Interview with Jay Blumenfeld of Smart Alex cards.
"In the multibillion-dollar greeting card business, Smart Alex has carved a niche by boldly going where no big company has gone before. Founder Jay Blumenfeld opens up about his irreverent, unorthodox rise to success.
Jay Blumenfeld started the bold and bawdy greeting cards company Smart Alex in 1980, building it without venture capital, business training -- or a sense of hearing. Today, the deaf, gay, and out-about-it-all CEO personally designs bestselling card lines for specialty retailers, including sex shops, across North America. Blumenfield recently linked up with Inc.com via instant messenger to share the story of Smart Alex, advice on succeeding with a niche brand, and why uniqueness counts in the business world.
How did you start Smart Alex?
It was by accident. I didn't intend to do it at all. What I wanted to do was to promote my photography, and get a photography book published after I got out of college. This was 1980. Many book-publishing art directors told me that I should put my creative energy into making greeting cards. I thought it would be something I did for a year or two to promote myself as a photographer. But I fell in love with the alternative greeting cards industry, and decided to continue with the business.
What does Smart Alex do today? How is it distinct within the greeting cards industry?
We are a greeting card company that makes edgy cards. We aren't afraid to use butt-kickin' humor. And we sell through unusual channels. Most card companies are all alike and don't focus on a particular target audience as much as we do. We have a very specific market.
One of our most successful lines is the bachelorette series. I know I'm giving away our biggest secret, right? Oh no! But not many companies can do something like that.
We have great relationships with stores that aren't catered to by companies with bigger lines. Quotable is bigger. Hallmark and American Greetings are far bigger. They do humor. But it's just not as fearless as what we do at Smart Alex.
Can you make a comparison to another company?
If Hallmark and American greetings are like NBC and CBS, and Quotable is like CNN, I guess we're like an MTV or VH1".