Blue Eyed Sun

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Greeting Card Blog for Retailers

Blue Eyed Sun Blog

  • 6 ways our minds deceive us

    6 ways our minds deceive us

    This post will be fully updated when the December issue of Progressive Magazine is published.

    In the meantime you can have a go at the test by watching the video above by clicking on it.

    You might also like to read:

    How to get more customers into your retail business

    7 Habits of Highy Effective Retailers

    How to get things done when you don't feel like it

  • The Ladder Club Seminar 2014

    The Ladder Club Seminar 2014 - Day 1

    The Ladder Club is an annual seminar to support new and aspiring greeting card publishers to climb the ladder to success in the card industry. It's organised by Lynn Tait and has been an incredible support to so many artists and new card publishers for many years, helping them to avoid the pitfalls that can cost time, money and a whole lot of heartache. 
     

    I have enjoyed speaking at the event for the past ten of it's fifteen year history and have had the privilege of meeting and helping many wonderful new businesses during that time. Often the seminar has been regarded by attendees as a success even when they have decided not to become a publishers. For £48 and a day of their time some artists and photographers have realised that their passion is creating beautiful things and they choose to find other ways of generating income including licensing their work, partnering with businesses or simply selling their work in other ways. I have just returned from this year's seminars, which were two of the best to date and included some great speakers and many talented delegates. Here are some of my photos of the day and a brief summary of everything we went through.

    Lynn Tait, Sharon Little and Jakki BrownWe had a fantastic turn out for the first day of the seminar this year, which is all about helping the delegates to take their first step onto the Ladder. Lynn Tait compered both days that began with an introduction to the Greeting Card Association from CEO Sharon Little. Jakkie Brown from Max Publishing spoke about PG Live, the Henries Awards and how to make the most of Progressive Greetings magazine's free editorial section called Innovations.

    Simon King, Bob Short and Nicky MarshallSimon King and Nicky Marshall from Sherwood Litho Press showed everyone how to prepare for and print litho on B1 presses and the technical issues involved with doing so. Bob Short from The Imaging Centre took us all through the Digital Printing process which most card publishers these days use for short runs to test the market with their products. Both printers ran through the costs of getting started and the Ladder Club delegates were given useful information packs.

    Mark Jessett, julie Brightly and Tracey ArnaudEveryone got to learn about the different substrates and boards they could print on in an entertaining talk from Mark Jessett at paper merchants GF Smith. Julie Brightley from Enveco Envelopes Plus talked about how envelopes are made, what prices they start at and how to save money by using standard off-the-shelf sizes for your first greeting card ranges. Tracey Arnaud from Progressive Greetings Live talked us through the important things to consider when exhibiting at trade shows for the first time and how to get the most out of your trade fairs. 

    Lynn Tait, Karen Wilson, Claire Williams, Jeremy Corner and Ian BradleyLadder Club alumni, Karen and Claire from Paper Salad, spoke about their adventures in greeting card publishing and the things that new publishers must keep an eye out for before rushing into big deals with large multiple card retailers. I had a few things to so say about my experience in the card business running Blue Eyed Sun and how to cope with wearing different hats whilst doing soIan Bradley, a Midlands greeting card agent, then gave everyone to gain an insight into how working with freelance sales agents can benefit their greeting card business.

    Henri Davis, Miles Robinson and Chris HoufeThe second day was a more advanced Ladder Club seminar. Retail expert Henri Davis spoke about how to approach large retailers in a very informative talk drawing on her experience of buying at the National Trust and WH Smiths. We also heard how best to approach retailers from Miles Robinson who co-owns a small chain of independent card shops called House of Cards. Finally, Chris Houfe, from Waterwells Distribution (part of the Great British Card Company) taught us all the basics of brokerage and how to work with brokers to best serve multiple retailers. 

    Everyone had a great time and all of those attending found the Ladder Club extremely useful and well worth their time. It was really interesting to see that almost everyone attended the meal the night before the second day event as more experienced publishers recognised the importance of this great networking opportunity. I look forward to seeing those who attended this year's Ladder Club at trade shows and other card industry events in the future. A special thanks also to Trudi who organised the day, to Jim for keeping us all on time and to all of the speakers who gave their time so freely.

    Click here to join the Ladder Club Facebook Group (only open to attendees and Ladder Club alumni)

    For those that attended the Ladder Club and want to know more. Here are some links to useful content on my blog:

    Looking Back from Perfect - How to achieve your goals

    Overcoming the challenges of exporting abroad

    Our top ten business tools

    Are trade shows still worth it?

    10 Business Basics to get right before using social media

    The Ladder Club Seminar 2014 - Day 2

  • Our Top 10 Business Tools

    Top 10 Business Tools

    For small businesses it’s difficult to keep up with all of the technology available to us these days, much of which is actually free. We've done quite a lot of work on this ourselves over the last few years and are constantly learning new tools that we love to share. Here are the top 10 business tools we use daily and find most valuable to our business:

    Magento 
    Bought by Ebay in 2011, this easy to use ecommerce software does exactly what you want when setting up a webstore. It’s free open source software, which means that it doesn’t matter if the company who created it goes bust (I’ve had this happen previously). We run our Blue Eyed Sun trade website and our Ivy Ellen consumer site on Magento. Both allow us to sell a variety of products in a number of ways online. Magento really comes into it’s own for those selling to the public online as it can link into larger marketplaces like eBay and Amazon. It also taps straight into Paypal and Sagepay to receive credit card payments securely. Most importantly, our team can easily update new product images and descriptions. You will need help from an expert to set it up correctly and a little support from time to time to tweak things, but generally you can keep costs down on an ongoing basis by doing most of it yourself.

    Google Analytics
    This tool starts with a small piece of code that you can have your web developer add into your website and link back to your free Google Analytics account. Once it’s set up, you can see huge amounts of info on who’s visiting your website, what sites they are coming from, what search terms they are using, what browsers or devices they are using, where in the world they are viewing your site from and so on. Knowing the number of visitors to your website, how many of them are new and how long they are spending on your site is all incredibly important for improving your customers’ experience. Analytics also tells you your bounce rate (the percentage of people who leave the first page they land on) which is really important for ranking well on search engines (i.e. search engine optimisation or SEO). It also helps us to track the success of our Google Adwords when we pay to advertise on Google searches.

    Dropbox
    This free online data storage tool is incredibly useful for backing up digital files in the cloud (i.e. on the web). You can also use it to share files with anyone in the world. For instance we’ve created a dropbox folder that only our printers and our office can see. We can then drop our artwork into the folder when it’s ready to go to press. It has the advantage over email when sharing large files like graphic artwork which can clog up inboxes or be blocked at server level. We know sales agents that use Dropbox to share PDF brochures quickly and easily with customers just by emailing them a link to their drop box folder rather than emailing large files. The recipient can then choose when they want to download the info.

    Sage
    When we first started our business, we managed our accounts and payroll manually. It was a hugely time consuming and thankless task. I remember being on the verge of tears pouring over grids of numbers trying to figure out PAYE and NI amounts for our first staff. These days we run all our accounts and payroll through Sage and it is a pleasure using this powerful business software. We subscribe to SageCover support which provides us with telephone help, data repair and software updates all through the year. It’s expensive, but I always say it’s like having a good bed. You sleep every day, so it’s worth paying for a good one. We use Sage daily to manage all of our customers, invoices, bills, suppliers, staff, etc. If you’re going to run your business well and make a success of it, up to date numbers are crucial.  

    WordPress
    We use this fantastic free blogging software every week, as well as a number of plugins to it which help us get the most out of this great tool. There are two ways of using Wordpress: You can create a blog at wordpress.com or you can add the WordPress software to your website. We use the latter as we prefer all of the content that we create to stay on our web domain. Essentially the first option is like renting a house and the second is like owning your own home. Our blog is an essential way of keeping our customers up to date with useful information and improving our SEO.

    MailChimp
    This tool helps us automatically email our customer base with nice looking emails that have a higher rate of success at getting through and being seen. MailChimp is so powerful it can tell us when our customers opened our emails, what they clicked on and their location when they clicked. This helps us to adapt and taylor the emails to our customers’ needs and make them more relevant to them in the future. You pay for credits which allow you to send a certain number of emails. On average it works out at less than half a penny an email. MailChimp will update you when people unsubscribe, help you figure out the best time of the day to send your emails and help you reduce the number of unsubscribes so that your list stays strong.

    Hootsuite
    I’m not going into all of the different social media tools in this article as there are too many and they have different strengths and weaknesses for different businesses. Having said that, we rely on Hootsuite on a daily basis to manage most of our social media interaction. This dashboard style tool allows us to schedule all of our posts to Twitter, Facebook, etc and to track keywords used on Twitter throughout the day. It saves us hours of time and searching.

    Microsoft Office
    What would we all do without Microsoft Office? Love it or hate it it’s still the king of word processing, spreadsheets and email. Even though I regularly use Apple’s Pages and Mail, I find that Word, Excel and Outlook are vital on a daily basis throughout our office. Despite having Sage we still run all sorts of reports on Excel to track sales, stock control, etc and keep on top our numbers. It’s indispensable to most businesses despite other alternatives.

    ACT
    One of the best CRM (customer relationship management) tools on the market, we use ACT to manage our marketing database of customers and prospects. If you want to serve your customers well you need a tool like this to help you do it. It is hugely flexible and allows us to securely hold a great deal of info on our customers. We have it networked in our office so that team can see histories of discussions between any specific customer and any member of our team. It’s all noted down so that nothing is missed. It also plugs into Sage so that we can access financial data on customers from inside ACT if we need to.

    Adobe Creative Suite
    The tool on which our company most relies for design, pr and marketing is the Adobe Creative Suite, which includes Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign. All of our cards, press releases, adverts and images are created using Photoshop and Illustrator. All of our brochures are created in InDesign which is a layout package used most often by magazines (as an alternative to Quark). Photoshop allows us to manipulate images so that they look their best for the printing press as well as saving them in different formats for different purposes like high quality print jobs or websites. Illustrator is used to create what are known as vector graphics. These tend to be images containing sharper lines like logos that can be scaled up or down without losing quality, something that’s not always possible with regular photoshop images. There’s a steep learning curve with the Adobe Creative suite and it is expensive to run, but once you’ve mastered it your artwork will never be the same again.

    Well there's our list. There are others that we use and our list does change over time. Some of these top 10 business tools may be very familiar to you and some you may already have found alternatives for. If not, do take a look at them and see if they can help you improve how you run your business. Please feel free to share this post if you enjoyed it.

    Read 10 Business Basics to get right before you start using Social Media

    Discover Two Simple Steps to get yourself to the Top of Google

    Learn the 7 Habits of Highy Effective Retailers

  • The Henries Awards Winners 2014

    The Henries Awards Winners 2014

    The Henries Awards Winners 2014 for the best greeting cards and card publishers in the UK have been announced!

    Here is a complete list of the Henries winners and finalists for this year.

    A very special congratulations to Louise Tighe MD of Paperlink who won the Honourary Achievement Award.

    We were delighted that Blue Eyed Sun reached the finals of The Henries Awards 2014 in two categories: with Allotment for the Best Occasions Range and with Picnic Time in the best Spring Range.

    The Henries Awards Winners 2014 are:

    Clare Tupper from Paper Rose won Most Promising Young Designer Or ArtistThe Henries 2014 Alun Cochrane

    Finalists 2014:

    Rebecca Crouch from Raspberry Blossom
    Dimitria Jordan from Love Faith and Hope
    Yasmin Rahmatullah from YTR Designs
    Tamsin Seed from Studio Seed
    Anna Whitford from Rosanna Rossi

     

    Happy Jackson from Pigment won Best Occasions or Relations Range

    Finalists 2014:

    Allotment from Blue Eyed Sun

    Champagne from Cracker Cards
    Cloud Cuckoo from Rachel Ellen Designs
    Sooshi from Sooshichacha
    Sunshine from Stop The Clock Design

     

    Four Eyes from Urban Graphic won Best Humorous Range

    Finalists 2014:

    Etched from Pigment Productions

    Frankie Dog from Frankie Whistle
    Good Things from Redback Cards
    Keyboard Commands From Rambling Mansion Publications
    Kook from Paperlink

     

    The Country Set from Wrendale Designs won Best Art Range

    Finalists 2014:

    Alice Scott from Pigment

    Form from The Art File
    Paste from ArtPress Publishing
    Portrait Puns from Modesty Designs
    Toasted from Urban Graphic

     

    Artisan & Magpie Valentine’s from Paper Rose won Best Spring Seasons RangeThe Henries 2014 Louise Tighe Paperlink

    Finalists 2014:

    Chalk Valentine’s from Brainbox Candy
    First Press Mother’s Day from Roger la Borde
    Picnic Time Mother’s Day from Blue Eyed Sun
    Pom Pom Easter from Janie Wilson
    Sooshi Father’s Day from Sooshichacha

     

    Moggies & Doggies from Fourth Wall Brands won Best Cute Range

    Finalists 2014:

    Animal Collective from The Art Group
    Beatrix Potter from Hype Associates
    Hello Sunshine from Cinnamon Aitch
    Kiddiwinks from Think Of Me
    Sweet Tweets from Mint Publishing

     

    Waitrose Male range from Hallmark won Best Male Range

    Finalists 2014:

    Alpha from Woodmansterne

    Gordon Bennett from Hotchpotch Publishing (CBG)
    Rocca from Black Olive
    Sasparilla from Think Of Me
    Trinkets And Trumpets from The Art File

     

    Noisy Noi from Noi Publishing won Best Children's Range

    Finalists 2014:The Henries Awards 2014 - Gracie Turner

    A Card to Treasure from Clare Maddicott Publications

    Wobbley Eyed from Stripey Cats
    Kiddiwinks from Think of Me
    Noah’s Park from Gemma
    Wonderland from Rachel Ellen Designs

     

    Alice Scott from Pigment won Best Contemporary Trend Range

    Finalists 2014:

    Du Jour from Noel Tatt

    The Crafty Fox Collection from Tache Crafts
    Piano from Hammond Gower
    Rambelin’ Collection from Pocket Typewriter
    Zoo Portraits from Lagom

     

    Snowfall Forest from Five Dollar Shake won Best Christmas Counter Cards Range

    Finalists 2014:

    Christmas from Sally Scaffardi

    Christmas Range from Fracas Studio
    Christmas Pizazz from Nigel Quiney Publications
    Footprints In The Snow from Wrendale Designs
    Words Of Wisdom from Dandelion Stationery

     

    Paloma from Belly Button Designs won Best Christmas Box or PackThe Henries 2014 Chris Fenner

    Finalists 2014:

    Candy Cane Christmas from Five Dollar Shake

    Glitter Robin & Santa Boxes from Ling Design
    Paper House (Tin) from The Great British Card Company
    Quentin Blake from Woodmansterne
    The Royal Academy from ArtPress Publishing

     

    Life Is Sweet from Icon won Best Words and Sentiments Range

    Finalists 2014:

    Beautiful Life from Lagom Design

    Happy Jackson from Pigment
    Piano Postcards from Hammond Gower
    Scrawl from Urban Graphic
    Words Of Wisdom from Dandelion Stationery

     

    Take A View from Camden Graphics (UKG) won Best Photographic Range

    Finalists 2014:

    1000 Words from Urban Graphic

    Life Is Sweet from Icon
    Loose Leashes from Woodmansterne
    National Geographic from Medici Cards (GBCC)
    Robin Stemp from Green Pebble

     

    Embellished Origami from Graciegirl Designs won Best Handmade or Hand-finished Range

    Finalists 2014:

    Colours May Vary from Wendy Jones-Blackett

    Form from The Art File

    Handmade Range from Fracas Studios
    Lacie from Paperlink
    Stardust Couture from Five Dollar Shake

     

    Harold’s Planet from Clare Maddicott Publications won Best Licensed Card Range

    Finalists 2014:The Henries 2014 - Hannah Dale - Jeremy Corner

    Beatrix Potter from Hype Associates

    Despicable Me from Danilo
    National Trust from Woodmansterne
    Pickle Parade from Hotchpotch Publishing (CBG)
    RSPB Birdsong from Really Wild Cards

     

    Le Petit Bear from Simon Elvin won Best Wholesale Range

    Finalists 2014:

    Bright Eyes from Simon Elvin

    Isabel’s Garden from Simon Elvin
    More Than Words from Hallmark
    Prelude Female Everyday from BGC
    Prelude Male Everyday from BGC

     

    The Art File Giftwrap from The Art File won Best Giftwrappings Collection

    Finalists 2014:

    Ella Doran from Penny Kennedy

    Platinum Giftwrappings Collection from Belly Button Designs
    Sherbet Crush Collection from Hallmark
    Victoria Beau from Deva Designs
    Wendy Jones-Blackett Collection from Glick

     

    Quentin Blake from Woodmansterne won The Henry Cole Classic Award

    Finalists 2014:The Henries - 2014

    Darkroom from Paper House (GBCC)

    Die-Stamped from Caroline Gardner
    Drama Queen from Cardmix
    Exposure Black & White from Icon
    Giggles from Hanson White (UKG)

     

    UK Greetings won Gold for Best Service To The Independent Retailer

    Noel Tatt won silver

    International Cards and Gifts won bronze 

     

    Finalists 2014:

    Carte Blanche Greetings Group
    Cherry Orchard Publishing
    Hallmark Cards
    Jonny Javelin
    Nigel Quiney Publications
    Paperlink
    Second Nature
    Woodmansterne Publications
    Words-n-Wishes

     

    The Henries Awards winners 2014 were revealed at a spectacular Highlands themed Henries Ball on Thursday 10 October at the Lancaster London Hotel, overlooking HydePark. Compere for the evening was comedian Alun Cochrane.

    Over 14,000 cards were entered into this year’s Henries and these were judged by an impressive Judging Panel, made up of 40 top retailers (including buyers from John Lewis, WHSmith, Tesco, Paperchase, Scribbler, Card Bar, Joy, Asda, Squires Garden Centres, Waterstones, Funky Pigeon as well as many leading independents). Congratulations to all of the Henries Awards winners and everyone who made it through to the finals.

    See the 2013 Henries Awards winners and finalists from last year by clicking here

    Read some award winning advice for the Henries and other awards here

    The Henries Winners 2014

  • Anthony Nolan, the Berlin Marathon and a Greeting Card

    Anthony Nolan - Berlin Marathon2014-JC

    Last weekend I completed the Berlin marathon to raise funds for Anthony Nolan, a charity which takes back lives from leukaemia by providing life saving donors for patients in need of a bone marrow transplant. 

     

    I had the most amazing run considering I only managed 8 weeks training due to injury (half my usual amount). It was my fifth marathon to date and, although I have run faster times, I was pleased to finish in under 4 hours. I felt good most of the way usng a new strategy where I ran to my heart rate rather than to a specific time or pace. You can read more about the Marco technique here.

     

    It was also very humbling to meet people who had meaningful connections with my charity. An American lady, called Melissa, spotted my vest at the start and came through the crowd to tell me that two years ago Anthony Nolan saved her life. I was so moved that I spent the next few minutes trying to pull myself together before the race began. At the finish I also met a doctor, called John Snowden, who ran for Anthony Nolan as his hospital has had a lot of invaluable support from them. Later he tracked my charity page down online and donated to my fundraising, which was really generous of him. The running community is so friendly and inspiring.

     

    I also took part in an international 6km fun run the day before, which finished in the Olympic stadium. It was amazing to stand in the same place where the African American, Jesse Owens, won four golds in front of an the Aryan supremicist, Hitler, at the 1936 Olympic games. Luz Long, Owen's German competitor, helped him improve his run up to win the long jump medal and was the first to congratulate him. Even in troubled times the Olympic spirit rises above politics. Jesse Owens later said, "You can melt down all the medals and cups I have and they wouldn't be a plating for the 24 carot friendship I felt for Luz Long at that moment." Watch a two minute video of this story here.

     

    The 41st BMW Berlin marathon was won by Dennis Kimetto who broke the world record completing the 26.22 mile (42.2km) course in two hours two minutes and 57 seconds. It was a beautiful sunny day for the 40,000 runners who took part in the race that finished through the iconic Brandenburg gate. It's pretty cool to be able to take part in the same race as the fastest man in the world.

     

    I had some wonderful support from my friends and family for the marathon. On my return to the UK I even received a lovely congratulations card from the Anthony Nolan events team, thanking me for raising funds for them. I have run for many charities over the years and they are the first to take the time to send me a card, which really felt special. 

     

    I would like to thank everyone from the card industry, and in particular the 2013 Ladder Club delegates, who kindly donated to the funds I raised in support of my dear friend, Lynn Tait, who has had to call on the help of the Anthony Nolan Trust this year. 

     

    Please contribute to my Anthony Nolan fundraising page by clicking here

     

    Read 15 ways marathon training can improve your business

     

    Click here to find out more about the Ladder Club

  • Are trade shows still worth it?

    Are Trade Shows Worth It?‚ÄčSince Blue Eyed Sun began in 2000, I have spent a full year of my life in trade show halls setting up stands and exhibiting our greeting cards to visitors. The costs have risen considerably and are now pushing £400 per square metre for a small shell scheme stand. This can exclude other costs like electrics, flooring, cladding, painting and point of sale materials. Then there are the travel, parking, hotel, substance (thats food and drink to you and me) and staff costs to factor in. On top of this can be show media charges, marketing materials and adverts needed to make sure that your stand isnt missed, having spent all that money to be there.

     

    For retailers, especially those who have cut back on staff though the recession, there are lost hours in the shop or the expense of paying to have it staffed whilst you are at the show. Similarly there are travel, hotel and subsistence costs. Plus, lets face it, its hard work trawling through miles and miles of the NEC to find those hidden gems. Especially when they might just as easily be found in trade magazines and brochures delivered to your door, via the internet or through a sales rep that comes to you. 

     

    Most of the best greeting card companies in the UK have sales agents covering the country, a decent brochure and a transactional website. In the next few years they will also add transactional apps to add to their arsenal of tools that make it easy for retailers to order online. So why do we still bother with trade shows? Are trade shows still worth it? Surely its more efficient for retailers and suppliers to use these other options?

     

    Its even worse when you look at the sales figures for many exhibitors. Take a typical small time supplier who buys a 3x1m stand at trade show for £1,200. Including all other aforementioned costs, the bill for doing the show is £2,000 all in. If they have 50% gross margin on their products they need to take £4,000 at the show to break even. Say they still exhibit and take 5 orders at an average order value of £200 totalling £1,000. On the face of it this looks like a £3,000 loss. Even if they take 25 leads at the show and convert one in five into an average order of £200 they only make an extra £1,000 and are still down by £2,000.

     

    Its a similar situation for an independent retailer who has spent £500 or more in expenses to visit the trade show only to find one new supplier. If they are working to 50% gross margin they need to buy and sell a £1,000 worth of stock at the show o make the visit pay for itself.

     

    So why do I still exhibit at five trade shows a year and why do all the best retailers I know visit a similar number of shows? As with anything the value is in the detail and the amount we can accomplish when we focus on things. 

     

    Lets take another look at our small exhibitor. Out of the orders they have taken as a result of the show at least half of them are from new customers. Their customers typically spend £500 per year with them and stay for an average of 5 years. That means each of the five new customers is actually worth £2,500 (5x£500). Plus, over the following five years, the five new customers are actually worth £12,500 to the supplier. They still also have 20 further sales leads that could convert at a later date. One of which could turn out to be key account with multiple outlets.

     

    The same could be said of our retailer. Although their initial order is small, the new suppliers line turns out to be a great seller. As the retailer is the first in their town to stock it, their customers come to them first in the future knowing that the retailer specialises in finding good new products for them to buy. Brand new suppliers are not actually that easy for retailers to find outside of shows. Often its because they don't yet have agents, brochures or a website and shows are the places where they first launch.

     

    Theres more value to be had though. Our exhibitor also meets sales agents and international distributors who are interested in their products. Meeting them in person is the best way of deciding if they are right to work with going forward. The exhibitor goes ahead with one sales agent and one distributor. If the sales agent sends in only one £200 order per week they are worth £10,400 to the exhibitor per year. The international distributor might place £5,000 worth of orders per year bringing the total value of the show up to £18,900 in the first year.

     

    Theres more value to be had through cost savings found. Key suppliers often visit exhibitors at shows. Couriers, envelope manufacturers, paper mills, display stand suppliers are just a few examples of those that have come so see our stands resulting in substantial savings for our business. Retailers will also often save money at the show through special show offers and carriage free deals.

     

    Weve had feedback from customers and agents at trade shows that have led to us boosting sales. Weve saved customer relationships when we didnt even realise mistakes had been made, all because of a passing comment that was made on our stand at a show. Face to face conversations are the best way of of growing relationships with customers, key accounts, suppliers, press, agents, distributors, brokers and key industry influencers. Trade shows make this process super efficient. If you were to set aside time to drive to and meet with all those people it would take much longer than it takes to do the same thing at a show. 

     

    Catching up with industry friends and industry is another great benefit. The amount of information I pick up at trade shows that has had tangible benefits to Blue Eyed Sun has been staggering. Recent examples include learning about licensing, brokerage and discovering a chain of shops I was not aware of. They have led to thousands in income for us. Many retailers I know swap info on best selling suppliers chatting with other retailers at lunch. There are also fantastic seminars for retailers at the show on everything from ecommerce and social media to building shop window displays. Shows are awesome learning opportunities and can really inspire those who take the trouble to attend. 

     

    We find that the shows provide good lines in the sand for us to work to when creating new products. In a sense they act like a personal trainer whom you pay to make sure that you turn up and exercise. Shows discipline us to develop new products, new press releases and new marketing materials on a regular basis. This all has the effect of positioning Blue Eyed Sun as active in our market. Retailers who attend shows regularly will find it disciplines their buying. Being active in the industry means that they are known and will often find it easier to get credit with new suppliers. 

     

    Its hard to put a financial value on some of these benefits. If you really pay attention at trade shows they can be life changing for your business. Try to take a longer term view when assessing the effects of the show. Even a show that seems like it wasnt worth it, based on orders taken or placed at the event, can turn out to have significant value to your business over the course of the years that follow. In the case of our exhibitor example, a show that initially looked like it was losing money with on site sales of £1,000 turned out to be worth up to £20,000 in income and cost savings to the exhibitor that year. At the very least they will have had the opportunity to learn about how their products do in the marketplace and consider further options to improve things for the future. Which has to be better than staying at home doing nothing.

     

    Click here to see which trade shows Blue Eyed Sun are at next

     

    Read 12 top tips for trade show visitors

     

    See our latest trade show news

  • Overcoming the Challenges of Exporting Overseas

    Here are the slides from my talk on Exporting Overseas with UKTI at Autumn Fair International today. All of the links and logos in the slides are clickable and the hyperlinks will take you to the respective websites. A video of the talk is embedded below.

     

    Although Blue Eyed Sun has exported to a handful of international customers over the years, it is only since 2012 that the company has begun to focus on overseas expansion. As a result, we’ve distributed to over a dozen new countries in the last two years. Last month I was invited by UKTI (UK Trade & Investment) to speak at Autumn Fair International on the subject of “Exporting Overseas”. I also got to meet our new Minister of State for Trade and Investment, Lord Livingston, at a special lunch during the show. The UKTI have ambitious targets to grow British export over the next few years and can offer businesses great advice on where to get started and how to export. Here’s what I’ve learned so far about export from a card publisher’s perspective.

     

    Firstly, I believe that it’s important to establish yourself and your product well in the UK before you start thinking about exporting abroad. You need to make all of your mistakes here first as they will all be magnified once you start distributing internationally. You also need to be sure that all of your operational systems are strong enough to support the increased volume of business. Do you have enough warehouse space? Can your operations team cope with the extra demand? As margins are greatly reduced when you export there is less room for error. Supply chains lengthen when you work with distributors and you need to be sure that you are a strong link in the chain. You not only let down your distributor when things go wrong, but their agents, retailers and consumers.

     

    The potentially negative impacts on your business include: strain on your cashflow, credit risks on bad debts that are difficult to chase overseas and fluctuations in currencies which can affect your profits if you don’t get paid in Sterling. Some countries have different laws regarding Intellectual Property and you run the risk of being copied abroad. You can also suffer quality control difficulties because of the increased volumes, freight forwarding issues because of third party couriers and miscommunication problems due to language differences. So why do it?

     

    Well the good news is that exporting can also improve your business. The larger volumes and lower margins have forced us to find better ways of doing things in our business. We’ve had access to new markets and sales we otherwise would not have had. Our products are sold across the world which is very exciting and we have met some great business people who have provided fascinating and inspiring insights into how things can be done in the greeting card business. All this whilst growing our business, flying the Great British flag abroad and providing more jobs for people in the UK.

     

    There are a number of ways you can export abroad when starting from scratch. The most popular for UK publishers is to work with a distributor in the specific country. This is helpful as they buy the products outright (at a discount) and assume the risk of selling them and paying for their sales force, freight forwarding costs and warehousing. The advantage of working this way is that you have someone on the ground to take care of the retailers, who speaks the language and understands the nuances of their local market. Alternatives are to sell direct to retailers abroad or to establish a network of sales agents or reps who cover the territory and report directly to you. You take on more risk, but gain more profit if successful.

     

    The best places to identify and target these markets is by reading trade magazines like Progressive Greetings, attending trade shows that are strong for international visitors (Spring Fair and Autumn Fair, PG Live), joining associations like the GCA, contacting the UKTI and networking with other publishers for recommendations or by joining groups on LinkedIn. You can also take advice on international distribution from specialist consultants like Robin Littman.

     

    Remember that you will need help once your export strategy starts to take off. The extra orders will mean more admin and paperwork that needs close attention. Sometimes you will need to alter products to suit different markets and you may have a variety of different logistical requirements that need keeping an eye on. You have to stay on top of your export sales once they start so that they don’t drop off and leave you with dips in turnover. Most importantly you have to keep your eye on UK sales so that current customers don’t suffer with slower lead times because export volumes have ramped up and overloaded your operations.

     

    Once we decided to expand abroad, I hired an assistant to help me with the extra workload. She has done very well within our business and has gone on to become our operations manager. Export has helped our team to become more focussed. It has helped us all improve our communication, time management and delegation skills. Our team has had to raise it’s game and is stronger and better for it. Those that didn’t grow with the business have moved on. We don’t carry anyone anymore as we can’t afford to. Everyone has to pull their weight because the team demands it from one another. This is exciting to be a part of.

     

    Our export strategy has also led to greater sales and improved profits. Because we sell to a number of countries, our company isn’t reliant on any single customer. Instead we have a nice spread of business across a range of retailers and distributors. The product life cycles of our cards have also improved as we extend their lives in new markets. Some of our older best sellers still sell really well abroad because they are relatively new to those markets. This in turn spreads the development cost of these products across a larger number of sales. Production costs are reduced through greater volumes as savings are made on purchases and operational efficiencies. We also have more options for clearing older stock which may have slowed down at the end of it’s product life cycle in the UK.

     

    Since we started distributing we have improved our warehouse layout and stock control systems. The extra space we have had to take on has made it easier to hold better stock quantities for our UK customers. This means improved lead times, which means more order cycles in the year and increased turnover. We’ve also made our marketing more efficient by using the trade shows we attend to regularly catch up with international distributors and develop our business with them. Upgrading to the latest version of Sage software also lets us handle international currencies with ease.

     

    Finally our export strategy has had an effect on how we’re now designing our products. For example, our market leading, embroidered Vintage range was adapted from square to rectangular shape for a German distributor. Because the changes on these adaptations were time consuming we developed a new range called Picnic Time which are much easier to adapt to our distributor’s needs with a new font and a shape suited to his requirements. This new range is up for a Henries Award this year and may not have come about in its current form were it not for our export strategy.

     

    Whilst export does have it’s challenges and was not something that Blue Eyed Sun really started to push until we were ready, it has had many benefits to our business. We’re looking forward to expanding our international sales further this year and working with UKTI for the first time.

     

    Exporting Overseas is one of many subjects covered in the Ladder Club seminars for new publishers organised by Lynn Tait and held in Leigh-on-Sea on the 4th and 5th of November. For details contact Trudi on 01702 480 180 or email waiteandtaitbakery@hotmail.com

     

    Click on the video below to watch my talk and slides together:

    Other blog posts you might like:

    Read How to get things done when you don't feel like it

    Click to see how Blue Eyed Sun doubled sales and halved the owners working week

    This article features on pages 30-31 of the October edition of Progressive Greetings which you can read online here

  • Why should you care about Thinking of You Week?

    Why Thinking of You Week

    Years ago I attended a greeting card industry seminar, not unlike the Ladder Club days for new publishers that I speak at each year. I remember a speaker proudly stating that she never sent greeting cards and that this was not uncommon amongst card publishers. The statement has preyed on my mind ever since as an insidious problem within our industry. I dont have the facts on how widespread this issue is, but I do know that I personally could do better with the number of cards I send each year.

     

    As card publishers, suppliers and retailers we should be the ones that are using these products the most. If we dont use them why should anyone else? Given that the industry is dominated at board level by men and 80% of card buyers are women, it must surely help us improve our offering and make the card sending tradition stronger if we are sending more cards ourselves?

     

    None of us know what will happen to the card industry in years to come and whether or not future generations will enjoy cards as much as those previous have. We cant control these things, but we can control what we do now. That is why I have been so excited about working with the Greeting Card Association Council to create and launch both Festive Friday and now Thinking of You week to help promote card sending by starting with card publishers ourselves. 

     

    This month I agreed to take part in a dry run of Thinking of You Week, a new event being held in the last week of September to highlight the emotional power of sending and receiving cards. I roped in some of my colleagues at Blue Eyed Sun to join me. Everyone who took part in the initiative had fun doing it and enjoyed taking the time to stop and think about friends, family and loved ones. I'll be updating more on their stories later this month.

     

    The quality of our relationships is based on the quality of our communication. Cards are such a great way of communicating that we care, by taking the time to consider others and what wed like to say to them. We know that scientific studies show that receiving cards makes people feel more special than receiving texts and Facebook messages. Because there are less letters and cards received in the post these days, I believe they may have an even stronger power now. It is said that receiving cards can even stave off depression for recipients. I think it can help the senders with this too. 

     

    Whatever you focus on youre going to feel. Focussing on being grateful for what you have in your life and the people you care for means that you take your mind off yourself. Fear disappears when you are grateful, as does stress. 

     

    What are you grateful for? Start with yourself, then your close family and friends and all those who are important to you. This is what I did when I sat down to write my cards for Thinking of You Week. Pretty quickly I found that there were a number of events or reasons to send cards to the people I care about. It wasnt as difficult as I thought it would be. It helped that somehow all of my Facebook contacts birthdays have downloaded into my iPhones calendar. The hardest part was tracking down all of the addresses I needed. Remember that card sending is an important, meaningful tradition for older generations who will greatly appreciate the time and effort that you have taken to think of them. You might also find that it's a more powerful way of connecting with everyone who is important to you.

     

    Staying connected in meaningful ways with my friends and family is so important to me that I am very grateful for the opportunity to take part in this initiative. I hope that you do too. This really is a wonderful idea thats worth spreading so please do get involved and send some extra cards between 22-28 September.

     

    Click to find out more about Thinking of You Week

     

    Read more about scientific studies on card sending

  • New Fathers Day Cards for 2015 from Blue Eyed Sun

    Fathers Day cards by Blue Eyed SunNext Father's Day falls on the Sunday 21st June 2015 and Blue Eyed Sun have some gorgeous new Fathers Day cards available to choose from, so it's time for retailers to start thinking about putting their Spring orders together including Mothers Day cards, Easter cards and Valentines cards. Here's what's new for Father's Day 2015...

    Pictured above is our new Hello Handsome range. Litho printed on specialist kraft board, these beautiful Fathers Day cards are 160mm x 160mm and blank inside.

    Below is a new range called Patch it Up that features original embroideries by market leading textile artist Jo Corner. Litho printed and hand finished with jewels, these Fathers Day cards are 160mm x 160mm and blank inside.

    Sold in sixes to trade buyers only, all of our Fathers Day cards are barcoded and cello-wrapped with a recycled envelope. Retailers can order online from our  large selection of designs in the trade only section of our site. 

    To stock these ranges in your shop click here. If you'd like to see them in your local shop please tell them and point them in the direction of  www.blueeyedsun.co.uk or you can recommend a shop to us by clicking here. You can also visit our stockists page to find a store near you that may be selling them.

    Click here to see these Fathers Day cards in person at Autumn Fair 2014 - Stand 4D03

    Fathers Day Cards by Blue Eyed Sun

  • Autumn Fair International 2014 - The Essential Information

    Autumn Fair International Essential InformationBlue Eyed Sun will soon be exhibiting at the Autumn Fair trade show in Hall 4 at the National Exhibition Centre (see show map below). Officially launching at this well loved trade show are over 60 new Spring 2015 designs including our latest Valentines, EasterMother's Day and Fathers Day cards. All of our best selling greetings cards, including new Picnic Time, Vintage and Gorgeous designs will also be on display so be sure to stop by and see us.

    Quote Voucher code AFB14 when ordering during the show (online or offline) for FREE CARRIAGE.

    About Autumn Fair International

    Autumn Fair runs for four days from Sunday 7th September to Wednesday 10th September from 09:00 - 18:00 at the NEC in Birmingham. It brings toether an inspirational showcase of over 1,600 British and International Exhibitors and attracts buyers from all over the world. It's a great opportunity to stock up on goods for that all important Christmas season and to see what's new for Spring seasons next year.

    To register for Autumn Fair International 2014 please click here

    Where to Stay at Autumn fair International

    Accommodation is a lot easier to find at Autumn Fair than Spring Fair and prices tend to be cheaper too. There are now several hotels on the NEC site, including Holiday Inn ExpressThe Hilton MetropoleThe ArdenRamada Encore and a Premier InnClick here for more accommodation options at Autumn Fair.

    Where to Eat at Autumn Fair

    If you are looking for somewhere to eat at the Autumn Fair check out our 5 Great Restaurants near the NEC Birmingham blog post.

    Seminars at Autumn Fair

    There are some great seminars on improving your business, display and trends. Jeremy Corner, MD of Blue Eyed Sun is speaking on the Challenges of Exporting Overseas at the UKTI International Business Theatre on Tuesday 9th at 11:45.

    Click here to find out more about seminars at the show

    How to get to Autumn Fair

    Travel to the show is easy with excellent rail and motorway links. The NEC post code is B40 1NT (if you use a sat nav). You can park for free in several car parks on site, all of which have free shuttle buses to take you around the complex. Birmingham International Rail Station is a 5 minute walk from the show as is Birmingham International Airport. It is an 80 minute train ride from London Euston Rail Station. You can also click on the map below to plan your journey.

    Download the app for Autumn Fair here

    When you get to Birmingham do remember to come and see us in the new Hall 4 on Stand 4D03.

    Can't make the show? Click here to request access all of our designs online.

    Autumn Fair 2014 Floor Plan

    View Larger Map

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