- Home Based, Mobile
Plan-it Cards is a greetings card publisher that distributes high-quality cards, gift wrap and gift bags directly to independent stores and national retail accounts e.g. Costcutter, Premier and Londis through our franchisee network.
We provide a monthly merchandising service with a unique planned display system (hence our name) that enables the retailer to offer a balanced selection of Everyday, Spring Seasons and Christmas cards expertly tailored to match consumers’ buying habits and the seasonality promotions.
Plan-it Cards franchisees provide this service to any retail outlet that sells cards! All card and gift wrap designs published are designed in-house, use the highest quality materials and are exclusive to Plan-it Cards.
Established in 2000 as a franchise operation, Plan-it Cards has national UK coverage with further international distribution in Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Malta and Canada.
Our business model has been established through a proven quality business system, concentrating on good customer service and the innovation of bright new designs, suitable for all occasions. We also operate using the consignment method. The retailer only pays for what they have sold!
We have a small number of territories for sale which are currently merchandised through the Head Office and though the areas may not be fully developed yet they offer opportunity of income from day one and potential growth through hard work and enthusiasm. We also have available a number of established franchise businesses for sale.
Franchise sale prices depend on their size and level of development.
Training starts with a one-day seminar involving franchisees at different stages of their business development who pass on their knowledge and skills. This important day covers merchandising, product knowledge, display planning, journey planning, how to open new accounts and on-going business development.
It continues with a three-day programme back in the territory on a one to one basis that covers the practical back-room elements of the business needed to deliver the front end service to the customers. There is also a practical day in the field merchandising and meeting with customers face to face.
Once you are up and running there are an additional three days set aside for on-going training in the field. This is particularly helpful in focusing on opening new accounts, and refining customer service.
Franchisees normally visit between 8-10 retail sites a day with a typical day involving the preparation of displays at home (or small storage unit) and then installation of these displays in store.
Calls to the retailers are carried out monthly with a fresh display of stock installed each visit. With new designs released monthly there is always something new to show the retailer.
On each visit customers pay for what they sell. There is minimal paperwork and most shops pay on the day of visit.
The franchisees then return home with the previous month’s unsold stock to replenish and make sure the stock is ready for the next day’s calls.
Colin Jakes, was initially introduced to Plan-it Cards by his brother Graham, who was an existing Plan-it Cards franchisee at the time. He was delighted when the Plan-it Cards Brighton territory became available to purchase.
“I had been considering a career change for some time and was familiar with Graham’s franchise and the success he was making [of it]. I knew I wanted to run my own business but it was important to me that my choice of business allowed me to fit it around my family commitments”
“I knew the Plan-it Cards range of greetings cards from helping Graham occasionally with his business in the Croydon territory, when the Brighton franchise became available, I met up with the Plan-it Cards team for interviews. I had a pretty good idea from Graham how it worked but Plan-it Cards filled in all the gaps of exactly how the franchise worked. It was one of the most important decisions of my life so I did my research about other greeting card franchises available, but it was the Plan-it Cards range of product and the potential growth within the territory that made the choice easier to make.”
Colin, outlines the daily tasks of running his business: “I do all of the merchandising. It’s important that I interact with my customers, build relationships and get to know them and their needs. It’s the most important aspect of what I do. I visit the shops and organise stock to a pre-planned display making sure the product is all up-to-date with new designs. I also manage the shop’s seasonal requirements like Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Christmas, as well as some of the minor promotional events like Thank You Teacher. This allows me to give the product in each store a distinctive feel for the time of year.”
Colin also has part-time help to manage the essential back office administration that is involved in any lively business – managing the accounts, stock planning and reordering. This allows him the time to focus ‘out in the field’ and develop new business.
A typical day for Colin can involve making up to 6-8 calls a day – depending on the size of the displays and which part of his territory he is in – to deliver and merchandise greetings cards, gift wrap and gift bags. Because greetings cards are a convenience product the type of stores visited vary from independent shops, newsagents, farm shops and supermarkets.
He says: “I now have a core base of around 100 shops double the number from when I bought the franchise. Having an initial number of shops certainly helped provide income from day one. From the start I have been opening new shops every month as well as developing and building up relationships with my existing customers to make sure their displays meet the demands of their customers. I make sure that all my shops are merchandised on a monthly basis and as my business has grown it is important that I am organised, particularly with regards to effective route planning and having the right designs available at the right time to service the shops.
“I really enjoy what I do. Being my own boss is something that I’ve always wanted. It is hard work but I am in charge. There is something satisfying in knowing that I am in control of my own time. And the good thing moving forward is that there is a still a great deal of growth potential in my area.”
What was it that attracted you to running your own business?
“Before I had my daughter I ran a trim shop, for a company who supplied the MoD. I did not think about working again until she had started school, as I did not want to leave her with a childminder. I was attracted to running my own business for the flexible hours, and being able to work from home.
“Once she started school, buying the business was great for me as I could decide when to work and still did not have to have a childminder.
“It is hard to believe but I have now been running this business for more years than I care to remember, and as my daughter has grown up I have been able to spend more time building up the business.
“There are always daily challenges in any business but I enjoy what I do. At the end of it though I know the more time I spend building up the business the greater the rewards. That’s a great feeling.”
Why Plan-it Cards?
“I love greetings cards and it is a friendly ‘people’ business to be involved with. Working with the range of cards we have is lovely as they are bright and colourful and you don’t get bored! There are new designs coming out all the time.
I get regular feedback and support from Plan-it Cards and I feel that as I’ve grown my franchise business the support they have been able to offer has matched my progress. I cannot think of anything I do not like about the business.”
What is it like running your own business?
“You must work hard, but the rewards are very good and fulfilling when you look at what you have achieved. Going into business, especially as a woman, is not easy and is no excuse for an easy life. I like not having to answer to a boss, being able to work from home and organising my time and myself. And if I need any advice I know Plan-it Cards are there at the other end of the phone.”
“Even in the current economic climate the business continues to grow. Plan-it Cards are developing our national account contacts and with this growth I am expanding the business on to the next stage. Space is important to expand and so I have bought a summer house which my husband David has fitted out as a ‘card house’, so I can pick, pack and organise so my daily merchandising runs better.
“I have a good size of territory. You need time to spend developing it, as there is always opportunities to open new shops and extend the business. It is always important to have achievable business goals and I look forward, to having 150 good performing sites spread throughout my territory.”
A lengthy career in the newspaper industry may seem an unusual way to enter the greetings cards business, yet for Ian Hinton it seemed the natural progression. Ian is the Plan-it Cards franchisee for the West Midlands, covering Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Coventry and all the surrounding suburbs.
“When I left school the only thing I was certain of was that I wanted to be in sales. A visit to the youth employment centre led me to an interview and subsequent job with WH Smith & Son working within their wholesale news and book business,” explained Ian. “I spent four years here learning the business from the grass roots and gaining several promotions, eventually becoming one of their first book van sales representatives. In 1977 I was approached by the local newspaper group and offered a job as a newspaper sales representative.
“Many promotions followed and in 1997 I achieved my proudest goal, I became the sales & marketing director for The Birmingham Post & Mail Ltd, then the country’s largest independent publishing centre. This was a massive role, over 200 staff and responsibility for a huge revenue and expenditure budget.
“I was devastated to be made redundant on 31st December 1999. I doubt if anyone anywhere enjoyed a job more than I enjoyed this one. With newspapers in decline I had to make a new career for myself. I tried a few things but my passion remained in sales and with the only people I had ever worked with, the independent retailer.”
In May 2001 Ian purchased a franchise which covered the Walsall/Wolverhampton area. A virgin territory, he found opening shops easy and opened one hundred accounts in his first month!
Over the years he has added to his territory and developed his shops and today he looks after in excess of 250 outlets and is kept very busy.
“There’s something very special about growing your own business, and I still get a huge buzz out of seeing my sales grow,” Ian comments.
As do an increasing number of Plan-it Cards franchisees, Ian has based his business away from his home and rents a small office.
He explains: “I was never comfortable working from home. The culture I had been used to was very much office-based and I have been happier since replicating it within my own business – although the rent is a cost that is not essential and I know the garage at home would more than suffice.”
A normal day sees Ian leaving home at 7.30am to head for the office. He does all his own merchandising and therefore the first task of the day is to prepare packs for the ten to fifteen calls he does each day. He says: “I have developed some very large accounts with several displays up to two metres in length and with several hundreds of cards displayed. There is something very special when you grow an account to the extent that the owner depends upon your service, and of course it’s always nice at the end of the month to present a large invoice!
“Despite the fact that I am almost at full stretch I still try to open at least one new account per week as I believe my business needs to continue to develop and can’t stand still.”
Like many franchisees, Ian uses a small van to carry out his daily business. “Although not as comfortable as a car, it is so much easier to work from. Stands, however big, are much easier to transport and it does help greatly when you are looking to develop accounts. I can also do more calls in a day.”
Ian also sees the benefits in the on-going new products developed by Plan-it Cards: “New seasonal products introduced for the Spring Seasons and Christmas have been hugely successful and have opened up new areas for discussion with a lot of my existing accounts.”
Ian knows the value of developing the sale: “I have accounts that sold a few cards a month in the early days and are now some of my largest accounts.
“It takes time to build an account but you have to be prepared and continue to look for the opportunities to develop and promote all of the product lines you have at your disposal.”
He sees a bright future: “I have opened 22 sites in the last 5 months. All of them referrals. I have not had to go looking for the extra business. Yes times are tough and retailers are finding it hard. But the good ones will survive and I must be doing something right. We can offer them a first class service with no initial outlay from themselves. We just have to get that message out there!”
Simon Hanna had just been made redundant, but he and his wife Caroline knew they wanted to continue to work where they lived in North Yorkshire.
‘’Caroline and I have been in greetings cards for over 30 years at various managerial levels, including owning our retail business. For the last five years I have been heavily involved in franchising, and have recently attained my Qualified Franchise Professional (QFP) qualification in the process.‘’ explained Simon.
‘’Though there is never an easy time to be made redundant, we knew that our next step would be to do something together. We had no additional responsibilities to deal with as our two grown up kids, Becky and James, have now left home. Looking around at various opportunities, I heard through my business contacts about a local opportunity at Plan-it Cards and met them at one of the industry trade shows.
“We particularly liked the product so we investigated further. I initially had a lot of questions through my QFP franchise training, even though Plan-it Cards was already a well-established brand. Having conducted a real in-depth interview, I was pleased with how their business system held together. In addition, I also took the opportunity to speak to a number of existing franchisees.
“Although not the biggest player in the market, their personal touch and commitment to making their franchisee’s businesses work really impressed Caroline and myself. With 70+ years’ greeting card experience between the two principals who run Plan-it Cards, I knew that what they did not know about greetings cards wasn’t worth knowing.
“More importantly, I knew from doing our research on the territory I was buying that we could add extra value to the business. Three years on I have been very pleased with the outcome and have a real asset to sell on – when the time is right!
“Good luck or judgement? I’m a great believer that you make your own luck, I work very hard and the rewards are there.
“We follow the Plan-it Cards system - all our customers receive a monthly visit. Our day starts early and we visit roughly 8-10 retailers every day. Each store receives a full merchandising visit, with each retailer getting a fresh display of cards every visit, so that their regular customers are always seeing something new from Plan-it Cards.
“We invoice each customer every visit only for what they sell, and for the majority of my customers they pay me there and then, making our business very much a cash orientated one.
“The final task of my day is to return the stock back on to the warehouse shelves and prepare packs for the eight to ten calls we do the next day.
“When you enjoy working for yourself there are never enough hours in the day. Some of my retailers are very demanding but I believe I’m an integral part of their team. Things never stand still at retail and I like to discuss my on-going plans with the retailers, talking through each season, analysing their figures, trying things out and helping them to promote their businesses, which in turn helps me.
“We have, in the last six months, moved the business from our home to a rented office and storage facility and have just achieved our best ever monthly sales figures. We have also taken on a part-time merchandiser so we can continue to grow the business and carry on offering the level of personal service our shops benefit from.‘’
David Andrews and Andrew Crabb were familiar with Plan-it Cards through the local franchisee visiting their Post Office on the outskirts of Bristol. They liked the product and knew it sold well so when they heard that the local franchisee was looking to sell his business they investigated the opportunity thoroughly.
They were keen to be involved in a business where they could utilise their collective retail experience. Buying a Plan-it Cards franchise has allowed them to do that. From the start they have had very clearly defined roles and this has been very important as a partnership and has helped them grow the business over the last two years. David is at the front end of the business; meeting and greeting the customers and Andrew supplies the daily administration support as well as looking after the day to day running of the Post Office.
"Most of my time now is working with my retailers (existing and new) and advising them of ways of improving their businesses. Very much working in partnership with them”, explained David.
“I’ve been able to use my retail experience with the eight new Costcutter company-owned sites in my territory. Over the 12 months, we’ve been focused on growing sales in these outlets by planning the displays and tailoring them to the tastes of the individual consumers who visit the stores. This has been done through careful analysis of sales in each store to work out which products sell best. Additional display space for gift bags and gift wrap with imaginative use of floor stands, clip strips and display hooks that we have supplied have dramatically improved sales over the previous supplier."
Greetings cards are a fun product to deal with, and there is always something new from Plan-it Cards to show the customers. David and Andrew have a large geographical territory and luckily they are in a part of the country where some of the journey plans involve breath-taking views which bring smiles to their faces!
"Our new business has complimented and helped our existing business interests. It has been challenging but we enjoy getting out in the local community and meeting like-minded independent retailers.
"We are now at the stage of our development where we are ready to take on more shops. We have invested in a van and this has been indispensable as it has allowed us to do more calls in a day without having to re-stock the vehicle. Our growth has been such that we have had to increase our own storage space to keep up with demand.’’
Alistair Black was awarded the Plan-it Cards 2016 franchisee of the year.
Although he had been in the industry for over 25 years, his motivation for joining Plan-it Cards was very clear. He wanted to create something tangible from his experience and efforts in the business. To build an asset that he could develop, grow and sell on in the future.
‘’My choice of Plan-it Cards was based on knowing that you are only as good as the product you sell. The Plan-it Cards range of greetings cards, gift wrap and gift bags and display equipment options are second to none – with a regular infusion of new designs across the product ranges coming out monthly, including seasonal as appropriate.’’ explained Alistair.
‘’I’ve seen a change in buying habits as consumers now treat cards as a convenience product and not as a planned purchase. I was used to dealing with specialised card shops in my previous job but realised that changes in retail with more access to greetings cards, as an impulse purchase, was becoming more the norm. Shops that never before thought of selling cards are now benefitting from stocking cards. This change has made greetings cards available in many more outlets, giving me more opportunities so that now limited space is the most common objection to overcome.’’
The market has now moved on, and Alistair has capitalised on his vision through a wide variety of shapes and sizes of shops. He has expanded his business especially over the last few years. Having originally run the business from home, he outgrew the space and now rents storage space nearby. He employs two part-time merchandisers and a packer to help service his area to best effect.
‘’You need to have a certain drive to succeed and not be afraid of hard work. I know, compared to other Plan-it Cards franchisees, that I do not have as many shops but I prefer to spend my time developing the opportunities available in each outlet. I feel for the first time that I have the right work/leisure balance as I want to spend more time with my wife Dawn and son Louis.
My role within the business has changed over the last five years so now I have staff to manage as well as the stores. I now have to bring many more skills into play and this makes it more enjoyable.
I have just renewed my franchise agreement for another five years as I feel there is still a tremendous number of opportunities available. New everyday product lines, like gift wrap, gift bags and seasonal products like roll wrap, big value boxes and money wallets ensure that we are not standing still. As the size of my displays within the shops grows, our range of products has developed to suit the space available.’’
Maciej Warchocki, the Plan-it Cards franchisee for London, has just expanded his business by buying a neighbouring franchise territory when it recently became available. He takes up the story:
"I previously worked in Information Technology (IT) but have always wanted to run my own business. I felt restricted and undervalued in my job. I concluded the only way I was able to work hard and achieve success in a flexible way was to work for myself.
“I knew a little bit about greetings cards having worked in a warehouse for a rival company. I understood that greetings cards was a good, stable and profitable business to be in. I was aware of the two joint owners of the Plan-it Cards business, but I had no sales or business experience prior to setting up my business with Plan-it Cards.
“Thankfully the clue was in the name; Plan-it Cards. The company releases over 80 designs a year, making sure we have the right product at the right time to supply to our retailers. With over 400 designs available at any one time there is plenty of choice.
“Having the re-assurance of the quality of product I was able to concentrate on the set-up of my business, and head office have been on hand at every stage through the initial planning, development and establishment of my business with help and advice.
“Originally coming from Poland where there is not a strong culture of sending and receiving cards, I found the training was particularly relevant with respect to learning about a £1.1 billion market, and tailoring greetings card displays to suit consumer tastes and the retail space. What I also liked was the practical training days, which gave me the opportunity to meet other like-minded franchisees and get tips from them and learn from their experiences. I found it re-assuring that, whilst it is my business, I have the support of the network and head office when I need it.
"Five years on, I enjoy the flexibility the job gives me. The hours are planned to suit me – which is particularly important when working in London."
Maciej now has over 350 sites in and around London and, though he visits all his shops personally, such has been his success that he now relies on the full-time assistance of his mum, who helps with getting the cards ready for the next day’s calls, and his fiancée who helps with the daily paperwork and administration.
"I am excited about continuing to grow my business over the next few years with Plan-it Cards. There are always sales leads to follow up on, either through personal recommendations, group account enquiries or through the website. Retailers respond to ‘only paying for what they sell’. They have no initial cash overlay, an improved cash flow, and no redundant stock to worry about. My next milestone is to grow the business to have 500 sites."
Roger Johnson joined the Plan-it Cards network in 2016. An ex-Londis retailer with management experience with some the biggest corporate names in business, Roger felt it was time to get back to basics and put all the skills he had learned into practice once more.
“I wasn’t quite ready to retire and had narrowed down my choice to working with greetings cards. It was a nice friendly product and I felt it was a big enough market to make a living out of.
“I did thorough research on all the greetings cards franchises before deciding on Plan-it Cards. I knew I had transferrable management skills that would work in a retail environment. Retail was something I was comfortable with, so all I had to do was make the right choice. Having lived and worked all over the country I also wanted to work in my home patch of Worcestershire, and tailor my knowledge to suit my needs.
“I found when going through the interview process that Plan-it Cards was a natural fit. I was impressed with the products and the on-going management support they offered.
“I knew something about franchising having been a Londis retailer with four shops. I saw the benefit of joining an established brand, being part of a bigger organisation, whilst still maintaining control of my own business and success. I wanted flexibility and being able to service the accounts to suit the changes I was making to my lifestyle.
“I found the initial training covered by Plan-it Cards very comprehensive and particularly suited to my needs. The in-house training days gave me the opportunities to compare notes and discuss the day to day management of the territory with fellow like-minded franchisees. I found it invaluable.
“All the backroom operational stuff was very well explained so I could open for business, but the support didn’t stop there. Support is on-going as the team are always on hand, either by telephone or on the ground, to help me take advantage of the opportunities available.
“I bought a small but established franchise so I was making money from day one. So far, I have been concentrating on getting to know my territory and building relationships with my retailers - this takes time.
“Business is all about customer loyalty. By following the Plan-it Cards system, I visit my customers once a month, changing over the designs and freshening up the displays with new material, which comes out regularly. This maintains the connection. I’m really a people person and enjoy getting out and about meeting people. I’ve never been a 9 to 5 office based person.
“I recommend that anyone interested in self-employment who needs to reduce the level of risk associated with starting a new business should consider investing in a Plan-it Cards franchise business.”