Entrepreneurs Dean and Janet Hoyle opened the first ever Card Factory shop in Wakefield, Yorkshire on 1 November 1997 full of hopes and dreams for their new greeting card retail concept. Almost 22 years later, and now the UK’s largest greeting card specialist, the still Wakefield-based business has just opened its 1000th store.
“This is a huge milestone for the business and one of which we are really proud,” commented Karen Hubbard, chief executive of Card Factory.
The new store, which opened in the Essex town of Maldon last week, means the value retailer is edging ever closer to the 1,200 store goal that was deemed the UK ceiling for the vertically integrated card business – especially with another 26 stores understood to be opening before the end of 2019.
In addition to the 1,200 store target Card Factory has for stores in the UK, as its recent trials with other retailers (Aldi, Office Outlet and Matalan) demonstrate, plus activities overseas (its own stores in Eire and displays in The Reject Shop in Australia) as well as a dabble with franchising (in the Channel Islands and Isle of Man), the retail group’s growth model is becoming an increasingly interesting shape.
“Like all businesses you have to explore growth opportunities,” says Karen.
Expansion in the Republic of Ireland is most definitely back on the cards. Having opened six stores as a trial two years ago in Eire, not a lot was said about the activity over the water until a recent burst earlier this summer which saw a flagship Card Factory store open in Blanchardstown (Ireland’s largest shopping centre, in Dublin) with more to follow. Karen freely admits there has been some learning to do. “We got off to slow start as Card Factory was unknown in Eire. Our first Christmas sales were rather underwhelming, but performance was much improved by the second Christmas. We really feel there is the potential to open 30-40 stores in Ireland,” she reveals.
But growth does not just mean having the Card Factory name above the front door. The preliminary trial of a Card Factory concession in two Matalan stores, which began in May) is a follow on from the experience of the value card retailer opening concessions within six Office Outlet stores (now defunct).
“We learned a lot about the power of the Card Factory brand from our experience with Office Outlet and also how a ‘mini Card Factory’ could work within another retailer,” explains Karen. “The concessions were in locations where we did not have a Card Factory shop and were unlikely to open one, but the feedback we received from Office Outlet was that the Card Factory name brought customers into the store.”
While still relatively early days with Matalan, Karen hopes that these new incarnations of mini Card Factory will prove mutually beneficial for both parties.
“It is about finding the right fit. Matalan is known for quality products at value prices, which chimes with Card Factory,” Karen underlines.
Although Card Factory’s arrangement with Aldi is somewhat different, in that it is a display unit of 70 card designs within 112 Aldi stores with the only Card Factory branding being on the back of the cards, it nonetheless amplifies the brand as a ‘go to’ for value greeting cards.
“We approached Aldi as we really like its quality and value reputation and think it sits very well with ours. We recognise that while so many visits to our stores are planned with customers buying several cards at a time to cover their upcoming card sending needs, there are other instances when people suddenly realise they have to pick up a card for someone’s birthday in the office the next day. If they can do this when they are in Aldi buying the food for their tea all the better,” says Karen.
To make the selection as easy as possible for the Aldi shopper all the cards on display, taken from Card Factory’s best sellers, are on a single price point of 99p.
While enjoying the relationship with Aldi, it is not a done deal that the Card Factory displays will be rolled out to more stores. IG Design Group, which also installed a trial in Aldi’s South West and Wales stores has recently revealed that it is rolling out to half the Aldi estate (https://www.pgbuzz.net/ig-design-group-to-supply-over-400-aldi-stores-with-greeting-cards/), but nothing more has been said about Card Factory’s progress on this front.
Card Factory is also hedging its bets the other side of the world, working with The Reject Shop in Australia, who has made no secret of its ambitions to be a major disrupter on the greeting card front in Oz by selling value cards. With The Reject Shop already known as a card stockist (supplied by Artwrap, part of the IG Design Group), Card Factory installed displays in eight of the group’s 350 stores at the start of the summer.
“Australia is the third largest greeting card market in the world so of course we are interested in seeing if what we do at Card Factory resonates with the public there – I believe it will,” says Karen, who has not yet replaced her Aussie twang for a Yorkshire accent.
“There is still lots to go for, the UK card market is holding up well. Our recent research has shown we are still seeing increases in card buying from the 18-34 year olds and notably from men, which is something I enjoy telling investors and analysts, which might prompt a few more card sales!” she laughs.
Top: The Maldon store takes Card Factory closer to its 1,200 UK store goal.