Christmas Reports: Just Cards, Expressions and Cards & Gifts Sheffield

In the latest of a series, three leading retailers reveal how Christmas trade stacked up for them, what products performed well, plus their respective hunches for 2022.

Today, PG Buzz hears from Maggie Wynn, owner of Just Cards, HonitonChris and Tracey Bryant, co-owners of Expressions, Cats Whiskers and Polkadot in Swindon, Bishops Cleeve and Keynsham and Carl Dunne, co-owner of Cards and Gifts, Sheffield and Dronfield.

First up, let’s hear from Maggie Wynn, owner of Just Cards, Honiton…

Your Christmas trade verdict: “Smooth…very smooth compared to the madness of December the previous year.”

Spill the beans: “Our sales were up about 5% compared to figures from the last normal year so we were very happy after all the uncertainty.”

Above: Part of the Christmas display in Maggie Wynn’s Just Cards shop.
Above: Part of the Christmas display in Maggie Wynn’s Just Cards shop.

What was your festive strategy? “We put our Christmas displays out a little earlier than previously, as we had it out for half term to catch the holiday makers.  We also kept the store as spacious as possible by removing everyday spinners to makepeople feel extra safe.”

Customer buying patterns: “I think a lot of people bought early ‘just in case’, which made the Christmas flow much better with not so much congestion.”

Your top performers: “Noel Tatt’s pop ups and globes did very well for us as did the Museums & Galleries’ boxes.”

Above: A Museums & Galleries charity box for Christmas 2022.
Above: A Museums & Galleries charity box for Christmas 2022.

A sustainable Christmas? “When all the Christmas stock was on display, we really noticed the lack of glitter – not only did the cards not sparkle, but neither did we! A lot of the customers commented that we did not have the ‘usual’ boxed cards which we think was because publishers had taken the sparkle out of Christmas. That said, I do think the industry has been really proactive on the environmental front as evidenced by the reduction in plastic packaging. I admit that initially I was a bit dubious, fearing it would result in more damaged stock, but this has not been the case.”

Your hunch and approach for 2022: “So here I am, ordering Christmas yet again! I would like to say a big thank you to all the suppliers’ agents and reps who receive my funny phone calls with requests for stock; they never let me down. What would we retailers do without them?!”

Now Chris and Tracey Bryant, co-owners of Expressions, Cats Whiskers and Polkadot in Swindon, Bishops Cleeve and Keynsham respectively share their festive experience…

Above: A festive window in Expressions.
Above: A festive window in Expressions.

Your Christmas trade verdict: “Stupendous!”

Spill the beans: “Across the three shops, our final quarter total trading was up by 29% on 2019 figures with card and gift wrap across three shops up by 43%. Our Expressions store (in which Christmas card sales are always strong) showed a 25% increase, while The Cats Whiskers was up 50% and Polkadot’s sales were up 55%. That said, Cats Whiskers and Polkadot have each benefitted from a total revamp of fittings and product offer during 2021.”

What was your festive strategy? “We started selling earlier (on September 1) with a larger display than we would normally start the season with. We also made a larger selection of cards available online via our website which proved to be a great success.”

Customer buying patterns: “Customers were definitely shopping earlier, thereby justifying our decision to go out early and bigger with our displays. Although footfall fell, average spend was well up on 2019/2020 levels.

We definitely benefitted from customers ‘shopping local’ – especially at Cats Whiskers where the chemist across the road was busy giving Covid jabs thereby bringing many new people into Bishops Cleeve, many for the first time, as a result of which they came into our shop to browse and purchase.”

Your top performers: “Charity packs and boxes did exceptionally well, particularly Woodmansterne and Museums & Galleries in all three shops. In addition, in Expressions we had additional charity FSDUs from Noel Tatt and GBCC.

Higher code cards sold well in the popular captions – wife, husband, OIL, mum, mum/dad etc. We still have reasonable sales of single boxed cards, captioned Wife, husband, OIL, boy/girlfriend fiancé/cee, these were supplied by ICG and Carte Blanche. No matter how many more we buy each year we still seem to run low on ‘special friend,’ ‘to both’ and ‘special couple’!”

A sustainable Christmas? “Sustainability was a consideration to some degree.Customers were pleased to know that all our Christmas wrap was suitable for recycling. Oddly though we had a few comments about the lack of glitter on cards!”

Above: Chris Bryant with some of the Polkadot team with the retailer’s Retas 2021 trophy.
Above: Chris Bryant with some of the Polkadot team with the retailer’s Retas 2021 trophy.

Your hunch and approach for 2022: “We remain very positive about 2022, fingers and toes crossed that we avoid a lockdown or at worst, it will only be a short lockdown. The greeting card sector is very resilient and we are always pleased when we see young people in general buying cards which bodes well for the future of our fantastic industry.

As for our Christmas 2022 ordering in relation to The Cats Whiskers and Polkadot we will increase the offer and buy in more depth as despite our big increases in 2021 we believe we could have sold more. In Expressions, where sales are always strong, we are considering increasing footage to accommodate the ever increasing demand for captioned cards, such as mum/partner, granddaughter/grandson and partner, daughter and boyfriend/ partner, daughter/son and family etc.”

And last, but most certainly not least, it’s Carl Dunne, who co-owns Cards and Gifts, Sheffield and Dronfield with his partner Oliver Guise-Smith, to share his Christmas story…

Christmas trade verdict: “Businesswise: Fab-u-lous…Personally: Hellish, due to the death of our dog Florence.”

Above: Carl Dunne (right) and Ollie Guise-Smith at The Retas last November.
Above: Carl Dunne (right) and Ollie Guise-Smith at The Retas last November.

Spill the beans: “We fared better than we were expecting to be honest as we were lucky enough last year to stay open in 2020. I was worried to start with as I placed orders based on the previous year, but it worked out well, as being able to spread the stock across the two stores worked in our favour.”

What was your festive strategy? “I actively promoted the titles we stocked and extended our display of boxed cards and rollwrap outside repurposing the trollies we use for flowers in the spring and summer. I kept rotating the boxes with different designs so those customers who came back had another look.

As we had some overstocks, I did a Black Friday promotion for the first time with a ‘3 for 2’ on boxed cards but because of the snow, it was a wash out, but I decided to keep this going for an extra two weeks which really did work well.”

Above: Part of the Christmas display in Cards & Gifts.
Above: Part of the Christmas display in Cards & Gifts.

Customer buying patterns: “We seemed busier first thing of a morning with the to/from school/work crowd. We sold more boxed cards than normal, either because of the promotion we ran or people just saving their pennies on individual cards and sending out cards from decent boxes instead.”

Top performers? “People were hunting out cards with verses. Cherry Orchard’s Grace designs sold out! UKG had some great verse cards as did IC&G. On the gift front we ended up selling a lot of Nordic Light tea light holders from Xpressions 4 U, which most customers bulk bought!”

A sustainable Christmas? “Sustainability was a huge consideration for customers. We were asked a lot for UK made products. We did have one customer who was upset that there was less glitter on cards, but all commented that they understood and that more needed to be done to find an environmentally sustainable glitter.”

Your hunch and approach for 2022: “I am feeling cautiously optimistic about 2022.

Too many customers for my liking said they were sending messages, e-cards etc. instead of physical Christmas cards due to cost and waste, we need to counter this. So, I’ll be expecting more suppliers to provide us with UK-made and printed, taking on board that more needs to be done to make their products sustainable and environmentally-friendly. Into the Green’s products are especially interesting as they meet those standards already.”

Top: A portion of the window display in Just Cards.

 

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