Card Connection is a greeting card publisher and distributor. The whole greeting card market is worth £1.5b at retail.
The mainstay of the business is their ‘everyday’ greeting card ranges which includes birthday, blank, relations and occasions. Additionally, Card Connection has full seasonal ranges for Christmas, Valentine’s, Mother’s, Father’s Day and Easter. They also supply an extensive range of giftwrap and gift bags, and a concise range of party products.
Card Connection mainly supplies its products to convenience stores such as Spar, BP, Budgens, WH Smith, and Londis.
Established in 1992, Card Connection covers the whole of the UK and Ireland with geographical franchise territories.
All territories for sale are resales, where the new franchisee invests in an existing business, so has income from day 1
Card Connection offers new franchisees comprehensive initial training starting with 2 days in the classroom with an experienced Franchise Manager followed by around 14 days in the field.
After initial training franchisees are given as much training and support as needed by their own Franchise Manager and head office.
Franchisees are often couples with 1 member out on the road in their Card Connection liveried van merchandising between 6-10 convenience stores a day.
In store the franchisee will briefly chat to the store owner, show them some of the new designs and then go to the card display and strip all cards off it and replace with a new (fresh) card display. They will then raise an invoice on their iPad using the bespoke App and get paid.
At the end of the day the uplifted stock is taken home and unloaded where staff (or possibly their partner) will have prepared cards for the next day’s merchandising which is loaded into the van, ready for an early start!
Former Esso station manager, Graeme Ewing, took over the Card Connection Ayr/Kilmarnock territory in 2010. Graeme now delivers Card Connection’s extensive range of quality greeting cards and gifts to retail outlets throughout the Scottish region.
“I have been impressed over the years by Card Connection’s product range as an Esso retail customer,” confirms Graeme Ewing. “Therefore, when the territory became available I was very interested in learning more about how the company worked. When I visited the head office in Farnham, Surrey, I found the Card Connection team made up a strong, dynamic and forward-thinking organisation and one which I was keen to join.”
Graeme purchased his Card Connection territory in December which is one of the busiest times of the year for greeting card sales. However, with his previous retail experience, Graeme was quickly up to speed and was able to optimise the opportunity that this franchise could bring.
Graeme describes himself as a real ‘people person’ with lots in common with the retail managers. He used these skills and knowledge to build relationships quickly with key accounts to manage a seamless handover of the territory. When he originally purchased the franchise he supplied around 90 retailers with Card Connection’s quality range of greetings cards and accessories; he has built the business up over the past four years and now delivers to 140 outlets and there is still plenty of room for development.
“I have also invested in the business,” explains Graeme. “The majority of my clients now have new display units which show off the stock better, encouraging customers to make a purchase. The display units are installed on ‘free loan’ with the retailer only paying for what they sell so many of my outlets now have over 2 metres of cards on show in their stores, which means I can create a really attractive area.
“The design quality of cards themselves is fabulous. The head of Card Connection’s in-house design team has a genuine understanding for the market and really cares about what the franchisees are putting out there. I also like the accessories, such as the bottle bags, wrap and party products which add a further string to my bow!
“Each day, I’m generally on the road early visiting between three and 15 stores, depending on their size and location. It’s an expansive geographical area which covers parts of Paisley, parts of Glasgow, Ayr and Kilmarnock as well as other towns and rural villages. I merchandise the displays by taking out old stock and replacing it with the latest designs and seasonal product. I aim to be back home around 3pm to prepare for the following day’s deliveries. I’ve worked really hard over the past four years to get the franchise running well and it is really beginning to ‘function’ now and the franchise has a lot more potential to grow too.”
Sadly because of ill health, Graeme is selling his business - contact Card Connection to find out more.
Last year David and Marie Clements won Card Connection’s award for ‘South West Franchisee of the Year’. David explains: “It was a massive surprise! Cornwall is an unusual area, it is geographically spread and not the most affluent region of the country, so has its own unique challenges. However, since joining Card Connection we have built our franchise up to supply around 165 retail outlets from Land’s End to Bude.
“In our first year of trading in 2007, we grew the franchise by 25% and we have continued to do well over the years. We visit between a variety of between six and 12 retail outlets each day delivering and merchandising Card Connection’s quality range of greeting cards and accessories.
“Some retailers are small and some can take up to three metre card displays. Some of our biggest customers are retail groups such as Shell and The Original Factory Shop. The display equipment is installed on ‘free loan’ to the retailers and they only pay for the stock they sell, so they are happy to work with us on an ongoing basis.
“Marie and I merchandise together as we find we can visit and service more stores in a day that way and optimize our time out on the road better. We are also focused on new account calls. I wouldn’t describe myself a sales person. It can be daunting visiting a prospective outlet but the cards are such good quality that they really sell themselves.
“Before joining Card Connection we ran a Londis store for twelve years in Kilkhampton, Cornwall. We had always been impressed with the quality of the greeting cards and gifts that the local Card Connection franchisee supplied to us in our shop. This, combined with the excellent merchandising service, made it clear that Card Connection had a great business idea.
“When the local franchisee let us know he was considering selling his business we knew we should seriously look into the proposition. As it turned out our experience ‘on the other side of the counter’ has put us in an excellent position to understand the needs of our retail customers.
“Because we were self-employed before, some aspects of the franchise are similar to when we ran the Londis store, such as basic bookkeeping and ordering stock. To be self-employed you need to be disciplined and motivated – and that is the same now we are franchisees. The main difference is in our day-to-day work: we are out on the road each day rather than behind a counter. We visit a different part of Cornwall every day!
“If I had to offer advice for prospective franchisees I would say: look into franchising carefully and do lots of research. Understand fully what is involved before making any commitment.
“We were lucky because we chose Card Connection and now we know the industry better, we can confirm that there are not many better franchisors out there.”
This year will be my 20th year as a Card Connection franchisee!
I left school and worked in a factory for 12 years, starting on the shop floor and working my way up to foreman. I have always been a practical person and always liked the idea of self-employment. When I left the factory, I ran my own shops for a few years - a newsagents and a convenience store - where I was first introduced to Card Connection.
I loved the idea of the franchise, so in 1993 I bought a virgin territory which covered Norwich, Norfolk and a small part of Suffolk. Card Connection had only started out in business the year before, so we have grown together! Initially the company stocked just 60 cards, now franchisees have a selection of over 1,200 designs to choose from! Over the years I have built-up my franchise and now supply 230 retail stores with Card Connection’s extensive range of quality greeting cards and accessories.
I place the greeting cards in retail outlets on a ‘consignment’ basis. I also supply the display equipment free on loan to the retailer, minimising retailers’ costs and maximising their profits. This is one step beyond ‘sale or return’ as Card Connection’s retail customers don’t have to buy the stock initially; they only pay for what they sell. Card Connection’s award-winning merchandising service provided to retailers by local franchisees has proved popular with retailers all over the UK and Ireland.
I employ three part-time staff, including my sister and who picks and packs the greetings cards ready for delivery, plus two merchandisers. I’m on the road most days, merchandising stores with stock, cold calling or managing refits or seasonal displays. I own three vans for those of us who do the merchandising and we visit around 8-10 retailers every day. We are back by 3pm which gives me time to unload and re-load the vans and work on the administration.
An example of how I work is with the eight Budgens stores in my territory. In the past year, I have been focused on growing sales in these outlets by improving the displays and making them larger. I have also carefully analysed the sales figures in each store to work out which products sell best and subtly increased the stock of these particular greeting cards. In addition, I have introduced Card Connection’s ‘party accessory’ ranges without losing greeting card space by adding hooks originally designed for bottle bags. In the present climate it is this attention to detail which is essential to get more from every outlet. My efforts have been rewarded and I now supply five of the top 10 selling Budgens stores in the eastern region!
I have worked hard over the years to nurture relationships with retail customers and have built a solid franchise business over the long term. I still enjoy what I do and my business is still growing and sales are up by 6.6% in past 12 months. I have also been nominated as a finalist for the bfa long-serving franchisee award for 2013!
Elaine Anderson joined Card Connection in June 2012 and took over the established territory of Glasgow and Fort William, delivering Card Connection’s extensive range of high-quality greeting cards and party ware to retailers across the region. She tells her story:
“I was looking for a new challenge and Card Connection ticked all the boxes. The business offered a solid cash flow opportunity and stunning products. Almost a year into running the business and I can describe the starting-up process as ‘hectic’ but in a good way! I can only compare it to expecting a child: you do all the research but nothing quite prepares you for the reality! Card Connection’s business model is simple, but there has still been a lot to learn. The team have been tremendously supportive and really helped me get to grips with the franchise, so I could get up and running quickly.
“I have around 200 retail customers which I visit on a regular basis every 4-6 weeks. I visit between five and seven stores on a typical day to supply the new stock of greeting cards and refresh the displays. I’ve been so busy that my son has also started helping me full-time.
“The Glasgow and Fort William territory is a mix of urban and some particularly rural areas and even includes several island locations. Driving through the scenery is a delight and I have got to see parts of Scotland I’ve never been to before! I also need to travel on a couple of ferries which is not a bad way to get to work!
“The franchise is focused on following the seasons, so following Christmas I was straight onto Valentine’s Day, then Mother’s Day and Easter. Father’s Day cards are delivered in April ready for June sales. The cards are lovely and would sell well on their own but the displays, with their vibrant colours and headers, really catch the eye and the customers like them.
“Because I bought an established franchise, I was making money from day one. For my first year, I have been concentrating on consolidating the franchise by getting to know and building relationships with my retail customers. Next year, when my son and I have been in the business for 12 months and we are used to working with the seasonal cycles, we will look at gaining new retail clients too.
“Before I joined the Card Connection franchisee network I was a contract manager for Skills Development Scotland and Scottish Enterprise for around 10 years before taking a break to re-evaluate options. A visit to a franchise exhibition in Scotland sparked my interest in franchising and an ad in the local paper alerted me to the Card Connection opportunity which had become available. I am so pleased I chose Card Connection – the company and staff have been really good to deal with. I am now managing my own business, it is completely different from any of my previous roles but I’m really enjoying the new challenge.”
Former convenience store owner, Asif Malik joined Card Connection in 2009; he has recently expanded his franchise in the Birmingham area by purchasing the neighbouring territory of Burton and Rugeley. His team are now responsible for delivering and merchandising Card Connection’s extensive range of quality greeting cards and gifts to more than 350 retailers, which include the likes of Netto, Budgens, Londis, Spar and Shell. Asif discusses his experiences and his recent expansion.
“I joined Card Connection in 2009 after working with the company for around eight years as a retail customer,” confirms Asif Malik, Birmingham franchisee for Card Connection. “My business distributing Card Connection’s greeting cards has been thriving, but when the opportunity to purchase the neighbouring territory came up recently, I jumped at the chance to expand my franchise operation further."
“My team also needed to grow and so we have purchased a new van and hired two more merchandisers–one who is solely dedicated to prospecting and opening new accounts. Our greeting card picker and packer, my wife and myself now make up a team of five,” explains Malik. “We are all now focused on an aggressive marketing strategy to expand the reach of the business and with new and exciting greeting card releases available from Card Connection’s dedicated design department every single week, retailers are always keen to take our stock."
“The sheer variety and quality of the products often seems to put us out of reach of the competition, and backed by the support of the Card Connection head office team, who are always on hand for advice when we need it. We anticipate the new area will be great news for our franchise business.”
Originally from Hull, Brian Spilman moved to Leeds when he went to college. He liked the area so stayed on and now lives near Skipton. He joined Card Connection as the franchisee for Leeds six years ago. Previously, he managed his own IT firm, which he had built up over the years and then sold on, deciding it was time for a new challenge!
He was looking for something totally different, yet knew he still wanted to run his own business. Brian takes up his story with his thoughts on moving into franchising all those years ago:
“At the time, I was supporting a young family so the idea of taking on a franchise where I could earn money from day one appealed. I liked the fact that I would be out and about and independent, yet have a large, established organisation right behind me.
Starting any new venture is a learning curve, but Card Connection staff were particularly supportive. The head office team have always been great to deal with, open, honest and really professional. I also rate my franchise manager who I have worked closely with over the years; he is ever on-hand to provide help and advice when needed.
It’s hard work but there is plenty of variety. I am out of the door and on the road by 7.30am to beat the traffic. I visit my retailers every 4-6 weeks to merchandise and supply stock, then am back by 3pm each day to load the van ready for the following day’s deliveries.
Thanks to the clever business model, I have been able to grow my franchise steadily and I now work with two full-time employees. However, this year I was able to purchase a neighbouring Card Connection territory to include Burnley, Blackburn, Preston and Blackpool. This major expansion, which has effectively doubled the size of my franchise region, now means my team and I supply Card Connection’s extensive range of quality greeting cards and gifts to 270 stores in the north west.
The exciting addition of the new territory has been the next ‘step-up’ for my business, allowing me to take advantages of economies of scale created by running a larger operation. The new region is made up of a mix of densely populated town and rural geography, and is occupied by both independent stores and large national retail accounts. Yet, there is still plenty of scope for development and a significant part of my focus for the next year is securing more retail customers. I am also aiming to recruit a third part-time person and am looking at new premises, for a little more ‘northern expansion’.”