It’s been fun for Ryan and Heidi Miller running their mom-and-pop greeting card company out of the basement studio of their Mead home.
Their homegrown firm, Mango Ink, continues to find new customers who enjoy well-made custom-designed cards. The writing on their wall – literally, the paperwork from orders coming over the Web from all over the planet – tells them they’ll be leaving the nest within a year.
Mango Ink is riding a little wave of growth that seems to be recession-proof, according to people in the greeting card industry.
In general, greeting cards continue to sell and show no sign of being displaced by electronic messages or digital media, according to the Greeting Card Association, based in Washington, D.C.
“People in the United States still have a very strong cultural tradition of connecting with greeting cards,” said Barbara Miller, a spokesperson for the card association, which has more than 300 members.
Sending cards is a way to exchange heartfelt emotions and celebrate key occasions, said Miller, who is not related to the Mango Ink owners.
The niche that the Millers are working in is the boutique category – that spectrum of the card market appealing to people under 50 who prefer handmade or original works to mass-produced items.
That all their cards are printed on eco-friendly paper is another attraction, says Heidi. “That’s been a very big deal,” she added.
Last year the Millers sold about 60,000 greeting cards; Christmas season accounted for about 60 percent of all sales last year. Coming in second was birth announcements, followed by birthday party invitations.
This year, Mango Ink expects to sell 100,000 cards. If the holidays match last year in demand, in 2010 they’ll have to relocate the business outside their home.
“When we got busy, we had 12 people working (during the holiday rush),” said Heidi. “It got to be really difficult, people coming in and out of our house around the clock,” she said.
The couple offers two basic types of card: direct prints that cost $1.49 each, and hand-mounted prints on cardstock for $2.10, not counting shipping costs.
They launched it four years ago after the couple began searching for an attractive card to celebrate their daughter’s first birthday. At the time the design director for Cyan Worlds, Ryan chose to make their own card.
Heidi liked that card so much she suggested they launch their own card design company.
They now have more than 300 templates for a variety of occasions. Customers can customize cards by mixing or matching from existing styles, or develop something altogether unique.
Mango Ink has printed customer cards ranging from zany dog-adoption announcements to more traditional fare, such as large-volume corporate holiday party invitations.
The Millers say they’re amazed at having built a strong customer following on both coasts; the bulk of their orders are shipped to New York and California. Spokane customers, by contrast, only make up 6 percent of all sales.
They attribute their growth to word of mouth and viral marketing, said Ryan, 35, who is also a pastor of a Spokane church when not working with his wife. The back of every card they ship lists the company’s logo and Web address.
“I think our product just stands out,” said Ryan. “It’s just not like what you’ll find in the stores.”
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