Behind the Scenes of a Small Biz: In May Came a Record Sales Day

Editor's Note: This article is the fifth 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) -- When Card$mart of Plainview ran out of Valentine's cards in February as frantic shoppers came searching for anything to give their loved ones last minute, co-owner Dana Norman vowed that wouldn't happen again.

So when Norman and her partner ordered inventory for Mother's Day -- a holiday that is one of the busiest in terms of card sales -- they were sure to be prepared.
Card$mart of Plainview was well-stocked for last-minute shoppers on Mother's Day.

"Mother's day was very crazy," Norman says. "We had our record sales day, which was the Saturday of Mother's Day weekend. We learned from our mistakes from Valentine's Day. We over-ordered cards. We did a ton of business."

Not only did they prepare for the extra business on the card inventory side, but they also ordered extra gift inventory. Customers were apparently buying everything they could get their hands on in the store.

"They were buying cards, they were buying gifts, they were buying everything we had. I wish every day was like that," she says.

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Norman says having merchandise left over is preferable to not having enough because Mother's Day cards can always be put out again next year. "We're not the drug store. We're the card store. You should be able to come in here the day of the holiday and there should still be cards available," she says.

For all their preparedness on the inventory side, Mother's Day weekend did come with a few hitches. Between actual customers squeezing by each other in the store and various minor problems that arose, the store at times was literally overwhelmed and seemed to burst at the seams. The store's cash register broke (they had a spare in the back); the register ran out of change (Norman, who was not working the Saturday before Mother's Day, went to the bank to get change); and the paper in the credit card machine jammed.

The partners did bring in one extra employee to help (bringing the total to three). Norman says the square footage of the store -- and especially behind the counter -- doesn't really allow for too many more workers.

"It was so busy it was impossible to straighten out the cards. You couldn't. We wanted to move out of the way for customers. We can't afford a bigger store so we try to squeeze merchandise in every corner," she says. "It was our busiest day, since our ownership, in one-day sales. It blew Valentine's Day away."

Card$mart gave the Mother's Day customers even a few days after the holiday to make purchase (most card stores immediately move on to the next holiday).

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.

The busy Mother's Day stood in stark contrast to Memorial Day.

Card$mart of Plainview intended to stay open on Memorial Day, however sales were so slow -- only Lotto players came in -- that Rothberg decided to close the store early. The partners are trying to decide whether it's cost effective to stay open on holidays.

"Being new and being money hungry we try not to close at all, but it's not cost effective," Norman says.

Yet Norman is still unsure whether to close the store on July 4. "It always comes back to those lotto players and we'd hate for them to have to go somewhere else," she says. "We'll see. Maybe we'll open up in the morning."

Card$mart is now stocked with cards and gifts in preparation for graduations and Father's Day, as well as stocking up on going away/missing you/welcome home cards because the store is located in an area where parents send their children to sleep away camp.

"This is what the demand is," Norman says.

-- Written by Laurie Kulikowski in New York.

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