GCA podcasts – capturing greeting card history to inspire the industry of the future
The Greeting Card Association’s podcast series is a look at key greeting card designers, publishers and individuals whose passion, drive and talent has influenced and shaped the history of our industry.
It is hoped that listening to those who have made a major contribution to our industry talk about their journey, and advice they’d give their younger self, will help and inspire the next generation of our wonderful industry.
GCA Meets – Alan and Vanessa Harnik of Notes & Queries
Alan Harnik started his career in his basement and selling on a hand-cart at a New York market, fast forward 43 years and Notes & Queries is a well established, leading US distributor of UK greeting card publishers.
In December 2023 Alan and Vanessa shared their journey and insight into their business and the US greeting card market with GCA’s CEO Amanda Fergusson, and GCA Council Member and MD of Ohh Deer Mark Callaby who recently joined Vanessa on a US card industry panel.
Alan speaks about the importance of tradeshows, relationships and always meeting his suppliers face to face. Sharing what he did when he received his first large order, and the impact his decision had on the business.
Alan and Vanessa both speak eloquently about the US greeting card market, sharing their top tips for being successful in the US market and highlighting key differences between the UK market and consumers.
Both also speak about challenging times the business faced, sharing their advice for keeping customers onside and achieving business growth. They also share how Notes & Queries navigated the world-wide COVID19 pandemic, and reflect on changes in the card market post-Covid19.
- 1971 Alan finished degree in social anthropology at New York University and moved to Madagascar with wife Gillian, where he was inspired to set up his own business.
- 1980 Back in the US Alan started selling Malagasy craft products on weekends to market retailers.
- 1981-1983 Selling from a ‘pushcart’ at Faneuil Hall Marketplace
- 1984 Working out of basement at home, Alan’s Dad join to the business as credit controller
- 1985 Took on first UK publishers, Roger La Borde and Birch et Birch Ink, moving to wholesale full time
- 1986 Visited the UK’s Spring Fair in Birmingham for first time.
- 1989 Recruited first accountant
- 1991 moved to own decided 10,000 ftsq space in industrial park, Baltimore
- 1995 Business turnover grown to $9.4m
- 1996 Daughter Vanessa joined full time
- 2009 Attended PGLive’s first show, ‘a very important show for the industry’
- 2020 January: Celebrated 40th year in business and 50th wedding anniversary
- 2020 March 23rd: All non-essential US businesses close due to COVID-19
- 2020 two key accounts file for bankruptcy owning N&Q over $100k
- 2020-2012 Alan and Vanessa keep in close contact with team during pandemic
- 2021 Move to new offices in Maryland
- 2021 Alan turns 75 and moves towards part-time working; Vanessa takes the helm.
- 2022: N&Q 40th Anniversary London party, post-ponded due to COVID-19
- 2022 Counting Cards: Confessions of a Card Shark, Alan’s book published, based on series of interviews with Vanessa and son Paul.
- 2022 Alan awarded the Henries The Honorary Achievement Award, in 42nd year in business
Notes & Queries
Notes & Queries, now in their 44th year in business, is a leading importer of design oriented paper product primarily from the UK. Relationships are key to the success of their business – with 35% of their account base having been with N&Q for over 20 years, and the average N&Q employee tenure 17 years.
We search out the best of the best for our portfolio, in addition to selling to key accounts in the book and gourmet food trade. We are strongly represented in the independent trade. Our 100 plus sales agents present us each day to their retail customers….we love what we do and sell!Alan Harnik
Vanessa has recently taken over the running of the business from Dad Alan.
Notes & Queries is committed to selling the very best in greeting cards and related stationery products, from the U.K.and European markets, bar none. Big words, we know! We do not publish greeting cards per se; instead we work with more than 25 publishers of greeting cards at any one time. Most of our trading partners are from the UK, the most competitive greeting card market in the world.Vanessa Harnik
Alan’s Lessons from the world-wide Pandemic:
- Act quickly and decisively. Difficult decisions are not made easier by waiting
- Plan for the future, live in the present. From the day we were forced to close our doors we started planning for the next day when doors would open again and what our company would look like.
- This may seem contradictory: Watch your pennies, but at the same time make investments. It’s often hard when confronted with cash flow issues to look at making investments, but sometimes it’s essential to do so.
- Develop Plan B. If X doesn’t happen figure out what you’ll do and be prepared to do it
- Trust your instinct and business knowledge to assist you through challenging times
Listen to the Podcast
Visit the Notes & Queries website to find out more.
See our Meet the Member series for more insight into GCA members’ businesses.