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May 20, 2000
The Rediff Business Special/Swapna Khanna
Archies plans Web site, e-commerce foray to counter e-greetings threat
Are you still an old-world, 'paper' greeting cards buff? Or has the cyber generation's e-greeting bug already bitten you?
Conventional paper greeting cards are facing a tough fight from the virtual world, or the electronic greetings mania. And Archies Greeting, the Indian card major, is trying to strike the right balance between bytes and paper.
The Delhi-based company is working overtime on its market strategies to entice Indians back to paper. The company recently tied up with Feelings, a local multi-brand retail chain in Gujarat, 'to spread some emotion' in the drought-hit state. It is also quite in line with the company's legend: Archies. A world of caring. And sharing.
"This tie-up means getting extra shelf-space for Archies' products and increasing the number of its outlets. It also will help us become stronger," said Vijayant Chhabra, executive director, Archies Greeting.
Archies has 25 outlets in Gujarat and this pact will increase the number of stores in the state to 50. The outlets will be renamed Archies Feelings Shop. The Archies brand name is being used to leverage the company's existing brand recall and brand equity. The shops will vend Archies products exclusively.
"We have changed the concepts of retailing and gifting, and given the country a reason to celebrate. The sales of cards and gift items depend on the culture of the state or the area. Maharashtra, for instance, is the largest market in India," Chhabra said.
"The best companies of the world -- like American Greetings and Gibson -- are already in India, so there's tough competition for paper greetings too," said Chhabra.
However, he lamented that Indian creativity is not very strong in this area. "Archies has design tie-ups with foreign companies that have greater creative power at their disposal. We have 75 in-house designers, but the number is quite low. But the quality of cards printed on our machines is as good as those of American card companies."
Though the greeting cards sector already has Archies, Hallmark, some foreign firms, and about 50 other small competitors, there is enough space for other players to enter the mart. These players can use their innovative ideas, designs and marketing skills to grab a chunk of the market share, he said.
Talking about e-greetings and their impact on the greeting cards trade, Chhabra said, "The Internet is a strong medium. E-greetings have a good future, but have not yet caught on in a big way, probably, because there are a few things missing from e-greetings. Emotions do not tend to emerge as strongly as they do in paper greetings. Also e-greetings seem a bit impersonal," he said.
Chhabra said that America has been in the thick of the e-greeting storm since almost four years now, but the electronic medium has not been able to pull down the sales of paper cards. "The US has a mature market, unlike the undeveloped, unorganised sector we have in India. But, we cannot ignore e-greetings. Shortly, we too will launch our Web site and get into e-commerce," he said.
"Archies has taken up the responsibility of providing an organised structure to the greeting cards trade in India. In 1985, we set up our first gallery with exclusive card and gifts. The market was ready to accept such an idea and, within a few years, we saw Archies become a strong brand name. We have 50 franchises in the country. The company's turnover from these shops is about 45 per cent of the total turnover. The ratio, however, will soon rise," said Chhabra.
Archies offers a variety of cards: for festivals, anniversaries, new-born babies, expecting mothers, and just about any occasion one could think of. In fact, some companies are said to have cards even for divorces!
Archies Greeting's turnover in the fiscal 1999-2000 was at Rs 720 million. It has set a sales target of Rs 840 million for the current fiscal.
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