Brand Health Check: Clinton Cards

Despite leading the market, Clinton Cards' sales are suffering. James Quilter asks how it can consolidate its position.

Consumers stocking up on Christmas cards now have myriad options: be they premium or basic packs, availability is no longer restricted to a few specialists - nor even high-street generalist stalwarts such as WH Smith.

Many consumers now buy their cards through charity catalogues or online. Throughout the year, they buy greetings cards from gift shops, supermarkets, bookstores, music/DVD chains, newsagents and more contemporary card shops. Of the supermarkets, Tesco has made a concerted effort to grow its market share, allocating substantial space to cards throughout its estate.

According to research firm Mintel, the growing market for economy cards within the £1.4bn greeting card sector provides less opportunity to establish a point of difference through product. This increases the need to differentiate on the high street through brand image.

Since its launch in 1968 in Epping by current chairman Don Lewin, Clinton Cards has become the number one card specialist in the UK, and has a presence on most of the nation's high streets with its 770 stores.

But unlike rival Paperchase, which has 70 outlets through its own stores and concessions at Borders and House of Fraser, and which has differentiated itself through product and store design, attracting ABC consumers, Clinton Cards has made no such moves. Instead, it is revamping its stores, but claims it is simply 'refreshing' the brand, and there are no plans to drop its logo or traditional teddy bear in-store graphics.

The chain is struggling. It suffered a 1.3% decline in like-for-like sales in the six months to 31 July, blaming poor footfall across the high street. However, retailers in sectors more competitive than Clinton Cards' have managed to turn in respectable sales figures. A good Christmas is vital.

Despite being known for fluffy teddy bears, Clinton has tried to update its product range with its Little Britain cards, and has moved into areas such as flower delivery and chocolates.

It has also adjusted its mid-market price point and created a value line called Simply Clinton.

We asked Tim Duffy, chief executive of M&C Saatchi, which handles Somerfield's advertising, and Alasdair Lennox, design director at retail design consultancy Fitch, what Clinton Cards needs to do to maintain its market lead.

DIAGNOSIS 1 - TIM DUFFY CHIEF EXECUTIVE, M&C SAATCHI

It's my niece's birthday. I need a card. I didn't pass a card shop so I'll get one at Tesco this evening.

In this one scenario are the three problems facing Clinton Cards. One, the company has innovated beyond cards, but the brand has stayed still. Two, the motivation is more emotional than the purchase. Three, the supermarkets are assumed to be as good as specialists even though they're not.

Clinton Cards needs to recognise that the market is not about buying cards. It is about the tangible specialness of writing, sending and receiving greetings and messages, whatever form they may take.

Emails and texts, though convenient, lack rich human spirit. Supermarkets, meanwhile, do not offer consumers an environment conducive to browsing and lack the range to guarantee finding the perfect message.

If Clinton Cards is to re-establish itself as a relevant destination, it must take a stand against technology and the convenience of supermarkets to celebrate human relationships and occasions.

REMEDY

- Create a richer in-store experience, including the opportunity to relax, write and post greetings. Coffee anyone?

- Build the brand explicitly around occasions, not cards. Consider a new identity to say so.

- Promote the personal date reminder service in-store. This will add value and create a loyal database.

- Innovate so quickly that supermarket cards look as dull and unimaginative as petrol station flowers.

DIAGNOSIS 2 - ALASDAIR LENNOX DESIGN DIRECTOR, FITCH

A visit to Clinton Cards makes me feel as if I've eaten too much birthday cake - slightly queasy. The shops feel incredibly feminine and squidgy, with the shelves dripping lilac-coloured soft toys. The orange 'signature' logos are dated. And if you look into the shop from the pavement, you'd be forgiven for thinking they are selling slatwall panels. If Clinton Cards had just 10% of Topshop's attitude toward product story and visual merchandising, the stores could start to feel a part of the noughties.

This dowdiness is a shame, since the company seems to have caught the mood of the moment with new Christmas ranges of both Little Britain and Sudoku products. It's interesting to note that Don Lewins founded his greetings card business from a market stall, yet nothing has changed except scale. This really does feel like a rambling family chain that has lost its way. Clinton Cards needs to turn up its passion for celebration. After all, there are very few high-street retailers whose main aim is to provide pleasure - except, perhaps, Ann Summers.

REMEDY

- Own 'celebration' on the high street.

- Invest in a redesign that truly reflects the chain's middle-market position and refrain from the temptation to sell tourist tat.

- Add drama and theatre to bring the brand to life.

- Add 'fast' areas for shoppers in a hurry.

- Introduce 'designer' ranges to deliver a more contemporary unisex brand.

- Be more adventurous across in-store communication.

Discussion

Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus
Brand Republic Jobs

subscribe now

Latest

Lynx unleashes £9m 'Peace invasion' campaign
Social Brands 100 Youth: Pizza Hut most social youth brand in UK
Cheryl Cole is wild and arresting in new L'Oreal work
Morrisons told not to show alcohol ads during YouTube nursery rhymes
O2 head of brand Shadi Halliwell departs after 23 years at company in restructure
Tesco hit by further sales decline as it turns to digital Clubcard and social network
Branding guru Wally Olins dies aged 83
Duracell short film captures epic Transatlantic voyage
Ash runs Tinder experiment to show smokers are less desirable to opposite sex
British Airways teams up with Gerry Cottle Jnr for summer of rooftop film screenings
Arklu says 'girls can be superheroes too' with doll design competition
Coke enters squash market with Oasis Mighty Drops
Virgin Galactic signs up Land Rover as space flight sponsor
Motorola marketer Andrew Morley departs as Google gears up for sale to Lenovo
US Airways apologises after tweeting obscene image at a customer
Mumsnet admits users' emails and passwords accessed via Heartbleed bug
Thetrainline.com backs 'rubbish' mobile app with TV ad
Powerade launches global World Cup campaign
Burberry's flagship Shanghai store facade responds to weather changes
Subway considers taking fast food to fast lane with F1 sponsorship
Ikea splurges 'grey' Belgium with colour
Grim outlook for Tesco boss Philip Clarke ahead of expected profits fall
Thomson to create first crowd-sourced wedding decided by Facebook fans
Currency wars meets origami in Alpari FX trading ad campaign
Amazon rumoured to launch 3D smartphone in September
Facebook to allow European users to store and transfer money on site, claims report
Unilever pilots multi-brand advertising with YouTube beauty channel
Lego, Coca-Cola, Net-a-Porter, Bitcoin and AOL: the digitally creative brands
Dove tries to tell women their beauty is innate through placebo patches
Wonga faces social media storm after forcing Twitter to remove satirical material