Making It

WRAPPED AND READY: Erica Peale and Meredith Kole pressed on with their Card Stix designs.
WRAPPED AND READY: Erica Peale and Meredith Kole pressed on with their Card Stix designs. (Copyright Keith Barraclough)

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By Katherine Shaver
Sunday, April 27, 2008

AFTER THEIR CHILDREN JOINED the weekend birthday party circuit, Erica Peale and Meredith Kole lamented the high cost of buying numerous birthday cards that got torn off packages or went to toddlers who couldn't read.

So the former college roommates, both fresh off advertising careers, devised a cheaper -- and stickier -- greeting card. Their nearly 18-month-old company, Card Stix Inc., makes greeting card stickers that adhere to birthday presents, wine bottles, hostess gifts and wedding favors. They are sold on the company Web site and in 200 stores nationwide.

While starting any business entails personal and financial gambles, launching Card Stix carried another risk. As Erica, 34, of Arlington, recalls, "We decided that if at any point this business was ruining the friendship, we'd call it quits."

After graduating from Syracuse University together in 1995, both pursued careers in advertising -- Erica on the marketing end and Meredith on the creative side. Their first children were born within five months of each other in 2003, leading both to leave advertising in pursuit of more flexible hours.

Erica sold specialty baby blankets for a year but says she couldn't compete with more skilled seamstresses. Meredith, 35, started an invitation design business out of her home in Wayside, N.J., but found that clients didn't want to pay for the amount of time the custom work required.

But Meredith continued to make her own cards for friends, and, in summer 2006, she made Erica a proposition. "I came up with this great idea," Meredith recalls telling her friend, "but I can't do it without your business experience."

They invested a combined $18,000 to get a Web site going and have their first stickers produced by a Maine printing company they still use. Meredith creates the designs and greeting card messages, while Erica gets them into stores.

Last year, the friends say, they brought in $30,000 in gross revenue, but poured the roughly $6,000 they made in profit back into growing the company. Their families rely on their husbands' incomes -- Erica's husband, Dan, is an attorney; Meredith's husband, also Dan, is a financial adviser.

One challenge, Erica says, is convincing stores that Card Stix are different from traditional gift labels, which are typically much smaller and don't contain much of a message beyond "To" and "From."

Carolyn Wasylczuk says Card Stix have been selling well in her Georgetown stationery store, Just Paper & Tea, since Christmas. Customers who don't want high-end greeting cards starting at $4 apiece can pay $2.75 for two Card Stix.

"You can dress up a gift bag or a present without spending a lot of money," Wasylczuk says.

As for the women's friendship, both say it not only survived their start-up but has flourished. The key, they say, is deferring to each one's expertise, whether it be Meredith's design sense or Erica's business savvy.

"We always kind of knew we were going to do something together," Meredith says. "I think that's why this business fits so well. We don't want to disappoint each other."

Are you succeeding with a new and unusual career, invention, business or creative endeavor? E-mail shaverk@washpost.com.


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