At the end of last year Between the Lines opened its first ever store in London – and now it has set its sights on expanding to 50 shops over the next five years. PGBuzz talks to owners Lindsey and Florian Kleinlercher to gain a better understanding of what makes this successful retail group tick and its ambitious plans for its future.
Between the Lines has been an attractive feature on the gift and card shop map for decades. Its 13 stores are currently all located in the South of England (radiating from its HQ in Petersfield, Hampshire) – but that is likely to change in the future, with the opening of its first London store being just the start of a concerted expansion plan that will have no geographical boundaries.
The stores reflect the complementary skills of the company’s two founders – Lindsey and Florian Kleinlercher. While Lindsey concentrates on the product sourcing and creative look of the shops, Florian takes care of the financial and operational sides of the business.
And although the product portfolio in all Between the Lines stores is wide – including curated collections of homewares, jewellery, fashion accessories, children’s products, gardening gear, books, glassware, home fragranced ranges – greeting cards are very much part of the make-up, with sales accounting for 35% of the revenue for the vast majority of its stores.
Hurrah for greetings cards
“We sold 859,000 greeting cards last year, 19,000 more than the previous year. The buying habits of our customers certainly dispel the myth that the habit of sending greeting cards is dying out!” states Florian.
Consistent with the approach right across the business, Lindsey has her own way of not only creating the right range of card designs for Between the Lines customers (hand-selecting designs from 60 publishers), but also of displaying them instore.
“Greeting cards are great at getting people in the shops. We have lots of regular customers who come in and buy handfuls of cards at a time. We also have others who say they have just come in just for a chuckle at our humour cards, though they invariably buy something,” says Lindsey.
Lindsey has come up with a space-efficient way of being able to offer customers a wide offering of occasions and relations cards that works very well.
Underneath acrylic shelves that display everyday cards (or their seasonal equivalents) is a row of shallow boxes. Each of these is filled with different cards for a specific occasions or relations, as highlighted by the specially produced caption finder jutting out of each box.
“We only include two cards of each design as that way we can offer a broad choice that we can change as and when. It is of course time consuming for our shop staff, but customers tell us they enjoy looking through the boxes to find just the right card.”
Looking across its’ publisher supplier portfolio, Lindsey highlights Pigment, Hammond Gower, Five Dollar Shake, Icon, Paperlink, Museums & Galleries, Almanac (GBCC) and The Art File as among those to publish Between the Lines’ best sellers, but she also buys from some tiny publishers because she likes what they represent.
Although Lindsey ensures that she keeps the card selection fresh, she is constantly amazed that some of the designs that have been best sellers have been so for years.
“In fact we were so convinced that two Christmas designs that Five Dollar Shake were discontinuing would still sell well that we committed to a special order of 1,000 cards of each that were produced just for us. We sold 931 of one and over 600 of the other design so we were right,” reveals Lindsey.
But as the new London store testifies, Lindsey and Florian are backing their hunches on more than just a few special order card designs.
Other than the opening of its Farnham store in 2015 (and the relocation of its Petersfield shop to a unit in a much better location in the same year), the Between the Lines’ estate has been pretty steady, having grown quietly and organically over the last 30 years with the bringing up of their three children (ranging in age from 11-18) adding to the Kleinlercher mix.
However, the move to RMR (a sister company to Royal Mail) for the daily deliveries of stock from Between the Lines’ central warehouse opens up the expansion of possibilities for the retailer.
“Prior to this, we had our own van with a driver we employed who did the rounds delivering in stock to our shops throughout the course of the day,” explains Florian. “It meant that our shops were having to take deliveries during times when they were busy with customers which was not ideal.”
Using the RMR network, deliveries are made very first thing in the morning (with the option to pick up any stock to be returned to the warehouse or taken to another store).
“It has been a real eye-opener,” admits Florian. “And it means that we can use the warehouse’s network to supply any shops we decide to open anywhere in the UK,” he adds excitedly.
With a grand plan to be trading from 50 stores in the next five years, eyes and ears are out and about hunting for potential sites to suit Between the Lines’ remit.
“We tend to work in high streets with a more ‘villagey feel’. We tried operating in a covered shopping centre in Guildford and is just didn’t work,” admits Lindsey.
While finding the right locations will be crucial, both Lindsey and Florian share a similar confidence about the future of specialist card and gift retailing.
“People are saying that the high street is dying, but it is our belief that if you offer an attractive retail environment and products that interest them then you can do good business,” believes Florian, with the group’s recent Christmas trading figures reinforcing his views.
“We had our best Christmas trading period ever – we were up 14.5% on the previous year. Admittedly, we had our new Northcote Road shop, but our like for like sales were up 7%, which we were very happy with,” adds Florian. It is easy to read between the lines that expansion is definitely on the cards for this chain.
This article first appeared in the February issue of Progressive Greetings magazine.