The screen was full of smiling faces and the ideas flowed from retailers at what was is the first of many GCA Retailer Member Meet-ups.
Hosted by Amanda Fergusson, ceo of the GCA, leading card retailers took a break from their business schedule ‘Zoomed in’ to share not only their experiences of the first two weeks of trading, but also to come up with ideas that the GCA could progress to help card retailers and the industry in general.
“This industry is well-blessed with some incredible retailers, headed up by talented individuals who are clearly confronting the challenges of this difficult time by giving it their all, despite the constraints,” commented Amanda Fergusson. “Having such engagement from our retail members means that we, as a trade association, are able to protect, promote and perpetuate greeting card sending.”
Among those who attended the meeting were Paul Taylor (Cardzone), Sarah Laker (Marple Stationery Supplies), Jon May (Mooch), Andrea Pinder (Presentation), Tabi Marsh (Papilio at Heritage) and Sally Matson (Red Card), as well as Fiona Pitt (Hallmark Gold Crown), Rose Trow (agent) and PG.
“It’s been a really positive couple of weeks,” said Sally Matson of Petworth-based retailer Red Card. “As we can only have three customers in the shop at one time, our customer service has possibly been better than before,” she said, kicking off the tales from the new retail frontline which now involves ensuring customers adhere to their respective safety precautions as well as adapting to new trading patterns.
“Our biggest challenge in our Bewdley shop has been tourists who don’t respect our rules – of sanitising on entry and no wearing of gloves,” reveals Jon.
In Thornbury-based Papilio at Heritage, owner Tabi Marsh shared how, while she has confronted the shop’s ‘pinch point’ being its card department, by moving her card displays into its former café area and erecting a marque in the garden in order to make more space, her biggest battle is with the local council’s snap decision to erect cabins at the entrance and exit of the village and off-putting cones throughout.
“It is so unwelcoming,” says Tabi. “We had an amazing first week and now this!”
Paul Taylor highlighted how he felt, despite Tabi’s experience, that “neighbourhood stores” are much better placed to trade well compared to those in shopping centres, a pointed reiterated by all.
For Andrea Pinder (owner of Presentation of Barrowfoot), whose takings have been on a par with last year, her main bugbear has been the difficulty of getting hold of suppliers – card publishers and gift companies alike – wanting to place orders.
Sarah Laker (of Marple Stationery Supplies) and Sally Matson both agreed, in their experience, that the smaller companies have been much more supportive. “I will not forget which companies were there for me during lockdown and they will be the ones I will support going forward,” said Sarah.
On the ideas front, Paul Taylor put forward the suggestion that it would be in everyone’s interest for all specialists to “launch Christmas earlier than usual,” by putting out a small display of Christmas stock in September to encourage earlier purchasing.
Rosie Trow suggested how the biggest boon to all card retailers and publishers in the run up to Christmas would be for the “GCA to approach Royal Mail about reducing stamp prices” for card retailers in November “thereby encouraging the public to stock up.”
Amanda explained how, the surge in card sending during lockdown highlighted an even greater relevance for getting involved in promoting Thinking of You Week this September. Paul Taylor conformed that for the first time this year Cardzone would be really getting behind it and has already started discussions with publishers on this.
Sally Matson, ever one for ideas, chipped in with the idea of pulling together a pack of say nine designs from different publishers that indies could then put on display.
“It would make things so much easier and encourage more retailers to get involved. I am even happy to help make up the packs if the cards were delivered to one location,” she offered.
This led to a wider discussion on Point of Sale, not just for Thinking of You Week, but all card sending needs with a broader suite of items, notably shelf-talkers and wobblers being deemed more useful for space-starved retailers than large posters.
“It was a packed hour of great sharing of experiences and ideas. We will definitely be doing more of these meetings,” assured Amanda, thanking participants for their time and input.
Top: A scene from the GCA Retail Members Zoom Meet-up.