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We 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 all about you" would be a welcome, interesting chance to feature YOU... the creative force behind today's greeting cards.

This month, Greeting Card Writing Dot Com and sandralouden.com FEATURES:

Pat F. & Scarlet 1 

Pat Ferdinandi
Of
Scarlet's Feathers (Montclair, NJ)
Email:  Scarlet@ScarletsFeathers.com


SANDRA 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."

2003 ©Greeting Card Writing DOT com/Sandra Louden.com

1. 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?

The 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, Scarlet’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 brain.
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 well.

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 pick shows.

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 verses).

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!

9. Tell us about scarletsfeathers.com and how people can order from the site.

Iwww.ScarletsFeathers.com. 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!

Pat Ferdinandi
Flock Leader
 

  Some 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 writers:

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 ideas.
4. NEVER NEVER give up. You will improve over time and you will have fun.

Pat Ferdinandi
Flock Leader

To contact Scarlet email to: scarlet@ScarletsFeathers.com

 

 

 
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