Cardsharp: “Events, dear boy, events”

Cardsharp shares a few of his thoughts and observations on how events are unfolding in the greeting card world during this difficult time. “Events, dear boy, events!” Cardsharp recalls this was the answer, the early 1960’s prime minister, Harold Macmillan, gave to an interviewer’s question about the most difficult things he had to cope with in office. At that time, his premiership was going well. A couple of months later his government was rocked by the Profumo sex and spy crisis and then shortly after, Macmillan was rushed to hospital seriously ill with prostate cancer.

Two months ago, our current PM, Boris Johnson, was basking in the glow of a historic election victory and probably receiving thousands of congratulatory greeting cards for his engagement to Carrie  Symonds and her joyous pregnancy announcement. Now he faces the most devastating set of events since well before Macmillan’s tenure, and was also rushed to hospital with a serious life-threatening condition.

Above: Former PM Harold Macmillan.
Above: Former PM Harold Macmillan.

Two months ago, the greeting card industry was just looking forward to the first of the Spring Seasons, Valentine’s Day, and was full of anticipation for Mother’s Day, our second largest event of the year. Two months later, we can reflect on a Mother’s Day and an Easter, that never happened for us. And as Cardsharp writes this, those of us that are thankfully fit and well, are fighting an existential fight for commercial survival. Events, dear boy, indeed!

This was always going to be our worst week. The third week of the lockdown, Good Friday week, and the anticipated worst week for coronavirus fatalities. Last Sunday, Cardsharp made the dreadful mistake of reading the Sunday Times’ Business section in bed first thing in the morning. It depressed him so much he felt like spending the whole day under the covers with the lights out!

Cardsharp knows it goes without saying, the greeting card trade, in common with so many other retail-orientated sectors, has been crippled in what has been a hellish last month. The closure of the vast majority of shops that sell greeting cards (other than supermarkets, newsagents and post offices) has been devastating, despite Boris Johnson’s Government’s attempts to alleviate the worst effects. In the Second World War, both flowers and greeting cards were considered ‘Essential Items’.

Not so in this crisis as card and gift shops and garden centres are totally closed for business. For the present at least. And even in the supermarkets, greeting cards have been deemed ‘non-essential’ in terms of deliveries.

As stockpiling eases this will surely change and greeting card sales in the supermarkets will be a lifeline to the many publishers with a presence there via brokerage arrangements. So, as Cardsharp sees it there is a real responsibility on publishing brokers to be as supportive as possible to their publishing partners, and really play by the rules.

You would think this is the time that online greeting card sales would really come into their own. And yes indeed, from what Cardsharp hears there has been a huge surge in demand, that is for those who can fulfil the orders. Paperchase is currently advertising a 7-10 day delay, Funky Pigeon a five day one and Moonpig hasn’t committed to a ‘restart date’.

Above: While online sales of cards may be booming, some major players, including Moonpig are struggling to fulfil orders.
Above: While online sales of cards may be booming, some major players, including Moonpig are struggling to fulfil orders.

And Amazon, who you would have also expected to be inundated, have been unable to deliver cards, as they have considered them as ‘non-essential’.

It has been some good news though for other players including many smaller independent retail operators with a decent online web presence and with plenty of stock, who are experiencing booming sales. This is great reassurance for industry long term as it indicates how the public, even in these challenging times, have not lost their appetite for greeting cards and the powerful role they play in relationships.

Scribbler’s online site is going great guns and Card Factory’s web site is also lapping up this new increased level of online demand while present conditions are surely helping Thortful’s charismatic founder and serial entrepreneur, Andy Pearce make yet another fortune.

Above: PG columnist Cardsharp’s head is spinning with all the ‘what ifs’ of trade in the greeting card sector right now.
Above: PG columnist Cardsharp’s head is spinning with all the ‘what ifs’ of trade in the greeting card sector right now.

But returning to the subject of Card Factory, the enforced closure of all of its 1,000 stores, and the economic crisis, had seen its share price drop from a 12-month high of over 200p down to a low of 28p last week. This is a company that made £80 million profit in its last financial year. This makes the shares look ridiculously cheap at present. Cardsharp makes no claims as a share tipster, but eventually when we return to some degree of normality, he feels Card Factory with its value offering, will be in a real position to recover quickly.

But the big imponderable question for all of us in the industry, is just when retail restrictions will start to ease. As Cardsharp pens this, perhaps the tiniest ray of hope has appeared. Austria has just signalled its intent to ease restrictions to let some smaller shops reopen and some other European countries like Denmark are set to follow suit, while on Germany flower shops and even ice cream parlours are already trading.

To go back to Cardsharp’s original subject of famous prime ministerial quotes, he was reminded of one by wartime prime minister, Winston Churchill: “This is not the end, nor is it the beginning of the end, but perhaps it is the end of the beginning!”


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