In her swansong speech as president of the GCA, Ceri Stirland, channel and customer director of UKG did not hold back, with her punchy delivery gaining the attention of the packed audience at the recent GCA Centenary AGM and Conference, which took place in Westminster’s Central Hall on October 17. She was followed swiftly by an eloquent address by Rachel Hare, md of Belly Button as incoming president in which shared her story, added her endorsement to the need to maintain the environmental pace and also urged all to keep creativity at the heart of our world beating industry.
Acknowledging the progress that has been made by the industry on the environmental front, a key mission when she took over as president of the trade association two years ago, Ceri shared her delight that “the majority of retailers and publishers have made a stance and decided to ‘Go Naked’. My estimation is that by January 2020 the amount of cello bagging on everyday cards will have reduced from 64% to 32% of the volume, a reduction of 438 tonnes – which is significant – a big thank you to everyone.”
That said, she urged the greeting card community to work to making further improvements, broadening their gaze to sustainability.
“As an industry we now need to do more and think about how we reduce waste further. Can we remove plastic from outer packaging? Do we need to use as much cardboard? – yes, it can be recycled, but it is still waste. Can we reuse FSDUs or are there reusable alternatives? Is it right to have such high seasonal waste? As retailers and publishers, how do we do things differently?” prompted Ceri. While acknowledging that the card trade is “a small part of the problem we need to take our responsibilities seriously and lead from the front. I want us to be a better industry and contribute to a better world.”
Presenting the findings from the GCA’s recently published UK Greeting Card Market Report, which showed the British public spent £1.7 billion on greeting cards in the last year, Ceri stressed that “Despite this being a time of unprecedented change and uncertainty for the UK, our industry has remained resilient and shown remarkable strength.”
While there has been a slight dip in value and volume overall, this is against a backdrop of drop in retail footfall and zero industry inflation. She picked out how Spring seasons grew for the second year in succession and how relations and occasions card sales were also up.
“Christmas sales continue to be a challenge for our industry – we need to work together to turnaround the decline,” said Ceri.
Most encouragingly were the graphs she shared which demonstrated how greeting card engagement remains incredibly high, with well over 90% of the entire UK adult population buying cards.
“This high participation is across genders and ages,” reassured Ceri with Gen Z and Gen Y on course to further increase their engagement on the card front. “Despite the acceleration of social media, we are still seeing participation in greeting cards holding strong – proof that the British public are continuing to love our category.”
Having been handed the GCA presidential baton from Ceri, Rachel Hare shared her journey from art student to setting up and developing Belly Button Designs, which next year celebrates its 25th anniversary, into the much-respected design-led publisher which also owns three card and gift shops under the same brand.
As to Rachel’s expectations for the two years of her presidential reign, she is in no doubt that the environment will continue to be dominant.
“Two years ago at Belly Button we began the process of trying to reduce the amount of plastic that we use. I do champion naked cards. In our own shops we have been displaying cards this way for 18 months with no issues at all. In fact the opposite – they look and sell better,” stressed Rachel. She however acknowledged that it is does bring production and logistics complications as well as increased costs, but these, in her opinion are worth taking absorbing.
“It is important we continue to have dialogue and work with retailers and brokers together to allow change,” stressed Rachel, saying that this push from within the industry will be more than matched by demands from the consumer.
Ending her speech on a poignant high, Rachel drew on the inspiration from something Mary Portas said during a BBC Radio 4 programme recently. “A phrase she used which stood out for me was ‘purpose is the new luxury’. We must keep creativity and originality at the heart of what we do, and bear purpose in mind.”
Urged by her 12-year-old daughter Daisy to share her thoughts on the creative direction of greeting card design over the coming two years, Rachel said that while hearts, flowers and balloons will continue as a constant, “unicorns have turned into llamas and are jumping over rainbows!”
Making a serious point of how the creativity integrity needs to be safeguarded, Rachel concluded: “Some icons never go out of fashion and the trends we all follow will come and go, but it is how we apply our own branding and hand-writing to these which we must hold precious and respect those of others. This in turn will keep the vibrancy and creativity bubbling away.”
Top: (left) Ceri Stirland, UKG’s customer and channel director ended her reign as GCA president at the recent gathering handing to Rachel Hare, md of Belly Button Designs.