Wednesday, June 13, 2007

"I could make that!"

I was in a stationery shop the other day when I overheard another customer snidely whisper, "I could make that myself!" to her friend. It wasn't the first time I've heard that comment and probably won't be the last, but I'm always surprised by it--I mean, unless you're going to complain directly to the sales associate or manager, it's a good idea to save your comments until you've left the store!

With the prevalence of rubber stamp and card making supply stores (Impress, Paper Source, etc.) it's not surprising that the DIY attitude is becoming more and more common. And I can certainly understand someone thinking that they could make a card themselves, especially if they're looking at something that's been made with a rubber stamp, or is comprised mainly of layered papers, or looks "handmade"; these kinds of cards can be pretty easy to execute. Plus, sometimes it's just more fun to create something yourself and play with beautiful papers. But it often seems like when people say that they could make a card themselves, they're usually also commenting on the price of the card and how it's not worth the marked price. So I thought I'd do a price breakdown, based on some common card making items available at Paper Source. Here's what I found:

1 pack of 20 A-2 size cards in curry: $5.25
2 packs of A-2 envelopes (10 in each pack for $3.25) in gravel : $6.50
1 brocade rubber stamp that I thought was cute: $8.50
1 ink pad in ruby red: $5.10
Total before tax & shipping (or gas to get there): $25.35

Now, if I break down that cost per card, it gets really cheap--around $1.27 a card. Perfect if I need to make my own invitations or a bunch of thank-you notes (which I have done before and had a lot of fun with it). But I have to remember that this estimate doesn't include the value of my time spent making the cards. Plus, I would die of boredom if I had to use 20 of the exact same card for anything other than invitations or thank-you notes; I only buy 6 or 8 packs of stationery for this very reason. And if you only need one card, it's a pretty hefty investment to make it yourself. That $6.00 card is starting to look reasonable by comparison.

On the flip side, let's look at a typical manufacturer's cost in getting a card to market. They have to spend the time coming up with a viable design; print it themselves or take it to a printer; in most cases buy cello sleeves and spend time stuffing cards into the sleeves; print and mail catalogs that they hope will inspire retailers to buy their product; rent or own some amount of space to house their product in; and buy the boxes to ship that product. For all of this work, they will in most cases be making less than half of what you're paying for that card, because each store has plenty of their own overhead costs (rent, utilities, employees, etc.) that need to be covered by the retail markup. No wonder so many card and stationery designers have day jobs and sell their product as a side venture--it's a difficult category in which to turn a profit.

Of course, my sympathy for manufacturers disappears rapidly when I see a card that is poorly designed or executed, or even worse, a blatant rip-off of another line. But that's a topic for another post. My point is, just like with most things, you get what you pay for. If you're paying top dollar for a card like those made by You Send Me, it's because each little bead, sequin and/or piece of glitter has been placed just so on that card. The paper used is a heavy card stock, often with a (more expensive) pearlized sheen. The designs are adorable, whimsical and fresh. Plus you get a protective glassine sleeve and a beautiful opalescent envelope to mail it it. You can tell that they have taken the time to create a quality product, and it has cost them a sizable amount of money to make it, so it will cost you more to buy it. Compare that to many of the mass produced cards on the market, which are printed on thin paper with even thinner envelopes. Another factor is where the card was printed; many of the more expensive cards are printed by small manufacturers in the US, while larger lines print overseas in huge print runs. Look at the "Printed in..." on the back of a chain store card next time you're out, and you'll see what I mean.

This isn't to say that only expensive cards are worth buying; there are lots of elegant, fun, witty, beautiful, etc. cards that can be found for around $3.00 or in some cases even less. A future post will be devoted to affordable cards that are still cute and in most cases made by small companies, so stay tuned.
In the meantime, whether you buy all your cards or make your own, remember to support your local card shop!

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