Category Manager at Greeting Card Company Brings Sentiment and Feeling to Dying Supply Chain

Alex Decker, a senior category manager at a well-known greeting card company, has developed an innovative supply chain management approach that promises to breathe new life into an industry disrupted by digitization. For over 25 years, Decker has been responsible for sourcing paper stock and ink, the two main materials inputs to the production of traditional paper greeting cards. Not long ago, he suddenly became interested in innovation and in holding onto his job until retirement age.

“Over the past 10 years, I noticed the steadily decreasing demand for traditional greeting card products, so I decided to analyze this trend and its root causes,” Decker said. “I found that digitization only partly accounted for this trend, as consumers mindlessly switched their buying behavior to online cards, featuring idiotic animations, such as a dancing moose or a chorus of singing amoebae. The effect was really marginal. Instead, it was really all about the customer experience of traditional cards.”

According to Decker, some years ago, the company had tried to address the declining consumer purchasing of pulp-based greeting cards through product innovation (e.g., adding a small music playing device) and retail placement (e.g., expanding variety and number of cards offered in several aisles of expensive retail floor space). When these efforts failed, the company resorted to cost-cutting by outsourcing greeting writing to offshore freelancers — resulting in unusual outcomes, like a sympathy card that read: “I am very sorry for your death.” Despite the occasional glitch, this was actually a sound strategy, since consumers rarely even read what a card said (as was also true for recipients).

The company also turned to recycled paper, Decker explained, when it became clear that it cost less than regular stock and had the added benefit of being environmentally friendly (something which consumers never seemed to care about — or even notice for that matter).

“That was when I had my eureka moment!”

Perhaps the company got it backward, Decker had postulated. What if consumers really did care about the paper stock and the feelings it evoked in them?

“I knew I had found the answer,” Decker said. “And I set about immediately to revamp my entire paper and ink taxonomies and supply chains to align specific suppliers’ paper and ink products with specific sentiments of different cards (weddings, birthdays, bar mitzvahs, get well, friendship, thank you, I’m sorry and so on). I even worked with scents and brought in a fragrance specialist to consult, and I worked closely with all stakeholders in the company to drive customer value.”

When the Eggplant spoke to some of these internal stakeholders in the company, they either said they had no idea of what we were talking about or confided that Decker’s behavior in the past year had become somewhat bizarre, and they avoided him when they could.

“After nearly a year,” Decker stated with confidence and pride, “we are still gathering detailed data on card sales and consumer satisfaction. Of course, it’s still early, and adoption does not happen overnight. But early data may suggest an upward trend.”

“God knows I’m counting on it,” Decker said.

 

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