My Ultimate Guide to Canadian Greeting Card Distributors
Written by Jean-Paul Michael
Following on from my recent article, My Ultimate Guide to Canadian Greeting Card Publishers, I wanted to write about greeting card distributors. In a nutshell, a distributor can be described as an agent or entity that supplies goods to retailers, so connecting the publishers and manufacturers to the customers.
While many of the cards that are distributed here are foreign in origin, imported from the US, Europe and further afield, many are printed in Canada and often designed here too. The industry is controlled by two main players in a duopoly and both are American in origin - American Greetings (as Carlton Cards is its subsidiary) and Hallmark Cards.
Years ago, cards were distributed in small quantities via small delivery services, mainly to grocery stores and drugstores, but these days there are huge networks of people ensuring that hundreds of millions of cards are available at all kinds of retail businesses across the length and breadth of the country, to pharmacy chains like Shoppers Drug Mart and supermarkets like Walmart and Loblaws, department stores including The Bay and specialist card stores.
Today, self-distribution can be seen through sales channels like Etsy, particularly for sellers with a small number of products and where it makes sense financially. Etsy is an e-commerce arts and crafts marketplace, where sellers set up shop with their handmade, vintage, upcycled or unique creations, including cards. While there are various similar sites where buyers can spend hours perusing homemade or even factory-manufactured goods, like Bonanza, ArtFire, and iCraft, Etsy is arguably the biggest player.
When it comes to the greeting card business, the barriers of entry have completely changed since the arrival of online marketplaces like Etsy, as the initial investment can be as little as a couple of hundred dollars, whereas 25 years ago, you needed to spend an awful lot of money, particularly if you wanted your own printing equipment. Etsy and other online sellers (as well as those who sell at flea markets, craft fairs and the like) can now pick up a good-quality laser printer at Staples for $150 to $250 and a ream of paper and they're automatically in the greeting card business! With cards able to be printed and sent or sold in person to customers often almost instantaneously, many sellers only need to keep card stock and envelopes in their inventory, so neither outside fulfillment nor distribution is needed.
Nevertheless, a common route for many other publishers these days is that outside distribution, and I am delighted to bring to you the following list of Canadian card distributors. Some I have known about for many years or know personally, and others I only found recently while researching. If you’re in the card business or thinking of selling within Canada or even elsewhere, this could be very useful to you.
Bella Flor Canada, London, Southwestern Ontario
Bella Flor Canada is a division of the manufacturer Norcard Enterprises Ltd, and is a distributor of greeting cards as well as stationery and gifts. Since being established in 1982, Bella Flor has been a distributor for both Canadian and American wholesale greeting card companies and has gained a reputation for supplying high-quality products. Their retail customers include gift shops, hospitals, hotels, art galleries, bookstores, museums and even ferries, which carry their card product lines such as Bald Guy Greetings, Blue Mountain Arts, Bonair Daydreams and Hotchpotch.
Carlton Cards, Mississauga, Ontario
Carlton Cards, founded in 1920, has long been Canada’s premier greeting card publisher. For more than 30 years, the Carlton Cards name was synonymous with Canadian greeting cards, before being wholly purchased by American Greetings in 1956. Since then, Carlton Cards has also been Canada’s largest greetings distributor and while they mainly distribute American Greetings products, they also distribute many others, including their own line of Carlton cards, as well as Gibson and Tender Thoughts.
Deluxe, Midland, Ontario
While Deluxe is aimed at small businesses and their marketing needs, their services include the design and printing of greeting cards. Founded in 1915 in the US and once known as Deluxe NEBS, after Minnesota’s Deluxe purchased New England Business Solutions, the business changed its name early 2018 while continuing to offer their products across the North American markets, including in Canada. Businesses can have their own promotional or personalised cards made online with Deluxe, including Christmas greetings.
Dempsey Canada, Burnaby, British Columbia
Dempsey Distributing is a distributor and wholesaler of body, mind and spirit books, spoken audio, and music, and various items including greetings cards. Dempsey is the second-largest distributor in North America for this type of product and do not sell to the general public but rather import from the US and distribute to spiritual and healing centres, retail bookstores and gift stores. In terms of cards, Dempsey distributes mind, body and spirit products from Vancouver’s Sharon Tenebaum, Ohio’s Susan Shie, and Minnesota's Llewellyn Worldwide, as well as many others.
Incognito Distribution, Boucherville, Quebec
Incognito is a Canadian distributor of stationery and greeting cards, with the latter sourced from European publishers as well as local artists, and they also publish blank and French cards. Since being established in 1998, Incognito’s cards have often featured finishes such as embossing, die cut, laser cut, and foiling. Current product lines include Bug Art, Blue Mountain Arts, Cartuna Greetings and Fridolin.
Jannex Enterprises, Toronto, Ontario
When it comes to greeting cards, as well as other products such as stationery and gifts, Jannex has been a leading distributor in Canada since the early 80s. Founded by David Hes and Ellen Bean in 1980, the company very quickly grew its customer base and the various retail channels which they distribute to now include grocery stores, pharmacies, florists, hospitals, museums, and bookstores. While Jannex is located close to downtown Toronto, they also offer national sales representation and are known throughout Canada for representing manufacturers and designers from around the world and distributing their work, including a great selection of cards. Their card lines include Cardthartic, Clayboys Cards, Gina B Designs and NobleWorks.
north + south distributors ltd, Okotoks, Alberta
Founded in 2007 by Michael and Liz Lunse, north + south is a member of the Canadian Gift Association and the Chamber of Commerce, as well as an established wholesale distributor of greeting cards and stationery. They source unique products from top designers working north and south of the equator, hence their name. Retailers and professional buyers can view the card collections on the north + south website, which include lines from Abacus, Cinnamon Aitch, Paper Rose, Stormy Knight and many more.
Northwest Greetings, Victoria, British Columbia
Northwest Greetings is a family-owned business and a major Canadian distributor of greeting cards as well as other related products since being established by Ron and Lisa in 1993. Across Vancouver Island and coast to coast, Northwest Greetings has card lines from mostly west coast artists, with many cards for various occasions, and distributes to retailers such as grocery stores, gift shops, hospital gift shops, pharmacies, florists and general stores.
Paper E. Clips, North York, Ontario
Paper E. Clips is a Canadian greeting card, stationery and gift distributor with more than thirty years of experience. They don’t sell directly to the public or outside of Canada, and instead focus on distribution to national chains including Indigo Books and Mastermind Toys, to hospital gift shops, art galleries and florists, as well as to thousands of independent retailers in this country.
Paperpotamus Paper Products, Delta, British Columbia
Paperpotamus is a Canadian manufacturer, importer and distributor of greeting cards, as well as other items such as notepads, T-shirts, and gifts. They distribute several thousand greeting card designs across Canada and to the US, including the UK line, Abacus Cards, to retailers such as gift shops, bookshops, chocolatiers and stationers.
Popular Greetings Canada, Uxbridge, Ontario
Popular Greetings Canada is is the wholly-owned Canadian distribution arm of the powerhouse greeting card brand from Elkton, Maryland - Popular Greetings - and they are manufacturers and exporters too. The US brand was established in 1979 and today is the largest online greeting card wholesaler, with thousands of designs available. Known as this country’s best value greeting card business, Popular Greetings Canada is Canadian owned and operated and they offer a low minimum order for retail and business use. Their online site features several thousand cards from just 39 cents each (and even cards in Spanish), as well as additional products like party goods and stickers.
Pure Moment Greetings Inc, Grimsby, Ontario
Pure Moment Greetings Inc. is a consignment greeting card distributor that has been servicing the Hamilton-Niagara region for twenty years. Their service reps provide the display, the service and the cards and that includes Marian Heath and Love You Forever greeting cards. With more than 3,000 designs, they distribute to well-known Canadian retailers including Avondale Food Stores.
Tree-Free Greetings, Oshawa, Ontario
As I mentioned in My Ultimate Guide to Canadian Greeting Card Publishers, Tree-Free Greetings is a US brand but now prints in this country. The cards are distributed in Canada by CCCmaps of Oshawa along with maps, road atlases, driver handbooks, eyewear, stickers and much more. Gas and convenience retailers get free service and displays for the cards, which are Canadian-made using vegetable based inks and are eco-friendly.
URDC (United Retail Distributors Cooperative), Brockville, Ontario
I am particularly fond of the folks at the URDC, whom I previously worked with extensively for more than a decade. They are a close-knit group of thirty independent businesses that distribute cards on a consignment basis, including the Marian Heath brand, throughout a national network of thousands of retailers. They have been in the business for more than sixteen years, providing unparalleled customer service.
As a disclaimer, I should say that this is by no means an exhaustive list of distributors in Canada. I certainly do not want to overlook anyone so please feel free to drop us a line here and we will happily add you to our site.
Jean-Paul Michael has spent his entire adult life in the social expression world. He co-founded Northern Cards when he was 18 years old and over the last 3 decades, he has held many varying positions in the company. Today, he is proud to be Northern Cards' Publisher, selling cards within Canada as well as internationally.
Thank you so much for this helpful information. I have a very funny birthday song that I’ve made into a funny music video. I’m putting the catchphrase into a musical birthday card. as an artiest I’d like to be paid properly. So I think I’ll try to talk with you. again thank you so much for this very helpful information.
Thank you for the enlightening blog Jean-Paul. I have created many whimsical watercolor greeting cards and contemporary series. Now comes the learning Curve of connecting with the right distributors. The upside is that others are doing it and your information keeps me motivated. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Gosh, this article has been super helpful. I have drawers of cards Ive had printed. Distribution is not my strong point. Thank you for such an informative blog.