BLACKSBURG — Hundreds of thousands of Canon customers are going to buy a new printer over the next year, and inside the box they’ll find instructions on how to make custom greeting cards at home courtesy of a local startup.
The marketing boost is part of a new partnership between Card Isle and Canon.
The industry giant is always looking for new ways customers can use its printers. First it decided on print-at-home greeting cards, and then it chose Card Isle to make it happen.
The deal, announced last week, called for Card Isle to create a web-based greeting card design platform that is compatible with Canon printers. In exchange, Canon will use its marketing power to send its customers Card Isle’s way.
Card Isle still owns the technology and makes money from card sales. But now Canon is able to tell customers about one more reason to buy a printer.
“Your average person probably uses 5% of the functionality of that printer sitting on your desk. All we’re doing is helping people recognize it can do a whole lot more,” Card Isle co-founder David Henry said. “Canon is a printer company and an ink company and camera company. They don’t want to be in the business of curating greeting card designs.”
Starting now, the reading material included in the box with Canon printers will point customers to cardisle.com. There, they can create an account, link their printer and purchase a starter pack of greeting cards.
Each card costs $3, sold in packs of 12 or 24.
The cardstock and envelops are included, but what you’re really buying is the design experience, Henry added.
“We have seen a shift in how consumers are using print within their daily lives — from personal use to home office needs,” Canon U.S.A. President and COO Kazuto Ogawa said in a press release this week. “Therefore it is imperative that our products extend beyond traditional usages and offer variety to our customers.”
The partnership could prove to be an inflection point for Card Isle, a 6-year-old company in the middle of reimagining its business model.
It started with greeting card kiosks, where customers could design and print greeting cards on a touchscreen in malls, hospitals, college campuses and military bases.
The company saw early success and raised more than $1 million from investors. It grew above 50 kiosks at its height, but Henry said that came with a lot of headaches.
Each machine cost about $5,000 to build and set up. Then someone had to restock paper and ink each week. They had to be cleaned and fixed when they broke down.
“All of that stuff wasn’t something we ever wanted to focus on,” Henry said. “The things we’re passionate about are curating amazing designs and building the tools that let people send more cards than they thought they would.”
Some of Card Isle’s kiosks are still in operation, but they’re phasing out that part of the business. Instead, the startup now has two main focuses: print at home and merchants.
In addition to the Canon partnership, Card Isle is working with a relatively small group of florists and gift basket businesses. They’re experimenting to see if customers who, for example, order a flower delivery would want to add a greeting card for a fee.
Card Isle’s design application is embedded onto the florist’s website. When customers check out, they see an option to add a card. If they do it, a printer in the florist’s office prints the card and it’s delivered with the flowers.
The artist who designed the card gets some of the money, the florist gets some and Card Isle gets the rest.
And because the cards are printed on demand, the options for messages and images are virtually limitless.
“Do you both love Corgis? Search for Corgi cards,” Henry said. “I think we have 30 or 40 different Corgi cards.”