|Dana Norman and Michele Rothberg bought a Long Island, N.Y., Card$mart store in June. Month by month, they're learning how to make a business survive and grow.|
Card$mart sells a line of 50% off cards from its vendor Designer Greetings. The vendor is also the parent company of the Card$mart brand, but Norman and Rothberg are not franchisees -- they can add whatever merchandise they want to the store as long as they still sell the Designer Greetings 50% off card line, but don't have franchise fees or ongoing royalty payments, according to a spokeswoman from Designer Greetings. She declined to give a number on how many Card$mart independent retailers there were. So far Designer Greetings seems pleased with the store. Norman and Rothberg "took over that location last year and what they bring to it -- like many Card$mart retailers -- is they're very happy, they're friendly, they're incredibly service-oriented. They offer free gift wrap on virtually everything, and they have a really time-tested method of greeting people when they come in and thanking them," says its spokeswoman, Suzanne Haines. "It's such a small thing, but that builds customer loyalty." Haines notes that while the industry and economy may be going through difficult times, the company is "on a tremendous upswing because we have a tremendous amount of territory." Designer Greetings sells its 50% off line through the independent retailers; other retailers sell its other lines of cards and giftware. January After a busy holiday season, the partners used the January downtime to organize, sell leftover inventory and prepare for tax time and get ready for Valentine's Day -- a busy time of year in the card business. January taxes are a big issue. The partners were required to pay their portion of the real estate taxes on the shopping center, but Norman feels they shouldn't have to pay the full year's worth -- they've only owned the store since June. Norman has paid the landlord her portion of the taxes and tried to contact the previous owner to pay her share, but so far she's had no response. Her landlord is working with her to settle the difference, but Norman says if she doesn't hear back from the prior owner, she is considering taking her to small claims court. "It's less than $1,000 but, still, it's money I don't want to pay," she says.