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.
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 MeetingIf 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.