LOL! Check it out! I was in the Ventura County Star newspaper out there in California on Sunday. I got a 15 minutes of fame as a reviewer/blogger and a site plug. Woo hoo! Check out Ginas site at Kids Fun Cards! ~Trisha
An idea for helping daughter to break the ice at school has become a viable business for artist-entrepreneur
Gina Flanagan felt helpless as she watched her outgoing daughter, Leila, struggle to make friends in school.
Some nights, Flanagan listened to Leila cry herself to sleep.
For many children who feel picked on or shunned, lunchtime can be the most dreaded part of the day. They are alone, sitting in a cafeteria surrounded by chatty peers.
To give Leila something to look forward to, Flanagan, an award-winning costume illustrator who has worked on feature films, drew elaborate pictures on small cards with accompanying riddles and then put them in her lunchbox.
If she knew she had a note waiting for her at lunch, Leila, then about 7, was eager to get to school.
“When kids get them, it makes them so happy,” Flanagan said. “It’s like giving them a hug and a kiss through a lunchbox.”
Soon, other kids were coming over to her daughter to see what the day’s note said. It started conversations. Before long, kids were sitting next to Leila to read her mom’s clever messages.
Other parents noticed and started asking where they could find the notes. Although more an artist than an entrepreneur, Flanagan, who lives in Thousand Oaks, got the idea to start selling the cards.
In March, four years after she created the first note, Flanagan launched KidsFunCards.com to sell her cards in stores and online.
The lunch cards are hardly scrawled messages on a napkin. They are brightly colored postcards with goofy illustrations and big, bold type. The cards come in five categories, including “EWWW, That’s Gross,” “Riddles,” “Mystical Little People,” “Looney Laws” and “Wacky World.” Flanagan has about 60 new designs ready to hit the market, but she plans to work through existing inventory first.
Though it drives the cost up, Flanagan has the cards printed in the United States because she’s concerned about lead paint problems associated with Asian countries.
“People have said to me, Do you want to make money? Then print in Indonesia or China.’ I would rather be safe,” she said.
The cards cost $4.95 for a pack of five. Not cheap, but neither was getting started. Flanagan estimates she spent about $30,000 to start the business, including product displays, printing and shipping.
Flanagan has considered options to reduce costs, such as using thinner paper, changing the packaging or modifying the design to look like a coupon book with perforated edges, but she worries that might cheapen the product.
“I love that she doesn’t go out of the country and she uses homemade products,” said Trisha Haas, who reviews products on her blog, momdot.com. An Alabama resident, Haas was sent some of Flanagan’s cards to review.
“My daughter loves them,” Haas said.
Charlotte, her 3-year-old daughter, isn’t reading yet and doesn’t bring a lunch to school, but is happy to sit with Haas while she reads the cards aloud.
Haas said she plans to pack a card with Charlotte’s lunch when she is old enough. While parents can easily scribble their own notes, she said the cards create more of a bond among children.
“A note from your own parent is personal,” she said. “Gina (Flanagan) has created a way for children to share and interact with each other.”
After reviewing the product, Haas e-mailed Flanagan a list of suggestions, including making the back of the card reusable, like a dry-erase board.
She was pleasantly surprised when Flanagan e-mailed her back, thanking her and responding to the suggestions.
Though it can be time-consuming, Flanagan tries to respond to all feedback, both positive and negative. She regards the comments as a way to improve the product. Designing each card can take hours, between researching its content and drawing the illustration.
Flanagan’s still a mom first, squeezing in work when she can.
“My hours are 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., if I want to be a good mom,” she said.
She’s had plenty of marketing help from her father, Paul De Domenico, and husband Markus. Her brother, Paul P. De Domenico, handles accounting.
Rose Cricchio, who used to work at Warner Bros., does the graphic and Web design.
Sales have steadily increased more than 35 percent in the past six months, with much of the business conducted online. A slight sales spurt occurred after the fun cards were recognized as one of the “8 Back to School Products We Love” at DisneyFamily.com, but big boosts have mostly come through word of mouth from bloggers.
The goal is to see the cards at grocery stores and retailers such as Bed Bath & Beyond, Barnes & Noble and Whole Foods, Flanagan said.
The cards are sold in shops in various parts of the country and at 13 stores in California, including Postal Annex in Westlake Village.
Markus calls the fun cards “an exclusive treat” and a replacement for a sugary snack. Instead of a brownie, Flanagan will stick a fun card and Hershey Kiss into each of her three daughters’ lunches. Even sweet-toothed Leila — after some serious consideration — said she would prefer a fun card over candy.
“Anyone can buy Ding Dongs and Twinkies,” Markus said. Give kids the cards instead of a cavity, he said, and influence them through art and education.
In addition to the communication between parent and child, the fun cards create a community for that child and a table of kids, he said.
When Leila, now 11, gets a card in her lunch, her friends pass the card down the table, talking about possible answers to the riddles.
“Some of my friends will sometimes rip them out of my hands,” Leila said.
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