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News & Observer: Cary Company Invites Success

Cary Company Invites Success

News & Observer, The (Raleigh, NC)
November 12, 2008

Author: David Ranii; Staff Writer
Edition: Final
Section: Business
Page: B5

InvitationBox expects to sell more than 1 million cards.

The heck with the recession. InvitationBox.com, a Cary company that sells personalized invitations and greeting cards online, is gathering momentum as it enters one of its busiest times of the year.

Sales at the privately held company climbed 80 percent in October compared with a year ago and are on track to rise 70 percent for the entire year, said Jon LaNasa, the company's president and CEO.

"The market may not be growing, but I think we are ... stealing market share," he said.

The five-year-old company has 10 full-time employees and expects to sell more than 1 million high-end cards and invitations this year. It doesn't disclose revenue numbers.
LaNasa admits he can't pinpoint why sales have been so strong this year, but the company has taken steps to goose its revenue. They include revamping its Web site to make it more appealing and easier to navigate, and expanding its advertising efforts on the Web.

For the upcoming holiday season, which typically accounts for about one-fourth of the company's annual revenue, it has more than doubled the number of seasonal greeting cards and invitations it offers, to more than 1,500, said Derek Stockman, chief marketing officer.

InvitationBox faces plenty of competition. An estimated 3,000 companies publish greeting cards, ranging from Mom and Pop businesses to industry giants such as Hallmark, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Greeting Card Association. Americans buy about 7 billion greeting cards a year.

The association expects sales of holiday cards to be flat this year because of the weak economy.

"The tradition of sending holiday cards is extremely strong in this country," said spokeswoman Barbara Miller. "People will cut back on other things before they cut back on sending cards."

The majority of InvitationBox's more than 9,000 cards and invitations are at least partially produced at its 4,000-square-foot facility on James Jackson Avenue in Cary.
In some cases it prints the entire cards -- some of which it designed in-house, while many more are designed by vendors who provide InvitationBox with digital images. In other cases the vendor prints its designs, while InvitationBox adds the personalized messages ordered by customers. The company also offers greeting cards with customer photos.
About 70 percent of InvitationBox's business comes from invitations to weddings, bar mitzvahs, birthday parties, Halloween parties and the like. The rest comes from greeting cards, Stockman said.

Boxes of 25 holiday greeting cards with personalized messages start at $53.50; for customized holiday invitations, 20 start at $42.
LaNasa and his wife, Katherine, both 31, and Stockman, 36, started the business in 2003 in a spare room at the LaNasa home in Danbury, Conn. Jon LaNasa and Stockman got to know each other when they worked together.

"Basically, I was getting tired of working for corporate America," LaNasa said. "Derek and I ... would go out for happy hour every now and then and we'd sit down and throw out ideas about how we could start a business. And we came up with a bunch of different ideas, and eventually, it came to this one."
In 2005, they moved the business to Cary.

"My brother-in-law went to N.C. State," Jon LaNasa said. "I convinced him to be our first employee if we moved down here."

He added that the weather, the business environment and the Triangle being a good place to raise a family also were strong draws.

LaNasa, who printed invitations for friends and family on a laser jet printer when he was a kid, said he and his wife initially talked about starting such a business when they got married but set the idea aside.

He muses that if they had started InvitationBox in 1999, it probably would be a bigger business today. But he also believes the experience that he and his partners gained working elsewhere over the next several years enabled them to build a better business.


Derek Stockman, left, and Katherine and Jon LaNasa started their online business in Connecticut in 2003
Photo Courtesy of Invitationbox
Copyright 2008 by The News & Observer Pub. Co.
Record Number: ka7kjw89