When Operation Write Home folded, I needed another outlet for sending my handmade cards. I make hundreds every year, and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't use that many myself. One day, it occurred to me that our church would be a wonderful retail outlet for my cards...and I knew just who to honor with the shop: my friend Karen.
Karen used cards the way some people use hugs. She sent dozens every month to anyone and everyone: kids at church camp, people going through tough times, the sick, the celebrating, the sad.
Karen died of pneumonia contracted while she underwent treatment for leukemia. I opened her birthday card to me hours after she died.
When the pastor heard my plan for a card shop, she immediately gave me a brochure display hanging on the wall outside the church office and told me to do with it whatever I wanted.
Don't you just love when God works like this?
Anyway, the shop is doing brisk business, and I wanted to post a permanent page on the blog with advice for anyone wanting to do something similar in their church or workplace. So here goes. I'll describe what we do and some of why we do it. Your church or business might require different planning or structure, but here are some things to think about.
Types of Cards
The card themes that sell the most are Get Well, Sympathy, Birthday, and Thank You. Easter sells okay but mostly the religious cards rather than bunnies and chicks. We sell a few general religious-themed cards. Poor sellers for us include Hello, Thinking of You, Blank, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.
I didn't put out any Mother's Day cards this year (just didn't have time to make them) but suspect that they will sell pretty well.
There are little signs attached with velcro dots saying what types of cards are in each slot. The velcro allows me to move things around easily as seasons change and supply changes.
We package each card with its envelope in cellophane bags ordered in bulk from clearbags.com. When buying in bulk, the cost per bag is very reasonable. I bought 1,000 bags that hold A2 envelopes and a card for $26, but 100 bags cost almost $10, if I remember correctly. Shipping is very expensive, too, so a bulk order makes more sense. Our 1,000 unit order should last us about three years at our current rate of sales.
The cellophane bags look very nice and help sell the cards, but it also means people cannot open them to see if there's anything stamped inside. For this reason, I encourage all our contributors to leave the insides blank...or at least not use words in them. Someone buying a birthday card, for instance, might not appreciate whatever sentiment is inside for their intended recipient but may appreciate a little stamped image inside.
Bulk ordering of the bags means all cards need to fit in A2 envelopes. Several of our church's cardmakers have donated larger cards, and since these are loose in the display rack, they get dirty and don't sell well at all. Buying cellophane bags for just a few cards is ridiculously expensive, so the cardmakers have learned to downsize their art.
Our cards are displayed in a brochure rack outside the church office, which is a prime retail location! People walk past it all day long...parents of preschoolers, teachers, staff, congregation members. The rack is a bit awkward for display, as you can see, but it works. I would prefer to have baskets with cards people could flip through, but our church is blessed with a very large and busy preschool. Those little ones are all over the place...and baskets would be disturbed. The wall display keeps the cards high enough that the kids ignore them.
I plan on trying to sell cards between services on Sunday mornings before Thanksgiving (remember, I do the Thanksgiving Crusade every year...an idea I got from my first pastor at this church!) and will report back this fall to let you know how that goes!
Our church has a number of older members who are our biggest customers because we keep the cards cheap...just $2 each. In the first 10 months of business, we sold 320 cards, for a total donation of $640 to the church.
I personally covered the cost of the cellophane bags as well as envelopes for any donations that don't come with them, but this has been far less outlay from me than I paid in postage and donations to Operation Write Home, so I don't mind at all.
Payments are made on the honor system. People put their money in the envelope on the top shelf of the rack (which keeps it away from the kids in the church). A lock box mounted on the wall might be a safer bet in larger churches that can afford that sort of thing. We can't, so honor system it is!
If you're really anal-retentive and want full accountability, you could count the cards displayed and balance that against the money taken in. My feeling--and our pastor's feeling as well--is that the honor system works just fine. Anyone in such need of a card that they have to steal a $2 card is welcome to it. There's never a lot of money in the envelope either, so theft isn't a big fear.
I'm at the church at least twice a week and always check the envelope. If there's money in it, I remove it and put it in a locked filing cabinet until I've collected about $50, at which time I submit it to our finance person for deposit.
Proceeds go to the church's general fund, but a portion is earmarked for Cancer--What Now?, a book published by Stephen Ministries and given by our pastor to each member of our church community who receives a cancer diagnosis. Given that our shop is named after Karen, who died during treatment for leukemia, this seems like a very good use of a portion of the money.
I also plan to donate all the unsold cards to our Women in Faith Christmas bazaar in November. These will go into baskets and will sell for the usual $2 each. (We cover the usual display for the bazaar because the honor system seems sort of silly when your church is full of random strangers...we are generous but not careless!)
I realized that staff in the church were paying for cards to send on official church business (a music director paid for a thank-you card to give a visiting musician a check), so I sent an email to the staff telling them to take whatever they needed...no payment needed. It is particularly silly for the pastor to pay for cards. She doesn't make that much money, and a get-well card from her is part of the church ministry anyway.
Since I live near Marco's Paper, I buy envelopes in bulk from them. Most local donations include the envelope, but for those who mail their donations, that's not necessary. I have A2 envelopes covered.
We have articles in our monthly newsletter and every week in the worship bulletins. People eventually ignore these, however, so I stand up during announcements in worship every other month or so and remind everyone the card shop is there. There is ALWAYS a spike in sales when I do this.
We will eventually have a nice plaque hanging on the wall next to the display, but for now, the sign you see in the picture above works just fine.
If You Want to Donate
Some of you have felt led to contribute cards to the shop, and we are so very grateful for your generosity. Please contact me before you send anything, and I'll let you know what we need. It's always safe, however, to send us get well, sympathy, and birthday cards. Remember that I can supply A2 envelopes, so you don't need to pay postage to send them with the cards.
If you have any questions, please ask! I'll update and refine the above description as needed.