This is an excerpt from Get Your Greeting Cards Into Stores: How to Find and Work With Sales Reps (Updated 2017 paperback) If you like to make greeting cards, this book explains how to get your cards into stores and sell them nationwide. Learn about changing trends in the indie card market and niche opportunities available for artists. Book includes detailed guidelines on pricing cards for a profit, getting professional feedback on your designs, finding sales representatives, pitching your card line to them, approaching stores, and the industry standards you should follow. Information is also applicable to gift items, such as magnets, journals and calendars.
When you are thinking about greeting card sales rep to carry your line, here are some things you might want to know about working with reps.
Every rep is different, but I have found these things to be common with almost every rep I've worked with.
1-The rep does not pay for the artist’s card sample deck.
2-Reps expect all cards in the sample deck to have a code, either preprinted or hand written on the card, that is unique for each design. So, for example, if you have a card line of 50 different kinds of flower images, the artist needs to assign a code to each one, so when the rep writes up an order, they know #45 means the red rose card.
3-The artist is primarily responsible for the cost of all promotional materials, such as brochures, catalogs, and store signs.
4-The most important thing you can do in your relationship with reps is to pay them on time.
5-Normally, the artist pays the sales rep once a month for all the prior months’ orders, independent of whether or not the stores has first paid the artist. This is referred to as “paying reps by ship date.” Some artists pay reps after being paid by stores, but I believe reps sell more, and are happier with artists who pay by ship date.
6-Reps sell cards in dozens and half dozens. A typical beginning order for an artist might be 12 dozen cards of 12 different card designs, or 144 cards.
7-Independent artists usually pay the rep a 20% commission on the wholesale price the cards. Therefore, if you receive an order for $200 wholesale (the price you sell it to the store for), the rep’s commission is $40. Some reps might accept 15%, but that is usually for larger companies that have high sales.
8-Reps expect the artist to discontinue slow selling cards and replace them with new designs. A good plan is to add new designs 3-4 times a year: January, May and August, and seasonal items approximately 6 months ahead of the holiday.
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.
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.