GCA’s Dragons Speed-Dating fires on all cylinders

The retailer Dragons and participating publishers gave the event the thumbs-up


“This afternoon is all yours – to meet people, learn, share ideas, build new business relationships and make connections,” said GCA ceo Amanda Fergusson as she welcomed a room full of greeting card publishers and leading retailers at the recent GCA Dragons’ Speed-Dating event, which took place on Wednesday, 23 March, at London’s Business Design Centre.

And connect, learn, idea-share they certainly did – with orders having already been placed as a result of some spot-on pitches, and many others in the pipeline.

Building on the success of the GCA’s previous Dragons events, some 72 card publishers from brand new start-ups through to established brands made the most of the opportunity to pitch their companies’ ranges to buyers of leading multiples, small groups and indies.

Above: Retailers Andrea Pinder, Presentation; Tim Reynolds, Medici Gallery, and Sean Austin, Austin & Co, check in with GCA’s Amanda Fergusson and her husband Alex
Above: Retailers Andrea Pinder, Presentation; Tim Reynolds, Medici Gallery, and Sean Austin, Austin & Co, check in with GCA’s Amanda Fergusson and her husband Alex

PG Buzz caught up with some of the retailer Dragons to find out their views…

“Goodness, I’ve seen so many lovely things, with very different styles! I will definitely be placing orders with several of them – Oliver Stockley and Klara Hawkins for starters!” enthused Andrea Pinder, of Presentation in Barrowford.

“It was so inspiring to meet so many passionate people in one room, each and every one creating very different card ranges,” said Claire Taylor, card buyer of John Lewis, who was participating for the first time.

Also new to the Den were Tori Heath-Smith, card buyer of Paperchase, and her senior buyer colleague Carlo Marinelli. “Time just flew by!” exclaimed Tori. “It was a wonderful opportunity to meet loads of good publishers – and some of the pitches were really strong.”

Above: Paperchase buyers Tori Heath-Smith (left) and Carlo Marinelli with Fortnum & Mason buyer Emma Hawkins
Above: Paperchase buyers Tori Heath-Smith (left) and Carlo Marinelli with Fortnum & Mason buyer Emma Hawkins

As well as echoing Tori’s views, Carlo added “And even if publishers’ design styles were not for us, it was good to be able to pass on tips and suggestions that will hopefully be helpful to them.”

Participating with her colleagues Holly Whait and Shar Grothier, Sainsbury’s buying manager Abi Wilson lapped up the energy of the event, as well as the real business opportunities that are likely to evolve as a result of the pitches.

“I so loved the buzz of the industry being together again – it was so intense to see people after so much time apart!” said Abi. “I’m excited by a couple of people I met that I can see us working with soon. They were publishers who had a real point of difference, but understood what their brand stood for, and how it stacked in the existing market, real awareness – I’m not naming names just yet!” she added.

Above: Pitching in full flow!
Above: Pitching in full flow!

For independent retailer Shelley Sheridan, owner of Heirloom in Teddington, soon wasn’t soon enough as she placed a large order with Say it with Songs there and then, as a result of the publisher’s 10-minute pitch, with a window display already lined up for next week!

“I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but being a Dragon was so much fun and I’ve never talked so much at a trade event!” said Sheridan.

Another retailer who has wasted no time in responding to the pitches is Mooch’s Sandra O’Connell, with four shops in Ealing and Fulham in London. “I have already placed orders with three new suppliers today,” Sandra told PG Buzz yesterday (24 March). “I really like that the event brings together buyers from bigger retailers and also small independent shops like my own. The choice of card suppliers is great and it actually gives me a chance to look at products I would maybe not normally think of stocking, so it takes me out of my comfort zone.”

Above: Publishers eagerly awaiting to go into the Den
Above: Publishers eagerly waiting to go into the Den

Sharing his view Miles Robinson, co-owner of House Of Cards, with seven shops in the Home Counties, told PG Buzz: “While I have been a Dragon before, I felt that this year’s participants were much better prepared and their ranges were of a higher standard, which bodes well for the industry.”

As Priya Aurora-Crowe, co-owner of Lark’s nine shops in London, summed up, the key to the whole event was that it was “real”.

She added: “Looking on the internet just isn’t the same as you can’t appreciate the board, the finishes or get the feel for the people behind the brands. The whole event is so valuable as you get to meet lots of new publishers and see the incredible quality of the products they are creating.”

Above: Heirloom’s Shelley Sheridan (left) with Say it with Songs’ founder Ellie Fitzgerald
Above: Heirloom’s Shelley Sheridan (left) with Say it with Songs’ founder Ellie Fitzgerald

As well as the pitching sessions to the Dragons, the event also included a panel session which saw GCA Council members – Brett Smith, Emotional Rescue; David Falkner, Cardology; Chris Bryan, Second Nature; Adriana Lovesey, Mrs Lovesey, and Danilo’s Daniel Prince – cover salient industry topics, including exclusivity, risk taking, seasonality, online platforms and sustainability, while Louise Healy-Adonis, co-founder of The Better Trends Company, also made a short presentation about trends.

“It really was a wonderful afternoon,” summed up Amanda. “It was great to see so much interaction and, by the sounds of it, it’s interaction that will lead to sizable business opportunities being realised!”

Top: A thumbs up from the Dragons at the recent GCA event – (from left) Sean Austin, Austin & Co; Anita Thorpe, Diverse; Andrea Pinder, Presentation; Tim Reynolds, Medici Gallery; Shelley Sheridan, Heirloom; Shar Grothier, Sainsbury’s; Emma Hawkins, Fortnum & Mason; Holly Whait, Sainsbury’s, Claire Taylor, John Lewis; Abi Wilson, Sainsbury’s; Paul Taylor, Cardzone; Miles Robinson, House Of Cards; Dale Boreham, Moonpig; Carlo Marinelli, Paperchase; Tori Heath-Smith, Paperchase; Priya Aurora-Crowe, Lark; Becky Collins, Funky Pigeon; Sandra O’Connell, Mooch; Sam East, Card Factory; Katie Salt, Card Factory; and Mark Janson-Smith, Postmark.

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