Greetings cards are a great source of profit, says Barbara Johnston at Leigh post office in Kent.

There are so many ways to say you care. Flowers from lovers, chocolate from relatives, and e-cards from the friend who forgot your birthday until halfway through the day when they suddenly remembered and sent you an internet card with flashing lights and music, in the hope you’d be so impressed you’d not notice they couldn’t be bothered to buy a stamp.

But there’s nothing quite like going to the door and finding a card or two amid the morning pile of brown envelopes. Which is why, despite texting and the internet, only 3% of the population say they never buy cards (Source: Mintel).

According to Mintel, while the market for greeting cards plateaued in 2004, it’s worth around £1.4bn from sales of 2.87 billion cards. Those figures are expected to grow to a staggering £1.6bn and 2.93 billion cards by 2010, up by 13%.

So, saying you care is very big business and, due to good margins, can mean excellent profit for small retailers, according to Barbara Johnston. She runs the village store in Leigh, Kent, with her husband Alan since 1978.

The store had two racks of cards and some stationery which sold well until 11 years ago when the village post office closed and the Johnstons took it on, extending their shop to accommodate it. They increased their number of cards by another rack and saw sales rise.
Barbara is in charge of the cards and says she enjoys making sure she has something to suit all her customers, who range from “the local gentry to single mums from the council estate”.

She says: “Sometimes, the reps come in with ranges that I have to say I don’t like - they’re too way out. Occasionally, my daughter helps and she thinks a little differently to the way I do, so it’s interesting and useful to get another opinion.”

Maintaining a varied stock is important. According to Mintel figures, everyday occasion cards have shown the largest value growth between 2002 and 2004 at 12% compared to the market average of 6%. Generic and blank cards are expected to enjoy the biggest growth in future. The Leigh store sources the cards from several different wholesalers for diversity.

Space is a constant bugbear and means Barbara has to be strict about what she stocks. “I’m afraid I haven’t enough room for all the relationship cards so we stick to mum, dad, wife, husband and then sell a lot of blank cards.”

Barbara also carries a range of stickers which can be applied to customise cards - if the recipient is a particular age, for instance. She highlights the occasion cards with shelf stickers to help customers find their way around and to help cut down mess - always a problem with a card fixture.

“People are very messy. It has to be tidied up every day. I come out of the post office every night and think ‘look at the state of it’ - it really puts people off.”

Trade for cards can vary a great deal in the shop, boosted sporadically by a local birthday or bereavement, and seasonality can make a huge difference to stocking. “Obviously, in spring there are daffodils which sell well, but by summer those aren’t selling. Poppies seem to be popular all year round.”

Christmas is a major stocking issue and Barbara begins to condense her stock from the end of September, trying not to put in any further orders for cards until after the festive period.

She gives over one rack exclusively to Christmas cards, which are sold in singles and multiples, as well as putting a couple of extra boxes on the floor of the shop beneath the rack.

Barbara keeps the fixture topped up constantly and says that more often than not the reps will call her when they know she’s getting low, before she has the opportunity to call them.

Overall, she says that as well as offering a great return, with margins of 40%, the card fixtures also offer her a lot of personal pleasure: “I enjoy picking them. They really are good fun to do.”


Women buy cards more frequently than men, except Valentine’s and Mother’s Day cards

Men are more likely to buy humorous cards, especially men between the ages of 25-34

Wording in cards is less important for men than for women


Cardline has produced a new range of Forever Floral photographic cards in a new 6.5cm x 6.5cm size. RRP: £1.25

Card Connection has launched new designs in the photographic, fine art and contemporary card ranges with blank, birthday and occasions captions. RRP: £1.30 - £1.99

Carlton cards has launched four new ranges of cards: Talk it Over pencil-sketched bear designs of 13 birthday and two friendship designs; four new YoYo Handmade cards; Maisey Days, including 10 birthday and five friendship cards; and Little Bo Gingersnaps including 16 designs. RRP: TBA

The Picturesque range of hand-finished cards from Regent cards features a three- dimensional picture frame. RRP: £1.25 - £1.60