Anna Blandford and Gareth Meney, the creative team behind Able & Game.
Anna Blandford and Gareth Meney's quirky ideas have now graced hundreds of handmade greeting cards – but when the pair pored over a map of Melbourne's railway system, the off-beat puns really began flowing.
A trip to bayside Frankston inspired the first rail-related card: 'I'd go to zone two for you'. Then Jewell, on the Upfield line, became immortalised with the greeting card 'You're the Jewell in my crown'. Other stations followed with 'You put me on Macleod nine', and this Elvis-inspired suggestion from a friend - 'Hunka hunka Laburnum love'.
Able & Game's popular Frankston card.
Blandford, a former art teacher who also studied Fine Art, does most of the creative work, while Meney takes care of the technical side.
Her first label turned out to be plenty of toil, but not much money. So after much effort, she began planning for Able & Game in May 2008, which launched the following February.
“I started by combining both (labels) then realised it wasn't working, ” she said.
With the help of partner Meney, 31, who runs a small computing business on the side, she began focusing solely on creating cards for Able & Game.
“(At the time) I only had about 10 that I was selling - because they were all original they were a bit more expensive. They were $12 a card. People really liked them so I thought maybe I could think about doing these, ” she said.
“A lot of people when we were first starting said 'why don't you sell your designs to a big card company?'
“ I didn't want to do that because a) I wanted to run the business the way I wanted to, and b) I was a bit protective of my designs.
“At least this way I can build the business from it.”
Blandford and Meney plunged headlong into the new business, holding stalls each week at Rose St Artists' Market, and bringing the card prices down by printing bigger quantities.
“I think we've just kind of started it and gone 'this is how we think it works', ” Blandford said.
Attending trade shows in Melbourne and Sydney provided a big boost for the company, which unlike many others, doesn't have a minimum order requirement for shops who want to stock their cards.
Because all Able & Game cards are printed at the couple's McKinnon house, they have been able to tailor print runs to different requirements, or trial small quantities of different designs at their market stall. Blandford says in designing the cards they try to find ordinary things that strike a note with people.
“I think we've got a bit of a niche section. The people that buy our cards are the type of people that might not normally buy cards often. A lot of people say 'I normally make my own cards'.”
Last year, the company had eight wholesale accounts, but after the trade shows the number ballooned to about 70, including the Peter Alexander chain of stores.
While the card business can be a highly competitive beast, other companies continue to carve out their own niche.
Alarna Zinn, a 25-year-old Queenslander, has run her one-woman card business, Little Jane St for just under two years.
After studying graphic design she worked at a small design studio, then freelanced, before deciding she wanted to work without any restrictions on her creativity.
“I went out on my own full-time but I substituted income with freelance graphic design work, ” she said.
But before doing anything she got in touch with an accountant to discuss her business idea.
“Having an accountant is one of the best steps you can make, ” she said.
Zinn, who works out of her Brisbane garage, said the bookwork and other aspects were difficult at first.
“It's so hard to learn all that, I just took it one day at a time. I had great support from my family and David (her partner) as well because he has his own business, ” she said.
Beginning with a range of 12 cards, Zinn has added more designs plus products including custom invitations and wrapping paper, and finds each time a product is added she gains more exposure.
Mostly working alone, Zinn hires the occasional studio helper, and enjoys working from home.
“Yeah I love it, a lot of people don't love it and say it's hard to stay motivated.”
But for Able & Game's Anna Blandford, working from home remains a challenge. Working up to seven days a week (including weekend markets) Blandford says it is hard to switch off and she misses the company of workmates.
“I do have a few problems with it. For me it's kind of how to relax when it's time off.”
With the business continually expanding, Blandford hopes to rent some space somewhere else in the middle of this year, and there are plans in the wings for other products, perhaps mugs and tea-towels.
“I'm a bit scared about outsourcing because you're having to rely on someone else, ” says Blandford, who still packages each of the annual 25, 000 cards herself.
Meney says it is hard to find information about expanding this sort of company.
“I always feel I should be going to people and seeking advice but I don't know where to start, ” he says.