win some of these card senders back.
We could also work on more Christmas card ‘product placement’ on the media channels so that Christmas card sending is front and centre on YouTube, TV, papers, magazines, etc.
And what about working closer with schools, colleges, unis, nursing homes, hospitals, etc. on initiatives to increase the desire to send Christmas cards?”
Top: One of Abacus’ Luxury Aperture Boxes for 2023.
Above: Nick Carey believes 2022 was a blip and Christmas card sending will rebound this year.
Left: Nigel Williamson urges more people in the industry to get involved with Festive Friday.
Below: House of Cards’ Festive Friday activity last year saw 800 Christmas cards posted on the day.
“As a household, we probably received 20% fewer cards in 2022 than the year previous, while in HoC our Christmas box sales were down 19% and charity packs showed a 5% dip. However, you have to remember that we saw massive highs of Christmas card sales in 2020 and 2021. To gain a clearer picture I looked back at our sales in 2017 and 2018 and was encouraged to discover that our sales of boxed cards and charity packs combined were 20% higher in 2022 than in the ‘normal years’.
The trend is definitely for customers to buy higher quality boxes and charity packs with fewer cards and I cannot see this changing.”
What can we do to up Christmas card sending? “I think the cost of postage is definitely hampering Christmas card sending. It would help so much if Royal Mail would follow something that I recall happened in Australia, whereby there was a reduced price Christmas stamp that consumers could only use at the very start of December.
We have always been big supporters of the GCA’s Festive Friday initiative - and cover the cost of the postage for all of our House of Cards team who have their Christmas cards written and ready to post by the day - which saw 800 Christmas cards being sent by our team alone in 2022. When you consider how many people are employed in our industry, both directly and indirectly, if everyone full embraced Festive Friday and helped to spread the word to others, that would be a good start to upping the number of Christmas cards received. Christmas card sending is a lovely tradition and there is life and merit in it continuing, we just need to keep reminding everyone of this.”
The filtration process
Food glorious food
From hamburgers and ketchup to mushrooms and pizza, food has definitely come to the fore as a recent trend.
“We’ve done quite a few foodie ones and the mushroom is my new favourite card, Luca Bridges, senior account manager at Caroline Gardner, told PG.
“We’ve been doing cakes for ever and then we’ve gone into different foods such as the hamburger and mustard too. It’s all a bit fun and a bit different - and we think mushrooms themselves are a bit of a trend.”
And Jemima Stileman, director of operations at Kali Stileman, added: “Every single shop seems to sell Jellycat and they have all the plush food items in their range so we thought, let’s go with that and do cards!”
As the wealth of new launches blast on to the market, as ever there are a number of recurring themes, with different designers each dishing up their own aesthetic translation. As Laura Darrington summed up: “Themes filter through wherever you are in the market, it’s the style that makes it trendy or more commercial.” Here, PG zooms in on four glorious trends - food, bright colours, cycling and sea life.Above: Caroline Gardner’s Luca Bridges and Liv Dent show off their foodie cards. Left: Recipes are an added bonus from Carte Blanche. Right: A veggie bouquet from Clare Maddicott. Below: Cinnamon Aitch’s delicious cheese and wine. Below: Glick’s bright fruit and veg keeps the food theme in wrap. Below: Holy Mackerel’s take on Mothering Sunday. Below: Hole In My Pocket gets fruity. Right: Jellycat’s plush Amuseables offer, now in bags too, has inspired card designs. Below: Pun fun at Meraki. Below: A cornucopia from Kali Stileman. Below: Modern Goods puts the fun into food. Left: Jonny Javelin’s delicious hamburger design is available in various captions. Right: A very tasty recipe at Middle Mouse. Below: Laura Darrington’s delicious barbecue and pizza. Below: Ohh Deer loves a pun.
Look on the bright side
While bright colours are the stock in trade of particular publishers - Paper Salad’s signature neons is a prime example - they really were popping on many stands at Spring Fair and Top Drawer.
The Art File’s sales and marketing manager James Mace explained the thinking being its new Soleil range: “We’re seeing a resurgence of brighter hues and more vibrant colour palettes at the moment, with a focus on joyful, positive design which has an all-round celebratory feel.
“According to trend-forecasters ‘buyers will seek out hues with which they can connect with positively’ - we predict sun-soaked yellows, vibrant hot pinks and intense greens and teal hues will be seen more and more in the upcoming seasons, with a focus on bold colour combinations not only in the design and gift industry but within fashion and interiors too - it really is an all-encompassing trend!
“Overall, there is an increasing preference for more uplifting colours after the past few years of the pandemic, with full prints and all-singing, all-dancing patterns that celebrate positivity, togetherness, and community.”
And Wendy Jones-Blackett ramped up the levels with her latest Acid Drop collection, adding: “It’s a really interesting use of translucent layers of flouro inks to create new colours on top of four colour. When I was doing it on my computer I had no idea what it would look like - I had to wait six weeks and then find out if it was successful so all of these are experimental colours.”
Under the sea
After llamas, unicorns, sloths and guinea pigs, it’s time for new animals to take the stage and crustaceans and sea creatures seem to be everywhere.
Stormy Knight’s founder Sarah Jackson told PG: “Trends are crustaceans! Shrimply The Best and my anniversary lobsters are selling really well - it’s from Friends ‘You’re my lobster’ and they’re some of my bestsellers so that was why I did the fancy lobster one.”
Over at Eco-friendly Card Co, co-owner Sue Morrish admits she’s more likely to drop a design from her art card ranges if she thinks it’s too trendy but added: “Our hermit crab is lovely. Not many people know what a hermit crab is but they think it’s beautiful.
“When we ever are on trend it’s completely accidental because we pay no attention to trends. We look at what the artists are doing and decide whether we like - I’m so stubborn I think ‘do I really want to do this if it’s on trend’!”
On yer bike
Cycling is one of those wheely great subjects that can be used for many occasions and seems to have pedalled itself to the yellow jersey position for 2023 with the sheer number of bike-related designs around.
“It’s all about bikes and cycling, even motorbikes, this year,” Dandelion Stationery’s Jo Wilson explained. “We see them a lot and it does so well that we’ve did a special little range about bikes, and there’s at least half a dozen cards in our Words of Wisdom range too and they all sell really well.
“Cycling is really popular, a friend’s husband has got 10 bikes and in their double garage he has a turntable which they all stand on so he can choose which one he wants - their three cars live outside!”
Above: Dandelion has its own 10-strong bikes mini range.
It was a really enjoyable experience attending PG Live. We found many new brands, and the food was great!
I am already looking forward to attending in 2023.
PG Live is one of the most important shows for us as we use it specifically to find new and upcoming publishers, and this year was the best ever! The show continues to be one of our favourites, not just because of the density of high quality suppliers but also because it’s such a pleasurable experience to attend.
Greg Rose, co-owner of Maybugs, Eastbourne, Hailsham and Bexhill-on-Sea
Tuesday 6 - Wednesday 7 June
PG Live was so fresh, it kicks off the summer buying season with a great start. There is nothing like seeing the product directly and I am a huge advocate of in person trade shows, they are so important to us. We came away from PG Live really happy after such a productive day!Samantha Gibbs, owner of Nest, Stoneygate, Broughton Astley and Thurlaston
A MIGHTY ROAR
“Losing your main competitor is, it turns out, quite a strange place to be, and the demise of Paperchase has left me in a reflective mood,” began Michael Apter, owner of the two Paper Tiger shops in Edinburgh in his latest enewsletter, hosted on LinkedIn, in which he adroitly highlights the retail chain’s business failings and likely fall out from its demise, as well as his belief that its closure will leave a “creativity gap” on our High Streets that is “up for grabs”.
PG grabbed the opportunity to travel to Scotland’s capital to meet the retailer who is definitely still earning his stripes.
Paper Tiger has been a well-loved fixture on Edinburgh’s retail scene for over 40 years, 25 of them under the steer of Michael Apter.
However, as Paperchase’s demise has shown, having a long historical legacy does not guarantee a retailer a place in the future. For that you need to ensure you understand your customer and continue to inspire them in the products you stock, the environment in which they are being sold and the team who makes it all happen.
Paper Tiger is living proof of this and more, as testified by its Retas award for Best Independent Greeting Card Retailer - Scotland in 2021 and the retail initiative award in The Greats gift retailing awards last year.
The stores’ inventive exuberant window displays give an inviting flavour of what’s
HITTING THE RIGHT BEAT
Prior to Paper Tiger, Michael spent 10 years working for HMV, latterly as manager of the superstore in Edinburgh’s Prince’s Street, which not only struck the right note with his passion for music, but also taught him a great deal about how to stand out as a retailer.
“I learned so much from my time with HMV, which at that time, during its glory years, rightfully saw themselves as ‘top dog on the high street’ with the rigorous quality retailing standards they set,” said Michael, who is delighted by the retail chain’s resurgence of late under the current management.
He also sees some parallels between music retailing and that of retailing greeting cards.
“They both have an immediacy and cultural literacy and they both rely on the quality of the material being released. In the case of HMV the excitement behind the blockbuster releases by the likes of Blur, Oasis, Nirvana, Guns n Roses etc was incredible, while in Paper Tiger now I love seeing the reactions from customers to the brand new ranges from say Roger la Borde or Jellycat as we put them out on display.”
inside, which is a heady mix of design-led cards, stationery and gifts, that is also reflected in its growing online offer.
The Stafford Street store, being three times larger than its sister shop in Lothian Street, and including a basement treasure trove of children’s products, delivers a positive vibe across all the product areas, with an eye-catching Jellycat installation setting the tone and the ‘Great Wall of Chocolate’ adding to the feast for the eyes.
The latter, which sees chocolate bars from a number of specialist products, being displayed like greeting cards was sparked by Michael’s personal penchant.
“I confess I am a chocoholic, but I am not alone! Our Great Wall of Chocolate enables us to showcase some of the wonderful small company producers, including a Landmarks of Edinburgh range that was produced specially for us by Yorkbased Choc Affair,” reveals Michael.
The greeting card selection, which spans some 1,000 designs from over 50 publishers features all manner of leading quality brands, but what sets the selection apart are the designs by local artists, several of whom were encouraged to expand into cards by Michael.
“There are so many talented artists and illustrators out there, it is lovely to work with them on bringing products to life,” says Michael. A case in point, and one of many examples, is Catherine Rayner, an award winning children’s book author that Michael helped to branch out into greeting cards.
Taking localism to the extreme, there is a range of letterpress cards that Michael created and printed at the nearby Robert Smail’s Printing Works, taking centre stage in the Valentine’s window display was a lobster card design by Emily Mills, part of the Paper Tiger store team and several by Neon Magpie, whose creative driving force Megan Hicklin is buyer for the shops.
DOING IT ON PURPOSE
To Michael “being a good business” should centre around a sense of purpose, something which is very much the ethos of Paper Tiger, which is evident in the way it treats its staff, in its commitment to sustainability, support of charities and worthwhile causes and the suppliers with whom it works.
“As a business owner it is in my power to do the right thing, for our team, the planet and our customers,” states Michael.
As part of this, Paper Tiger was one of the first businesses in Scotland to sign up to the Living Wage Foundation and make the pledge.
“Offering the Living Wage UK rate to our team does a number things for Paper Tiger. It values the work that our people do, it attracts high calibre individuals to join and stay with our team, and it means our customers and our suppliers know that they are working with and supporting a business that wants to do the right the thing. We work hard to deliver a great shopping experience with high levels of service, and the Real
As for the customer base it serves, Michael says this is still in flux post pandemic. “Edinburgh as a city is growing, it is a lovely place to live and work. However, our Monday-Friday trade has changed with the sporadic return to working in offices, though that is improving week on week. And the tourist trade to Edinburgh is back and growing and thankfully they seem to find us!”
Just as Paper Tiger is flexing with the public’s working patterns so too is it adjusting to card sending habits.
“People still love cards, but we as an industry will have to work harder to ensure
Living Wage is the starting point for us to ensure that the efforts of our team are rewarded," explains Michael.
Likewise, sustainability has been a top priority for Michael and the team for several years, both in its approach to the running of its retail and online business, decisions about which suppliers to stock and initiatives it supports, down to using Planet, the carbon-neutral shipping option from Shopify
the card buying habit stays strong. It used to be that everyone sent cards after Christmas to say thank you for the gifts, now that is largely done by sending a text with a photo of the happy recipient with the said item,” says Michael. He feels retailers need to continue telling the greeting card narrative in different ways. As part of this Paper Tiger is changing the way it displays some of our greeting cards, bringing them into a more multiproduct arrangements.
“For publishers, makers, printers and retailers, I do think that this is an opportune time to take a deep breath and look at how greeting cards remain (in every sense) a sustainable business in the coming years. I firmly believe that the opportunity for growth is there for publishers, illustrators and makers who can produce commercially successful designs, right here in the UK,” believes Michael. And when a tiger speaks, you should listen!
for its online deliveries, making a carbon removal payment on behalf of customers for every order shipped from Paper Tiger.
As Michael states on the company’s website in the dedicated sustainability section: “We recognise that our retail business has direct and indirect environmental impacts and we commit to managing these effects responsibly…we have really got our claws into this!”
He feels there is ground still to be gained in the greeting card industry on the sustainability front.
“There needs to be more industry clarity on what is best practice to which everyone should adhere. There are card clasps that don’t work and consumer and trade confusion on what is bio-degradable for example. It calls for a round table discussion,” prompts Michael.
Left: As 2021 was Year of the Tiger, and Michael’s 25th anniversary with Paper Tiger, there was a whole programme of charity initiatives, including raising £10,000 for the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation, which involved Michael doing his first 10km run.
Inking in penguins
Penguin Ink’s recently forged relationship with Alpha Colour Printers, which has taken the letterpressbased publisher’s portfolio onto another level, is a real life example of why some things really do happen for a reason, and why you should never discard those business cards you randomly accumulate at trade shows.
PG does a happy penguin waddle to talk to the cheerfully monikered designer penguin Lizzie Parker, founder of the greeting card and gift company, to go behind the scenes of the recent production tie-up.
Lizzie Parker’s faith in serendipity serves her well - from the company’s name through to working with Alpha Colour Printers as its new production partner.
While working as a graphic designer for multinational design company Ove Arup & Partners, Lizzie’s now husband Jay proposed to her at Bristol Zoo. This prompted the couple to plump for this as the venue for their wedding, and when Lizzie set about creating the invitations, she was determined to use the age old printing technique of letterpress, and the penguins in the zoo were set to playing a starring role in the design, for two reasons.
“I do love penguins, but it also kept the cost down as it meant it was only a one colour print” confessed Lizzie.
Little did she know then that this charming invitation design was to pave the way for what would become a revered letterpress greeting card
company, which continues to push the boundaries in its approach to design, production as well as its commitment to sustainability.
“It was when I was on maternity leave, with our daughter Florence, that I felt I just had to continue designing something, so I
created a Christmas card and a thank you card and really enjoyed it. I had a “I could do this” moment and so designed some more,” recalled Lizzie. “When I had come up with 10 designs, I approached Colette Foster, owner of Sky, a great card gallery and framing shop near us in Bristol and asked her opinion. She was so helpful, told me my cost price was too high and that she preferred the designs without words, but to stick with letterpress as it was different to what was out there. That was all the encouragement I needed.”
So, in 2015, putting her graphic design skills to work, Lizzie came up with the Penguin Ink logo and created the first collection of 12 large and four small cards. The latter made use of the printing plates Lizzie already had from her wedding stationery.
“As well as selling on Etsy, I then set off visiting shops and showing them my cards. I could not have been more delighted by the reaction, as of those first 19 walk-in visits, I got 18 stockists, many of whom still order our cards today,” explains Lizzie.
The big step up, believes Lizzie was booking a stand at Top Drawer in Spring 2017. “I didn’t know quite what to expect, when Jay [Lizzie’s land surveyor husband], Rachel, one of my best mates and I rocked up with our 11-week old baby Oliver to set up the stand. I remember Rachel asking me what my KPI was, I just said “I
want people to say some nice things about my cards”. They did more than that as we came away with a stack of orders and I was truly hooked!”
The ensuing years have seen Penguin Ink flourish, both in its product portfoliowhich now spans various greeting card ranges as well as coasters, mugs and textiles - and its growing list of retail stockists.
“At the core of what we do is the letterpress printing technique, which is somewhat specialised. I could not be more
minutes away from us, has made it all the more enjoyable,” affirms Lizzie.
Having started his working career using Heidelbergs, Amy’s father Jeff came out of retirement for initial meeting with Lizzie but since then it has all been driven by Amy and colleague Luke Ostle.
“It really has been a fabulous open working friendship, a true collaboration. While Alpha litho prints cards for several publishers, as Penguin Ink was their first letterpress publisher, we worked on pricing structure together so that it works for us both,” says Lizzie, revealing that there have been a lot of experimentation as the new working relationship has progressed.
“The inks for letterpress are very expensive, but you never really know what
effect you are going to get until you see the final product printed, this is one of its charms,” believes Lizzie. “I cannot praise the patience and willingness of the Alpha team enough. When you find a supplier that really is an extension of your team, it makes you a very happy penguin indeed!” she adds.
happy with the support and open working relationship we have forged with Alpha Colour Printers,” reveals Lizzie.
With changes afoot at Penguin Ink’s previous printer, Lizzie was considering her options.
“I actually had met Maggie Williams and Amy Muldrew [the mother and daughter team at Alpha] five years ago at the second ever trade show we did and had kept the letterpress business card they gave me. I was delighted to hear that they were looking to invest in an original windmill Heidelberg Press, the maestro of letterpress printing. The fact that they are a family business too and only located 32
Lizzie shares some of the highlights of the Penguin Ink journey so far…
l “Meeting and working with Mr Letterpress, Patrick Roe of Logan Print in the early days of Penguin Ink.”
l “Attending Day Two of The Ladder Club in 2017, when I got to learn so much about the industry.”
l “Exhibiting at PG Live 2018 in the Springboard section.”
l “Getting an order from Liberty in 2018, which I took as a positive endorsement from such a prestigious luxury retailer.”
l “Doing a GCA Dragon’s Den event and being picked by John Lewis, which was amazing.”
l “Growing our team of Penguins - Liza, Lee and Sophie who work in our studio, that we built at the bottom of our garden.”
l “Meeting the Alpha team and forging such a collaborative relationship to bring Penguin Ink products to life.”
A selection of products being launched to pep up retailers’ displays.
To The Letter
Old English Company has just launched over 300 brand new card designs covering all manner of sends and occasions. As well as featuring the publisher’s signature hand-lettering and playful illustrations many are also enhanced by foil. The cards are all 15cm square, are printed on 300gsm FSC-certified board.
Old English Company
01780 763 368
A Star(la) Is Born
Starla is a fabulous new female range from Noel Tatt, designed by artist Franny Lee. Each design incorporates popular female celebratory icons and are finished with colourful dotty foils and embossing. The range comprises 12 open birthday designs in a 5”x7” format and come supplied with a patterned envelope, with the option of being wrapped or unwrapped.
Noel Tatt 01227 811600
The new Good Vibes collection from Jessica Hogarth features 24 colourful designs covering birthday and encouragement captions. With a colour palette inspired by all things retro, the 120mm by 170mm cards have a gold foil finish and come cello wrapped as standard but can be naked. They are blank inside and come with a metallic gold envelope.
All Stars is a brand-new children’s age range from Abacus. Spanning ages six to 13 these striking designs, for both boys and girls, combine large, foiled numbers with bright colourful party sparklers and age-appropriate cake topper details. All 5” x 7”, the designs feature a front birthday caption as well as a simple message inside, each accompanied by a quality white cartridge envelope.
Dapper Dad is Deckled Edge’s card collection to mark Father’s Day. The new animal-based designs are based on hand drawn colour pencil art by the publisher’s owner Janna Cossettini. The cards, 127mm x177mm in size, are printed on tactile FSC 300gsm board and come with an eco kraft envelope.
Deckled Edge 0800 771 0771
Birthday Bash is a new range of straight talking cards from Coulson Macleod which humorously highlights elements of the ageing process. As the publisher sees it: “Grey hair, wrinkles, incontinence, droopy bits…age comes for us all, so you might as well laugh about it.” The 15.5cm x 10.9cm cards all feature a stylish striped design, printed on heavyweight art board, accompanied with a cream envelope. Coulson Macleod 01536 419944 www.coulsonmacleod-trade.com
A selection of products being launched to pep up retailers’ displays.
Following on from Paper Salad’s popular Are We Nearly There Yet? range, come a new bright and colourful tri-fold die-cut incarnation called Is It Time to Celebrate? Comprising 18 designs, the range includes eight birthday and 10 occasions cards, each of which comes with a bespoke envelope.
Paper Salad 0161 427 0001
Lesser & Pavey’s London Sketch range of homewares features famous landmarks of London, based on sketches by the company’s in-house art department transformed into a collage of icons. The collection spans mugs, coasters, trays and a brand new travel cup.
Lesser & Pavey 01322 279225
Frean and Easy
Jenny Frean’s new Inky range for ArtPress, is a wonderful colourful collection of flowers, buzzing bees and ladybirds. Cutting through the grey and gloom of the winter months, Jenny’s watercolour designs have a bright luminosity and transparency of colour. The everyday blank card designs (150mm x 150mm) come with an accompanying fleck recycled envelope.
020 7231 2923
Little and Large
Talented illustrator Monika Forsberg has two new ranges with Roger la Borde. In Birdsong, bright-eyed bluebirds among a flowering thicket while Honey! (pictured) is a cheerful new card and stationery range which buzzes with stylised bumblebees, ladybirds and buttercups. The bright and light palette absolutely hums with life and joy. Roger la Borde 0207 328 0491
Next To Godliness
Lifestyle and fashion accessories company, A Gift From The Gods has expanded into greeting cards. The launch comprises three distinct ranges –Typography (24 designs), 3D Colour Pop (24 designs) and Slogan (12 designs). All cards are blank inside and are printed on FSC board. All individual cards and envelopes are packaged with a branded, peelable card clasp, positioned centrally for shelf display or top right for card spinner display.
A Gift From The Gods 020 7987 1577
Lofty & Squat is IC&G’s latest male relations collection, with the diversely statured cheerful characters featuring across this new range of humour cards. The bright and cheerful designs have been created to provide a warm smile on those special family birthdays.
International Cards & Gifts
A selection of products being launched to pep up retailers’ displays.
Citrus Bunn has welcomed 25 brand new designs into its punderfully fun greeting card range. All the cards, centre around the publisher owner, Clemency Bunn’s watercolour animal-based artwork coupled with her wonderful talent for puns. Clem will not stop until she has artistically covered all the animals
Sir David Attenborough knows!
Red Breasted Star
In a new licensing signing for Museums & Galleries, Robin Robin, Aardman’s first stop-motion musical has flown into the publisher’s Christmas selection. First broadcast on Netflix, created and directed by Dan Ojari and Mikey Please, the film centres around the story of sweet natured and curious Robin who is adopted by a family of burglar mice. M&G has translated designs from this new Christmas classic on to cards, boxes and wrap. Museums & Galleries
01373 462165 www.museumsgalleries.co.uk
Fancy a Boujee?
Clare Maddicott, new Boujee range features a host of new female birthday designs by talented illustrator Sarah Long. Combining vibrant, colourful contemporary imagery (including birthday cocktails, fizz, gardening, pretty floral blooms and roller skates), these celebratory 5” x 7” cards are finished with lavish gold foil and embossed details. The cards are accompanied by metallic gold envelopes.
Once Upon A Time
You most definitely cannot judge a book by the cover where The Art File is concerned, as the publisher has created such a diverse portfolio of new ranges. Of these, the Storybook range taps into our love and appreciation of hardback books. The seemingly 3D cards’ fantastical illustrations by in-house artist Lucie Whitehead with nostalgic typography come to life on luxury textured board enhanced by embossing, diecutting and gold foiling.
The Art File 0115 8507490
Blue Sky Thinking
Blue Skies (pictured) is a sweet set of 12 occasion cards from Rachel Ellen Designs. All the 170mm x 120mm cards feature an embossed finish, a sparkling hand-applied jewel and pretty bespoke envelopes. Also new is Aurora, which comprises 34 designs covering birthdays, milestone ages, female relations, and a mix of occasion cards. They are bursting with neon pink inks, gold foils and embossing, and they come with bespoke envelopes.
Rachel Ellen Designs
0115 970 0321
A Taste of the East
Finished with a gorgeous combination of gold foil and embossed leaves, Florentyna is one of a clutch of new greeting card ranges from Paperlink. The cards, all 155mm square have echoes of contemporary Japanese styling, featuring flora, fauna on exquisite backgrounds.
020 7582 8244
A Funny Story
Back in 1988 when Simon Nevin joined the then leading independent card company Camden Graphics, humorous greeting cards were still very much in their infancy in the UK compared to the multi-faceted selection of today - and Simon himself was something of a young’un too for that matter.
“I joined Camden Graphics as a rookie picture researcher and copywriter, never thinking it would be the start of my fascination with the evolution of humorous greeting card that has lasted 35 years and counting,” Simon admitted.
While Simon’s 10 years working at Camden Graphics certainly ignited his passion and talent for designing greeting cards, the last 20 years has seen him further hone his skills, through the projects undertaken by his Felt Studios brand and
product consultancy on behalf of other companies as well as his own cartoon work and card designs that have performed well for the likes of Moonpig and Private Eye.
Sharing his “secret sources” of where he gains a wealth of insights into what the public find funny, Simon reveals: “It is just listening to people. I am now a part time teacher at a primary school and hearing what comes out of the mouths of the children is hilarious, natural wit. Likewise, over hearing people’s conversations in the local pub is living proof that humour really is the connector of society, and a greeting card is a great way of making that tangible,” believes Simon.
As a regular contributor to Private Eye, Simon recalls going to a Christmas gathering organised by the revered satirical current affairs magazine that was attended by fellow top cartoonists and comic writers.
Well, you will have to wait a few months for the punchline as Simon Nevin is currently mid scribe. PG prized some author’s notes out of this industry stalwart ahead of the completed tome.Left: The working title of Martin’s book. Above and below: Some draft workings for the book. Bottom: Martin Nevin at a Monday evening football coaching session.
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“In the welcome speech, I clearly recall editor Ian Hislop thanking us for our contributions, but saying: “You all think you are funny, but you are not as funny as ordinary people,” and he was so right.”
As Simon knows only too well: “The trick with greeting cards is finding the mechanism and tone that translates that ‘ordinary people’ humour into a product that is still considered relevant, funny and attractive by enough consumers to make it commercially viable.”
Simon’s decision to embark on writing a book about the elusive art of designing humorous greeting cards was prompted by a request for help by someone in the town where he lives as to how best to bring comedy into his marketing campaign.
“As I tried to explain what I see as the rudiments to a joke or funny message to work, I realised just how complex getting it right is,” said Simon. “Certainly there are some tried and tested mechanisms, popular subject matters and design treatments, but getting them all in alignment, especially for a product that people are prepared to buy is complicated,” adds Simon. “Being funny isn’t enough, on a card it is the message that counts. Card writers are message creators first and foremost, whether that’s a humour, fun or sentimental card. That message has to work doubly hard, it has to be right for the sender and the receiver,” he reinforces.
Echoing the catchphrase of the late comedian Frank Carson, on jokes on cards, “it’s the way you tell ‘em” as much
as the subject matter and actual words.
“When I started out, humorous cards were all about the build up to the punchline being inside the cards. Then, trailblazed by The Far Side, the joke was contained on the front of the card. Then there was a rush of ranges which juxtaposed historic imagery with contemporary editorial, of which Emotional Rescue’s On the Ceiling is the most enduring,” elaborates Simon.
While Simon accepts that the internet and social media, that were not on the scene when he was starting his career, have facilitated the
Personal funny bones
proliferation of humorous content with the immediacy of these channels allowing real time comedic comment, the production timeline inherent in publishing greeting cards for the general retail trade mean a lot of these topical titters do not have the lasting relevance that is necessary to make it into branded publishers’ ranges.
“The development of the print on demand platforms, led by Moonpig has been instrumental is expanding the humorous card market and also arguably engaging more consumers with the category,” says Simon.
Indeed, many of his own designs have been top sellers for Moonpig.
“Lockdown was a boom time for humorous cards, especially for print on demand. In an urge to remain connected with those we care about during that scary time, we found solace in the humorous aspects of the pandemic, who would have thought cards about the shortage of loo paper would score so highly on greeting card designs - I certainly am not going to have a shortage of ideas for the book!” says Simon.
So, with decades of witticisms on which to draw, what will be the title of book that Simon intends to finish by the end of the year? “Ha ha…at the moment it is ‘How to write a humorous greeting card’, but I do still have time to come up with something a bit funnier!”
Simon receives a weekly dose of what makes youngsters laugh, as for the last 10 years he has coached a children’s football team.
“There is nothing like a good team spirit to bring out the best in people, just hearing the words and phrases they use is invaluable. They might not make it onto greeting cards, but they make me laugh and also reminds me of my younger footballing days, though my brother has fared rather better than I have on that front!” says Simon.
When pressed Simon reveals that his brother Paul is a former professional football player and now the first football coach at West Ham United as well as being part of the coaching team for the England team.
“Paul is not so interested in my football coaching technique skills these days, though as there is an eight year age difference between us, I do joke with him that I taught him all he knows!” says Simon.
Wrapping & Rolling
What do wallpaper, posters and sustainability have in common in the greetings world? The link is giftwrappings and it’s the focus for this month’s feature where PG examines the trends in designs, the wrap and bags themselves, along with the extra bits that help deliver a beautiful present...or wall art!
The ingredients needed for a successful giftwrap offer are design, quality, sustainability and, now also the ability to turn it into a great picture or even wallpaper.
Sarah Kelleher took this to the max at Spring Fair where she papered her stand with the wrap derived from her gorgeously lifelike floral card designs - and showed off framed versions too - before posting on social media to ask whether she should sell the wallpaper.
The overwhelming opinion of the opulent deep-toned colourway was a definite yes, with Hayley Bastable, of Newport Pagnell’s HBB Cards, responding: “The wallpaper’s beautiful - and, yes, I want to sell it,” while Julie Cavender of Millie & Jules in Epsom said: “Yes, 100%. I was hoping you were - I’d buy it,” and Mark Bowen, who co-owns The Flower Fountain in Stoke-OnTrent with partner Rhiann Jones, admitted: “Yes sell it - even though I know it'll cost me an arm and a leg when Rhi wants the house and the shop wallpapered in all the designs!”
Belly Button Designs’ creative director and boss
lady Rachel Hare also admitted: “People frame our cards and I’ve seen our wrap used as wallpaper!” and the story continues for many other publishers where they find their work not just used for keeping the suspense going when handing over a gift.
Roz Nazerian is co-founder and creative director at Storigraphic and has seen “amazing” uses of their work: “We’ve seen framed papers, wrap used for flowers, drawer liners, decoupage, dioramas and, recently, a very clever person made a lampshade using our wrap.”
And UK Greetings’ product marketing assistant 3D Lauren Dunne described the company’s Vivid Safari range’s very contemporary feel, adding: “It’s cohesive with the modern aesthetic of many homes - for this reason we’re unsurprised to see the bags often get framed and displayed.”
At Kali Stileman, director of operations Jemima Stileman said: “Our wrapping papers make fab posters, especially the alphabet and road wrap for children’s bedrooms,” and Becky Dobson, md of wrap maestro Glick, added: “Our junior flat wraps have always been popular as posters and framed pictures for children’s rooms. Our Christmas flat wraps are also used by Robin Reed for its crackers.”
Earlybird Designs’ co-owner Dom Early explained: “Our customer Austin & Co in Malvern frames some of our Honey range that has wonderful fruit prints and sells them as art prints - which is a great idea,” while Jo Wilson, founder of Dandelion Stationery, added: “I know someone who has framed our dog gift wrap and hung it in their hallway!”
Having only started their wrap journey last summer when customers wanted products to go with Susannah Bleasby’s abstract card designs, cofounder Nicola Bleasby has already found some customers put it at the back of shelves to add an artistic touch, and added: “More than one person has asked if it’s available as sticky-backed plastic so they can use it to decorate - I’m still deciding how to respond to that request.”
And Giftwrap UK director Mark Allam knows its paper is used for Christmas crackers, front-of-shop displays and he’s even seen a car being wrapped, while the company has some designs set in poster frames in the office which “have always received a positive response from customers and visitors alike”.
Meanwhile, IG Design Group encourages the sustainability angle of finding a secondary use for products, with national account controller David Jackson explaining: “We have activities which are included on the side or reverse of gift bags - eg cookie cutters, paper chains or games - and, through social media platforms, we’re seeing consumers take the opportunity for reusing wrap such as to make their own bows, share some craft ideas and Christmas table settings inspiration.”
Certainly, the life of wrappings continues long after the present!
Back in the game
Cinnamon Aitch decided last year not to extend its gift bag offer but to revisit wrap after several years away. Co-founder Sara Burford explained this was influenced by its highlypatterned, colour-popping Bloom greeting card range which has already blossomed into little card packs, notebooks, soaps, candles and lip balms.
Sara added: “It made perfect sense to wrap the story up with some wrap! We knew it would beautifully translate and also give us the ability to proudly achieve all our manufacturing in the UK. The soaring production costs of gift bag manufacturing abroad and environmental impact also played a part. There is also a definite trend in moving back to flat wrap and we’ve been delighted with the response.
“We took into account the demand for our wrap to be as eco-friendly as possible so there are no special finishes prohibiting the recycling of the wrap but just gorgeous, vibrant designs, printed on beautiful quality FSC paper - in the UK!”
Anne’s in heaven!
Indie retailer Anne Barber is in hydrangea heaven at her Market Harborough shop, In Heaven at Home as she’s secured a couple of specially-printed rolls of wallpaper taken from Sarah Kelleher’s glorious wrap and card designs.
In Heaven at Home will be the first place to be papered with the design following Northants-based publisher Sarah’s own use of it on her Spring Fair stand, and her Facebook post joking about selling it as wallpaper.
Anne jumped on the suggestion, and told PG: “We’ve been talking about it for a while as we love her cards and wrapping paper and love supporting local designers, so Sarah has had the wallpaper specially printed for me.
Sarah explained the hydrangeas are ones she drew from her own garden to create the designs for the new range, and added: “I drew them as cards and wanted to do some wrap - I’ve sold a lot of the wrap to Chalk & Linen in Atherstone who use it for decoupage for the backs of display cabinets.
“I thought it would look great as wallpaper and wanted to use it on the stand so had it made, and did the Facebook post. Anne loved it so I ordered a couple of extra rolls for her which she’s paid for - it’s too expensive to produce for general sale as it’s bespoke. People cut out the wrap and frame it, or frame the cards like I did for the stand taking my art into interior design which is great.”
Brights, embossing, geometrics, 18th century porcelain designs and natural world depictions are just some of the design treatments which are holding their own in the giftwrapping world.
“The Pantone colour of the year is magenta, and we have plenty of products in this colour, plus there are citrus acid colours - and we have the perfect range in Paper Salad’s Yay! for this trend,” says Becky Dobson, md of Glick. “We also have animal print patterns in bright pink tones such as Leopard from Paper Salad, and we’re seeing geometric patterns and colour blocking, along with a Japanese influence in patterns.”
Geometric and repeating designs is something Globe Enterprise has also noticed, with customers now being drawn to
more of its contemporary prints, and founder Dipika Shah says she will be launching more in different colourways this year.
Licensing tie-ups play a big part at Deva Designs where it has worked with key London fashion house Designers’ Guild for many years including the new Porcelaine De Chine decorative prints double-sided wrap inspired by the detailing of fine 18th century porcelain.
MD Andrew Maddock added: “I particularly love how they bravely contrast designs that you wouldn’t naturally put together, that work so well, and we’ve mirrored that on both the flat wraps and gift bags.
“Deva also works with Stop The Clock card company. The conversation with Kathy and Erin there was ‘what’s the design everyone’s talking about? Well, Andrew, it has to be the guinea pigs!’ OK guinea pigs it is. And wow - they are so right. They’re super cute and pop off the shelf, a real talking point.”
At Giftwrap UK brights are also seen as the upcoming trend with director Mark Allan explaining the pastel colours of the past few years are being replaced with new combinations incorporating fresh and fun colour palettes, and he said: “There’s an obvious move away from the glitter and heavy gold foiling as these no longer meet the needs of the eco-friendly retailer.”
At Museums & Galleries flitter is completely out, though licensing manager Eddie Clarke commented that “foiled wraps are still very much to be desired”, although the publisher keeps the level down to under 15% coverage so the paper can still be recycled. And Asian design is very popular, with Catherine Rowe’s foiled bees design doing extremely well.
Foiling, embossed finishes, die-cut tags and luxurious linen paper are trends from Penny Kennedy, where marketing manager Patsy Gould said: “We know retailers are constantly looking for something new to offer their customers and our philosophy is that a brilliant gift deserves beautiful packaging.”
The continuing journey
Sustainability, as in all facets of the industry, continues to be a significant focus in the giftwrapping sector with companies minimising the use of plastic, adopting woven paper handles and developing new packaging concepts to reduce carbon footprint.
Glick’s md Becky Dobson is pleased all the shrinkwrap for the company’s rollwrap is now made from postconsumer waste so no virgin plastic is used in that or the multipack tags packaging, while all paper is FSC and fully recyclable, and the company is moving from glitter to textured foiling while also offering paper raffia, recycled cotton twine and paper bows.
She added: “Recyclability is always at the forefront when creating new collections. Almost all our gift bags are recyclable when the handles are removed or reused. Some have woven paper handles, which are not only extremely strong but fully recyclable too. Any bags that aren't recyclable we've had the base changed to say ‘please recycle me and re-gift me to someone special’.”
Belly Button’s founder Rachel Hare confirms that all the company’s wrap has sustainable roots as
it’s printed on FSC-certified paper, while the luxury flat wrap is 100% recyclable and plastic-free, and the brand new luxury eco flat wrap packs are printed using natural vegetable inks on uncoated paper.
While roll wrap is currently the bigger seller, the issue of potential damage if not cello-wrapped prompted the company to take this new direction, creating the range of eco flat wrap packs with four sheets and two swing tags.
Rachel commented: “The thought process was getting the balance between providing retailers with a sustainable packaging concept that would protect the flat wrap and offering the consumer a real added value product. On our new gift bags we’ve also introduced completely recyclable knitted
paper cord handles so, not only can they be reused or repurposed, but the whole bag can now go straight in the recycling bin.”
As an early adopter of plastic-free packaging on its Eco Nature roll wrap, IG Design Group has grown this to cover single rolls and composite/multipack solutions, along with a reduction in foil substrates and an increase in recycled materials to promote the circular economy. The entire Eco Nature range is made in the UK, plastic-free, using recycled materials with fully recyclable product and packaging.
Museums & Galleries has produced heritagebased and inspired gift wraps for almost 40 years, and now has everyday sheet wraps both single and double sided as well as foiled, along with roll wraps, gift bags sets, gift tissue and Christmas ranges, with everyday roll wraps a significant growth area.
And licensing manager Eddie Clarke said: “M&G has a proactive approach to sustainability issues. All plastics are being phased out across the company’s supply chains, so we’re phasing in recyclable card packaging for the gift tissue formats and roll wraps.”
Storigraphic launched as a sustainable brand offering ecofriendly wrap and stationery back in 2020 and has always been plastic-free, with founder Roz Nazerian convinced the outlook “is looking positive”, while Hallmark’s trade marketing manager Eve Benson explained: “All of Hallmark’s roll wrap and gift bags are UK produced. Our new range of roll wrap launched in February 2023 is cello free, made using water-based inks and fully recyclable. The gift bags are also fully recyclable and reusable with knitted handles, uncoated card with no lamination, and board hanging hooks.”
At UKG, product and marketing assistant Lauren Dunne added: “We’re very aware consumers are seeking sustainable options. We have multiple ranges of gift bags, roll wrap and flat wrap available that satisfy this requirement, featuring innovative paper-woven or die-cut handles and plastic-free finishes that make them fully recyclable. Additionally, we’ve made clever use of finishes, enabling us to remove plastic and flitter without detriment to the design.”
Globe Enterprise takes sustainability up a level as its rich and vibrant papers are produced using the leftover cotton that’s a by-product of India’s huge garment industry.
Founder Dipika Shah said: "The importance of sustainability only continues to grow, and many new customers are approaching us thanks to our long-standing efforts to use sustainably-produced papers.”
Carte Blanche offers a Me To You gift dressings range with Tatty Teddy illustrations, where the four sizes of gift bags and new bottle bag are recyclable once the ribbon handles are removed. And at Hotchpotch, head of design Anna Price explained they generally add gift wrap to an existing card range of hand-painted artwork that sells well, adding: “All the flat wrap sheets are printed in the UK and fully recyclable.”
UK production is the reason Dandelion Stationery only offers flat wrap, as founder Jo Wilson explained: “We’ve struggled to have gift bags made in the UK at feasible prices, and we’re really keen to keep all of our production here. We purposefully don’t have any finishes on any wrap to ensure they’re all 100% recyclable”
Penny Kennedy moved all its giftwrap manufacturing from China to the UK two years ago, and marketing manager Patsy Gould said: “We have removed plastic from our tag pack and tissue packaging, and all of our roll wrap is made using FSC paper and is fully recyclable,” while it offers tissue paper alongside colourful raffia ribbon, both of which are widely recycled.
Reduce, reuse, recycle is the mantra at Deva Designs, with flat wraps printed in the UK, recyclable plastic poly bags, and no foils or glitter, and md Andrew Maddock said printed tissue sales “have gone mad, we’re selling more than ever” and he’s not surprised gift bags are still popular as “wrap the gift in tissue, pop it in a gift bag, and it’s done”.
He said: “We offer quite a range of eco-friendly accessories and we’re developing more, from 100% recyclable bows made from paper, to new curling ribbon made from 100% recycled material.”
For Earlybird the trends are definitely eco-driven, and all its wrap is printed in the UK on matte paper that’s 100% fully recyclable. Dom Early said: “The industry is quickly changing by putting the eco credentials of printing at the forefront of customers’ minds.”
At Giftwrap UK director Mark Allam said: “We’ve worked hard to offer new and genuine green products. Our Mindful ranges are produced with recycled, fully-sustainable, biodegradable materials and we’re now producing wrap on both grass paper and sugar beet papers. Each of these new substrates have CO2 and energy efficiency benefits that reduce their carbon footprint within production.”
It offers the full range of ancillary products with ribbons and bows where Mark said they have been promoting the sustainable and biodegradable Go Green ranges “which are the main trend moves over the last two years”.
Millicent Venton believes that the carving of her creative career path can be traced right back to her toddler years, with the ensuing period, despite some twists and turns of fate, seeing this talented designer go on to work with a number of well known names. Now, gaining an ever firmer footing as a freelance illustrator (represented by Advocate Art), who knows where her next project will take her.
“Like most creatives my passion for drawing came at a very young age - the moment I was able to grasp a pencil in my small chubby hands, there was no looking back for me.
Growing up in rural northern Wiltshire I’ve been extremely fortunate to have a mixture of cities, fields and beach not too far away from me. As well as my home surroundings I often take great inspiration from children’s fashion and cultural trends.
All of my work is produced digitally using textured brushes in Procreate drawn with my Apple ‘pencil’, which I then finish and tweak in Photoshop.
After completing my BA in Illustration at Plymouth University in 2018, I was lucky enough to be accepted straight into a junior designer role at Gemma International, a company which specialised in licensed greeting cards, partyware and wrapping paper.
I will always hold such fond memories of working at Gemma and all the amazing people I came to know. My senior designers and project managers really showed me how amazing the card industry truly is and helped teach me valuable skills that will live with me forever.
Sadly the business closed its doors for good three years ago. Now if you’ve quickly done some speedy mental maths… Then yes I was made redundant just under a year of being with the company! Being a ‘redundant graduate’ wasn’t exactly the title I was after, but it did give me the motivational push I needed to continue with my creative journey.
Not long after I was hired as an artworker for Ling Design, at the time I found it extremely difficult to find in-house creative work so I thought I’d take some time out and become an artworker for a little while, as at least I could work full time and learn more valuable technical skills at the same time. But despite this, the creative path was calling to me louder than ever.
I’ve recently learnt that life is really great at throwing curve balls, especially when you least expect it. In August 2020, the pandemic was in full flow and I’d just been made redundant again. Like for all of us, lockdown gave me a lot of time to think and reevaluate my life. While looking for work I started to notice employers seemed more in favour of freelancers rather than hiring full time employees. When I first left university I never really entertained the idea of becoming a freelance illustrator, I assumed working from home wouldn’t be a very good fit for me and that I would struggle to find work every month. But I was lucky enough to be in a position of not having much to lose and only the opportunity to gain (and to potentially not have everyone just ignoring my emails!). Then, slowly and surely things started coming together and work became more and more frequent.
Fast forward to today, I still work from home, which I absolutely adore! I work with some amazing brands, such as Moonpig and Papercrafter Magazine. I have also still kept my original licensing roots by working with Danilo, and I recently joined my wonderful agency Advocate Art who have already given me some amazing creative opportunities I could only ever dream of such as working on children’s books and collaborating with some amazing greeting card publishers. I always get so excited about receiving new opportunities and projects, so I’m always ready for the next job!”
If you are an artist, photographer or verse writer and would like to be considered to appear in Art Source, please contact PG’s Jakki Brown on firstname.lastname@example.org. This is an editorial feature and as such is free of charge.Above left: Millicent Venton is embracing all manner of creative projects. Above: Some of the paper designs Millicent created for Papercrafters magazine inspired by Kew Gardens. Left: Toned down palettes work well too for Millicent. Far left: A quirky colourful design by Millicent. Below: Youthful exuberance, Millicent Venton style!
PG ASKED A SELECTION OF RETAILERS FOR THEIR BEST SELLERS
Karen Ebers, owner of Something Special, Edenbridge. A long established popular card and gift shop in Kent town.
Category Name of Publisher
Relations & Occasions
Cherry Orchard Publishing
Nigel Quiney Publications
Second Nature Second Nature
East of India
Made with Love; High Five
Across the board
Across the board
Face Ache; On The Ceiling; Virtual Safari; Morphed; Norbert & Val
Down Memory Lane
Country Life; National Trust; Loose Leashes; Cattitude; Framed; RSPB
Yours Truly Generally Generally Ceramic Hearts
“A very easy send.”
“Suitable for the younger market.”
“A comprehensive offering.”
“Traditional cards at an affordable price.”
“All perennial favourites.”
“Without doubt our strongest age range.”
“Quirky and fun.”
“With so many ranges there is something for everyone.”
“A popular choice for special occasions.”
“This value offering is great for everyday purchases.”
“Simply the best!”
“I'd be surprised if a day goes by without us selling something from these two companies.”
Amanda Oscroft, co-owner of Love It, Bury St Edmunds and Stamford. Two popular and gift shops in attractive Suffolk and Lincolnshire towns.
Category Name of Publisher
Everyday Relations & Occasions
Rosie Made a Thing
Emotional Rescue/ Paper Salad
Product/Name Range Comments
Riff Raff; Animal Antics; Ickle Gems
Cloud Nine Champagne
Across the board
Across the board
“Strong across the board due to the price points and design refreshment.”
“The cards just get better and better.”
“It rules this category due to the beautiful hand-finished touches.”
“Customers buy them by the handfulthe laughter is audible as customers read the cards.”
“Paper Salad’s bold designs and Emo’s words makes for a winning combination.”
“Adult humour at its best for youngsters through to grannies – the gifts do well too.”
Keep in Touch
Alex Clark Art
Pigment Productions Tracks
Brainbox Paper Salad
Rosie Made a Thing
Across the board
Art in Pencil
Naughty By Nature
Ooh La La Generally Generally Generally
“Lovely animal designs with coordinating gifts.”
“Striking black and white illustrations.”
“Our older customers enjoy a cheeky chuckle with this range.”
“Customers buy them in bulk.”
“Just beautiful cards.”
“Brainbox’s rude ‘40 FFS’ design keeps selling out.”
“Huge hit - the dinosaur design is the best seller.”
“Amazing collections, the Paper Salad range is our best seller.”
Helen Fisher, owner of Snap, Bow. A popular card and gift shop in a trendy East London enclave.
Category Name of Publisher
Product/Name Range Comments
“There are lots of new birthday designs, both sensible and silly.”
“Colourful and positive cards, with a bit of cheekiness.”
“The new neon relations cards are great, while the fab bright thank you packs are a customer favourite.”
Everyday Relations & Occasions
Nigel Quiney Publications
The Eco-friendly Card
Nigel Quiney Publications
Widdop & Co
Talbot Fashions WPL
Across the board Across the board
Across the board Across the board Across the board Across the board
Down Memory Lane
What a Year Doodle
“The new die cut range is fun and sweet while the colourful number cards are great too.”
“Super weird and off centre, they entertain (and sometimes confuse) the customers!”
“Lots of variations from its age cards that are simple and bold.”
“Some super sweet cards have joined the portfolio recently.”
“Beautiful, calming colourful landscapes.”
“The fun positive messages really suit the shop.”
“Cheerful wrap for kids and adults alike. The new mermaid design is particularly fun.”
“Gorgeous scents, made in the UK and beautifully packaged.”
“A consistent best seller.”
Across the board Across the board
Baby and Wedding
Tide Jewellery Inside Out Mugs
“Good classic staple.”
“Customers love the £1.00 price point and stock up!”
“Both publishers offer a strong range of traditional and modern designs with good verses.”
“The various ranges from these three publishers certainly make customers giggle.”
“Great artwork with local scenes, so for us it’s a winner.”
“Customers love to send these two ranges as they make for great talking points.”
“The mixture of simple black and white with added bursts of colour makes these cards really stand outgreat for all ages.”
“People love Jacksons’ wholesale prices for bags and wrap, but for that special occasion a nice Glick bag does the trick!”
“Gifts to complement our card selection making for a one stop shop.”
“Brilliant! Beautiful and cost friendly.”
“Great under £10 gifts.”
To appear in the Product Directories contact Warren Lomax
T: 020 7700 6740 email: email@example.com or contact
T: 07957 212 062 email: firstname.lastname@example.org
from the Including firmfavourites and brand new designs
Brands include: Keepsakes,Words ofLove, Jelly Beans, Bella Rose, Champagne and many more
Tel: +44 (0)115 986 0115 email@example.com www.writefromtheheart.co.uk
Hallmark Cards PLC Dawson Lane, Bradford, BD4 6HN UK&NI: 0800 90 20 900 ROI: 012 480 104 customerqueriesUK@hallmark.com
THE GREATEST COLLECTION OF GREETING CARDS IN THE WORLD
high quality plastic greeting cards. Also an extensive range of quality greeting cards covering Everyday, Occasions, Christmas
BRANDS: Cherished Thoughts, Sweet Sentiments, Buddies Always, Symphony, Thinking of You, Style, Special Wishes, Special Times, Young Editions, Groove Sensations, Forever Blessed, Grey Skies, Classics.
EUROPE’S LEADING GREETINGS CARDS, PARTY PRODUCTS, GIFTS, CANDLES, TOYS, STATIONERY AND FLORIST SUNDRIES DISTRIBUTION CENTRE 75000 SQ FT
THE GREATEST COLLECTION OF GREETING CARDS IN THE WORLD
Polypropylene & biodegradable bag specialists
Over 40 years quality service to the trade Hotfoiling also available
E sales @badgerconverters.co.uk www.badgerconverters.co.uk
producing bags of high quality for over 30 years.