Blue Eyed Sun

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  • The EU Referendum - In or Out?

    EU Referendum - In Or OutOn Thursday 23rd June 2016 Britain’s electorate will vote in the EU referendum to decide whether or not we should remain in the European Union. The Union has long held a fascination for me, ever since I designed and patented an EU board game at school. At university I spent an exchange year in Amsterdam thanks to the ERASMUS scheme and, currently, Blue Eyed Sun is selling more and more greeting cards in Europe.

    A common complaint amongst business owners is that we don’t have enough information about the EU Referendum (aka Brexit) to make an informed decision. If you think about it, we can never have enough information. The data for any given situation is infinite. So, despite our best efforts, we could end up making a snap judgment based on emotions like fear (of the unknown or of missing out) or anger (at the idea of losing control or at being taken advantage of). If it works out alright we will forget the external variables that affected this and pat ourselves on the back even though it has very little to do with our conscious intent or control.

    Despite this seemingly frivolous outlook on how we make decisions, I’ve been brushing up on my history and weighing up the pros and cons of Britain’s EU membership to try and rationalise my thoughts. Here’s what I’ve learned:

    A Brief History

    The European Union is an economic and political partnership involving 28 European countries. Created post WWII, the thinking was that countries that foster economic cooperation together are less likely to go to war. After the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, the EU created its own currency (The Euro), which is used by 19 members. The EU has a parliament to which member governments assign representatives. It sets rules on things like the environment, transport, consumer rights and human rights. The single market facilitates free movement of goods, services, capital and workers.

    Despite Churchill’s supporting of the idea of the EU, Britain initially stood on the sidelines at the signing of the Treaty of Rome in 1957 held back by commitments to the commonwealth and the ‘special relationship’ with the US. Britain was one of few European economies that grew during the war. At the time, GDP per capita in the UK was significantly larger that the average six founding members of the EU; however by 1973 it had plummeted to 10% below average.

    After being twice rejected in the sixties (French President, Charles de Gaulle, was unconvinced of Britain’s commitment), Britain joined the EU in 1973 under Ted Heath’s Conservative government, desperate to prevent further relative economic decline. Harold Wilson’s Labour government held a referendum in 1975 when 67% voted to stay in the EU. After joining the EU our GDP per capita has been comparatively stable ever since.

    Should we remain, David Cameron has negotiated terms that mean that Britain will not join the Euro, migrant welfare payments will be cut, the City of London will be protected, British cash spent on bailing out Eurozone nations will be reimbursed and a ‘red card’ system will be implemented to prevent the EU imposing unwanted legislation.

    The Debate

    Whilst a lot of detail will be affected by the outcome of the referendum, broadly speaking the debate centres around two main areas, our sovereignty and financial implications.


    The right to control our own destiny is one of the lynchpins of the leave campaign. In my opinion, this control is somewhat of an illusion, as is the notion of a separate Great Britain. If you think about it, we are already European. There is no ‘us’ and ‘them’.

    St George, our patron saint, was a Roman soldier born in Cappadocia, Turkey. English is Latin based and we were essentially under the moral authority of the Pope for centuries until the Reformation. Previously, Britain has been controlled by the Saxons (Germany/Denmark/Holland), the Normans (France/Scandinavia), the Vikings (Denmark/Norway/Sweden) and the Romans (Italy). For centuries French was the language of our Royal Court, diplomacy and the law. Several Royals have been German (Namely Hannover and Windsor - previously Saxe-Coburg). Immigration and the flow of people and ideas has always been an integral part of what Britain is.

    The flow goes both ways. Over a million Britons live in other EU countries and millions more visit each year. EU citizens can live and work were they like within the EU. Those voting to stay say that there is no guarantee that expats would be able to stay abroad after Brexit. The opposition say that International law protects expats from being forced to return.

    The issue of sovereignty is essentially about control. Leavers say that most UK laws are made in Brussels, whilst those that wish to remain say that only a minority of UK law derives directly from the EU; plus Britain retains a veto in many important areas. In any case, some sharing of sovereignty is crucial to enable fair trade across Europe.

    Britain is already a member of, and influenced by, a variety of external bodies including the International Monetary Fund, World Health Organisation, United Nations, NATO and G8. The toxic Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), banks and corporations arguably all have more powerful control over our lives than the EU.


    About half of the UK’s trade is conducted in the EU. As members, trade negotiations with other parts of the world are conducted by the EU not individual states. Being part of the EU gives the group more negotiating power on a global scale. US President Barack Obama said as much in a recent interview.

    Those wanting to leave say that the EU bureaucracy costs Britain too much. For example, last year my friend Gemma Price at Superfood Market had to spend over £40,000 on new labelling to comply with EU changes. At a recent Sage EU Debate I attended, MP Anna Soubry asked the 100 business people there if their business had been affected by EU red tape and not one raised their hand. Certainly we are unaffected by this bureaucracy in the greeting card business.

    Those who believe we should leave the EU say that £billions of pounds would become available for other priorities. It is hard to know the true cost of leaving though. Some estimate this could also be in the £billions.

    Those wishing to remain feel that we save money being in the EU because prices are lower as a result. Flights and mobile phone charges, for example, are cheaper. They say the benefits easily outweigh the costs and that we might even have to pay to access the EU market if we left.

    Leavers say that trade would continue because we import more than we export from Europe. They cite non-member, Norway, as an example of how trade deals would work outside of membership. On the Remain side, it’s felt that leaving would cause an economic shock and slow our growth. We are more dependent on the EU than they are on us and we would still have to comply with EU rules when selling into the single market – my friend Gemma would still need the right labels if she wished to sell into the EU.

    The Leavers are concerned that unemployment is over 10% in the EU (almost double that of the UK) and worry that more people will flow into the UK putting financial strain on our healthcare and welfare systems. The UK currently gets £66 million for investment every day from the EU. Three million UK jobs are said to be linked to the EU.

    The Card Industry

    Blue Eyed Sun trades in Europe with EU members and without. Having less paperwork and less currencies to exchange saves us money. One of our best BES team members is from Spain and we’d hate to lose her. To be honest though, I’m sure we would cope whatever the outcome of the vote. It would be a problem if leaving badly affected our relations with our European neighbours.

    The diaspora of Brits abroad probably has a more important effect on the European greeting card market than we can quantify. For example, last year Blue Eyed Sun sold over 50,000 cards in Greece and I believe this is largely due to British influence. With more Brits abroad, more countries are adopting our practices. Would this diminish if we left the EU and had less flow of people between Europe and the UK? Whatever we decide, the EU Referendum is one of the biggest decisions our country has had two make in many years.

    Personally, I like being part of the EU. It protects our Human Rights. We have cleaner water and air and lower greenhouse emissions. The EU protects consumers and regulates on trading standards. We currently have a seat at the table with influence instead of being on the outside. I also like that the EU aims to stimulate competition and trade, increase efficiency, raise quality and cut prices. This makes good business sense to me.

    Register to watch the live #SageDebateEU Monday 13th June at 13:00 GMT

    Click here for the Government's Referendum website

    All you need to know about Brexit from the BBC

  • The Greats Awards 2016 Winners and Finalists

    The Greats Awards 2016

    Congratulations to all of the finalists and winners of the Greats Awards 2016 for Gift Retailers. It's a wonderful thing to be nominated for awards. We hope that you enjoyed the day and would like to thank all of you who stock our cards. We consider ourselves very privileged to be serving such a fine host of loyal retailers.

    The Greats Awards 2016 Winners are:

    The Honourary Achievement Award went to Andrew Illingworth from Widdop & Co.

    Marina McManus, shop manager, Liquorice Tree, Edinburgh Airport is Retail Employee of the Year

    Lynsey Bolton. department manager, Cliftons, Lytham
    Shelly Frost, sales assistant, The Country House Gift Co
    Leah Grimes, sales assistant, Hallmark Celebrate, Chigwell
    Georgia Perkin, assistant manager, The Inside Man, London

    MAP Gift Shop, Archway won Independent Gift Retailer of the Year - London (inside M25):

    FinalistsThe Greats Awards 2016 - Map Gift Shop
    All Good Gifts, Battersea
    In Spitalfields, Spitalfields
    Rumbles, Ealing
    SMUG, Islington
    The Indigo Tree, Streatham

    MiMi, Hartley Witney won for Home Counties, South and S East

    One Forty, Cranleigh
    Box of Delights, Flitwick
    Dragonfly, Cheam
    Pussy Home Boutique, Brighton
    Something Special, Edenbridge

    Hyde + Seek, Exeter won Independent Gift Retailer of the Year - South West

    Bentleys, Stourpourt on Severn
    The Cedars, Bourton on Water
    The Country House Gift Co, Winscombe
    The Emporium, Devizes
    Just Delights, Penryn

    Feathering Your Nest, Rayleigh won Independent Gift Retailer of the Year - East Anglia

    FinalistsThe Greats Awards 2016 - Marmalade Meringue
    Gifted, Norwich and Cambridge
    Horizon Gifts, Hunstanton
    Osokozi Gallery, Holt
    Quest Gifts, Holt
    The Java Store, Norwich

    Set Design, Leicester won Independent  - Midlands and Wales

    Hamptons, Penarth
    Marmalade Meringue, Hinckley
    Narborough Hall, Narborough
    Selections, Port Talbort
    Skinny Whistle, Quorn

    The Bottom Drawer, Portadown won Independent  - North and Northern Ireland
    Libby's Chesterfield
    Oklahoma, Manchester
    Peppermint Pig, Clekheaton
    Saffrons of York and Little Saffrons, York
    The Imaginarium, York

    Maia Gifts, Glasgow won Independent Gift Retailer of the Year - Scotland

    FinalistsThe Greats Awards 2016 - Love Aroma Store
    Bijou, Elgin
    Cloudberry, Edinburgh
    Liquorice Tree, Edinburgh and Glasgow
    Papyrus, Glasgow
    Spirito, Glasgow

    We Built This City, London won Best Gift Retailer - Newcomer South and Wales

    All About Rose, Great Missenden
    Bibi's Home, Weymouth
    Coast & Country Interiors, Bude
    Panache, Yeovil, Taunton and Lyme Regis
    The Bump Company, Southampton

    Lily Blue Gifts, Hagley won Best Gift Retailer - Newcomer North, Midlands and Scotland

    FinalistsThe Greats Award 2016 - Lily Blue
    Embrace, Strathpeffer
    Penny and Black, Lundin Links
    Quirky Coo, Dundee
    Saffrons of Northallerton
    Serendipity House, Kirkham

    Love Aroma won Best Specialist Multiple Gift Retailer

    Between the Lines (12 stores)
    Menkind (40+ stores)
    Sass & Belle (5 stores)
    Time & Tide (6 stores)
    Utility (4 stores)

    Debenhams, Oxford Street won Best Department Store Retailer of Gifts

    Barretts of St Neots
    Bengalis of Kingston
    Fenwick of Brent Cross
    John Lewis
    Jarrolds, Norwich

    Robert & Ruby, Helmsley won Best Non Specialist Retailer of Gifts

    FinalistsThe Greats Awards 2016 - Robert and Ruby
    The Bristol Guild of Applied Arts, Bath
    Brodie Countryfare, Brodie by Forres
    Potters of Hockley
    Zing Furniture, Willington

    Time & Tide won Best Gifts Lifestyle and Homewares (interiors)

    About Living (3 stores)
    Oliver Bonas (multiple)
    Orange Tree, Topsham
    The Old School Beauly, Beauly
    Love Thy Interiors, Thirsk

    The Herbary, Troon won Best Gift Retailer of Jewellery

    Celtic Company, Welshpool
    Harvey Willis, Glenrothes
    Macmillan of Penwortham
    Ruby Red, Milngavie
    Stacks, Wirral

    New Hopetoun Garden Centre, Broxburn won Best Garden Centre Retailer of Gifts
    Manchester Garden Centre, Durham
    Thetford Garden Centre, Thetford
    Whitehall Garden Centre, Lacock
    Van Hage, Ampel
    Redfields Garden Centre, Crookham

    Imperial War Museum Gift Shop, London won Best Visitor Attraction Gift Shop

    Chester Zoo, Islands Gift Shop
    Longleat Safari Park, Longleat
    Science Museum Gift Shop, London
    St Michael's Mount, Marazian
    Waddesdon Manor Gift Shop, Aylesbury

    Retro36, Scarborough won Best Retail DisplayThe Greats Awards 2016 - Retro36

    The Bottom Drawer, Portadown
    Gardenarium, East Molesley
    MAP Gift Shop, London
    Olive Tree, Wolverhampton
    Orange Tree, Topsham

    Gifts from Handpicked won Best Online Gift Retailer, to include Mail Order

    Handpicked Gifts
    JD Williams
    Love Aroma
    The Inside Man

    Spirito, Glasgow won Best Retailer Initiative for its jewellery initiative.

    Loch Levens Larder, Loch Leven - For its SBS Campaign
    Cantons, Port Erin - for its SBS campaign
    Narborough Hall, Narborough - For its Pay it Forward Day
    Oliver Bonas for its Innocent Big Knit for Age UK initiative
    The Old School Beauly for its Mrs Old School blog

    Winners of Best Service to the Independent Retailer

    Widdop & Co won GoldThe Greats Award 2016 - Widdop & Co
    Joe Davis won Silver
    Ashleigh & Burwood won Bronze

    Finalists 2015 (in alphabetical order)
    Expressions 4 U
    Gisela Graham
    Lesser & Pavey
    Really Good
    RJB Stone
    Yankee Candle

    Now in their fourteenth year, The Greats Awards have become the accolades to strive for and the Awards event itself has become one of the most exciting and vibrant in the country. It brings together the entire British gift industry for a day of celebration.

    The Greats Awards are owned and organised by Progressive Gifts & Home Worldwide (published by Max Publishing). They recognise and celebrate not only the top independent and multiple gift retailers regionally and nationally, but also one-off niche retailers, garden centres and supermarkets as well as outstanding retail employees.

    The Greats Awards ceremony for 2016 was held on Thursday 5th May at The Savoy in London celebrating their 14th anniversary of The Greats with a special themed event which included and cocktail reception, lunch, awards and entertainment.

    All gift retailers who have been named as a Greats winner or finalist over the past 10 years of the Greats are invited to attend a special Greats Party at PG Live next month on Tuesday May 11th at 3pm at the Business Design Centre in Islington. Contact Ian Hyder through the PG Live website for details

    See previous winners of the Greats Awards
    Visit the Greats Awards Website
    Click here to request more information on Blue Eyed Sun

  • Freedom from Standard Thinking

    Freedom From Standard ThinkingNew publishers often ask me for business advice and a common phrase used is, “what is standard” in this or that situation in our industry. The implication being that there are set rules or procedures in any given business dealings.

    Of course there is etiquette in business and there are common practices in the card industry, but I always bristle at the use of the word “standard.” You see, when people ask in this way, what they don't seem to realise is that my authority is their authority. That is to say that they are the ones accepting my authority as some external objective truth, which it is not.

    The person asking the question is not necessarily choosing to think carefully about what is right for them or right for their customer in their situation and is instead wanting to be told what to do. Like asking a teacher or a parent for permission. What can follow is a lack of responsibility and the insidious abandonment of innovation and creativity.

    If we follow patterns and reduce things to ‘standard’ our products and processes become standard and our means of distribution become standard. As a result things can start to suffer.

    Take, for example, a recent conversation I had with a very successful and experienced retailer friend of mine about how to design the ultimate, best selling selection of greeting cards. He had a similar discussion with another publisher / broker who had dismissed his ideas because the cards wouldn't fit into the control system they had for displaying the cards. You read that right, “sorry, we can't design the ultimate selection of best selling greeting cards because they won't fit into our display system!” Do you see how our quest for what is standard can lead us down the path to mediocrity?

    To my mind this is even worse if we think not only of the money that could be made designing such a selection of best selling cards, but also of what the world wants and needs. This collection of cards could be improving the way that people connect and communicate with one another. It could be touching hearts and changing lives. Yet it isn’t, because the standardised racks won't accept some of these new ideas. These cards may have already been created and exist in the world at this very moment, yet they will be rejected by the buyers or brokers based on the display systems rather than how the end users of the cards feel about them. The brokers themselves or the buyers can divest themselves of authority by handing it over to their systems. Some teeth sucking and… “Oooh, we can't do that. It’s not our fault, it just doesn't fit with our systems.”

    You can see also how this problem regularly affects the wider world outside our industry where people are often resistant to change because “that’s just not how we do things around here” or “nobody else does it that way / everybody does it a different way.” Both of these examples are people divesting themselves of responsibility and leaving it instead to the status quo. They are not necessarily stepping back and thinking what is best for them and their customers in this era. Because, of course, times change and what was once the way things were done has now been superseded by better methods. In fact, times are changing faster than ever. I read recently that the first ten years of this century saw more technological advancements than the entire previous century and the last six years or so have seen more than the previous ten.

    Disruptive businesses are challenging how we do things across the planet: Tesla are redefining the car industry, Uber changing how we use taxis, AirBnB where we stay when we travel, YouTube how we watch TV, WhatsApp with how we communicate and Facebook with how we consume media and share stories. Whilst a lot of the disrupters are about saving money or time or both, it’s not all about what is cheapest. Despite these changes we still love to buy and share beautiful things. Not on the High Street and Etsy have been big drivers on the internet of this trend. We see it in the ever growing popularity of artisan food products and designer-maker gifts and cards.

    So we cannot sit still. We cannot keep doing things the way we have always done them. We need to challenge ourselves and redefine things constantly experimenting with new creative ideas and being prepared to fail. If we publish cards we have to explore new techniques and think carefully about what cards we like to buy and send in order to learn what works for people who still love to buy and send cards. We have to get to know our customers well and never stop asking them questions about what works well for them and what doesn’t.

    If we retail then we also need to know our customers. What sells well in our stores and why? What will surprise and delight? When buying new ranges the simplest question to ask is ‘would my customers buy this?’ If you’re not sure, would you buy it? Who would you send it to and why? Does the price seem reasonable? Price scales in relation to the former questions btw. If the designs are beautiful, different or you would love to send the card then it’s worth paying more for. It’s good to keep testing price brackets with products so that you don’t get stuck in a belief system that stops you growing your sales and profits (Eg. “My customers never spend more than £3 on a card.” Never say never). We also need to feedback to our suppliers so they can continue to improve our options.

    If we are in the supply chain we have to understand the needs of our publishers and retailers. We have to adapt and create new techniques and innovations for stock control. We have to stay mindful of the environment and support the use of ethical materials and print.

    If we are brokers we have to remember that every card needs to be judged on it’s own merit. Is this a card that people will want to buy? The greeting card should drive the planning, not the the other way around.

    We all have to innovate with ways we run our businesses and work with our staff, our customers and suppliers. We have to be prepared to experiment regularly and make mistakes. We need to think carefully about cards and our industry. We have to support new initiatives like Festive Friday and Thinking of You Week to keep banging the drums about how great it is to send and receive greeting cards.  We must continue to share stories of how important they are for maintaining that sense of connection with one another in the world, in a way that is still profoundly relevant in our digital age.

    I'm a huge fan of how systems have streamlined our business processes, but we have to be mindful that they do not become the tail that wags the proverbial dog. The systems need to have flexibility in what is essentially a creative business. We are not selling and distributing uniform fast moving consumer goods like cans of coke. Our systems need to be adaptable because there are a multiplicity of card buying consumers out there with a huge range of experiences and desires.

    It's so easy to talk ourselves out of taking risk and offering something fresh to the world because of what we think is standard rather than following our hearts or testing. Nature is always testing and trying things to see what works and then following its success with more of the same. Not enough to eat on the ground? Grow a longer neck to reach the juiciest buds on the trees. Food still scarce? Then grow a water storage system on your back to traverse large sections of the desert in the quest for another oasis of water.

    Whilst we have a need for certainty through things like systems and standardisation it is actually our need for variety that makes living so much fun. More importantly, as we see in nature, variety is essential for survival.



  • Blue Eyed Sun wins Queens Award for International Trade

    Queens Award

    Her Majesty The Queen has been graciously pleased to approve the Prime Minister's recommendation that Blue Eyed Sun should receive a Queen's Award for Enterprise in International Trade this year. The award is in recognition of exceptional export growth in the last three years.

    The Award was conferred on 21 April 2016, Her Majesty's birthday.

    Jo and Jeremy Corner, Blue Eyed Sun’s owners, have been invited to HM The Queen's Reception at Buckingham Palace in July 2016 along with other Queens Award winners.

    “We are thrilled that the Blue Eyed Sun team has been recognised for their hard work in growing internationally with this highly prestigious and coveted award. It’s an honour to be flying the flag for greeting cards especially in a year when the Queen celebrates her 90th birthday and will certainly be receiving many thousands of cards as part of her celebrations.” - Jeremy Corner, MD.

    Thanks to all of our wonderful export customers, distributors, suppliers, UKTI and our amazing team at Blue Eyed Sun who have all helped us to win this award.

    Learn more about exporting in our talks with UKTI at trade shows

    See recent talks on how to export greeting cards with the GCA

    Watch this short video by Sage as part of UKTI Export Week which features tips on exporting:

  • New Christmas Cards for 2016 from Blue Eyed Sun

    Vintage Too ChristmasChristmas falls on Sunday 25th December 2016, and we like our retailers to be prepared well in advance of this key retail period, so here's what Christmas cards are new from us this year...

    VINTAGE TOO (pictured above) are based on beautiful original machine stitched artworks by Jo Corner. Embossed and hand finished with jewels, the range includes 30 gorgeous Christmas designs to complement our best selling everyday Vintage Too cards. They are are 160mm square and come cello-wrapped with a red envelope.

    FLEUR (below) are based on original illustrations by Jo Corner, beautifully embossed on textured GF Smith board and feature hand finished jewels. This stunning new range includes 30 designs to add to our 30 everyday Fleur cards. These wonderful 125mm square Christmas cards are blank inside and all come cello-wrapped with a red envelope.

    We have a large selection of Christmas cards online in the trade only section of our site, including many that are on special offer. 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 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 Christmas cards in person at PG Live at the Business Design Centre in May.

    Flour Christmas

  • Greetings Today Magazine features Blue Eyed Sun

    Greetings Today Magazine - Blue Eyed Sun

    Greetings Today magazine just featured us in their latest issue. Here's what they wrote:

    Back in 2000, Greetings Today magazine featured a newcomer to the industry in the shape of Jo Corner and her handmade glass enamel cards. Three premises moves later, Blue Eyed Sun’s recent expansion into significantly larger offices and warehousing shows how they’re still growing strongly. Moving into the cloud is this year’s ambition for Blue Eyed Sun MD Jeremy Corner as he’s determined to keep the publishers one step ahead as they look to the future.

    The Blue Eyed Sun team have just moved physically, taking up residence in their lovely new factory at 56 Victoria Road, Burgess Hill, West Sussex, just up the road from their old industrial units in Hove. And now Jeremy is aiming to move everything digitally too: “My goal is to get digital on most of our paperwork and do the full shift over to the cloud. Paperwork takes up space and most of it I only ever look at when I’m trying to clear out the office!

    “In preparation for the move, we’ve done a lot of clearing, sorting and so on. It’s my least favourite job in the whole world. I get side-tracked with the detail of it and then despondent that I can’t get through it all fast enough. “Despite the distractions I got most of it done when we were moving and I’ve photographed or scanned the paperwork I want to keep and recycled the rest.

    “I kept discovering interesting old bits of paperwork. Like our very first order, our original brochure and a load of rejection letters from top retailers that now stock us. The letters were a good reminder that persistence is one of the things that has really kept us growing all these years.”

    The Blue Eyed Sun story started back in 1999 when Jo Kirby, as she was then, specialised in glass enamel greetings cards that she hand-fired on to small pieces of hand-sanded copper in her childhood hobby kiln at 900°C. The glass pieces were then mounted on to GF Smith boards which Jo sold through her own small shop in York where they were one of her best-sellers.

    When she moved to Brighton, Jo decided to make the cards her new business and sold them into leading retailers such as Paperchase, Harrods and Fenwick as well as design-led independent gift and card shops and galleries. “It was a different time back then,” Jo said, “handmade was really taking off and those with something different to offer really started to do well.”

    Despite making a small profit on her first year’s sales of £10,000, Jo considered giving it all up to become a web designer as the internet was growing rapidly and she wasn’t making enough to live off. She added: “It was difficult to generate enough sales. When I could get in front of retailers, most wanted to buy the cards. I just couldn’t see enough customers on my own and I had no sales agents. “I decided to focus on getting sales agents at Home & Gift in 2001. I was approached by 15 at the show, went with six – and overnight the business blossomed.”

    Soon after, Blue Eyed Sun were shortlisted for a Henries Award in the Best Art Cards category, agents’ sales were booming and the business started to grow rapidly. Another year later and their hand-painted Suncatcher cards won a Gift Of The Year award for Best Cards For Design-Led Shops and, with Jo’s partner Jeremy now on board, they moved the company into their first rented premises.

    Having also got married, the couple soon found they were taking business home with them. “Balance was a big challenge for us,” Jo added, “as the business grew rapidly, doubling in size each year for several years, we found ourselves being all consumed with it. “Even with taking on staff to help and finding bigger premises it was very difficult for us as life partners to prevent it taking over our lives.”

    In 2004 things came to a head when a family friend asked Jo how the business was going and she and Jeremy both realised they weren’t happy with things. Luckily the friend was an experienced business coach and managed to help them work through a personal development exercise that helped them find the work-life balance they were after.

    Jeremy said: “Understanding why you are in business, what you want from it and what your goals are has been so important for us. This is something we have to assess regularly to make sure we are still on track and that the business is suiting our needs.”

    Now with 15 in-house staff and a host of home-based craftworkers, agents across the UK and distributors in more than 15 countries worldwide, BES were recently shortlisted for a Queen’s Award For Enterprise for their export success, have been nominated 11 times in the Henries Awards and been finalists in several small business awards.

    “We’ve been very lucky to have had such success in this wonderful industry,” added Jeremy, “my real passion is helping others. Our blog, social media and speaking at events have all been a big part of this for me.” Since 2004 he has been a keynote speaker at the annual Ladder Club seminars for new publishers organised by fellow publisher and retailer Lynn Tait in Leigh-on-Sea.

    Jeremy is also an active member and current treasurer of the Greeting Card Association council and has also served for several years on the Giftware Association’s national committee where he starts his two-year term as vice-chairman in June before moving on to replace Greetings Today magazine columnist Henri Davis in the top job. Blue Eyed Sun's blog helps retailers and other publishers to improve their businesses and understanding of social media. He also regularly talks at industry events on subjects like export, trends, digital marketing and personal development.

    While licensing with other companies for gift products and card ideas that don’t fit the BES look, an important part of the company’s success has been their strong focus on handmade and hand-finished greetings cards. Jo added: “If there’s one word I like to think of to sum up Blue Eyed Sun’s work it’s ‘crafted.’ I love crafts like enamelling, painting, sewing, knitting and crochet. “As our product range develops this theme will remain at the core of what we do. I’m excited about the potential we have going forward.”

    Having bought their 4,000 sq ft Hove premises in 2006, one of their biggest challenges recently has been finding space to expand. They decided to take the plunge with the acquisition of the new building that’s more than four times the size at 17,000 sq ft instead of outsourcing to a third party warehousing company.

    “Our new premises feel a long way from our tiny bedsit in Brighton where I started our business all those years ago,” Jo said. “It’s a wonderful new environment for our team and is well lit with a good amount of space to grow – plus it has sections that we can rent out in the short term and then expand into when we’re ready. “There are so many new product ideas that we’ve wanted to pursue and just not had the space. It’s exciting now that we’ve finally got it.”

    As Jeremy summed up: “Despite the ups and downs of our journey I wouldn’t change a thing. It’s amazing to create products that are shared at such important occasions in people’s lives. “It’s also a privilege to work with our wonderful team of staff, many of whom have been with us for years and have helped the company to grow. It feels incredible to have a business that now contributes to paying several mortgages rather than just our own."

    See what's new from Blue Eyed Sun

    See more photos of our new premises

    How to get started with Digital Marketing

  • How to cope when things go wrong

    How To Cope When Things Go Wrong

    Recently we had a number of things go wrong in our business in a single week. I thought back to the early days of setting up Blue Eyed Sun and how issues like that seemed like the biggest things in the world to us at the time. The stress, anger and frustration could be all consuming. A lot has changed with how we see problems these days. Some of which you might find useful.

    So, if you ever beat yourself up about making mistakes and not getting things right in your business, here’s a list of what happened to us (a company with 16 years experience) and how we dealt with things that fateful week:

    1. Despite having been proofed by two separate individuals, we discovered three mistakes in our new 64 page brochure after it came back from the printers. Firstly, we wrote the wrong hall for Spring Fair. Secondly, there was a typo on one of the cards. Thirdly, we had the wrong image and a typo on another design.

    In the past I might have got very angry and upset by these problems. Unnecessarily so. The past is gone, now is all there is. You have to assess the situation for what it is and then make decisions on what to do accordingly.

    In hindsight, I can tell you that having the wrong hall number for our Spring Fair stand in our brochure didn’t affect our show in the slightest. We were able to correct all three problems quickly on our website. The first typo was spotted before the actual print run for the cards went to press and was fixed. The second meant that 2,000 cards had to be ditched. Fortunately the embossing plate didn’t have to be remade so we saved £80. The cards were quickly reprinted and the problem solved. The cost of the mistake was the price of the lesson to be more thorough and less rushed next time.

    2. The new floor we had laid down in our new warehouse at a cost of £20k bubbled up and cracked off in one section near the middle. We have a great relationship with our builder who came back straight away with the sub contractor to see what they could do. They'll fix it up and in a month or two it will be sorted. Having good relationships with suppliers that you can trust is as important as negotiating the best deals, so make sure you treat your suppliers well. Kicking and screaming about a problem like this doesn’t always help.

    3. We discovered the design code on the back of one of our new cards was incorrect. I didn’t ask anyone else to proof so the buck stopped at my door. We created a new label on our barcode machine and will sticker over the code on the first 1,000 print run. We sent corrected artwork to our printers immediately and had the incorrect files deleted. It’s important that you do this as soon as you discover mistakes so that they are not repeated.

    Remember to own your mistake when you make it rather than blaming someone else. Chances are you made the decision to hire that someone else anyway so the buck still stops with you. Taking responsibility doesn’t mean beating yourself up about the mistake either.

    4. One of our top agents received samples of a new range, which we love even though it is very different from our other work. Because the agent hadn't received samples of our other new ranges (we had 5 new this January) she wrote to us expressing deep concern about our new direction, fearing that all of our ranges were going to be off piste and that this would damage our brand and sales.

    In the past we would have been stressed out by this and imaging the worst. We also would have felt angry about a negative response to our hard work. We stayed calm and told her to wait and see the rest of the designs. She emailed a day later after receiving them apologising for her knee jerk reaction and saying how great all of the new product is. Sometimes you need to trust yourself and wait a little.

    5. The samples for most of our new ranges arrived the day before the trade show. This is tighter than we like to run things and can add to stress levels. We try so hard each year to get things happening earlier and it has always been a challenge for us. In a way we have been a victim of our own success with new opportunities often eating into our design time. We kept cool and had good communication with our suppliers to minimise stress. The samples looked great and we had what we needed for the show!

    6. With our big move to new premises and the change of address I wasn’t able to get new business cards in time for Top Drawer. I feel unprofessional not having anything to hand to prospects at shows, but as long as I can get their details and send them something immediately after the event it's not the end of the world. I was able to have the business cards ready for Spring Fair.

    7. With the heavy rains in January, a load of water came through beneath the loading bay doors of our new warehouse and damaged several boxes of cards. The area was a mess. We were still in the process of getting everything from the move sorted during the busiest time of year for us. It’s a nuisance, but there are people in parts of the country that were completely flooded and in far worse circumstances than us so we count ourselves fortunate. No-one was hurt and damaged stock is replaceable.

    8. During the show I left my car keys with my friend whose house I was staying at in Richmond, so he could juggle vehicles in his driveway. As I was leaving on the last day I discovered that he had forgotten to lock my car. Unfortunately someone must have opened the car during the night. They had taken my old ipod from the glove compartment, £30 of loose change I keep in the car for parking meters, a brand new power drill and a set of stand lights.

    On a positive note my sat nav was still there and no windows were smashed. The total cost of the items was less than I would have paid for a hotel so I wrote them off in my mind and got on with my last day at the show without worrying about it or letting the incident affect me or my customers. Complaining about things doesn’t help anyone. I also decided not to blame my friend and instead focussed on being grateful for him letting me stay at his home and for helping me to see so much of the Rugby World Cup last year. It was an easy to mistake to make.

    At the risk of sounding like an incompetent fool that attracts a series of disasters to himself I’m sharing these examples to remind you not to fall into the trap of living in space of anger and frustration at mistakes and problems that occur whether self inflicted or outside of your control.

    Problems are part of life, they aren’t going away anytime soon. You might think that making more money or growing your business will get rid of all your problems and that one day you might reach some problem free nirvana. You won’t. As your company gets bigger you’ll have bigger problems. You make more money, you’ll have more expensive problems. What matters is how you deal with them. You need to get good at dealing with problems.

    Whatever the problem is, roll with it. Try your best to stay calm and figure out the best solution. Don't worry about making mistakes. We all do it. We're human. Don't punish yourself or anyone else. Just assess the issues for what they are. No worse and no better than they actually are. Consider your alternatives. Be grateful it's not any worse. For sure it will be for someone elsewhere on the planet. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. Then get going with improving your situation from there.

    Read more:

    Eight ways to deal with failure

    How to make better decisions

    Six ways our minds deceive us

  • Vintage Too range launched by Blue Eyed Sun

    Vintage Too - Blue Eyed SunBlue Eyed Sun are proud to present their gorgeous new range of thirty six stitched Vintage Too cards.

    This fresh, contemporary revamp of their best selling Vintage range is based on original embroidered artworks by textile artist, Jo Corner. These beautiful cards are litho printed and embossed to give a realistic look and feel.

    Vintage Too cards are all blank inside and all come cello wrapped with an envelope that is 165mm x 165mm. Sold in sixes the designs are available for trade customers to order through our agents, by brochure, at shows or on our website. All board used for Vintage Too is responsibly sourced from sustained and managed forests by FSC accredited suppliers.

    You can see these wonderful Vintage Too greeting cards first in person at:

    Spring Fair 2016 at the NEC in Birmingham 7-11 February - Hall 3 - Stand 3X31

    To stock these cards 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 or 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. To see what else is new from Blue Eyed Sun click here.

  • What consumers want from retailers

    What Consumers WantAccording to the business consultant, Joseph Pine, there has been a fundamental change going on in the fabric of our modern economy. If you work in retail it’s something to be aware of because it is at the heart of what modern consumers really want from retailers.


    In the beginning our economy was based primarily on things that come out of the ground. For example, before greeting cards or paper, we harvested trees for timber and sold it on the open marketplace. Commodities like minerals, animals and vegetables were the basis of the agrarian economy that lasted for millennia.


    During the Industrial Revolution goods became the primary economic offering. Goods like paper and card were manufactured using commodities like timber as a raw material. Over time, goods have become commoditised and people don’t care who makes them. They care only about price.


    There's an antidote to commoditisation and that is customisation. Customising a good automatically turns it into a service. Henry Cole needed a more efficient way than writing individual letters to connect with friends at Christmas and so the first greeting cards were commissioned. Over time some services can be commoditised as well. If all designs on cards stayed the same and fashions didn’t exist then that is what would happen with cards too and people would only care about who sold them the cheapest.


    When you customise a service that is so appropriate to a particular person at that moment in time you can't help, but make them go ‘wow’. It turns it into a memorable event and becomes an experience. Think of a beautiful greeting card shop, Disneyland or boutique hotels. Experiences are what consumers most want these days and they want them to be authentic.

    Real Experiences

    Some people like to differentiate between levels of authenticity. They might say that Disneyland is less authentic than hiking through the mountains or that spot UV printed cards on ensocoat feel less authentic than letter pressed cards made with GF Smith colourplan. The truth is there is no such thing as an inauthentic experience because experiences happen inside of us. They are our reactions to the events staged before us.

    You could also argue that there is no truly natural authentic experience for, even if you go for a walk in the woods, there is a company that manufactured the shoes you walk in, your phone, the car you got there in. These are all manmade ‘artificial’ elements brought into the woods by you.


    In the new experience economy, authenticity has now become the new consumer sensibility and the buying criteria by which we choose who we buy from and what we are going to buy.

    If you can look at how each of these economies developed you can see the imperative or business focus that is needed to meet the need of the consumer sensibility:

    What Consumers Want from Retailers

    What’s needed now is the ability to render an authentic experience, because you have to get consumers to perceive your offering as authentic.

    This presents a paradox because nobody can have an inauthentic experience (they happen inside of us), but no business can supply one (all business offerings are manmade objects, involve money or machinery). All those factors make things potentially inauthentic. So how do you render authenticity?

    Rendering Authenticity

    There are two dimensions to rendering authenticity:

    1. Be true to yourself, which is ‘self directed’.

    2. Being what you say you are to others, which is ‘other directed’.

    These dimensions create a two by two matrices for businesses.

    What Consumers Want

    A business that is true to itself and is what it says it is to others renders the most authentic experience, it’s REAL REAL. The opposite of this is FAKE FAKE. Interestingly, there is always a desire somewhere in the economy for fake. Think of cheap knock offs of Tatty Teddy cards on market stalls.

    Businesses do exist in these other modes of authenticity. REAL FAKE is exemplified by the Universal City Walk. It looks like a real city, but it’s made of scaffolding and wood. It’s a real fake of the City of Los Angeles. Disneyland on the other hand is FAKE REAL. It’s a fake reality. Sadly, it’s not really a magic kingdom and yet it is wonderfully true to itself.

    The easiest way for businesses to fall down with all this is to not understand their heritage and not be true to that heritage. In a way it doesn’t matter where your business sits on this matrix, the key to being is to be true to yourself and know who you are as a business. What are your core values?


    Knowing your heritage is knowing what you have done in the past. Sometimes this can limit what you are able to do in the future. You have to understand your past. For example, twenty years ago Disney, which is best known for family values, bought the ABC network and Miramax. These two businesses, which produced adult rated content, were in direct conflict with their core values. So families couldn't really trust Disney’s heritage. It was no longer being true to itself.

    To be authentic, it’s really important to be what you say you are. The biggest mistake companies make is to advertise things that they are not. That's when you are perceived as fake - advertising things that you are not. Think of any retailer that has the word ‘quality’ in their title above their shops. Most of the time these signs look knackered and the business is anything but quality. They appear disingenuous and inauthentic.

    How To Be Authentic

    The number one thing to do when it comes to being what you say you are is to provide places for people to experience who you are - it's not advertising that does it. That's why some retailers don't need to advertise at all. They're saying if you want to know who we are you have to come and experience us.

    Think about the economic value they have provided by the greeting card retail experience. At its core greeting cards are a commodity. Paper on its own is worth very little. Add a nice design that’s relevant to an important event in peoples’ lives and it’s worth more on the supermarket shelf. Have that design created by a popular illustrator, designer or innovative brand and the card is worth more again. Present a selection from wonderful designer makers using beautiful print techniques and thoughtful or humorous messages in a pleasant retail environment like so many beautiful card shops and the card grows in value to the consumer seeking an authentic retail experience.

    For publishers it’s the same, you have to render an authentic experience of your company at trade shows, in your imagery, in your brochure, on your website that is true to your nature and reflects your core values.

    For Businesses

    So where does this leave you and your business? Firstly, you need to be aware that authenticity has become the new consumer sensibility and there are three basic rules to this:

    1. Don't say you are authentic unless you really are authentic.

    2. It's easier to be authentic if you don't say you are authentic.

    3. If you say you're authentic you had better be authentic.

    To thrive in this new economy you need to understand what your business is and make sure it is in line with what you are telling your customers it is. The extends to your communications, point of sale and how you interact with your customers. Training your team in your company’s heritage and values is also key. Pay attention to your company culture from the beginning as it’s harder to change later as you grow.

    Finally, as a leader in your business you also have to know yourself. You have to know the real reasons you work in your business and it shouldn’t just be for the money. Money and success are by products of serving customers well and making them happy by giving them an authentic experience.

    This article is based on the book and TED talk on ‘Authenticity: What Consumers Want’ by writer and business consultant, Joseph Pine. You can watch it at

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  • Alchemy Greeting Cards from Blue Eyed Sun

     Alchemy cardsBlue Eyed Sun are proud to present their gorgeous new range of twenty four Alchemy greeting cards.

    Designed using original water colour artworks by fine artist, Jo Corner, these beautiful cards are litho printed and then die stamped on an old fashioned press to create the shiny embossed lettering.

    Alchemy greeting cards are blank inside and all come cello wrapped with an envelope that is 130mm x 179mm. Sold in sixes the designs are available for trade customers to order through our agents, by brochure, at shows or on our website. All board used for Alchemy is responsibly sourced from sustained and managed forests by FSC accredited suppliers.

    You can see these wonderful Alchemy greeting cards first in person at:

    Spring Fair 2016 at the NEC in Birmingham 7-11 February - Hall 3 - Stand 3X31

    To stock these cards 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 or 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. To see what else is new from Blue Eyed Sun click here.

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