Greetings Today magazine, giving you the bigger picture

09 December, 2010

Putting the band back together

Takkoda have raised many a titter from its celeb-tastic animal-themed range of Famous Faces. I smile every time I see Che, Tommy Cooper and Mr T.

But this time they've pulled out a nailed-on genius likeness of Jake and Elwood from the Blues Brothers.

Jake's squashed up pug face is such a dead ringer for the late great John Belushi it isn't true! The Elwood cat character is close enough but its Jake that totally rules this design.

You can see more info on the new designs HERE

29 November, 2010

Big issue for retailers

It's tough being an independent gift and greetings retailer. Not only do you have Tesco and Card Factory to worry about, but there's the constant worry about whether your latest store has the right look and location too.

Fortunately, for Terry Harvey and his new store in Hungerford (see: the proof of the pudding was there to see. Nothing tells you've got everything spot on than a Big Issue seller camped outside your store. These guys can sniff out footfall at a thousand paces and know where the action's going to be.

Nice one Tel!

24 September, 2010

Fair trade greetings

I’m all for a bit of ethical trading. I like the warm, cosy glow of self-rightousness when I dunk my digestive into some fair trade coffee or bite into a piece of fruit from a farm collective.

For an industry that buys in so much product from the Far East, we haven’t seen much in the way of ethical product in greetings yet. That might be about to change with these fair trade designs from Thinking Gifts. The cards are hand-made by local craftspeople from Mauritius and Bangladesh and feature either real pressed flowers or handwoven fabric.

Not only are the cards a great product in heir own right but they are bang on trend for all things eco and ethical.

Editor's favourite

One of my favourite finds at Home and Gift, Harrogate was a great range of Christmas cards from German publisher, Artebene.

The use of die-cut wood veneers was a particularly warm, tactile element but when complemented by either emboss or flitter added up to a sensational piece of design. The Germans love their Christmas and these cards reminded me of December trips to the famous Berlin markets, sipping gluwein and listening to oompah bands.

You can get in touch with Artebene UK on 0208 655 8471

Send, send, send!

Something is happening to me.

I’m sending more cards than I ever did before. I guess the job’s getting to me and instead of simply counting off the necessary occasions that require a card to be sent – family birthday, anniversary, Mother’s Day etc - I’m actually making an effort to increase my personal send.
It helps that I’ve got a lot of product in the office to choose from but, hey, I still have to lick the envelope and buy the stamp!

I’ve even set my iPhone up with a Birthdays calendar that emails me an alert two days before each important date so I can get something in the post.

My wife has noticed the change too. She has an extended family in the north with an ever-growing host of cousins, nephews and nieces, which until recently we’d given up keeping track of.
“If you send a card to one of them, you’ll have to send cards to all of them,” the wife intoned, before adding a chilling: “Good luck with that.”

“This is supposed to be your job,” I retorted, knowing full well that I’m secretly enjoying the responsibility.

Well the new me is not so easily put off. At a recent family gathering I dutifully recorded everyone’s details and have started sending cards whenever that little alarm email arrives in my inbox.
It’s amazing the response we’ve got. The kids love getting their cards and the little messages inside and the parents are pleased as punch too.

My friends too are wondering why they’re suddenly getting birthday cards from me after years of casual indifference. My male mates particularly are a bit taken aback because it’s not something a bloke is supposed to do. 

But you know what, they are enjoying getting a card that’s been carefully chosen and carrying a suitable message – even if it is something from Dean Morris. The net effect is that suddenly there are more cards whizzing back and forth as birthdays and special events come and go.
Where will it all end?

Well, I’ve even started sending thank you notes following events we’ve been invited to or anniversary cards to close friends whose weddings we attended. As I’ve discovered there really is no end to the number of occasions you can find an excuse to send a card for.

In the US, there’s a trend for bosses to send work colleagues a personal note congratulating them on a job well done. Apparently an email or a chat by the water-cooler just doesn’t compare to a handwritten ‘Good Job!’ in an envelope left propped up on the keyboard. I’m not sure this would catch on here in the UK – we’re probably far too cool and reserved to bother with such things, but maybe when we see someone in a hit US TV show sending or receiving a note of praise, there’s a good chance we’ll all want one.

But back to me and my new found reputation as a sentimental so and so and whether or not I can stand the stick I’m getting from my male friends about all these cards I’m sending. Well, I reckon I’m big enough and ugly enough to stand a bit of ribbing and I’m certainly OK with the warm feeling of satisfaction I get when a carefully selected slice of sentiment hits the spot.

18 June, 2010

LIVE and kicking

The exhibition landscape changed dramatically last year when PG LIVE was launched. The show, at the Business Design Centre in London, was billed as the only dedicated greetings exhibition in the UK.

One year on, PG Live once again opened in its May timeslot with a few adjustments and new features and a desire to improve on last year’s debut attendance from retailers.

Conventional greetings wisdom suggests that hosting a show in May isn’t exactly ideal. Buyers like to make the bulk of their choices at the beginning of the year, make some additions in the summer and top-up in the autumn in time for Christmas. That’s why Spring Fair, Harrogate Home & Gift and Autumn Fair dominates those datelines. It also helps that Spring and Autumn Fair are both centrally located in Birmingham and Harrogate, is well, Harrogate. Around those key events sit the London gifts and greetings shows, Top Drawer and Pulse.

Into this accepted order of things has stepped PGL with a very defined brief to showcase the best of British greetings talent to not only UK retailers but global buyers as well.
It’s a move full of bold intent and it certainly seems to have garnered strong support from the industry with over 240 card publishers and greetings suppliers (70 more than the inaugural year) including industry heavyweights like UK Greetings and Hallmark who simply don’t do any of the other events.
This year PGL also added a new section for up and coming, publishers called Springboard, which was designed to give smaller outfits the chance to rub shoulders with the big boys and get their product in front of quality buyers.

Put all that together and what you get is as comprehensive a cross-section of the UK greetings industry as you could wish for. As our show preview proved last month, PGL was stuffed full of exciting and innovative product, making it a must-visit for any serious retailers looking to refresh their racks.
PGL’s organisers have adopted a quality not quantity approach to attendance at the show with a restricted admission policy, where only genuine UK and overseas greeting card buyers, retailers, wholesalers and retail sales agents are invited to attend free of charge.

Emphasis has also been placed on attracting strong export and overseas support, which paid off with representation from nearly 40 countries as far flung as Hong Kong and Russia as well as from Europe, America and Australasia (the latter leading the field, along with the Dutch, in terms of visitor numbers).

“The UK leads the world in greeting card publishing and it was our dream to create a trade show which celebrated this and made it an enjoyable and inspiring event in which to do business for greeting card stockists and distributors of all shapes and sizes,” commented Ian Hyder, director of Progressive Greetings LIVE.  “This second show has proved to us that this is achievable, and also proved that, through Springboard we can offer a step up onto the ladder for new publishers, as well as deliver retail customers to the established publishers.”

One of the interesting things to speculate on with PGL is whether it will change the publishing dynamic and encourage publishers to launch new product specifically for this point in the calendar. So far, the feeling is yes – and no.

Card publishing is a complex business with some very set patterns so while new product was in evidence a lot of it was extensions to existing ranges or previews of upcoming collections rather than major launches. This may change in time but for now the traditional release programme seems to be holding sway with most publishers sticking to their set programmes.

For retailers the question is whether PGL offers a more comprehensive selection of greetings publishers than the other shows and whether they will bite the bullet and attend them all or start making choices about which ones to drop. Going to exhibitions is an expensive business for standalone retailers, particularly if they are making the long trek from the north or Scotland, so they need to know that when they get there it will be worthwhile.

With PGL you’d have to say it’s more than worth the visit if you want to see the broadest, most diverse range of product available.

But it might take time for retailers to cotton onto the fact. And then there’s the added element of it being a dedicated greetings show: Is that what retailers really want? A large part of the other major shows’ appeal is the gift element, because most card-based businesses can’t survive on greetings alone. They need to balance their retail offer with gift lines, which is what SF, AF and Harrogate offers in spades.

Time will tell whether this is an issue but for now those retailers who made the trip to North London were rewarded with a visual feast and probably the best array of greetings talent and design possible.

12 May, 2010

What do you send the women in your life?

Lewis Eckett - editor, Greetings Today 

As a man, buying cards for female relations or friends can be a tricky experience.

I’m not really a ‘cute’ person and I’m not prone to over-sentimentalising either. So I always look for something obviously feminine but with a strong graphical style to help me make the ‘send’.
Ling Design’s new Paris range fits the bill perfectly for me. It’s stylish and feminine but has a modish quality that is strong and clean.

It’s ideal for the women in my life not just because I think they would be glad to receive it but mostly because I would be happy to send it.
You can see further details of the range and Ling’s other new releases on the Product Showcase section of the GT Website at:

While you are there please sign up for our News Flash service, which keeps you up to date with the latest news, views and events in the world of greetings.

It's a rollercoaster sales ride out there

 If it isn’t the worst snow in twenty years or the deepest recession in living memory, its Icelandic volcanoes or the General Election – whatever the case, retailing has had a lot to contend with over the first quarter of the year.
It’s even harder to get an accurate picture of what’s going on for card retailers. The operators contacted by GT have reported varying sales performances – some are up, but not by much, while others are ‘flat’.
There’s no rhyme or reason to it and certainly no demographic element either.
The snow in the early part of the year brought great difficulty for those retailers in stores outside of the covered malls and has certainly caused a dip in sales. But snow is just one of those things you can’t plan for - just like volcanoes.
At first glance a volcanic eruption in Iceland shouldn’t have much of an impact on retailing. But the fact that we are increasingly dependent on stock produced overseas, particularly in the Far East, highlighted how supply chains can be affected even though most publisher’s stock is sent by sea.
One publisher I spoke to ruefully stated that despite his stock being on a boat from China, it was the paperwork that was held up by the flight ban meaning he couldn’t get the shipment released.
The threat of a giant ash cloud may have wrought havoc in the aviation industry but it has been the Election that has been of greater impact. The threat of a ‘hung Parliament’ and the economic turmoil that would result seems to have convinced UK consumers to tighten their belts even further.
Then there are reports from financial think-tanks, arguing that the UK’s budget deficit is so great that whoever wins the election will have an impossible job on their hands to turn the economy around.
By the time you read this, we will know who is going to lead us into (and hopefully out of) this mess over the next four to five years. It’s likely that whoever has won that VAT will have to rise to pay down the debt we owe as a country.
Once again, retail will be in the frontline if any increase in VAT is unveiled as the party of power grapples with the need to balance the books.
For card-based retailers the situation is not so problematic as the unit price is so relatively low, but there may still be some impact if shoppers are given even less incentives to spend.
Fortunately, card retailing is living up to the adage that it is largely unaffected by recessionary times. Clinton Cards recently reported positive sales figures and if the rumours are anything to go by Card Factory is such a safe bet as a business that it is worth £350 million.
And for the independents there are signs that despite all the troubles in the world, people still need to send cards and communicate their sentiments.
But that doesn’t mean card retailers can just sit back and carry on as normal. Keeping things fresh and interesting in-store is imperative just to stand still. Keeping a close eye on buying and whether or not product sells through is equally important. And the ability to drive complementary sales of gifts will never be more vital.
Consumers may be under the cosh but they will still be attracted to dynamic retail operations that offer a breadth of product they can’t get anywhere else.
That’s the challenge for card retailers as we enter the mid part of the year and the uncertain times to come.

07 April, 2010

Instore environment - Scribbler

By John Ryan - Retail week

For those who haven’t been watching out for such things, greetings card retailer Scribbler might appear to have sprung up fully-formed over the last couple of years, trading predominantly in London with a few provincial outposts in places such as Edinburgh, Oxford and Cambridge.

It has in fact been around since 1981, when the first store opened, and today there are 17 branches with this one, in the Kensington Shopping Mall, just off Ken High Street, being fairly typical.

It is small, almost half-pint-sized, although this is large by Scribbler standards with the near-kiosk-sized outlets in Covent Garden and London Victoria being more typical. Like those, it is uncompromising in its dogged concentration on stocking a broad range of greetings cards, rather than diversifying into related gift areas. This is probably a reflection of the store’s footprint – start putting soft toys et al into an environment of this kind and you will have filled the space before a single card hits the racks.

And by concentrating on cards, with a small selection of wrapping papers, there is also a very apparent focus on the category and on an environment that would appeal, in the first instance, to the young and distinctly irreverent. This is not a store for the timid, as bawdy message cards abound and if it’s an ‘I love my Mum’ card that is sought, they are on offer, but not in the same quantity as might be apparent in, say, a branch of Clintons. Look at the website and there’s even a sub-category called “rude” birthday cards.

There is also a rough-and-ready approach to both store design and merchandising that will appeal to the make-do-and-mend set. Stand outside this store and, like all the others it has a bright, Kermit-green fascia with an off-white lower case logo. The entrance is narrow enough not to merit window displays and instead you can see deep into the interior, where there are shiny, semi-industrial looking shelves of cards around the perimeter and in the centre-shop.

To the right, there’s a cash desk and, er, that’s about it. The whole of the interior is brightly lit, with white-washed walls providing the backdrop for the ranges, while graphics denoting the occasion a card is intended for, positioned at eye level around the perimeter, assist in-store navigation and finding what you want quickly and easily. This is a drop in and don’t linger format, aimed at helping shoppers get what they need and then get on with whatever else it is they need to get on with.

And it really is an extraordinarily simple piece of store design – the retail equivalent of a piece of agitprop - quick and dirty. Unlike most card retailers, this will hold an appeal for a large number of people, but certainly not for all and therefore this could be termed a piece of niche card retailing.

It also looks busy on the evening of visiting with shoppers hurrying towards the tube and dipping in before heading underground. It is also a store design that, owing to its simplicity, would be straightforward and inexpensive to expand rapidly. That said, it has a distinctly well-heeled metropolitan feel about it, and as such is vying for more or less the same territory as Paperchase.

If you were to be critical, you might remark that in controlling its appearance very tightly, Scribbler has narrowed its options as regards potential shoppers, but this would be disingenuous when you look at the footfall it is generating on a cold, wet Monday evening.
Scribbler is small, brassy, young-fashion card-retailing and the message seems to be instantly understood by Kensington shoppers.

Whether it would hold the same appeal in less obviously well-heeled locations is a moot point, but it is a very strong proposition.

* John Ryan covers store design and visual merchandising for Retail Week

Street fighting

By Terry Harvey - M&P Cards

I recently learnt that Marks & Spencer and John Lewis had introduced budget products into its ranges and I could not help thinking, ‘where will all of this end?’ Our top two high street names succumbing to the recession and seeking the bargain shopper!

And then it struck me: this is the beginning of the end of the recession.

Think about it. When the economy started to take a nosedive into the pavement the opportunist retailers took advantage of the situation by opening swathes of cut-price discount stores with great success. The opportunities grew in this sector fuelled by bankrupt stock, struggling manufacturers and Jo Public looking to recoup the twenty extra quid a month he was paying on his utility bills. Discount shopping was assisted further by, quite literally, the biggest advertising campaign ever seen across both television and newspapers sweetly named ‘The Credit Crunch’.

Crunch Gate, as it will be known in years to come, was responsible for the change in shopping habits of millions of consumers across the country. The campaign was incredibly well orchestrated with successful ‘mini campaigns’ that even attempted to throw off the ‘shopping in the slums’ image by snapping celebrities in discount stores.

However, the actions of M&S and JLP are not the reluctant submissions of battle scarred retailers taking the ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ approach. This is the war cry that will mark the swing of change and a restoring of order on the high street as customers are lured back to where they belong. The squeeze is now on the discount retailer who once wore his USP like a medal around his neck and is now wondering whether he should sell it for 99p or a quid.

The point is, this is all part of a cycle that will see shoppers heading back to familiar territory realising that you can get a bargain whilst stood on carpet and with some service at no extra charge.

Discount stores will diminish to a few exceptionally well-run stalwarts who would have existed with or without an economic crisis and opportunities will start to appear for new businesses.

As confidence grows, investment in retail will increase and rentable values will go up pushing out the last of the ‘pile it high’ brigade. In some sectors consumer demand for quality and innovation will eventually outstrip demand for budget products and the budget range will be pushed out the doors of M&S to make way for new merchandise. Before you know it we’ll be back where we started; or will we?

The funny thing about ‘cycles’ is that the ‘start point’ is really just down to your own perception of when you got on the merry-go-round.

The fact is, there will always be challenges in business but I believe we are at the start of the really fun part of the ride.

*Terry Harvey operates the M&P chain of independent stores on the South Coast.

28 January, 2010

All the fun of the Fair

By Lewis Eckett, editor - Greetings Today

First of all, anyone out there who is considering staying away from Spring Fair this February – think again.

I realise there’s a significant cost attached to visiting any trade show: the travel, the parking and maybe the hotel, but you need to consider what you will be missing by electing to stay at home.
The opportunity to see the best and brightest card publishing talent available in the UK in one place is not to be missed for any retailer, whether it is a small independent cardie or a chain of high street stores.

Please don’t think I’m trying to teach anyone to suck eggs here but profitable selling requires smart, creative buying. I’ve been involved with retail businesses that have failed to understand this basic principle and seen what damage it causes.

It comes down to a failure to plan, which in turn means you end up planning for failure. New stock is the lifeblood of any retail business and buying effectively is a key discipline.
But having just got over the Christmas hump and with Valentines fast approaching, a fair few people will be rejecting the opportunity to look forward and buy new stock. That’s understandable. But it’s not something to be recommended.

Many card retailers are risk adverse and buy from the same suppliers year in year out. In this situation buying becomes more of a process than a key skill. Successful retailers are avid buyers of new lines and have no qualms about kicking established players out of their stores if their offer no longer fits the bill.

So many stores cling to lines well past their profitable period and are invariably left with space-hogging slow sellers that give the store an eclectic junk shop feel. This is bad for business. Getting rid of slow-moving lines and using the space for new stock and fresh ideas is essential to keep customers coming back.

Spring Fair is the perfect opportunity for retailers to get up and personal with new stock, new ideas and new horizons. This should give you a good an overview of what’s out there and because everything’s in one place you can compare different suppliers and products and build a proper framework for your business going forward.

You also get the chance to research other areas of the wider gift market for products and lines that will complement your core card business.

Shows like Top Drawer and Spring Fair also offer the opportunity to get close to your suppliers and strengthen the bonds between you. The relationship between buyers and sellers should be a partnership at the best of times, but when times are tough it becomes even more important to collaborate as closely as possible with your key allies.

Clearly, there will be retailers who will want to avoid some suppliers – those they owe money to mostly. But even this situation should be met head on rather than avoided. Most suppliers I speak to would rather see you at the show to sort things out constructively.

Fortunately, the greetings sector seems to have weathered the economic storm quite well. There is still good margin to be had for the independents and the threat from the supermarkets and multiples jostling for footfall at the value end of the market is still just that – a threat.

Nonetheless, cannot afford to relax. You can stay in your store, save for the occasional visit to the wholesalers, or wait for the regular reps to turn up and take you through the new lines. Alternatively, you can be a bit more proactive and enjoy the opportunity to see everything together in one place.

And that process starts with Spring Fair.