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Season 1 Ep 39: Chat With a Card Maker: Janie Velencia of The Card Bureau

Updated: Mar 28, 2021




This week on the xoxo, jess Podcast I'm talking to Janie Velencia, founder of The Card Bureau. The Card Bureau is a design company focused on greeting cards and novelty gifts founded in 2016 in Washington DC. They sell greeting cards and gift items that are inspired by politics, feminism, and current events in over 700 stores across the country! I am so excited to dive into this conversation and bring another chat with a card maker to you this week, so don't forget to give it a listen! Listen to the episode above, on iTunes HERE, or read the transcription below.


Check out The Card Bureau on their website and on Instagram


Episode Transcription:


Jessica Walker

Welcome back to xo xo, just when we dive deep into the world of greeting cards, the highs and lows of entrepreneurship and the mindset tools needed to start creating the business of your dreams today. I'm Jessica Walker, your host here with another Wednesday episode. And this Wednesday, I am speaking with Janie Valencia, founder of the card Bureau. The card Bureau is a design company focused on greeting cards and novelty gifts that was founded in 2016. In Washington, DC, they sell greeting cards, gift items, candles, all sorts of things that are inspired by politics, feminism and current events. And I'm so excited to dive into this conversation and bring another chat with a cardmaker to you this week. So without further ado, welcome Janie. Of course, I've admired the card bureau forever. And I'm really excited to ask you questions. So I think let's just dive straight in and start with your background like what got you into the greeting card world? Have you ever been to art and design? Or what kind of was that entry point for you?


Janie Velencia

Oh, gosh, well, nothing I ever expected to be doing.


I used to be a political journalist. And this just sort of started as a creative outlet. At the time, I used to buy a lot of greeting cards. And, you know, I was going into stores and I'm like, Ah, you know, I don't really like that many of these, like, I could probably make greeting cards that are that are funnier and better. So, and then I was like, Well, why don't I so I just did it. And it was nothing really serious. It was like, just I figured maybe I'll make like some beer money doing it and just sold to a few local like, came up with some designs, I worked with someone who is a graphic designer at the time. I also should note that I have no artistic skills myself. And you know, had a friend and I was like, Hey, I have you know, some ideas for making greeting cards. Do you want to make some with me? And she was like, That's weird. But okay. And so we made like a, you know, five cards, and we pitched them to some local stores, and they started carrying them and, you know, just sort of grew organically from there.


Jessica Walker

That's so cool. I love that two things that are like a little bit different than a lot of people I've had on is you didn't start with like the the drawing the art side, which is also how I am I'm not an artist. And also you went straight to stockists like two establishments as opposed to selling like retail online, which is so cool. And did you always have like a dream of being an entrepreneur in general? Or was again, this kind of something you just fell into?


Janie Velencia

No, I did not. It was something I fell into. You know, I was covering the 2016 elections. At that time, I was working as a media pollster for Huffington Post, then. And I was a little burnt out from my job. And just I don't know, I needed something else to think about and, and so some of the cards were like DC related politics related. So just like a fun segue into that, but yeah, nothing I'd ever really planned on.


Jessica Walker

I do. I always say, like, so many people are accidental entrepreneurs. You're like, how did I get here? It's just like kind of happens.


Janie Velencia

Well, I just, you know, after a while, I was like, it was something that I was having fun doing. And it was like, Oh, well, this could be like, you can have fun doing a job. I mean, don't get me wrong. It's not always fun now. But then it was like a lot of fun for me.


Jessica Walker

I love that. And so then At what point so you started in 2016. In just like around the local area in DC At what point did you decide to kind of go for it and scale what you had and make it into what I'm assuming is now your your full time job?


Janie Velencia

Yes. Oh, God. Well, it was probably like, two years where I was like, I had like one foot in one foot out. After the 2016 elections, I actually did quit my job because I just was a little burnt out and just, you know, wanted to think about doing something different. I didn't take the card business seriously. At that point. It was just a shoe box of cards under my bed. And so I was trying different things went into consulting for a bit than when it's a freelance writing. So it was on and off for a couple of years like that. And then until it Like picked up enough momentum where I could securely do it full time?


Jessica Walker

And then how did what did that that step look like? How did you Then did you reach out to more stockist what created that momentum for you?


Janie Velencia

Yeah, it was just you know, I was going door like door to door two stores that were in the area, trying to pitch the cards. I was I mean, I was trying to devote my focus to it. And I should say those other jobs were kind of like more like side hustles. So be any need to keep doing this. And eventually, we, you know, I went to like the national stationery show in 2018 did not know what I was doing. But you know, it all worked out, we got we at that point, I was only in 40 stores when I went to the national stationery store. And then we added another 40 stores at that. And you know, momentum is just sort of starts building after a while. Once you get into a few stores, then it's easier to keep getting into more.


Jessica Walker

For sure. And I know a lot of people I get asked a lot about the national stationary show and what that experience is like. So it kind of like is an interesting stepping stone because you have to invest in yourself and like bet on yourself because it does cost money to go. And what made you decide to to just go for that experience.


Janie Velencia

You know, it just seems like an important step to take to sort of go to a trade show to be able to reach more stores. At that time. It sounds crazy. But like today, we have a lot of platforms like fair bulletin about link is another one where you can just sign up and start selling wholesale online. But even in 2017 2018, that didn't exist really. Or maybe it did, but nobody was really using it. So you had to go physically to trade shows to really broaden your reach in a sense to outside of like we were only in the DC area at that point. So to reach stores outside of DC other than cold calling, it was important to do something like this to just get the face to face contact.


Jessica Walker

Definitely. And so what does that look like for you today? Now that you've scaled? Do you still do those kinds of tradeshow stationery shows? Are you do you work like through fair or those other sites? Or is it just all internal momentum and contact at this point,


Janie Velencia

we still do the shows, I mean, except this year because of the pandemic. But we have continued to do the shows. And you know, that first show is I should we picked, we got picked up by paper source. And then I got two or three independent sales reps that's picked up the line. So that helped the business grow beds. And we've continued to go to these shows, because it's important to just connect with the retailers you already sell to. A lot of stores sometimes will only buy like at shows. They don't really pay attention year round. Or they're not. They're only reordering from the people they already know. It just helps to reconnect and like advertise that you're still around by going to these shows. And since then, yeah, we have started to rely more and more on these platforms. You know, I think this year especially stores have not been meeting with sales reps or anybody like anybody they haven't been going to show so they've been doing most of their buying online.


Jessica Walker

Yes. And that yeah, I think that is probably something that's going to continue to I mean, obviously there's so much benefit to having the face to face and like holding your cards and in real life but it's just you can access so many people with this like new digital marketplace, which is really cool. So I just like back to like kind of, I guess infrastructures so you at some point had to move from shoe box under your bed to something more What has that kind of journey looked like as I know so many people are interested like, what if my What if I get too big for my home office or like what how does that work? What was that journey like for you?


Janie Velencia

Oh my god, it's an ongoing journey. Yes, I lived in a group house in DC because DC is very expensive at that time, and so it started as the shoe box took over my room a bit. I took over like the living room a bit. And so eventually I moved into an apartment by myself with the greeting cards. Mm hmm. And that's slowly progressed there. I actually have like a little progress video on our Instagram account that should I should I have to find that evolution.


And then, you know, it was like a bookshelf in my apartment. And within a year, I had to, like get rid of all my furniture. And I was I just all I had was a bed surrounded by shelves, and like, like 600 square foot apartments. And then I went to a trade show, that noted, which is run by the greeting card Association. It's really helpful if you're a greeting card company to be involved with the greeting card Association, just sort of helps you be in the network of things. And they run this trade show called noted. So I'm not noted. And I'm neighbor, one of my neighbors, there is chatting with me, and they were like, a smile co was my neighbor, me and john smith are brother and sister card company. And we were talking about the business. And they were like, Well, where do you keep all the cards and I was like, my apartments, and they were like, Oh, no, don't do that. You can hire a logistics company to manage your inventory and warehouse it and ship out orders for you. So I ended up doing that for a few months. It wasn't the right fit. For me, I think using a three PL warehousing company like that can be helpful for some businesses. For mine, it didn't, it wasn't a good fit, because we were still growing really fast. And it was just when you have control of your business yourself, like at home or in an office or yourself, you can sort of pivot and do a lot of things really quickly. But if somebody else is managing it, everything just takes a lot more time to adjust. Yeah, that makes sense. And also at that point, we were selling a lot of cards online, just you know, single cards, like through Etsy through our website. But when you're that those kinds of orders are so small that it's harder to get those processed with a logistics company, or at least it was for us.


Jessica Walker

Yeah, so then. So then what's the next step? What what ended up being the right fit for you.


Janie Velencia

So then I rented an I had to move out to Virginia, from DC, so we're actually not in DC anymore. And I got a office space here out in Virginia, because it's just way cheaper than DC. You know, and when you're selling greeting cards, you need cheap square footage to be able to warehouse that. And then, so I've been operating out of that for a year. And now we're at this next phase where we're moving from a 900 square foot office space to a 4800 square foot, office and warehouse flex space that has a loading dock and everything.


Jessica Walker

Wow, that's amazing. Congratulations.


Janie Velencia

Thank you.


Jessica Walker

So then in that space, are you do you have printing machines? They're like, are you printing the cards there yourself? Or are you outsourcing them and packaging them in the warehouse? What does that look like?


Janie Velencia

We are outsourcing the printing and packaging at this point. And so we just received the greeting cards, and then, you know, manage orders from there. We do. So this year, I when I started the year, I had like a limited number of candles that I was just like playing around with we have like three candles. I decided to expand on that long, just because a lot of our stores shut down early in the year. So we kind of have to pivot to doing more of our own online sales. Yeah. And it was just really hard to make enough money to support the business by selling like single $5 cards all the time. So I had these candles that had a higher price point. Especially retail price points. So we just grew that out. But with that comes a lot more work like for manufacturing the candles, ourselves. So that was a big reason why we needed to move into a bigger space.


Jessica Walker

That's such that's so cool. I just love how you just kind of have to follow, like, grow as the business grows. And I feel like was that getting that first office space or getting your first warehouse and now this nut this next step two, is that exciting? Scary? Is it like what what are your thoughts around that?


Janie Velencia

Oh, God, yeah, it's exciting. It's scary. You know, it puts a lot of pressure as you grow. You have more and more pressure to like support something that's even bigger, right? Like, you have to bring in more revenue when it's just when it's just you working on your own stationery company. You can sort of control a lot of those overhead costs and you know, If you have a bad month, it's not that bad. But as you become a bigger business, you know, you really have to be hitting like certain marks. And so it is a bit scary to be like, grow that quickly and just think, Oh, can I really do this? Can I continue to be successful and support this? But it's exciting. I'm trying to be like, positive about it and have more confidence. Because, you know, a year ago, even that 900 square foot space like was like, Oh, no, this is too much. So, yeah,


Jessica Walker

that's a that's so so cool. I just like I'm fascinated with that whole journey. And then in that same vein, at what point? Obviously, you have a team now, I'm sure. And what At what point did you realize you needed to hire help? And and what was that process like?


Janie Velencia

You know, it's been hard for me to hire people and delegate tasks, I'm just used to doing everything myself. Yeah. And it becomes like a whole new thing to manage people and direct people. As opposed to just doing the work yourself every day, it's been, you know, it's been kind of hard to do that, because you need to have, like, the biggest thing with businesses is you just need to have access to capital. And because you need some runway to be able to invest in employees, so that you can build up the business and then make enough money to support it. And so, at the start of this year, I was able to get a small loan. And really, that's what's been able to help us grow. So, so much in the last year, is I had a little bit of runway to be like, okay, I can invest in hiring people, full time employees, and seeing where that gets me. And so far, it's been working. So, yeah, it's hard to do to like, let let go of control and start playing like stick, take a step back and start delegating more of the tasks. And like, really learning that your time is really valuable. Like, it's hard for me to really think of my own time as more valuable in a sense, like, I'm still sometimes like stuffing cards myself, yeah.


Jessica Walker

All hands on deck,


Janie Velencia

and be like, okay, I shouldn't be doing this, I have people that can help me with this now, so that I can focus on things that will, like more doubt have more value in terms of bringing in more money to help us grow,


Jessica Walker

like as the visionary of the company leading it, and I'm sure that like, also, just the fact that it did grow so quickly, it probably takes a while for your brain to catch up and be like, Oh, I'm now like, the leader of this business, as opposed to a card maker, you know,


Janie Velencia

right. Like, yeah, I'm like, a real business now with employees. Like, I have to have a handbook and, you know, rules.


Jessica Walker

I'm sure that's just so wild, and like policies, and, you know, just things that you haven't really had to think about before.


And so just like learning how to be that person, how did you seek mentors? Did you have coaches? Did you just learn as you went trial and error? How, what was that? Like? Um, or is Yeah, like, because it's still continuing?


Janie Velencia

Um, you know, I've had I have had, I've been lucky enough to meet like, other business friends along the way, some people who are also in greeting cards, and some people who are even my like, retailers, right? So I'm friends now with a lot of people who own stores, or we sell to a couple of coffee shops, and I'm friends with like, the owners of the coffee shops. And they're, you know, they're going through a lot of challenges, the same challenges. So it helps to be able to talk to them and say, like, Hey, what do you do about this? How do you hire for this? And so that's been really helpful to me. DC at the time, I started also had this program called the score mentorship program. So you, okay, it is, and I think maybe other cities might have it too. But, or something similar, but it's people, business owners who are retired who donate their time to sort of helping out young entrepreneurs.


Jessica Walker

Cool. I haven't heard of that. That's really need.


Janie Velencia

Yes, at least I know. It's in DC. So if you're in the DC area, look up the score, mentorship mentorship program,


Jessica Walker

such a great reference. I appreciate that and, and I guess my my biggest issue and of course, I'm now I'm just about to make my first hire, I'm still still at that new stage that it's finding how to balance everything that you want to do, whether it's across marketing, social media, more, designing more cards, like how do you Decide how to time block your time? Or what direction to spend your time on? What is that kind of path been for you?


Janie Velencia

Oh, God, I wish I could say I'm like, very purposeful and organized, but I'm not, it's just honestly, it's


Jessica Walker

good to hear though, it's helpful to remember, not everyone's perfect.


Janie Velencia

It's really for a while, it has just been like plugging holes in a ship, you know, and it's like, do whatever is like requiring your attention that day. And, you know, it's only now that I've been able to sort of higher out a little bit more that I can try to get ahead of things the bed and have a goal goals in mind and plan ahead. You know, it's, that's really important to be able to do, I think, in your business, is to sort of set goals, so you can measure success. And otherwise, for me for a long time, it hasn't really felt like, I'm doing good enough, because everything's like always falling apart around me. And it's like, oh, we didn't get out the new release in time. And we didn't do this, you know,


in terms of balancing your time, it's really hard to do. You just do what you can. And whatever requires your attention the most at that point and realize that you're a human being you can't work 24 hours a day, you have to take personal time off, you have to just rest and recharge, and kind of accepts that you're doing the best you can with the resources you have. And not everything is going to be perfect or get done on time. But you just got to like keep moving forward.


Jessica Walker

Such a great takeaway, I know that so many people needed to hear that. Because there's always like 10 million things you could be doing. But it's like, what's realistic, what will move the needle, I


Janie Velencia

would also say like, it's important, it's something I need to learn to do. But it's important to balance your time, in terms of what what is the most like, effective thing for the business right now, there's probably like two or three things that are like the most vital to your business, that only you can maybe do, whether it's like the creative or ads or, you know, business development. So I think it's always important to try to focus on that, and then try to outsource as much of the other tasks that can be done by somebody as you can.


Jessica Walker

I love that, that yeah, that's another like a great takeaway, that you focus on the things that will move the needle for you and what you specifically can be doing, and only you can be doing because if other people can do it, if you have the means to outsource, that's definitely a way to grow. And, and speaking of like, if you could pick, like one or two things that you feel like have really moved the needle to kind of be the catalyst for this growth, would you say it's trade shows or ads? Or just, you know, keeping at it, like what would you say, have been the biggest needle movers for you?


Janie Velencia

You know, I think it's a bit of a lot of those. And I think that what, how helps all those things move honestly, is just having access to capital. For me, as it's been really difficult to do, I started this company with $60. And I've pretty much bootstrapped it the whole way. And I'm very critical of myself at times, because I'm like, Oh, I could be doing so much more. And I'm not as successful as this other company and like whatnot. But I've really realized that it takes money to make money. And when you don't have access to just somebody like giving you a big loan for a while, you're really like grinding and it's a slow progress. And but you know, I think that that's a big factor is just capital. And the other one would be just the, you know, creative like having a good idea having a good product that is you can set apart from everybody else. And then also, I would say, being able to build relationships with like business. That's what business is a lot of times is building relationships with your customers, whether it be your retailers, or like your wholesale wholesale accounts or just your direct customers and reaching out to them through social media and whatnot.


Jessica Walker

And for the people that are listening that are they're looking at what you've built in such a short time and they're seeing it as like 500 steps ahead from where they are for someone who's just like looking to reach out to those first stockists or just putting themselves out there for the first time. What advice do you have for them?


Janie Velencia

Um, you know, just just go for it like Don't be scared. What's the worst that's gonna happen? People are gonna say no, they Don't like it, somebody else will. And if it's not working, then you can just think then you will know. And then you can go back and revise and rethink what you're doing. But yeah, just don't be afraid to put create something and put it out there.


Jessica Walker

Amazing, such a good message. And just because I'm interested you have you're growing right now. And just what are some of your upcoming goals that you're reaching towards, or it's something that you're excited about that's coming up in your business?


Janie Velencia

Well, moving into this new space is very exciting. Right now we're on the second floor of like, office space. And so I've been having to like me and my team, we lug up boxes of wax and candles, like candle jars every morning. We also you know, we get like greeting cards shipments, and we have to lug those up the stairs. And we've got like two different storage units. So just having the space to streamline everything and be more efficient in one space is really exciting for me. And also just having like, we have like a little kitchen area now. So


Jessica Walker

the coffee and the ground floor. Those are the big the big ones. For sure. That's awesome. Well, Jamie, thank you so much. This has been an awesome conversation. I know it's going to just like really sparked a lot of ideas for the listeners. So I appreciate you taking the time to talk with us today.


Janie Velencia

Yeah, no problem. Thank you for having me.


Jessica Walker

Of course.



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