E-cards may be popular, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t still a market for greeting cards. Just ask Dominique Schurman, CEO of Schurman Retail Group. The privately held, Fairfield, Calif.-based company owns and operates some 400 stores in North America, including the fast-growing Papyrus brand.
“Card revenue has not gone down at Papyrus,” Schurman said. “And I think the reason why is that our cards are very unique and so differentiated from an e-card that people seek us out when they want something memorable.”
What’s more, a younger generation is now discovering greeting cards — many of them for the first time.
“Our customer base now includes a lot of teenage girls, many of whom who are treating greeting cards like they are a brand new phenomenon,” Schurman explained. “They didn’t grow up using cards, and for them cards are almost a fashion statement.”
Founded by Schurman’s parents in 1950, Papyrus started out as a wholesaler and importer of fine art-inspired cards and fine paper, mainly from Europe. The company opened its first store in 1973, in Berkeley, Calif. Schurman joined the family business in 1982, and took over as CEO in 1991 upon her father’s retirement.
“My parents operated under a very traditional entrepreneurial model,” she explained. “They were very hands-on and very close to the business. They never had aspirations to make it a big company. For them, it was a means to support the family and a way of life.”
Schurman had a grander vision.
“Having been born into the business, I was interested in growing its profile and building a brand that would be nationally recognized,” she said.
There is no question that she succeeded. With 185 stores, Papyrus has earned an enviable reputation for its distinct greeting cards; fine stationery; personalized announcements and invites; and upscale, inviting store environments. Greeting cards remain the cornerstone of its business, but there is also a growing emphasis on other categories.
“We’ve been in retail for some time, and we’ve learned that in order to be able to endure over decades you have to continue to evolve as a brand,” Schurman said. “As we evolve Papyrus to more of a lifestyle experience, we are expanding our gift offerings. Many of our customers that come into our stores for a special occasion often have a need for a gift as well. We want to provide more solutions in those areas.”
Some of the gift items that Papyrus sells are exclusive to it and some are not. In fall 2011, the company launched its own line of jewelry and fashion accessories under the Niquea.D label. Developed in-house, the brand is available only at select Papyrus stores. A freestanding Niquea.D store is in the planning stages, tentatively opening this spring. And the brand ultimately will include home decor.
With an average footprint of 1,400 sq. ft., Papyrus will open 14 stores this year. Upscale malls and busy downtown areas are the preferred locations. In 2010, it entered Canada, where it now has 10 locations.
Papyrus is Schurman Retail’s lead brand, but not its only one. In 2009, it acquired the retail operations of American Greetings, which included nearly 400 stores under the American Greetings and Carlton Cards banners. In the same agreement, American Greetings acquired the wholesale division of Schurman Retail and 15% equity interest in the company.
“We are expanding all our brands — Papyrus, American Greetings and Carlton Cards,” Schurman said.
The company, which puts its annual revenues at $200 million, is expanding in other areas as well.
In June, American Greetings acquired the remaining assets of troubled U.K. retailer Clinton Cards (400 stores). It hired Schurman Retail to manage the U.K. operation and named Schurman as the CEO.
“We are leveraging some of our team to bring leadership and direction to the business,” she explained, “along with our branding expertise and strategic experience. Basically, we are taking our strengths to the U.K. and partnering with the team over there.”