couldn't hope to express it any better than Richard Rodgers or Oscar
Hammerstein. Since their music and lyrics have provided us with many
stress-free hours through the years, we decided "getting to know
you" would be a welcome, interesting chance to feature YOU... the
force behind today's greeting cards.
Greeting Card Writing Dot Com and sandralouden.com FEATURES:
Scarlet's Feathers (Montclair, NJ)
SAYS: As those of you know
who regularly follow this column, we usually feature greeting card
writers. And this time around is no exception. However, we've added an
exciting new dimension this month-Pat Ferdinandi not only writes the
verses, she's "Flock Leader" (in human lingo, that's President
and Founder) of an exciting new card company, Scarlet's Feathers. Since
we at greetingcardwriting.com receive a steady stream of questions about
starting one's own card company, we thought we'd go directly to someone
who already has. We know you'll find Pat as delightful as we do and
we're honored to have her featured in "Getting To Know You."
©Greeting Card Writing DOT com/Sandra Louden.com
I know our readers are very interested in how you came up with the idea
of starting your own card company. Could you tell us a little of the
history behind Scarlet's Feathers?
idea began in Christmas, 2001. I wanted to send out bright, exciting
holiday cards, but finding nothing that fit the bill, I decided to make
my own using Scarlet as a model. Out went 350 holiday cards and the
response extended beyond those who received the card. I was continually
asked, "Where did we find such beautiful cards?".
The one point I would emphasize to anyone interested in starting any
business is to validate your market. The Internet is an excellent source
of information. I did a formal business plan that had me search for the
number of parrot owners, specialized magazines, pet stores and so forth.
I submitted it to SCORE, an organization of retired business personnel,
who said I had a sound business plan. Information on how to write a
business plan is available at book stores, libraries and organizations
for Small Businesses. It is VERY important to fill out all the parts in
a business plan to help you focus on the "business" of running
a successful business. Developing cards is the fun part. Running the
business end will take most of your time.
Based upon my research, I discovered there were blank parrot cards and
what I call "closing" parrot cards (those with simple
"Happy Birthday" or "Merry Christmas." I could find
NO true parrot greeting cards. So, I had my niche ... something very
important with over 3,000 greeting card companies competing for small
shelf space. And, finally, after much preparation, Scarletâ€™s
Feathers, Inc. formally fledged in June, 2002.
2. What were some of the main obstacles or problem areas in
launching your own line of cards?
Exposure. Sales Representatives won't give you the time of day if
you're new and unknown. It's a Catch 22 situation. You need sales to get
the print costs for the cards down to the point where you can make some
money. Be prepared to spend a great deal of money on advertising. Word
of mouth is good, but not good enough to get the volume you need. What
helps control costs is knowing your niche and targeting that audience.
3. Take us briefly, step-by-step, through the process of starting a
greeting card company. What would you say are the seven most-important
first steps in laying a successful foundation?
1. Know your market! Identify your primary purchasers and why they would
buy your cards. Then decide where the best place to find these
purchasers would be. And be as specific as possible.
2. Start your company with spare change. In other words, keep your day
job to pay the mortgage. It takes, on average, 3-5 years to get a small
company profitable. Even longer for that business to pay your mortgage.
3. Plan your advertising/marketing strategy. Stick to your plan and only
adjust if you have the extra income to spare. Equally important, if you
feel the web is one of your most valuable avenues, have a professional
develop your website. You need stores to succeed. Nothing is more of a
turn-off than an unprofessional site. Now, this might cost upwards of
$3,000, so you may want to start with other avenues first and work up to
a prominent website.
4. I personally incorporated early. I would suggest setting up the
business under a "Doing Business As (DBA)" designation. Talk
to your bank and accountant. You'll need both.
5. LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN! Customers always provide valuable information
even if it is information you choose to ignore. Greeting card stores are
important. Other greeting card industry professionals are also very
valuable. Although eventually they would be someone working for you,
offer to take a sales representative out to lunch to pick her or his
6. Educate yourself in the greeting card industry, understand your niche
and your goals for your small business. That includes soliciting help (eg:
Verse consultation) from people.
7. NEVER give up. In the words of Milton Berle, "the problem with
most people is that they give up too soon."
4. How many greeting cards did you start with and at what rate did
you add new titles? How many titles do you currently have and what are
some of your most "unusual" occasions?
I think I started with about 20 and I took those to a local parrot
show where I had my first booth. I received so much valuable feedback
that I adjusted my line and did much better at the next show. Recently,
I did my first trade show. That really opened the doors and I now have
over 100 designs. I grew from 20 cards in March, 2002 to over 100
designs for December, 2003. I can't really tell you the exact ratio of
design growth between that time frame since I'd develop my cards in
waves. However, I work on Scarlet's Feathers-related business EVERY DAY!
The daily discipline is VITAL in any business to stay focused.
5. Many people would consider a
card company based solely on parrots to be catering to quite a niche
market. Have you found that the appeal of your card line extends behind
the obvious parrot owners?
Not yet. Even at the "Backer" show which is for the pet
trade, those who had parrots at any point in their lives came to look at
the cards. The way I see it, though, is with 7 million current parrot
owners, even if I make only $0.05/card, that's a nice living. So, I
don't really care if it extends beyond the obvious niche I've created.
Greeting card stores will probably start taking me on after about 3 more
years. Then they know that I'm not a fly-by-night type of manufacturer.
I am also about to enter the Louie Awards; if I get at least an
honorable mention, I think non-pet stores will take me more seriously as
6. What trade shows have you found to be particularly helpful in
attending? Do you attend other shows, e.g. parrot shows where you
display your cards?
Since I studied and identified my niche, I knew that the pet trade
show was for me. I attended the National Stationery Show, but did not
exhibit. I am currently debating if I should add that to my expenses.
Other shows I'm considering are: The Atlanta Gift and Decoration shows
(Jan/Jun), the super Zoo and of course I'll do the Backer Show again. I
was told by many exhibitors that potential buyers want to see that
you'll be around. They won't hand over their credit card until they've
seen you at the show for 3 years straight. Keep that in mind when you
The other avenue are shows for the public. I did many parrot shows and
super pet shows. Though I did ok, after the Backer Show I decided they
weren't worth the time/money. I may do one a year just to keep in touch
with the actual card buyer.
7. Could you tell us a little about the Giftware News write-up and
any other publicity that you've gotten due to Scarlet's Feathers?
I signed up with a Public Relations firm. Though I did get some
exposure like Giftware News, I don't think I'll use this approach again.
I used a "gang-push" approach which lumped me with other pet
products (mostly for dogs) and I don't feel I got my money's worth. I'm
considering a PR avenue, but will have it be a direct one (which is
about $1,000 / month for a minimum of 6 months). It will all depend on
my 2004 marketing budget.
One article was a complete surprise. I was mentioned in the Washington
Post. They were doing a Mother's Day article that targeted cards from
the pet. They called the Greeting Card Association. They gave them the
name of dog and cat cards. When asked if there were any other pets
depicted, the GCA woman thought for a moment and said, "Well,
there's a new company that specializes in parrots." I was in the
middle of cleaning Scarlet's cage when the Post called. The reporter was
leaving a message on my machine. I heard it and needless to say, I
dropped everything, tripped over a pail of water, getting to the phone
just in time.
8. How difficult is it to get Scarlet and her friends to pose for
those wonderful photos that grace the front of your greeting cards? Tell
us a little about a typical photo shoot. (To our readers: You can see
some of Pat's cards in our corresponding page, "In The
Spotlight." Pat also shares the creative spark behind these
These beautiful creatures know they're beautiful. They're also very
curious! So, point a camera in their direction and they immediately
start posing. If I have my camera and a parrot is around, I ask the
PARROT if I can take her picture. She lets me know right away! One of my
goals for next year is to visit Parrot Jungle in Florida for a day- long
shoot. I'm continually asked by parrot lovers for a specific species; in
my cards, I focus on the most common. I only have about 350 more to go!
Tell us about
scarletsfeathers.com and how people can order from the site.
Take a look around to see what
we're about (and of course, to admire Scarlet), but also click on the
"online catalog" button to see the catalog. One of the
smartest things I did was to sign up for a shopping cart service. I use
Retail Cart. They have a catalog manager that allows me to upload my
pictures and verses one by one. I can even put a picture up before
printing to see if I have any takers.
10. Finally, where do you see Pat Ferdinandi-AND Scarlet's
Feathers-ten years from now.
Paying my mortgage and then some! I also want to expand into
calendars (I tried that this year, but failed because I wasn't known
enough), gift bags, and shopping lists. All are dependent on finding the
right printer and building a good business relationship (which should
also be added to the list of top things for starting a business). Have
to go now ... Scarlet is about to lay an egg!
final thoughts from Pat
I usually start with a picture.
When I'm looking to add an occasion, I go through all my parrot shots to
see what photo fits best with the specific occasion.
My favorite verse style is substitution. Parrots are so much like people
that just applying them to the verse seems to complete it.
Pat's advice to all the newbie greeting card manufacturers or verse
1. Read this webpage often. Sometimes you learn something new; often it
just reminds you of what works.
2. Take Sandra's greeting card writing course. Being forced to work on
something that isn't your style makes you much more marketable. So many
buyers, so many
styles, so many possibilities.
3. Visit card stores often (including online stores). They trigger
4. NEVER NEVER give up. You will improve over time and you will have
To contact Scarlet email to: scarlet@ScarletsFeathers.com