A screenful of faces represented many of the ‘cogs’ that keep the UK greeting card ‘wheel’ turning, but it was their views and experiences that they each shared on yesterday’s PG Buzz ‘end to end’ Zoom Meet-up that highlighted a collective strength and will to come out of the Covid-19 with heads held high.
Hosted by PG Buzz this significant gathering brought together Jehane Boden Spiers, founder of art agency Jehane; John Jones, sales director of envelope company Enveco; Adam Short, md of digital printer The Imaging Centre; Bruce Podmore, md and Michelle Mills, business development and marketing manager of litho printer, Windles; Abbie Ross, director of sales and Janet Stevens, greeting card paper maestro of paper company, GF Smith; Matt Lyons, md of fulfilment house 2WL; card publishers Paul Roberts, commercial director of Rachel Ellen Designs and Jeremy Corner, md of Blue Eyed Sun; Miles Robinson, co-founder and co-director of retail group, House of Cards; Andy Pearce, md of online operator Thortful; independent sales agent Rosie Trow and Amanda Fergusson, ceo of the GCA.
Taking place on Monday morning (May 11), only a few hours after Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s speech that heralded the start of the easing up of lockdown, the ‘end to end’ Zoom was well-timed to both reflect on the bruises, challenges and few triumphs that have ensued since March 24 as well as look forward to what the ‘new normal’ will bring to the industry as a whole as well as to the component parts represented at the meeting.
With the exception of Thortful, the growth of which Andy Pearce would only define as “up many 100%!”, lockdown has, not surprisingly taken its toll on the industry’s usual patterns, in fact even Thortful has had to face challenges of paper and envelope supply (as the papermills shut),but there is no doubt that the facility to furlough has enabled companies in the whole industry supply chain to continue and be there (hopefully) for when an upturn comes.
Enveco has kept three machines working throughout; The Imaging Centre, while turnover was halved in April, its deft move to get a B2C website up and running for publishers has kept the presses working; printer Windles was running at 45% in April but on top of this has been making PPE items for frontline needs.
Miles Robinson revealed that thanks to a boom in its online sales, House of Cards has been running at about 50% of normal turnover. “It’s not great, but it is not catastrophic,” he says philosophically.
What was encouraging to hear from several directions was that, as Rachel Ellen’s Paul Roberts highlighted “in the last week alone there have been some green shoots of growth already showing.”
Windles’ Bruce Podmore said he had sensed a slight rally, which he puts down to the remerchandising of card displays in Waitrose and Sainsbury’s “stimulating some workflow.”
Meanwhile, Matt Lyons of fulfilment house 2WL (which provides third party warehousing for The Art File and Danilo, among others) said that he had just unfurloughed 10 staff as orders had come in from Paperchase as well as several “decent orders from Germany, Holland and Dubai.”
Windles’ Bruce highlights how in fact there will need to be some careful planning so that the convergence of Christmas on top of new ranges coming through can be accommodated.
“I believe what sadly has stopped greeting cards through its traditional outlets almost dead in its tracks I think will also work in its favour when it comes to the return”. It is his belief that the industry “will bounce back quite quickly” and those companies that embrace “the convergence of the coronavirus, Brexit and sustainability will come back much, much quicker. We are embedded in the wish to send greeting cards and subject to the B2C models I do feel the public has been starved of getting access to the choice of greeting cards that they had prior to lockdown.”
For Rosie Trow, for whom not being able to work as almost all of her retail customers are not trading, it has been “torture”, her only salvation being to “keep in contact with customers” through Zoom calls, emails and handwriting over 200 cards to send to them all.
“Independents are out there on their own, we all need to help them as much as we can until they can and feel happy to open up again,” she stressed.
That ‘feeling happy’ to open up, might not be as soon for all as the June 1 date given by Boris. “The ‘new normal’ will be how unprofitable can we afford to trade, governed by the number of customers you have safely have in your shop,” says Miles. “We reckon four people will be the maximum for our shops and no merchandising or tidying up will happen while the shops are open for safety reasons. Thankfully people are used to queuing and we are coming into summer, but not until there is a vaccine or the virus dies out will things really revert to ‘normal’,” he believes.
As Rose accepts: “As a salesperson it is not going to be easiest task to sell greeting cards from a two-metre distance, but I will figure something out!”
One aspect everyone was unanimous on was how sustainability will be very much back on the agenda, perhaps helped by the fact that the virus is much less likely to be transmitted on paper than on cellobagged items.
As Jehane said: “This should not be seen as a great pause, the reduction in pollution levels and the appreciation of the world at large will hopefully mean we will all learn from this and sustainability and caring for ourselves and our planet will be top priorities.”
As Amanda reminded everyone to post their cards and stories on the GCA’s Thinking of You website, showing just what a strong roles continue to play in good times and in bad, Thortful’s Andy championed the immense creativity and how the nation’s greeting card designers had been abundant in their designs to reflect public sentiment. “We have seen a fast evolution of fantastic content – from designs featuring hand santisers to loo rolls to thanking front line staff and supporting those in isolation. The creative spirit is very strong and its every cog in the industry wheel, that makes this market so special.”