Image caption appears here

Greeting Card Business

How to Start a Greeting Card Business

Hello!  My name is Emmie, and I’ve been writing, designing and selling greeting cards for 18 years.  My card line, Fomato, has sold in the U.S., Canada, Japan and Europe, in places such as London’s Design Museum, Paper Source, Grand Central Terminal, Powell’s City of Books, Amoeba Music, The National Ballet of Canada, Harvard Book Store, and Kinokuniya.  To view a list of retailers, click here.

I hope that sharing my experiences will help you with starting your own card business.


When starting a business, there are few questions you should ask yourself.

Why do I want to start this business?

Is it to have your work seen by a wider audience? 
Is it to make a living doing something that you enjoy?
Is it to offer a unique point of view and style that would engage an underserved population?  

What am I hoping to achieve with this business?

Would you like to create a distinctive line of cards?
Would you like to make billions and retire at the age of 12?
Would you like to work in the nude surrounded by your favorite childhood stuffed animals?

How much annual revenue do I plan to make?

Deciding a number will allow you to calculate what you should sell each month and week, and will guide your sales and marketing efforts.

This number will fluctuate over the years.

I'm using the phrase "plan to make" rather than "want to make" because "want" implies an "it would be awesome" number rather than an achievable target number. 

In the beginning, it's good to be realistic.  I'm not saying that you shouldn't dream or aim for a high revenue number.  It's helpful, though, to first observe how your target audience responds to your cards.

There is no guarantee that people will be excited about your cards, or even entertain the idea of purchasing them.  Before putting your cards in front of buyers, it can be hard to know how appealing or unappealing your design, humor and sentiments are.

There is a market for most products, and a group of buyers will likely love what you do.  Some card designs and messages appeal to a wider audience than others, though, and you'd rather be on the $$$ end of the spectrum. 

Because of this, it can be helpful to show your card ideas to a focus group before you decide which designs to print and market.


How much annual profit do I plan to make?

It's useful to aim for a specific profit margin, in addition to thinking about revenue.  
Doing this can help prevent overspending on inventory, supplies, equipment, advertising, etc.


How long would I like to have this business?

Would you like to try it for six months?

Are you planning on a few years, 
until you become more established as a visual artist or writer?

Are you in this for the long haul because you love stationery, retail, marketing and 
sales?

It's normal to be undecided about this question, since most people want to discover how they like life in greeting cards, and to see how many bars of gold show up in the mailbox.


Now let's address a couple of frequently asked questions.

Can you make a living selling greeting cards?

Yes, you can.  The markup percentage for greeting cards is good.

However, the challenge you'll need to address immediately (and forever) is that your cards have to be found/seen, and you must inspire and maintain customer demand/desire for your cards. 

Customer awareness and demand are the most important factors in a card business. 

Without these, you'll have only trickling sales, a barely existing business, and no money in your bank account.

Are greeting cards profitable?

There is a wide range of what’s considered profitable.  The short answer is yes, but a better question is:

Are greeting cards profitable in a way that will work well for my life?

Only you can answer this, and you may have to get to the profitable point before you know whether you like it or not.  

I know successful greeting card business owners who have closed their businesses anyway, because they weren’t enjoying themselves. 

Aim to set up your business in a way that allows you to optimize your time and enjoy your work. 

You might prefer to spend more of your time designing, painting and writing, rather than on doing quality assurance/inspection, trimming, erasing, packing, shipping, invoicing and looking up tracking info for delayed packages. 

You might like marketing and sales better than bookkeeping, customer service and administrative/technical tasks.

Identify the tasks that you enjoy, as well as the activities that move the needle for your business.  Plan on saving your profits and using this money to hire an employee to whom you can delegate responsibilities.  If you have the funds, you can also hire someone at the start. 

Order fulfillment, for example, is something that you should avoid doing (unless you love it . . . I have a prosperous card friend who really enjoys it), since your time is better spent on high value tasks like designing or business growth.


Markup Percentage

Markup percentage:  Wholesalers

Markup percentage is:  (Selling price - Unit Cost) divided by Unit Cost, multiplied by 100.

For example, a card can cost 40 cents to produce, and an envelope can cost 10 cents.  Unit cost = 50 cents.

My unit cost is higher than this, and I have friends who produce cards for much cheaper and buy less expensive envelopes.  There's a wide range of pricing, especially when you print and purchase in huge quantities. 

Pricing also differs based on the card size, and whether you print 4/4 (full color front and inside), 4/1 (full color front, one color inside) or 4/0 (full color front, blank inside).

The majority of independent greeting card businesses sell both to wholesalers and to consumers.

Like many fellow card businesses, I’ve sold most of my cards to wholesalers. 

In earlier years, the percentage split was 90/10 (wholesale/consumer).  In recent years, the split has been ranged between 
70/30 to 80/20.

The wholesale price is 50% of the retail price, in the greeting card market. 

If the retail price of a card is $5, a wholesaler buys it for $2.50. 

The markup percentage for selling to wholesalers is:  ($2.50 - $.50) / $.50 = 4 

4 x 100 = 400%

Markup percentage:  Chain Stores

A chain of stores such as Barnes & Noble/Paper Source (Barnes & Noble bought Paper Source in 2021) might pay 30% of the retail price ($1.50).

The markup percentage for selling to chain stores is:  ($1.50 - $.50) / $.50 = 2

2 x 100 = 200%  

Markup percentage:  Distributors

A distributor (selling to shops in the U.K., Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Taiwan, etc.), might buy the cards at 25% of the retail price ($1.25).  Distributors usually sell to wholesalers, and need to make a profit as well. 

The markup percentage for selling to distributors is:  ($1.25 - $.50) / $.50 = 1.5

1.5 x 100 = 150% 

The price for selling to a distributor is not always 25% of the retail price - it is often less.

On paper, a 150% markup percentage sounds all right.  

However, it requires a great deal of labor to produce, inspect (which often leads to erasing and trimming), sleeve and package an enormous volume of greeting cards. 

If you create handmade cards or print three-color cards on a hand-cranked letterpress, you may find that selling at such a low price is not viable.

Example Scenario #1:  Selling Greeting Cards to Wholesalers

In this example, let’s assume that you’ll run your business as a sole proprietor.

[If you decide to operate as a single-member LLC, your taxes will be similar.]

You can be a sole proprietor and hire employees, so don’t be misled by the word “sole.” 

As a sole proprietor, your profit is what’s left after you subtract expenses and COGS (Cost of Goods Sold) from revenue.

Let’s say that you make 10K revenue per month, so 120K in annual revenue.  

Revenue:  $120,000

Subtract 25% (30K) for COGS.  Wholesale COGS can be significantly lower, but I pay a higher price for my cards and envelopes, and receive enough damaged inventory to say that COGS can be 25%.  

COGS (Cost of Goods Sold):  $30,000

Subtract around 30% for business expenses (35K).  There is a range, and 30% is just one possibility.

Expenses (Sample List):
Sales commissions (20%):  $24,000
Wholesale e-commerce site ($29 x 12):  $348
Domain name:  $15
Merchant fees (3%):  $3600      
Internet ($50 x 12):  $600
Portion of cell phone bill ($50 x 12):  $600
Utilities (based on % of home office use)($30 x 12):  $360
Accounting software ($30 x 12):  $360
Accounting/bookkeeping consultant:  $600
Shipping software ($16 x 12):  $192
Thermal label printer:  $200
Shipping labels:  $25
Scale:  $40
Monochrome laser printer:  $150
Toner:  $80
Card sleeves (.0272 x 48,000):  $1306
Card sleeves shipping:  $74
Packing boxes (.57 x 800):  $456
Packing boxes shipping:  $90
Packaging/tissue paper:  $70
Office supplies:  $200
Precision paper trimmer:  $263
Shelving and storage for cards:  $500
Tax preparer:  $500
Cloud backup service:  $150
Email marketing service ($20 x 12):   $240
Adobe Creative Cloud ($55 x 12):  $660
Bar code prefix license:  $150
Business mileage (62.5 x 300 miles):  $188

Expenses:  $35,976

Optional Expenses
Bank checking fees (optional if you maintain a minimum balance)
Trade show/craft fair/public sale event booths
Facebook/Instagram/YouTube/TikTok/Influencer Ads
Google Ads
Mailing samples to stores
Art supplies
Conferences/meetings/networking/meals

I'll round down to $35,000, since there are expenses in this list that you can skip or buy at a cheaper price. 

$120,000 revenue - $30,000 COGS - $35,000 expenses = $55,000 profit

Profit Before Taxes:  $55,000

Notes:

You'll have retail shops who order directly from you, so you won't need to pay commissions on those orders. 

Some retailers pay with checks, so you won't pay merchant fees on those orders.

You'll probably set up a consumer e-commerce site, but I omitted that from this example to keep things simple.

This scenario is based on you doing all of the work, without an employee.

Your COGS and expenses can be far lower if you purchase cheaper cards and envelopes, charge more for your cards, get orders on your own rather than via a sales rep or wholesale marketplace/platform, and bootstrap items on the expenses list.


TAXES

Self-employment Taxes 
Self-employment taxes are the sum of Social Security taxes (12.4%) and Medicare taxes (2.9%).  If you work for an employer, they cover half of these taxes.  If you work for yourself, you pay almost the full amount (92.35%).  

92.35% of $55,000 = $50,793

You’ll pay 15.3% in self-employment taxes (around $7771). 

You can deduct 50% of this amount ($3886) from your federal taxable income. 

Federal Income Taxes
Subtract the standard deduction ($12,950 in 2022) for a single person from the $55K net profit amount.  

Subtract 50% of your self-employment taxes ($3886).

This makes your taxable income $38,164 (for federal taxes).

You’ll fall into the 12% tax bracket for federal income taxes (around $4580). 

State Income Taxes
If you're in California, the standard deduction for state income taxes is $4803, which makes your state taxable income $50,197.

You’ll be in the 8% tax bracket for CA state income taxes (around $4016).

If you live in California, your tax liability is around $16,367.

Tax Liability:  $16,367

Note:  These numbers are not correct, since I've calculated the taxes in a simple way rather than in the correct way. 

In addition, other factors (such as whether you have dependents) will affect your taxes.  These are ballpark figures.

And of course, you may live in a state with a lower income tax rate (or no income tax). 

I'm using California as an example since it's on the expensive end of the spectrum, and I figure you'd rather be pleasantly surprised by your tax liability than somewhat horrified.

$55,000 profit - $16,367 taxes = $38,633 net profit/net income

Net Income:  $38,633

In this scenario, having a greeting card business equates to working an easy-ish job (though busy and full of task switching) that pays a low to moderate salary.

Know that that some business expense deductions apply to things you'd pay for normally, such as a portion of your utilities/mortgage interest/home insurance premiums (if you use a dedicated portion of your home for work), car mileage, cell phone bill and internet.


HIRING AN EMPLOYEE

You can opt to hire an employee.  Maybe you'll hire someone at $20/hr for 20 hours a week. 

$20 x 20 hours = $400 per week

$400 x 50 work weeks = $20,000 per year

Payroll services ($46/month x 12):  $552
FUTA (unemployment taxes / $7000 x .06%):  $420
Workers' compensation insurance:  $1000 

Workers' comp will likely be lower, but I rounded up.  Workers' comp costs more for employees who work in packaging.

Employee expenses:  $21,972

$120,000 - $30,000 COGS - $35,000 expenses - $21,972 employee = $33,028 profit

Profit Before Taxes:  
$33,028


TAXES

I did the calculations but don't want to bore you with the details, so here's the summary:

If you live in California, your tax liability is around $7,925.

Tax Liability:  $7,925

$33,028 profit - $7,925 taxes = $25,103 net profit/net income

Net Income:  $25,103

You'd net $13,530 less, but would free up 1000 hours, minus the hiring/training phase and management time. 

You can use this time for business strategy, new product creation, marketing to potential customers, communicating with current buyers, and generating revenue.


DOES THIS APPEAL TO YOU?


Imagine examining, packing and shipping $120,000 of greeting cards (worth 240K retail) to wholesalers each year.  Many companies make well more than this, and many make less (this is just one example).

At $2.50 per card, this is 48,000 cards. 

It's approximately 600 wholesale orders at $200 each, so 12 orders per week (in a 50-week work year) / 2.4 orders per day.  Getting these orders (and much more) is possible if your cards are in line with the retail stores' branding, aesthetics and worldview, make money for the stores, and delight their customers.  This should lead to regular orders from the shop owners/buyers.  You'll need to keep in touch, though, since many card lines fulfill the same requirements.

It's imperative to continue creating new cards to inspire repeat orders.  Wholesalers and consumers always welcome and want fresh designs and ideas.  Without them, your sales will drop and may eventually disappear.

 

Can I sell greeting cards to consumers and not to wholesalers?

Yes!  If I were starting today, I'd set up a Shopify store for consumers.  I'd also give Etsy a try.  I've heard complaints about this platform, but the pros seem to outweigh the cons, particularly when you are starting with a new and unknown line of cards.  People peruse Etsy for products that fulfill their needs and aspirational desires, so give your listings the best chance of being found by uploading excellent product photos and optimizing your product descriptions and keywords for the Etsy search engine/algorithm.

I have no experience with Amazon, but have heard success stories about selling there.  If I come across any helpful guides, I'll add them here. 

From personal observation, it looks like value bundles/sets do well there (such as an assortment of 100 cards for $22, 40 cards for $20, and 48 cards for $20).  Most sets include free shipping via FBA (Fulfillment by Amazon), so you'd need to build fulfillment and shipping costs into your prices.

At .22 cents each, .42 cents each and .50 cents each, these selling prices are incredibly low for an independent card company.  You'd be competing with American Greetings, Hallmark and companies who've set up a volume-centric stationery business.  You'd need to print in very large quantities to get adequate pricing, and you'd need to sell in equally large quantities to pay for your print runs.  There is no shortage of purchase-ready customers at Amazon, though, which makes the venture worth considering.

Obviously, there's a wide range of cards available at Amazon, and value sets are not the only stationery items.  I see a range of single cards priced at $6.99 that sell due to topical/current event humor.  Scroll through the listings and see which card category appeals to you.  Which one are you best suited to enter and compete in? 

Ask peers or a focus group what your competitive advantage or USP (unique selling proposition) is.  Leverage your skills and unique world view.

A drawback I've heard is that Amazon can suspend your account or delete your items based on customer feedback, and it can be difficult to have them reinstated.  Also, if you become a popular seller there, your products can be copied.  And as we all know, you are at the mercy of reviews and reviewers.

If printing in the U.S., you can likely get your card price down to .15 cents each.  I've never asked for an overseas card quote, so I don't know what pricing you would get in, say, China.  You can buy a large volume of envelopes in the U.S. at around 4 cents each.  

I don't know how much inventory Amazon FBA will warehouse for you at a time - it probably depends on your sales volume.  If you print huge quantities of cards and have a limited amount of storage space available to you at Amazon (and/or you can only ship inventory to them at certain times), you'll need to find a place to warehouse your cards and envelopes.

Where and how you choose to sell comes back to your reason for starting this card business.  Is your aim to create a perceived-high-value card that sells in high-end retail shops that you admire?  Is your goal focused entirely on profit/the bottom line, without interest in creating a strong brand?

 

Let's take a break from all this text.

Takachiho Gorge - Miyazaki, Japan

You can buy this waterfall after you sell four greeting cards.

 

 

MARKUP PERCENTAGE:  SELLING TO CONSUMERS

Markup percentage:  (Selling price - Unit Cost) divided by Unit Cost, multiplied by 100.


If your card and envelope cost a total of .50, and you sell each card/envelope for $5, the markup percentage is:

($5.00 - $.50) / $.50 = 9 

9 x 100 = 900% 

This markup is healthy, but order amounts can be low, so your revenue relative to the time spent picking, packing, and shipping each order is modest.  You can encourage larger orders with incentives, such as free shipping thresholds, GWP (gift with purchase) and bundles/sets.

Focus on creating the most stellar cards that you can.  The better your cards are, the less marketing you can get away with doing (this is debatable, but true to an extent).

Example Scenario #2:  Selling to Consumers

Let’s say you earn $120,000 in annual revenue selling cards to consumers.  

Revenue:  $120,000

This is $10,000 per month / $2400 per week (in a fifty-week work year).

This equals $480 in revenue each weekday.  

At an average sale price of $4 per card, this is 120 cards per day.

Even if your cards are priced at $5 each, it’s realistic to factor in sales like Black Friday Cyber Monday, and bundle pricing.  Many companies sell each card design both as a single card and as a set.  Selling cards in sets/bundles reduces a card’s selling price to anywhere between $2 - $4.

You’ll also likely have a sale section on your site where you’ll discount cards that you have extra stock of, as well as discontinued designs and slower sellers.  

So rather than calculating your average selling price at $5 each, we’ll calculate it at $4.  This might be on the high side, depending on how often you discount your cards, and on the buying habits of your customers.

At $4 each, $120,000 revenue equals 30,000 cards per year. 

Some customers buy twenty cards at a time, while others will buy one. 

Over a year, you might see an average of five cards per order.  

Five cards per order = 6000 orders per year

50 weeks/year x 5 weekdays = 250 business days/year

6000 orders / 250 business days = 24 orders per day

6000 orders might break down to:

1500 orders for a single card (packed in flat rigid mailers)
3000 orders for a few cards (packed in gusseted rigid mailers, which allows for expansion of the mailer's depth)
1500 larger orders (packed in cardboard boxes)

I’ll use these numbers to calculate how many of each type of mailer you might use.

COGS (Cost of Goods Sold):  $18,000

Subtract 15% ($18,000) for COGS.  If your unit cost is .50 and you sell cards for an average of $4 each, your COGS would be 12.5%. 

I've rounded up to 15% because I normally receive a percentage of blemished/damaged cards and envelopes that I don't sell, and that aren't reprinted or refunded by the vendor. 

There are definitely printing companies who do excellent quality inspection before delivering your cards, but I'm picky about color saturation and vibrancy, and haven't yet found a vendor who does an excellent job with both quality inspection and color.  I know that these companies are out there, though.  

Consumer COGS can be lower - like with the wholesale example, it depends on the volume of cards and envelopes that you order.  You might also letterpress print your cards in-house, in which case your COGS is probably lower, but your labor cost is higher.

Expenses (Sample List):
Consumer e-commerce site ($29 x 12):  $348
Domain name:  $15
Merchant fees (3%):  $3600      
Internet ($50 x 12):  $600
Portion of cell phone bill ($50 x 12):  $600
Utilities (based on % of home office use)($30 x 12):  $360
Accounting software ($30 x 12):  $360
Accounting/bookkeeping consultant:  $600
Shipping software ($16 x 12):  $192
Thermal label printer:  $200
Shipping labels (6000):  $228
Scale:  $40
Laser printer:  $150
Toner:  $80
Flat rigid mailers (.32 x 1500):  $480
Gusseted rigid mailers (.66 x 3000):  $1980
Cardboard boxes (.57 x 1500):  $855
Packaging/tissue paper:  $238
Mailers/boxes/tissue paper shipping:  $180
Office supplies:  $200
Precision paper trimmer:  $263
Shelving and storage for cards:  $500
Tax preparer:  $500
Cloud backup service:  $150
Email marketing service ($20 x 12):   $240
Adobe Creative Cloud ($55 x 12):  $660
Bar code prefix license:  $150
Business mileage (62.5 x 300 miles):  $188
Subsidizing or paying for shipping fees ($3/order x 6000 orders):  $18,000

Expenses:  $31,806

Optional Expenses
Bank checking fees (maintain the minimum balance required to waive the monthly fee)
Craft fair/public sale event booths
Art supplies
Google Ads 
Facebook/Instagram/YouTube/TikTok/Influencer Ads
Conferences/meetings/networking
Card sleeves (you can use packaging/tissue paper if you prefer)

I'll round the expenses down to $30,000, since you can reduce the subsidized/free shipping amount. 

$120,000 revenue - $18,000 COGS - $30,000 expenses = $72,000 profit

Profit Before Taxes:  $72,000

 
TAXES

Self-employment Taxes  

92.35% of $72,000:  $66,492

15.3% self-employment taxes:  $10,173 

Deduct 50% of self-employment taxes ($5087) from your federal taxable income. 


Federal Income Taxes
Subtract the standard deduction for a single person ($12,950 in 2022).

Subtract 50% of your self-employment taxes ($5087).

Your federal taxable income:  $53,963.

You’ll fall into the 22% tax bracket:  $11,872 


State Income Taxes
If you're in California, the standard deduction for state income taxes:  $4803

CA taxable income:  $67,197

You’ll be in the 9.3% tax bracket for CA state income taxes:  $6249

In California, your tax liability is $28,295.

Tax Liability:  $28,295

Note:  These numbers are inaccurate, since I've calculated the taxes in a simple way rather than in the correct way.  Other factors will affect your taxes, and these are ballpark figures.  You might also live in a state with a lower or no income tax rate. 

I just wanted to provide an example of what your tax liability could be if you operate as a sole proprietor, or as an LLC member using pass-through taxation. 

$72,000 profit - $28,295 taxes = $43,705 net profit/net income

Net Income:  $43,705

 

Without Subsidizing Shipping Fees

If you'd prefer not to pay for shipping at all, the expenses in this example would total $13,806.  

$120,000 - $18,000 COGS - $13,806 expenses = $88,194

Profit Before Taxes:  $88,194

I also calculated the numbers for the $88,194 profit scenario, and it would be around $36,780 for tax liability.  $88,194 profit would bump you up into the 24% federal income tax bracket.

Tax Liability:  $36,780 

$88,194 profit - $36,780 taxes = $51,414 net profit/net income

Net Income:  $51,414

 

Who should I sell my greeting cards to?  

Should I sell my cards to wholesalers?

Should I sell my cards to consumers?


Selling Greeting Cards to Wholesalers

PROS

A primary benefit of selling to wholesalers is the high CLV (customer lifetime value) and the volume of sales. 

If your cards sell well for a retailer, the buyer will continue to place orders every few to several months. 

If they don't sell well, you'll won't receive a second order, unless you change/improve your cards and approach the buyer again, in which case you might be given another chance.  

Your job is to create cards that spark Marie Kondo joy in their customers and fly off their shelves.

Wholesalers are great to work with.  They're gracious, 
sociable, easygoing and helpful.  They can offer valuable advice on shaping your line, and can tell you what customers are responding positively to.

Retailers excel at customer service (this is part of their profession), and this type of person makes for an excellent, understanding buyer.  I've had only a few bad experiences with retailers.

Having your cards displayed in retail shops is also a fine way to market your cards.  


CONS

A drawback to selling cards to wholesalers is that your profit margin is lower due to the 50% selling price.

You'll also pay a commission if your order came via a traditional sales rep.  20% is the commission rate for single cards, and 15% is the commission rate for boxed cards, such as boxed thank you notes.  Some card companies pay reps a 15% commission, but 20% is the current standard.

If selling on the Faire wholesale platform, the current commission rate is 25% on a store's opening (first) order and a 15% commission rate on subsequent orders from the same store.

Selling to wholesalers makes sense if you have an efficient fulfillment process. 

If you are slow with quality inspection (i.e., if your cards require extra attention like trimming, erasing, round cornering, scoring/creasing), it can take an inordinate amount of time to fill orders (this goes for both wholesale and consumer orders).  

Depending on whether you offer Net 30 terms (in which you ship your cards to the wholesaler and allow them to pay you 30 days later), you may get stiffed occasionally.  In eighteen years, I've gone unpaid about eight times.  In most instances, the store had gone out of business and was not liable to pay their debtors.  In one instance, the buyer is still happily running his shop but is simply refusing to pay.  Oddly enough, this person was a terrific buyer for eight years, until he wasn't.  People can surprise you.

You can avoid these situations by requiring upfront payment with a credit card.  You'll pay merchant fees, however, so in the end, declining to offer Net 30 might cost you more than offering Net 30 and going unpaid on occasion.  If a retailer asks for Net 30 terms, you can ask for a credit sheet and call the vendors listed in the referrals section.  The vendors can vouch for the retailer if they believe it is a credit-worthy account (although stores with terrific histories can go bankrupt anyway).  Don't offer credit to stores that make you chase them for payment, or turn Net 30 into Net 270. 

ORDER AMOUNTS

Wholesalers order cards in multiples of 6.  Smaller retail shops will commonly buy 6 or 12 of each card design.  A larger retail shop might buy 24, 36 or 48 of each card. 

An order total from a smaller retail shop ranges from $75 to $1000.  An order total from a larger retail shop and/or a small chain of stores (let's say 3-5 stores) can range from $800 - $5000.  

Order totals depend on how many card designs you offer, and how salable they are.

An order from a large chain (such as Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, Barnes & Noble/Paper Source, etc.) can range between $10,000 - $30,000 (order totals also fall in lower ranges, though).  Your profit margin for these orders will be lower than your profit margin for regular retail shops, and there is often an increased labor cost, due to specifications from the company, such as extra stickering, bar code labeling and special packaging instructions.

Selling Greeting Cards to Consumers

PROS

A benefit of selling directly to consumers is that you might have more creative freedom.  

A retail shop owner is under pressure to cover rent, utilities and employee paychecks each month, and may feel inclined to buy greeting card occasions that are known topsellers (such as birthday cards).  Shop owners also have to consider/guess and buy only what will sell well to their clientele.  Not all retail shop owners feel this pressure, but some do.

Consumers don't need to consider customers' opinions - just their own, and possibly a card recipient's.  Consumers might buy a card for a specific person or for themselves.  I personally buy cards to keep, since I love stationery and illustration. 

You can also get away with racier card messages.  I have adult cards in my line that some retailers avoid, since they have children visiting their shops.  Not that children don't enjoy racy cards (my friends' kids sometimes come across them and wave the cards joyfully in their parents' faces).  With that said, there are plenty of retailers who are happy to carry super dirty cards.

In my experience, consumers have been delightful.  With that said, I've shied away from platforms like Amazon, where I've heard that consumers can be more challenging to deal with.

CONS

From the numbers, it looks like selling to consumers is better. 

However, you need more consumer buyers than you need wholesale buyers. 

There is a cost to acquiring each new customer.

Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC):
Cost of Sales and Marketing divided by the Number of New Customers Acquired

Gaining a new buyer requires work - marketing, sales outreach, SEO, advertising (optional).  This will cost you in time (and money, if you choose to pay for advertising or help).  Depending on your business, spending a large amount of time acquiring new customers can be more costly than the difference in profit between selling to wholesalers and selling to consumers.

It's absolutely possible to gain the buyers you need through marketing.  It just isn't a sure thing, and it depends a lot on how special your work is.

In the wholesale scenario, at 600 orders/year, you could have 200 customers buying 3x per year.  Many retailers order regularly as long as your cards keep selling.

In the consumer scenario, at 6000 orders/year, you might have 3000 customers ordering 2x per year.

How frequently your buyers order depends on how often you release new cards, and on how enticing the card releases are to them.

Shipping Fees for Greeting Cards

Now let's discuss shipping.

Wholesalers are used to paying for shipping (although they, like anyone, love free shipping offers). 

Consumers are used to receiving free shipping.

You might choose to pay part or all of the shipping fees to encourage sales. 

Shipping fees for rigid envelopes 
are high.  Rigid envelopes insure that small orders of greeting cards do not arrive bent or otherwise damaged.  It currently costs $4.50 to ship one greeting card (an A7 5 x 7 inch card) in a rigid envelope.

Customers are largely unaware of the USPS rule (that a rigid envelope must ship as a "package"), so they'll understandably balk at paying a $4.50 shipping fee for a single card. 

Many card companies offer free shipping thresholds at $25, $35, $40 or $50.

I know two colleagues who ship single cards in non-rigid envelopes (a.k.a. regular envelopes), and say that they hear few reports of customers receiving damaged cards.  So shipping cards this way is definitely an option. 


It's a risk that I'm not comfortable with, but maybe you will be.  This will allow you to ship a single card to your customer for the price of a stamp.  


To give you an idea of what shipping fees might cost you:

I offer free shipping at $35+, charge $1.95 for orders under $35, and sell single cards for $5.50 or $6 (I also offer sets that price the cards at $3 or $4 each, and some sale cards are $2.50). 

If I sell a single card for $5.50, I net about $2 after subtracting shipping, COGS and the packaging cost.  

I know!!  This is how I own twelve yachts.

If someone buys 18 cards (3 sets of six cards) and pays $54, I'll pay $13 shipping if they live on the East Coast.  A package weighing over 15.9 oz must ship as a Priority Mail package, and Priority Mail is expensive.  After COGS and the mailer cost is subtracted, I might net around $28 ($1.56 per card).

You can charge customers the full shipping amount, build the shipping cost into your selling price, and place your free shipping threshold at $50, $60 or higher.  I've experimented with different thresholds and shipping fees over the years. 

I think that for a customer, cards are expensive enough, and if I can help out with the shipping fees, I'm happy to.  I like to encourage snail mail and giving cards to friends.  My approach might change at a later date, though.  I need to buy some archipelagos.


How do I get started with my greeting card business?  And why is this buried all the way down the page?

Good questions!  

How to get started:  

Decide on a business name (if you are not going to use your legal name). 

Register for a DBA ("doing business as").  This will enable you to operate using your business name.  For example, having a DBA allows you to deposit checks in your bank account that are addressed to your business name/DBA.  If you are a sole proprietor, your bank account will be in your legal name.

Decide on the type of business entity that your business will be.  If you are the sole owner/operator of the business, the entity can be a sole proprietorship, a single-member LLC or a corporation. 

If you have one or more partners, you can operate as a partnership, a multi-member LLC or a corporation.  

Get a seller's permit.  This will allow you to make some purchases (such as cards and envelopes) without paying sales tax, since the end purchaser (the customer) will pay sales tax.  You will not charge sales tax to wholesalers, since they will charge their customers sales tax on your cards. 

Check with your city and state to see which licenses are required. 

(To be continued.)

 

TIME

When operating a card business, there will be overhead costs such as

e-commerce platform subscriptions, accounting software, crystal meth, marketplace fees, production supplies, commissions, trade show and public sale expenses, employee wages, merchant fees, bookkeeping help, and the cost of your time - the most costly expense of all. 

Allocate time for writing and designing cards, sourcing and ordering supplies, selecting a printing company, preparing files for press, creating, updating and maintaining your e-commerce site and online marketplace shops, product photography, SEO, managing advertising, posting on social media, and twirling a sequined sign on the street corner suggesting that people visit your shop. 

I don't know how much time you'll spend creating your cards, but I have often worked on a single card for 40-80 hours.  Using your time in a similar way can sink your business, so try to be efficient while still producing quality work.  

What are the most popular greeting card occasions?

There are two primary categories of greeting cards:  everyday cards and seasonal cards. 

The most popular everyday card occasions are:  Birthday (the most popular by a long shot), Thank You, Wedding, Sympathy, Baby, Congratulations, Thinking of You, and Get Well.

The most popular seasonal card occasions are:  Christmas/Winter Holiday, Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, Father's Day and Graduation. 

Christmas/Winter Holiday is by far the most popular seasonal card occasion, with Valentine's Day and Mother's Day selling decently as well.


Popular Greeting Card Occasions for Selling to Wholesalers

When selling to retail shops, Birthday is the easiest occasion to sell.  Birthday cards account for the majority of all greeting card purchases.  If someone finds a card that tickles them, and it happens to be a birthday card, they can give the card to everyone and anyone.  If someone finds an equally charming anniversary card, they will know far fewer people who they can give the card to, so they'll be way less likely to buy the card (so this card will sit on the shelf much longer than a birthday card would).

Christmas/Winter Holiday cards (both in boxed sets and in singles) also sell extremely well to wholesalers. 

Retailers place orders for holiday cards in the middle of the year, beginning in May.  They usually finish buying their holiday selections by July, although some will continue purchasing into the fall season. 

A chain of stores such as Barnes & Noble/Paper Source reviews samples of Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and New Year's cards in January.  They place orders in March, with order fulfillment specified for August.


Popular Greeting Card Occasions for Selling to Consumers

In the U.S., consumers seem to like blank cards more than wholesalers do. 

I'm referring to illustrated cards without words.  I personally love blank cards, since they are all-purpose.  

Retailers are more likely to populate their shelves with specific occasion cards, since they serve a customer's immediate need in an obvious way (better than a non-worded card does), and will sell more quickly.

There is a category of blank cards that have funny sayings on the front.  I am not referring to these cards, since wholesalers do buy these cards readily.

I am also not referring to cards that are blank on the inside but have a design/illustration and a greeting on the front. 

Aside from the difference with blank cards, consumers have similar buying needs for everyday and seasonal cards.

Consumers normally buy holiday cards in October and November.  They purchase seasonal cards much later than retailers purchase them (closer to the occasion).

What is the most popular greeting card size?

A2 (4.25 x 5.5 inches)
In the United States, the most popular greeting card size produced by independent card companies is the A2 size (4.25 x 5.5 inches).  

If you fold an 8.5 x 11 sheet of printing paper in half, and then in another half, you will see what an A2 card size looks like.  Doing this makes it easy to sketch an A2 card design without having to use a paper cutter.

A7 (5 x 7 inches)
The A7 card size (5 x 7 inches) was very popular in previous years, but is now considered by independent retailers to be on the large side.  Some retailers and large chains still prefer this size, though, since it fits nicely into large floor spinners/racks for greeting cards.  The designs also stand out on the shelf since the card is larger.

4-Bar (3.5 x 4.875 inches)
The A1/4-Baronial ("4-Bar") size (3.5 x 4.875 inches) is another card size produced by independent card companies, but it is not as popular as the A2 card size.  It is considered by some to be on the small side.  This card is the same size as wedding invitation reply cards.

The above card sizes are for selling to wholesalers. 

If selling to consumers, you can make a card any size you like.  With that said, I'd recommend making them in a standard size so that matching envelopes will be available and well-priced.  There are additional standard card sizes such as:

A6 (4.5 x 6.25 inches)
A9 (5.5 x 8.5 inches)
 
Try to avoid creating square cards, since the USPS requires additional postage for mailing square envelopes.  It's best not to create extra hassle for your customers. 

It's also best to stick to one card size rather than producing multiple card sizes. 

The more streamlined and simple your product offerings (in the beginning, at least), the easier operations will be. 

Your card size will dictate the size of the envelopes, card sleeves and shipping boxes you buy, and things can get messy if you have limited office space.

 

How many greeting cards should I print?

Most card companies print in large volume.

If you are just starting, you could print 50 each of 12 designs (600 cards total).  

I usually print 20,000 cards (20 designs x 1000 of each), which is considered a small quantity for an offset print run. 

An offset print run is done with color-separated CMYK plates on a giant, expensive printer, usually by a large printing company. 

Some card colleagues print 144,000 cards at a time (3
6 designs x 4000 of each), or higher quantities.

The quantity of cards that you print at any given time will depend on the size and speed of the orders coming in. 

These figures apply to smaller independent card companies, and not to giant companies like Hallmark and American Greetings.  


Friends with letterpress card companies (particularly hand-cranked letterpresses) often print in smaller quantities, since they produce the cards themselves, and printing more cards requires more labor.  Increasing the quantity of cards printed by an offset or digital printer doesn't require any extra labor on your part (aside from the labor required to pay for the print run).

A letterpress friend prints 300 cards at a time, and I print 300 - 400 (we both print on hand-cranked Vandercook flatbed cylinder presses).  Other letterpress friends use Heidelberg Platen (Windmill) presses, which allow for automation once setup is complete, so they will often print 1000+ cards at a time.

If you are just starting out, start with small quantities so that you can test the market and see which cards people buy.  

If you produce 24 designs, you may find that people buy three of them and ignore the rest. 

You can print your cards on a home printer (using a quality printer, quality paper, a creasing/scoring machine and a paper trimmer), although I'd recommend a digital printing service, since the quality can be very good and the prices reasonable.  It would be less of a hassle, and you can avoid spending money upfront for expensive supplies.  Creating cards by hand is not easily sustainable or scalable, though it can be tolerable for a modest business if you don't mind the extra work.  It's fine for testing designs if you already have the supplies.

If using a digital printing service (HP Indigo Digital Presses are great, but not all companies that use them are equally skilled at production), you could print 50 of each design to start.

Get three to five printing quotes, since some printing services charge a relatively high amount. 

View samples from a printing company before placing an order, and/or order from a company based on a trusted recommendation.

Ask a group of people from your target market to select their favorites of your card designs.  

Small quantities are fine if you are getting started with selling to consumers.  Small quantities are also fine for starting a wholesale card business, but give your sales rep or the retailers a heads up that you'll need a lead time of a month or so (the lead time depends on your printer's turnaround time).  If you do this, you'll have enough time to order additional cards to replenish your stock, if you receive orders for more cards than you have available.

 

How I started my greeting card business

The greeting card landscape has changed drastically since the year I started (2004, when the iPod Mini came out), so things that worked previously don't work as well today.

Here's what I did: 

  • Designed a bunch of greeting cards
  • Exhibited at the National Stationery Show in NYC
  • Received orders from retail shops
  • Worked briefly as a card sales rep
  • Acquired sales reps in various areas (NYC, San Francisco/Bay Area, Los Angeles, Chicago, Toronto, Boston, Seattle, Portland, Minneapolis, Denver, San Diego, etc.)
  • Continued to exhibit at Javits Summer Camp (the National Stationery Show)
  • Set up consumer and wholesale e-commerce sites
  • Exhibited at sale events/craft fairs (Comic-Con, Renegade Craft Fair, Unique LA, etc.)
  • Joined the Faire wholesale platform


In 2022, a laid-back sales approach probably won't earn you a full-time income, unless you have a large purchase-happy following and/or are exceptionally talented.  I was lucky to start my business at at time when there was way less competition than there is today.

To be continued.  This page is a work-in-progress.  Thank you for your patience!

Note:  Please take what I say with a grain of salt.  I’m speaking from my own experience, and from the experiences of my greeting card colleagues (mostly smaller independent card companies).  I'm sure that others in the card industry can offer great advice and different viewpoints. 

 

Rummaging Region