Card Market

Adding something extra goes a long way

This might be my 30th year in the industry but I can remember still sitting in a planning meeting at WHSmith debating the impact of increasing the retail price on cards to over £1. It seems a world away now, especially as this year we have seen the RRP on a lot of card ranges tip over the £3 price point which was previously the domain of heavily detailed or hand finished cards like those from  Five Dollar Shake or Form from Artfile .

But how can we get consumers to part with their money for a card that is over £3? It’s all about finding that added extra something.

We know that differentiating your product is critical for both publishers and retailers to drive sales, so going that extra mile to make all the difference helps to justify an increased price point if necessary.

One of the ways that publishers are getting our attention is by being more inventive with print by using foil, embossing or a combination of these finishes and other really interesting elements, all of which help their cards stand out on the shelf.

When I’ve been on the road this year at trade fairs, I have found the cross section of cards on show very exciting and unlike anything I’ve seen before - highlighting just what fantastic shape our industry is in and how innovative the designers and publishers are.

For example, an innovative brand I really like is Bexy Boo. I first noticed Bexy Boo at Harrogate a few years ago when she was displaying her Scrabbley range. At PG Live this year she took it to another level, launching her Forkies range using take away forks with really funny captions. I love them and can’t imagine what makes you look at a piece of shaped wood and think it is a great basis for a new card range!


Jessica Hogarth is well known for her distinctive seaside illustrations and London scenes which have been hugely successful for her. However, this year she decided to do something quite different - introducing a range of cards that have baubles on them, all ready for Christmas. Jess says that this range of cards has definitely helped her to open up new accounts because of her new seasonal ranges. Shops have felt the idea is unique and fun and she is looking forward to creating new artwork for them for next year.


It’s not just designers who are bring innovative ideas to the market – new publishers are pushing boundaries too!

Middlemouse combines beautiful cards with ‘innovative additions, recipes and gardening tips, or useful little things that make the card you send to your loved one that bit more special.’ They’ve titled these ‘Cardlets’ – a brilliant title! What could be nicer than sending a Christmas card with a few carols to sing included in it? Or a birthday card with a cake recipe? I’m sure they’ll appeal to a wide audience.


One of my long-term favourites are the sound cards from Really Wild Cards. These type of cards seem to have a long life. When I was the card buyer at the National Trust, their bird song and farmyard cards were best sellers. John at Really Wild Cards continues to develop the range with really topical subjects and the range has been updated with some well-known political characters which are great fun and proving very popular as cards - whether you agree with their politics is another matter!

PIC 4 Boris Johnson.jpg

While prices continue to rise on cards, publishers are still trying to keep their cards below the £3 price point. An easy way of doing that is to reduce them in size. Cards come in all shapes and sizes but Coulson Macloed do the opposite, offering stunning concertina cards. One of their newest ranges is the ‘Not a Typical’ concertina cards. Featuring striking black and grey fold-out greeting cards with messages that are straight-to-the-point yet heart-warmingly funny, these cards are really original and look great propped up on the mantelpiece.  


Buying cards with a little extra something works particularly well when you are buying an occasion card; who doesn’t want their card to stand out amongst the massive amount of cards received by loved ones? Hello Geronimo does occasion cards really well and I love their new baby card with the little felt feet, they are so cute. They have a wide selection of ‘add-ons’ which make their ranges really different so they are well worth checking out if you want something a bit different.


One issue that publishers and designers are finding is that adding these special touches often means a card has to be handmade or hand finished, simply because a machine cannot be as delicate as a hand. I remember my children learning to quill when they were younger, it is such a stunning way of adding images to a card. Eastwest have a fabulous range of designs and, because they are all handmade, retailers can have bespoke images made for them. Thinking about the time it must take to do some of these designs is mind blowing but it certainly is a great way to secure sales.


Adding these extra elements makes all the difference but they take time, effort and passion to design and make. This is what adds that point of different that makes them really special. The cards from Dayo are no exception. Described as ‘Where Paper Meets Fashion’, Dayo’s handmade and hand-finished cards vary to reflect individuality and are renowned for being ‘beautiful ethnic cards with a mixed media approach’. 


Despite living in a deeply digital age, sending cards to mark special occasions has stayed as important as ever, if not more so! That little something extra makes both the recipient and the sender feel very special indeed.

Bold, Brave, Brilliant, British (and Brexit?)

Bold, Brave, Brilliant, British (and Brexit?)

For most of us the referendum vote will be the biggest single thing to impact our personal and business lives in the coming years. It has been looming for a few years now and will continue to do so given the events of the last couple of weeks. Meanwhile, negative talk and scare mongering is creating increasing uncertainty for consumers, businesses, our government and the EU itself as no one knows what will actually happen…

How will past trends help us prepare for 2019?

How will past trends help us prepare for 2019?

 It’s already the last day of Spring Fair 2019 and I’m still wondering where the whole of last year went?! So before this year flies by any further - lets take stock, reflect on the trends of last year and see which are likely to continue to effect us in 2019. Understanding this will help you decide what to include in your range and identify product areas or categories you might want to introduce, grow or indeed remove. It really is worth taking some time to read these tips and think things through before investing in lots of new products for 2019.

The rise of Localisation and Personalisation in the Card and Stationery Market

Over the last few years there has been a significant increase in the number of retailers developing their own card ranges and publishers opening their own shops. So what is it about the current retail market that is making retailers and publishers take these initiatives when so many other retailers are closing their shops ?

Naturally, there are different motivations depending on where you are in the supply chain but when we examine closely, we see even players in the same sector have different reasons for doing this. The one thing that is the same for everyone is that they want to feel they can create a point of difference between themselves and their competitors and to encourage consumers to spend money with them. There are lots of ways that a retailer can do this and card retailers are no exception.

Let’s start with larger card retailers like Paperchase. They have been printing their own brand cards for more than 30 years. In fact a significant percentage of their card and stationery range is own brand and they have always used this as a unique point of difference so that customers who wants that type of product will have to shop with them. They have always been at the cutting edge of design and they have built their brand on offering innovative designs and product formats. This type of brand differentiation is critical for many retailers and developing own brand products allows them to do this; refreshing and renewing ranges as they feel they need to to keep them ahead of the competition. 

Traditionally this has been felt to be the preserve of larger retailers because of the volumes that have had to be produced to get reasonable cost prices. But with the advent of digital printing this is now becoming an option for many who want to do small print runs. For example, the National Trust who wants to be able to feature their stunning , buildings, gardens and landscapes at their individual properties; whilst litho print runs are rarely an option, good quality digital printing has opened up all sorts of opportunities for stocking wider ranges of unique images that visitors are keen to buy.

For me, this is part of the localisation trend we are seeing come to the fore to meet demand from consumers who want to buy something that has some meaning and relevance either to where they live or somewhere they have visited. This does not mean you have to be in a major tourist destination, but rather people enjoying spending time somewhere with friends and wanting to send or give a card.

If you are considering launching a range, it’s worth noting that your customers are not looking for an outdated photographic image either but rather a modern illustrative image or maybe something humorous that those in the know will understand… 

Interview: How to make the most of exhibitions

Interview: How to make the most of exhibitions

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of being invited to speak to Small Man Media about the season's tradeshows and how to prepare for them with my top tips: '3 Musts' and '1 big Must-Not!'...

I was also asked some really insightful questions about trends in the industry... For the answers to all these questions and many more - check out the full Small Man Media article >

5 ways to use your independence to your advantage

5 ways to use your independence to your advantage

This week I have the pleasure of being at Spring Fair 2018 in Birmingham, speaking to independent retailers about how they can grow their brands, maximise their profits and compete effectively against the big retailers in the UK's giftware, stationery and greetings card markets...

When do card designs make good gift ranges?

When do card designs make good gift ranges?

If you visited the Greeting Card Hall at Spring Fair 15 years ago, all you would have seen would have been ranges of greetings cards. Fast-forward to this year, and when you walked the hall you will have seen a significant proportion of the exhibitors with non-card products on their stands, ranging from coasters to cushions. What has led to this diversification and can all card publishers put any design on any product format?

Read on to find out what to look for in a card design that means it will be successful on a gift too...

Predictions and Ponderings for 2016

We saw some really interesting things happening in the market in 2015 and I’m wondering how they will develop in 2016…

For instance, card retailers gave us a lot to talk about:

  • Who would buy Paperchase?
  • What would the impact of the new value retailers Cardmarket and Simply Clinton be?
  • Who were out to spoil Card Factory’s fun and try and take share from them at the bottom end of the market?

We also saw the emergence of Paper and Script and what feels like a slowdown of the growth of Funky Pigeon both businesses under the WH Smith umbrella.

We now know that Paperchase is to stay under the same leadership in 2016 and that as well as growth in the UK they are planning significant growth abroad too. Paperchase set the pace in all their markets with publishers and producers desperate to supply them and many design conscious retailers measuring their performance in term of design development and sales against them. The real question is how high will they set the bar in 2016?

At the luxury end of the market Liberty, Selfridges and others will be searching for unique cards that use beautiful materials, print and finish to set them apart and justify they prices they need to charge.

One thing you can be sure of is that there will be a real price fight at the bottom end of the market to drive volume... no change there then!

The most notable people moves we witnessed this year was Sophie Greenwood leaving WH Smith Travel /Funky Pigeon to go to Marks & Spencer. Sophie has been a real driving force as a buyer in the industry having been at Tesco and the WHS and because of M&S’ own brand range her profile in the industry may be much more invisible in 2016.

For me one of the biggest changes in 2015 was the increasing influence of brokerage as it permeates the market moving from the supermarkets into the mid-market as more and more large publishers take on the role of broker and then grow their share by managing the card ranges for medium size businesses like garden centres, small retail chains, and I heard recently - even large independents. This may make the retailers lives easier in many ways as they may not have the time, data, nor skills for the more complex range analysis that is essential if a buyer isto make their ranges better and better. This will all be done for them by the brokers – along with the individual supplier negotiations and management.

However, for publishers it really limits their access to another set of retailers because if they are not able or willing to supply under a brokerage system they will almost certainly not be able to supply these retailers. So for these publishers it means they are will have to approach the smaller independent retailers directly themselves, use agents, or hope retailers find them at shows or online.

This could make 2016 a really tough year for smaller publishers and those who do not want to supply through brokerage.