The story of Archies greeting cards

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Exchanging greetings on special occasions today no doubt is preferred via text messages on mobile phones, emails and also by means of the social networking sites but that has definitely not put greeting card companies out of business. A glaring example in front of us is that of Archies. Here is the interesting history of this card and gifting company which has achieved a remarkable milestone at each step of its journey.

The country’s social expression industry is valued at about Rs. 500 crores with the greeting card market estimated to be around Rs. 300 crores at retail value. Of this, the organized sector accounts for approximately Rs. 150 crores and Archies share is close to 50 per cent. Keeping this in mind, by all means the brand today deserves to be called a leader in its category and also a pioneer in introducing the concept of celebrating different days like – mother’s day, father’s day, friendship day, sister’s day, brother’s day, doctor’s day etc.

Brand Recall
Having evolved from a card’s only outfit to a complete social expressions company, Archies is a brainchild of Anil Moolchandani. Though the family business for the Moolchandani’s was selling sarees, it was Anil who tapped an opportunity in hand to launch Archies. The story goes as –As Anil Moolchandani was at his saree shop in Kamla Nagar, Delhi, one of his customers presented him with two posters that he had brought back from the United States. Moolchandani displayed these posters in the shop and was amazed when visitors inquired whether the posters were for sale. Sensing a good business opportunity out of the inquiries, Moolchandani started putting up additional posters for sale at the saree shop and in 1979, he set up the brand – Archies; as a mail order poster shop, and started operating from a mezzanine office measuring 200 sq.ft.  The other products on offer included song books and leather patches. Proudly recollecting the first mail order bagged by Archies, Youhan says, “Archies received its first mail order worth Rs. 12 from a customer in Lucknow.” Talking further about its journey, “A major turning point in Archies’ life came 1980 when the company introduced its first line of Greeting Cards, called the Poster Series (P – Series), by means of reducing posters to smaller sizes. The success story of the P-Series, which continuous till date, led to Archies setting up a distribution channel. The market response generated was overwhelming and the network of distributors grew rapidly. Says Youhan, “In 1981, we held out first distributors meet in New Delhi.”

Citing the challenges faced,  Youhan reveals, “When we set up Archies Gallery in 1987, there was nothing like it in India. It was a first. Over the years every innovation and extension of product line has always been a first. The initial challenge was to “sell” the concept, which was not so tough as we were filling a vacuum. The current challenge in an evolved market is finding good locations at viable costs, as the cost good retail real estate is today literally gone through the roof.”

Growing market demand and interest led Moolchandani to expand and enhance the product portfolio. The company procured its first ever foreign license from Walt Disney, U.S.A., in 1984. This enabled the company to offer to its patron’s greeting cards with Disney characters like Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck etc. Adding innovations to its existing line of offering, Archies’ products acquired international gloss and appeal.

Around five years after its launch, Archies launched its first advertising campaign in 1884 and gradually this brand became synonym with exchanging of greeting cards for various occasions. Strategic tie-ups with global players, including Portal Publications, Gobson Greetings and American Gretings Inc. (the world’s largest publicly held Greeting Card Company) of the U.S. and Paramount Cards enabled the company to offer its consumers a range of special-occasion cards like Thank-you, Miss-you etc.

Taking a step ahead to meet its customers face-to-face, the company set up its first shop – Archies Gallery. This first of its kind concept-store opened its doors in Kamla Nagar, Delhi in 1987 and this led to the opening of many more stores as well. A thirst for expansion led the company to opt for the franchise route and the year 1993 saw the opening of the 100th Archies store. Mid 1990s was when the company decided to become a public limited company. According to Youhan, the company’s public issue was oversubscribed four times and three years post that the company’s shareprice with an original offering of Rs. 70 zoomed to a meteoric Rs. 1400.

Keeping Pace with Market Dynamics
Not loosing sleep over the growing popularity of internet, Moolchandani took the challenge head on and converted it into an opportunity by introducing e-cards and offering online gifting opportunities through its e-commerce portal – www.archiesonline.com. This portal has to its credit being amongst the first Indian portals worldwide to offer consumers paid for e-cards. The popularity of the brand led to the spreading of its wings outside India as well with Archies Gallery being present in 6 countries across the globe – India, Bahrain, Sri-Lanka, Nepal, UAE and Bangladesh.

Apart from offering greeting cards in English, the brand also offered options of greeting cards in Indian languages – Hindi, Marathi etc. According to  Youhan,  the company prints close to about 65 million greeting cards in a year and it also exports greeting cards to Russia and Western Europe.

Bringing in an emotional connect in all the activities undertaken, Archies has well designed all its marketing and promotional activities adding a human touch. In the early years, promotion for Archies was restricted to mail order advertising. Its first press advertisement was in 1984, for the Great Archies Explosion, an exposition held in a five-star hotel. The brand’s first radio spot was aired on All India Radio in 1989 and its first television commercial was broadcast the following year, being one of the first to use Cable and Satellite Channels for advertising. Next came in movie tie-ups where one cannot miss mentioning the association with the Amitabh Bachchan and Akshay Kumar starrer Waqt; the most successful tie-up a brand can ever have with film.

From making ‘day’s’ like mother, father, sister, brother, daughter and friendship days popular; the brand also has a niche programme in the Archies product portfolio – Gift of the Month. In this marketing initiative, a product is chosen and sold at Rs. 99 – well below its normal printed price for the entire month. According to Youhan, an average Archies store stocks close to about 5,000 items at any given point of time.

Extending its portfolio to serve its corporate clients, the brand under the Giftworks brand, has custom-made a wide selection of merchandize like – wine boxes, chess sets, candle stands etc. Establishing a connect with the youth, the brand also had a tie-up with one of the most popular show on television – MTV Roadies where they even had a range of MTV Roadies merchandize available at the store – from boldly designed bags, sipppers, caps, mugs, photo-frames, wallets and key rings. In terms of CSR activities, the brand has a tie-up with CRY and Help Age.

 – Zainab Morbiwala –

As penned for STOrai magazine in 2011

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