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Brick-and-Mortar Card Stores Thrive in Internet World

Editor's note: This article is the eighth installment in our "Winning the Card Game" series. Dana Norman and Michele Rothberg acquired discount greeting card store Card$mart in June 2011. They agreed to let TheStreet follow them for one year as they experience the ups and downs of running a business. Based on advice from their accountant, the owners have declined to share revenue and profit numbers.

PLAINVIEW, N.Y. ( TheStreet) -- For Dana Norman and Michele Rothberg, Christmas will have to wait.

The owners of Card$mart, a discount greeting card store, have been busy with Labor Day, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, Columbus Day, Halloween and, unknown to most Americans, Grandparent Day and Clergy Appreciation Day.

Less-celebrated holidays may not spark the greeting card buying frenzy that others do, but Card$mart still has to be prepared. After all, Americans purchase 7 billion greeting cards a year, amounting to retail sales of more than $7.5 billion, according to the Greeting Card Association, a trade organization that represents 200 American and international publishers and suppliers.

"We put out for all holidays," Norman says. "For Grandparents Day, we sold some cards. And Clergy Appreciation Day, it's not a lot, but we do sell some cards for it."

"We're a card store. You always want your store to look full. These are the obscure holidays [but we] must provide for them," she says.

>>>Winning the Card Game: Month 1
>>>Winning the Card Game: Month 2
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>>>Behind the Scenes at a Small Biz: In April, the Postman Rings

At the same time, Norman says, she is learning to find a balance between her senior citizen clientele, still a large share, and younger generations.

"We're trying to keep it current," she says. "We have a Sweet 16 card [that on the] outside is a cool design that's definitely more contemporary. It's not just hearts. But on the flip side, in every category, we still have to keep cards that are more traditional. We can't take them all away. The elder population -- that's not what they're accustomed to."

Norman says she or another employee will often walk around with the less-mobile customers picking out cards to check off their lists.

"Part of our core customer base are grandmas. It's an older population that mails to their relatives. They will buy a card for everyone. They come in with a calendar and a list," she says.

Card$mart licenses its name from Designer Greetings, which is also the vendor of the "50% off" line of cards the store sells. Yet the partners are not franchisees in the sense that they do not pay franchise fees or royalties to Designer Greetings. Norman and Rothberg are required to carry the Designer Greetings 50%-off card line, but can also sell other items and cards of their choice. Designer Greetings has declined to disclose how many independent retailers license the Card$mart name.
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