Getting Professional Feedback on Your Card Line

Here is an excerpt from the book "Get Your Greeting Cards into Stores"


Once you create your first assortment of cards (maybe 24-36 cards), it is important to have a professional look at your designs. You can probably find someone in your community, such as a store owner.

Here are some of the best ways I got feedback on card designs. They are all from people in the local community:

Met a Store Chain Manager
I asked a manager of a greeting card store if she would be willing to advise me and other artists, because we wanted to learn how to make good card designs. She met with us after closing time, looked at our cards and answered our questions. She told us which occasions sold well (birthday), what colors to avoid (black and white) and why we should design in a vertical format instead of horizontal (more cards fit on a shelf).

We were grateful she was willing to spend her free time helping us, but our meeting was just as important to her. She did not realize her knowledge and skills were valuable to artists. Normally she spent most days managing staff, unpacking boxes and stocking card racks. Just by doing these daily tasks, she learned a lot about greeting cards.

Approached the Grinch
I hovered around a tiny bookstore for weeks, trying to get up the courage to go in and ask the owner to look at my cards. He looked a little like the Grinch, which was intimidating. It turned out he wasn’t the Grinch, but he did offer brutally honest advice, explained to me why no one in his store would buy my cards, and then proceeded to place an order for several dozen!

Went to a Class
One day I saw a class advertised in the Learning Annex publication http://www.learningannex.com/ about the greeting card business. I thought it would be a great way to get advice on my cards, so I signed up.

The teacher told a story of how he left his corporate sales career and started a card business with a partner. Since he came from a business background, and not an artist’s background, his view of the card business was numbers and formulas.

After his lecture, I showed him my handmade cards and the first thing he said to me was “you need to change these designs so other people can make them. You cannot grow a card business if you are the only person making your cards.” That was a great piece of advice. After that, I completely changed the designs.

Attended a Meeting
One day I opened my mail to find an invitation to a paper seminar sponsored by a local paper company.
When I arrived, I was amazed to find that in our group of twenty attendees, there was a nationally known, well-respected greeting card designer. It was a great opportunity to get feedback.

Wrote to an Artist
One day while shopping, I bought a handmade card by a local artist and I liked it so much, I sent her one of my cards asking for her advice. Since her cards were a completely different style from mine, I thought it would be OK to contact her. Not only did she help me, but she invited me to her studio!

Asked a Sales Rep
I went to a local wholesale gift show that exhibited many wares by different artists and manufacturers. I met a sales representative in an exhibitor’s booth, and asked her if I could take her out to lunch in exchange for giving me feedback on my cards.I thought: What is the worst that can happen? All she can do is say ‘no’. Luckily, she said yes.

Greeting card sales representatives are a great resource for feedback. They see a variety of products and often have a gut sense of predicting trends and knowing what will sell. Since reps are often approached by artists, it is nice to offer them something for their time, such as taking them out to lunch or a consultant’s fee. They usually have a very busy schedule; so, tell them up front you will limit your meeting to an hour. If they decide to stay longer, then great, you can too. Alternatively, if they only have 5 minutes, that is still enough time to get some basic advice.


On-the-Spot Feedback
If you are unable to get a formal appointment for feedback, try to visit at least six stores and ask for “on the spot” feedback. Here is how to do this:

Visit a store during slow times, such as a weekday morning. If an employee is not busy helping a customer, ask them if the “card buyer” would be willing to give you five minutes for some honest feedback on your designs. Explain that you are not trying to sell anything; you just want to improve your cards to make them more marketable.

Remember, there are different kinds of staff people in the store. The person running the cash register may not be the person who buys cards or is qualified to evaluate designs, so always make sure you ask for the “card buyer.” More often than not, they will come onto the floor to assist you.

If the card buyer has a positive response to your cards, also ask for a price recommendation. Perhaps they know what the standard pricing is for cards like yours. If all you do is walk away with a page full of notes and information, that is a complete success.

In a situation like this, you only want feedback, but there is a possibility a store might want to order your cards, so bring an order form, brochure or business card along just in case.

If the above scenario sounds scary because you don’t like walking up to strangers and asking for things, I assure you, it is very easy. I have done this many times and not once did anyone treat me rudely or act irritated. I consistently had good experiences, and people were happy to help me, but I also made sure to respect their time and not interrupt them if they were assisting customers.

These “on the spot” requests for feedback are also a great way to meet local buyers who can often refer you to reps, vendors and other professionals in the industry.




Excerpt from the book: Get Your Greeting Cards into Stores: How to find and work with Greeting Card Sales Reps

If you already make your own greeting cards, this book explains how to get your cards into stores and sell them sell nationwide. Included are guidelines on: how to price your cards for a profit, how to get professional feedback, where to find a sales representative and and what industry standards you should follow. All the information is also applicable to gift items, such as magnets, journals, calendars, collectibles, etc.

Getting Your First Greeting Card Account

Here is an excerpt from the book "Get Your Greeting Cards into Stores."

If you get positive feedback on your card line, then you can start thinking about selling cards to stores (versus just test-marketing).

Getting store accounts is an important step on the way to getting sales reps. Reps want to know the cards already are in stores. It’s kind of a catch 22 because you need reps in order to get into stores in the first place.

At this point it is helpful to know some basic business skills. There is a false stereotype that artists are bad at business, and I like to joke that there are a lot more business people who are bad at art. Therefore, you are actually ahead of the game.

I believe that if you can do the following tasks below, you will be good at running a business. These might sound like common sense, but stores have often told me that many artists neglect them:

  • Ship orders on time. 
  • Send the correct items. 
  • Charge the correct price. 
  • Do not add excessive shipping charges. 
  • Make sure the cards are packaged so they arrive undamaged and without bent corners. 
  • If cards arrive damaged, replace them immediately at no extra charge. Add some extra free one to offset hassle. 
  • Make sure the cards match the quality of the samples. If the samples had yellow envelopes, make sure all the cards shipped also have the same envelope. 
  • Include a packing slip in the box (a list of all the items that should be in the box). 
  • Mail an invoice (bill).

By performing these simple tasks, it shows that you are a reliable, responsible, and action-oriented businessperson.

Adding Stores
When adding more store accounts, add them slowly. This will help you ramp up your manufacturing and deal with problems that might arise down the road.

For example, when I started selling cards, I kept envelopes in the garage and soon found out the dampness caused the flaps to stick together. I also discovered that packing cards tightly caused the cellophane bags to stick together because they could not “breathe.” Later on, I also discovered the special Japanese paper I relied on was discontinued, and I needed to find a new supplier.

It is easier to deal with unexpected supply problems when servicing just a few stores than if it were a hundred stores. Otherwise, you will get complaints and returns. You especially need to be careful when using unusual supplies that are hard to find. This is why starting small with a few stores is a good idea.

If you can handle growth, consider working towards having at least fifty good-selling designs and removing the slower sellers from your card line. I think it is better to offer fewer cards with great designs rather than a hundred cards of questionable quality.

When you feel you have a solid line and several store accounts, you are probably ready to approach a rep, but don’t be surprised if one hasn’t already contacted you first, especially if your cards are selling well.

This points to the best way to find reps: Create a product that sells, and everything else will fall into place. Reps will just magically appear!

                                                    Getting Reorders
To evaluate card sales, I believe reorders are more important than first orders. A reorder means that customers are walking into the store and buying your cards, which requires the store to restock the shelf.

However, first orders only mean the store bought your cards and put them on the shelf. This does not guarantee customers will buy them. This is referred to as “sell-through” rates, meaning the percentage of cards you ship, that actually end up selling.

For most reps, knowing that one store reordered your cards ten times is more impressive than knowing ten stores bought your cards, but did not reorder.




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This Article is an excerpt from the book: Get Your Greeting Cards into Stores: How to find and work with Greeting Card Sales Reps

If you already make your own greeting cards, this book explains how to get your cards into stores and sell them sell nationwide. Included are guidelines on: how to price your cards for a profit, how to get professional feedback, where to find a sales representative and and what industry standards you should follow. All the information is also applicable to gift items, such as magnets, journals, calendars, collectibles, etc.


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Test Marketing Your Card Line

Here is an excerpt from the book "Get Your Greeting Cards into Stores."


Test Marketing
Another way to get feedback on your cards is to test market them in a store. Don’t dismiss the possibility of giving cards away for a limited amount of time in exchange for temporary shelf space. All you really want to do is to see if customers buy your cards and how much they are willing to pay.

If a store is hesitant to experiment with your cards because they don’t want to give up retail space to an untested product, agree to remove your cards after a month. There is no harm in asking. All they can do is say “no, thanks.”

If you feel shy about walking into a store and asking, “Hey, can I put my cards in your store as an experiment?” you do have some other options:

You might talk to your friends or relatives to see if they know anyone who runs a retail store. Tell them you are willing to give away cards in exchange for shelf space to test market your cards.

I found my first store this way. My friend’s mom ran a health food store and she offered to put my cards in a basket on the counter. She took an interest in my success and reported to me about her customers’ comments.

What makes this a great deal for the store is they get free cards, 100 percent profit, and they don’t have to keep track of invoices or set up an account with you.

I suggest offering at least fifty free cards. If that seems expensive to you, remember that when you grow a business, you will also need to give out free samples to sales reps, so giving away cards is reasonable thing to do.

Remember: Stores like artists. In my experience of approaching card buyers, I found them to be generous and helpful. They like giving feedback and usually prefer carrying local artist’s products, rather than mass-marketed items available in store chains.

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This Article is an excerpt from the book: Get Your Greeting Cards into Stores: How to find and work with Greeting Card Sales Reps

If you already make your own greeting cards, this book explains how to get your cards into stores and sell them sell nationwide. Included are guidelines on: how to price your cards for a profit, how to get professional feedback, where to find a sales representative and and what industry standards you should follow. All the information is also applicable to gift items, such as magnets, journals, calendars, collectibles, etc.

How to Present Your Card Line



Here is an excerpt from the book "Get Your Greeting Cards into Stores."

Meeting With Experts

Whether you wander into a bookstore on a whim or decide to set up a formal meeting with a paid professional, consider all these people as “consultants.” That is, anyone who sells, designs or works in the greeting card industry.

Unlike friends and family, a greeting card consultant can offer professional advice on how to make your cards marketable on a wider scale. They also have connections in the industry. This kind of information is priceless.

Remember, in order to grow a successful card business, it is probably better to get advice from “The Grinch” rather than from your grandma!

What to Do in a One-on-One Meeting
If possible, try to arrange a meeting with a consultant in a place where neither of you will be interrupted. Meeting in a cafe is much better than meeting at a busy worksite.

Before the Meeting
The guidelines below are helpful when preparing for a meeting for feedback on your designs:

-Bring a notebook and write down tips from the consultant, whether it is positive or negative.

-Bring your greeting cards to the meeting as a finished product with an envelope, as if you were ready to sell them in a store. This helps the consultant visualize what the product will look like on a rack. If your cards are handmade, you might consider packaging each one individually in a cellophane bag.

-Keep your cards loose. Avoid putting them in photo albums or portfolios where page turning is required. Consultants generally want to shuffle through cards, sort them into piles, and look at their backs. If the cards are restricted to an album format, none of these tasks can be easily performed.

-Try to bring at least two dozen different card designs to the meeting. Three dozen is good, and fifty is even better! By showing a range of cards, the consultant can offer a direction. If you only show one dozen cards, it may be hard to see your vision and potential.

-Number the cards. Either adhere stickers or write on the backs of the cards, using numbers, letters or some other identifier. It’s much easer to refer to “card #7” when taking notes, rather than “the card with a red flower and orangish middle.”

During the Meeting
During the meeting, try to emotionally separate yourself from your art. Encourage the consultant to be brutally honest and assure them they will not hurt your feelings. You could even pretend your cards belong to someone else. That way, it will be easier for you to listen. Here are some additional tips for a meeting:

-Ask them to put your cards into two or three piles by preference. You can make it very simple, such as:

(1) Cards they think could sell.
(2) Cards they don’t think would sell well (or “rejected” cards.)
(3) Cards that could be improved if they were edited, or the art was changed.

-After they create three piles, don’t forget which pile they like. If possible, put the “rejected” cards in a bag out of the way. Avoid remixing them so that when you get home you will remember which ones they liked..

-When asking for feedback, make the distinction that you are asking which ones they think would “sell”, versus which ones they “like.” This allows three things to happen:

(1) It’s easier for them to be honest about the card’s selling potential, instead of being distracted by which ones they personally like.
(2) It gives them permission to “reject the card” instead of “rejecting the artist.”
(3) It shows you are a businessperson, and are primarily interested in making a successful product that sells, versus it being a hobby.

-If you are presenting several different styles, ask if they could foresee developing a larger line around one of your styles. For example, if you have 12 collage cards, 12 letterpress cards and 12 humor cards, ask which style you might expand to 50 cards.

-Regarding the rejected cards, ask them to be specific about what the problem is with each card, and how it could be improved.

-Ask them to comment aloud on their first reaction to each card. You might even hand them cards in a specific order that corresponds to a checklist you brought. Then you can take notes on each card while they comment.

When getting feedback, try not to lose sight of the bigger picture: You are asking for advice on improvement. Come to the meeting prepared that they might say your entire line has a problem. It is possible that you will only need to change the text, color or card size. It is better to know this information early on, rather than after spending $1,000 on printing.

It is only natural to feel disappointed if someone criticizes your work, but remember, you want them to be as honest as possible without feeling they have crossed a sensitive line with you.

A consultant may not like your line only because they are not familiar with your product category. For example, if you make upscale handmade cards, but their specialty is mass-produced cards for store chains, they may not be familiar with the handmade card market.

Taking all of these suggestions into consideration, remember that one consultant is only one opinion. You need more, ideally five or six people. These six people can be store owners, sales reps, or anyone who works in the greeting card industry. After each meeting, you can apply the suggested improvements and make your line better.

If at this point, you decide that adapting and changing your cards is not your cup of tea, and that you were happier making cards just for friends, that’s OK. It is better to know it now, rather than later, after you invest time and money to start a business. However, if at this point you feel energized and interested in making your cards more marketable to the public, then you are probably the right kind of person to run a card business.

After the Meeting
As with most business interactions, it is always nice to send a thank you note after a meeting. It is also a good practice to keep in contact with a consultant. They can refer you to other people, including sales reps.




This Article is an excerpt from the book: Get Your Greeting Cards into Stores: How to find and work with Greeting Card Sales Reps

If you already make your own greeting cards, this book explains how to get your cards into stores and sell them sell nationwide. Included are guidelines on: how to price your cards for a profit, how to get professional feedback, where to find a sales representative and and what industry standards you should follow. All the information is also applicable to gift items, such as magnets, journals, calendars, collectibles, etc.


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