Just as one of her marketing professors might suggest, Lori Watzman found a hole in the greeting card industry and positioned herself to fill it.
Watzman, 25, founded her business, Kosher Kards, last fall while studying at George Washington University's business school.
In a little more than six months, she has sold $15,000 worth of cards, selling to a diverse group of retailers, including a Chinese delicatessen, Bloomingdale's and the bookstore at the University of Maryland. She expects sales this year to reach $50,000, most of which will be pumped back into the business.
Watzman's cards, all of which she writes herself, feature a cartoon illustration on the front and a pun built around Jewish foods and Yiddish words. "It's noah fun without you," says one with a drifting ark on the front. Another, with an elephant, clowns and a ringmaster: "Life with you is a three-ring sukkos."
In addition to writing the cards, Watzman distributes and does most of the selling herself, while hiring out for printing and artwork. She started the business with about $10,000 of her own money.
"I find it to be an interesting combination of getting a graduate degree in marketing and also getting experience as I study," Watzman said. "The two complement each other perfectly."
Watzman was an advertising account executive on vacation in the Hamptons in New York with a friend when she got the idea for the cards in July 1984. "It was a horrible, rainy day, and we all of a sudden began brainstorming for ideas of a novel product," Watzman said. "Being that I felt there was a need for an ethnic-oriented greeting card line with a general appeal, 'Kosher Kards' was born."
Although the concept was created then, Watzman, who moved to Washington three years ago, kept the idea of forming her own business in the back of her mind until last fall. After she left the advertising agency, Govatos Dunn, she was ready to try something new. "I figured the time to do it, if there ever would be one, was now," Watzman said.
She began by talking to store officials on the feasibility of breaking into an industry dominated by Hallmark, American Greetings and Gibson. Those three companies hold between 75 and 85 percent of the market, while about 200 small companies fight for the rest, according to a spokesman for Greetings Magazine, the industry's trade publication.
Satisfied that it was possible to break in, she used "all the money" she had to hire an artist and print 16,000 cards -- 2,000 each of eight designs.
Watzman then had to get the cards into stores. "Since it's my product, I figured I'd be the best one to sell it because I believed the most in it," she said.
Surprisingly, she said, she had little trouble getting to see the retail store buyers, even though it was late November, one of the busiest times for card sales.
"Probably because I didn't know any better, I went selling last November and December, when store buyers usually won't see reps," Watzman said, "but I was getting orders left and right while other reps were on vacation because they knew they couldn't get to see the buyers."
Steve Paderofky, buyer for Expressions at White Flint Mall, was one of the people she saw in December. "She came in when it was busy with what was a sketchbook," Paderofky said. "It was a refreshing look. When she came back later, she had some samples and we bought some. . . . The line sells fairly well -- it's a nice change from the traditional."
Expressions, which has a large Jewish clientele, according to Paderofky, sells mostly Hallmark cards, but also uses eight to 10 other lines each year. Noting that he listens to all the vendors who come in, Paderofky said, "If it's a look for us, we'll go with it. Some prove to be winners, so we reorder."
He plans to take another order of Kosher Kards, as do many of Watzman's other customers. Watzman plans to introduce new designs within a month.
The new cards will be along the same line as the original Kosher Kards, but will feature a new artist. The artist for the first set was Dr. David Goldstein, an internist at the National Institutes of Health who free-lances as an illustrator. The new artist is "a professional with a different style," according to Watzman.
A possible future step, Watzman said, is a catalogue of related items, such as coffee mugs, calendars and T-shirts. But for now, she'll concentrate on rounding out a national distribution network of manufacturers' representatives and starting a mail-order operation targeted to Jewish Community Centers.
Watzman now makes about 75 percent of the sales herself, but expects that percentage to decline as the business expands. She also has been contacted by distributors in Canada and Israel, and is exploring the possibility of selling Kosher Kards in those countries.
Watzman, who has a psychology degree from Indiana University, also works as a public-relations assistant for the Bread Oven in Washington.