First of all a disclaimer. I am fairly new to the Greetings Card industry, and the following information is purely my thoughts and observations gleaned over the past year. I may be incorrect in some of my assertions, but it is how my experience over the year relates to my own business.
Talking to some of the Stand holders around us towards the end of PG Live 2017, I became aware of a sense of disappointment from some of them. They had made few or no sales, maybe had a bit of positive feedback, but saw most people just whizz buy with barely a glance, and hadn’t achieved the services of an agent and felt that things weren’t really that great. I guess it’s part and parcel of the trade, and when you consider there are hundreds of other card publishers vying for the buyers’ attention, it is not surprising that you may feel disillusioned.
I’m a nice guy, and a helpful chap, so I’ve decided to use our experiences at our two PG Live outings to hopefully reassure those people.
Last year we were total n00bs, launching our business at the show and didn’t know what to expect. We had some tentative targets: to get 2 agents, have half a dozen shops buy from us, and get our product out there and loved by everyone, but it didn’t really work like that. Sure, we acquired 2 agents, and we made a few sales, but it seemed like hard work, especially when one agent dropped us a few days later as they’d found a humour publisher with a bigger range. We were disappointed but not defeated, as that made perfect sense.
But we learned several valuable lessons from the first show, which probably made it more worthwhile than anything else.
To launch your business at PG Live, you need to have at least 50 designs, and they need to stand out from the rest. For our first show, we had around 60, but 2 ranges (12 designs in each) were rushed and a bit weak. People said that one range was too wordy and the font too small, and the other just didn’t seem to work. It’s easy to get demoralised when you hear that; I don’t like it much when I am criticised, but of course when you are close to your product, you don’t necessarily see its faults, but in retrospect it is good to get negative feedback when it is deserved. There are many things that can hinder your cards in selling well: it may be the font, the colour, the style, or the fact that they are just too like something else out there. Sometimes, it could be just a tiny tweak that’s needed, and you need to take it on the chin and move on.
Another very important thing to consider is that buyers like to see you’ve been around a while and aren’t going to go bust any time soon; if it’s your first show they may not want to invest if they think a year later that can’t reorder. They also like to see you develop the brand. If it is stagnant and there’s not much happening to It at your next show, it’s not going to be worth their time. If they like what you do they will perhaps be keeping an eye on your progress in the background, and eventually will come to you. Another things to consider is that some buyers will have looked at publishers in the catalogue and pre-show blurb, and will have already made their mind up on who they want to see.
Following the feedback at PGL 2016 we took stock of all that and took time to take a long hard look at our offerings; we binned a couple of ranges straight away, and worked on improving another; we also started work on several other ranges that we now felt happy with and felt would sell. Things were still moving slowly, and everything seemed a challenge. It took a while for sales to happen and we weren’t getting much feedback from our second agent so a few months later we got shot of him. Looking back on it, it may have been due to the product, or he could have just not been trying too hard; he was a likeable guy but without the sales he’s no use.
After a few months of sitting back and getting our ducks in a row, we sort of relaunched our bigger and better business at Spring Fair at the NEC in February. This is a mammoth 5 day endurance test of a show, and required a week in Birmingham. I had no idea what to expect, but it sells everything to do with gifts and occupies pretty much the whole of the NEC. It’s impossible to get round everything. Nevertheless, we got more valuable feedback, some great sales, fantastic leads and although we didn’t quite manage to cover the costs in terms of show sales versus show expenses, all the additional soft outcomes have been hugely beneficial. Initial conversations with distributors, talks with some of the bigger buyers, talking to industry gurus, agents and another opportunity to increase brand awareness.
We are still only a year or so into our development, but we are seeing a confidence in our products from the buyers, and they are seeing that we are increasing and improving our ranges. For some I guess we are still too young, but more and more are now buying from us.
At PGL 2017, it was good to see buyers from our first 2 trade shows returning to see what we are up to and we have made massive inroads, so we are now stocked in shops around the country including in a couple of multiples. We also have a great agent off the back of Spring Fair, and he is getting our cards into shops across his patch.
The first year or two are always going to be incredibly difficult for any new business; in publishing you are going to need to work extremely hard on your designs, and there is so much quality competition. For the two of us, it is a full time business, and we work well over a 40 hour week each, and find ourselves working in the evenings and weekends too. If you don’t like the prospect of that, then it is probably not the industry for you. If you cannot adapt and innovate, then it is probably not the industry for you. If you can’t accept the knockbacks, then it is probably not the industry for you.
A few things to think about, but they do require financial outlay which can be a struggle when you have so much more to invest in:
Invest in a decent website to best showcase your designs.
A brochure is useful but they can be expensive. The best printer I have found in terms of both price and quality is Mixam.
Join the Greetings Card Association. It costs £114 incl VAT and £10 joining fee for a small publisher to join for first year, but the information and resources available make it pretty much a no brainer, and Sharon Little is always at the end of the phone for any query however big or small.
Join the Ladder Club; it is a non-profit organisation and was founded about 18 years ago by Lynn Tait, a lovely lady who sadly lost her battle with cancer a few days before PGL 2017. She was passionate about the industry and really tried to help new publishers climb the ladder (obviously). The Ladder Club will continue and is valuable and teaches young publishers so much. The annual seminar takes place in September of this year. To attend one day of the seminar will cost £65 + VAT per person.