Description: Card Connection is the UK's No 1 greeting card franchise, servicing over 15,000 outlets in Britain and Ireland. Opportunities: Re-sale franchises now available in the UK. Export opportunities elsewhere. Business Type: Franchise. Minimum Investment: £40,000. Training Provided: Yes. Home-based: Yes.
Tony Lees Case Study
Having retired from a successful career in the FMCG industry in 2008, Tony Lees was looking for a small business that would allow him to be master of his own destiny and give him an income for the remainder of his working life.
Tony explains: “Having looked at a number of different opportunities, Card Connection seemed to tick all the boxes.”
Card Connection is one of the UK and Ireland’s most successful card publishers and is the market leader in the franchised distribution of greeting cards. Franchisees use a proven system to place quality greeting cards and gifts in retail outlets on a ‘consignment’ basis. This means the stock and display equipment are installed on free loan to the retailer. This is one step beyond ‘sale or return’ as Card Connection customers never have to buy the stock initially, only paying 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 including Card Connection’s key national accounts such as Spar, Nisa, Supervalu, Centra, Costcutter, Mace, Londis, Total, Shell, Barry’s Of Mallow, Gala Retail Services, ADM/Londis, Musgrave/Daybreak and Topaz.
“I liked the consignment model for greetings card distribution,” continues Tony. “It minimises the retailers’ costs and maximises their profits. I believed this to be a unique, retailer friendly approach and one which would provide a persuasive selling tool, particularly in recessionary times.
“I also liked the quality and depth of range of the greeting card designs and the constant pipeline of new releases developed by Card Connection’s in-house design team. I was also attracted to the support package, which included IT, access to central billing, branding, marketing support, regional meetings, trade shows, annual conference, performance reviews and annual appraisal.
“To be honest, the first year (2011) was extremely challenging. I was starting the franchise in the height of recession in Ireland and the market is particularly competitive within the region, plus the fact that I was still only learning the business for the first six months. Consequently, there was some fire-fighting and additional investment needed to get the business going. Without the support of the staff at head office, the generous help of some of my fellow Card Connection franchisees and my family and some amazing friends and colleagues, I would not have survived.
“However, the second half of year one saw the franchise stabilise and the hard work of the team start to pay off. In year two, taking full advantage of the various systems now in place to manage and develop the business, 33% growth was achieved. This year, (our third) we hope to achieve at least 25% growth with anticipated annual sales of 400,000 units by the end of 2014.
“A team of five of us now run the franchise from a 1,600sq ft. warehouse purpose built with racking plus mezzanine, picking room and office. We run three liveried vans servicing 230 retail stores around Ireland’s South West region, in particular in the counties Limerick, South Tipperary, Waterford, Cork & Kerry.
“To achieve the milestones that we have has been the result of incredible hard work and commitment from the whole team and the implementation of various initiatives. For example, we recently sourced a HR consultant to deal with employment contracts, manual handling course and safety statement for the business.
“In-store, we ensure greeting card displays are merchandised in accordance with Card Connection’s tried and tested ‘planogram’ and cards are regularly stripped out to ensure that all displays carry their fair share of new designs. Where we can, we introduce hanging bars for gift wrap, gift bags and Gift Connection accessories at the time of installation as it is always more difficult to negotiate this space afterwards. We have also recently revised and synchronised our stock room layout with the latest planogram too, as we use a roller bench system to save time to prepare stock for delivery.
“Customer care is the life blood of any business and will always be a priority for us. Accessibility, consistency and communication we find are the key. There is an onus on all to check customer notes each time we visit the office to ensure actions have been followed up.
“Business development is and has to be on-going. We review all sales for existing customers on a quarterly basis and examine what, if anything can be done to improve sales of individual retail customers. It might be a simple case of changing the range/mix of greetings cards, revising the service rota or looking for more space or better display location in-store. New stores are sourced by regular canvasing, networking, and using every contact at our disposal to build up a constant pipeline of leads and prospects with a view to converting as many as possible into actual customers. At the end of each month, we complete a computer generated profit and loss report.
“Card Connection presents a substantial opportunity to progressive and ambitious franchisees who aspire to achieve. No more than any other company, there are challenges to be overcome, but it is necessary for each of us to rise to the challenge. Would I do it all over again? Yes I would, but hindsight is a wonderful thing and if I were to there are a number of things I would most certainly do differently. But wouldn’t we all?
“This year Card Connection celebrates its 21st year in business – and we are very much looking forward to being part of that success story for many years to come.”
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