Cards for all reasons
Local greeting card producer puts words in people’s mouths.
From the pages of In Business magazine.
Jim Byrne, 52, has made a living out of being a card, and while his greeting card wit is still on display in local stores, so is his ability to show compassion. Byrne and business partner Dennis Schmidt co-owned the Raspberries greeting cards line for 26 years until they parted ways last year. Byrne was the humorist while Schmidt was the artist.
After the separation, Byrne launched Art Tree Distribution LLC last year with his partner in life and business, Andrea Noble.
Schmidt, meanwhile, splits his time between a construction business and his humorous card line, Schmidt’s and Giggles Greetings LLC. Both men still receive royalties from Raspberries sales.
Thus far, Byrne has welcomed the move from comedy-only to Art Tree’s broadened greeting card space. “There’s a lot of pressure to write a card and get it into a particular genre, like humor. Now I can write whatever comes to mind, whatever bubbles up. It’s not ‘hurry up and be funny.’”
For the most part, Art Tree showcases the works of local artists who Byrne says often struggle to make it on their own because they don’t have a niche or distribution network. With a network of 45 stores ranging from Hy-Vee to Brenda’s Blumenladen in New Glarus, and from UPS Stores to various other gift shops, he knows distribution.
The greeting card industry, he says, can be very competitive with distribution channels difficult to secure. “Often, retailers have contracts with large card conglomerates that restrict them from offering cards from other distributors, but people want to buy local, and good retailers also know that.”
Now, Byrne composes Art Tree card verses designed to help customers who struggle finding the right words when offering condolences, get-well wishes, or expressions of love and friendship. When appropriate, humor still plays a role, as well. Generally speaking, clever and short verses still rule, he notes, while musical cards are fading in popularity.
Does he have to worry about being politically correct when he designs cards? Byrne laughs. “The only thing that offends me is cruelty,” he says, adding that he hasn’t had complaints from the Art Tree line, although Raspberries generated a few. “The whole idea of what’s risqué blows my mind,” he admits. “You have to be provocative with humor.”
Years ago, a top selling Raspberries card, “Two Thongs Don’t Make A Right,” resulted in a handful of complaints.
Park Printing in Verona prints all of the Art Tree cards, and they typically retail for around $3. “I don’t feel comfortable with really high prices,” Byrne states, “and I don’t think embellishments (foil, decorated edges) make for better cards.” The company’s blank cards featuring local artwork also sell well, he notes.
Art Tree works with several area artists, from illustrators to photographers, and Byrne says he tries to offer them a higher-than-average royalty fee because “we want good things brought to the world.”
Recently Byrne has been noticing an uptick in interest from the business community. “I find it intriguing that corporate folks, like realtors or car dealers, want to send greetings to customers, and I think that will become more and more popular in the future.”
His goal is to generate 25 new ideas every year. “We’re a tiny company with a tiny line, but the Raspberries line runs deep and still sells very well. That’s what fuels our success.”
From the basement of their Oregon home, Noble creates art, works with the artists, and fills online orders while Byrne typically spends three days on the road servicing accounts and two days in the office each week. “I feel that [Art Tree] is a nice contribution to humanity and offers me a good work-life balance,” he says.
In its first year, Art Tree card sales topped $30,000 and are pacing toward $50,000 this year. He’s shooting for $85,000 next year. “We made a nice income with Raspberries and worked really hard, but I could also be a dad to my two kids and attend their soccer games. That’s what really did it for me. I followed my heart.”
Art Tree Distribution LLC
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