Spokane Journal of Business

Season’s greetings, at half off

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Dear Fluffy:

Roses are red. Violets are blue. Theres never been a poodle as sweet as you.

Love, Fido.

From candy-coated almonds to pinatas to personalized jewelry, the five 50% Off Card Shop stores operated by Spokane-based LDE Inc. offer a panoply of decorations, greeting cards, and gift items for that special event, personor pet.

The small retail chain specializes in offering as wide an inventory as possible at discounted prices, says Ellsworth Moland, the companys president.

We try to carry anything we can find, he says, including my-dog-to-your-dog greetings and cards for those odd relatives.

The chain has grown steadily since opening its first store in 1991, and LDE would like to open a couple of more stores here if the opportunity arises, possibly in West Spokane and near downtown, Moland says.

Together with a 55-year-old sister company named Moland Greeting Card Co., the family-owned operation now employs more than 90 people. Both companies are owned by Moland and his daughters, Linda Powell and Debra Molony.

Moland declines to disclose the companys revenues, but says it has experienced increases every year in the profitability of our stores. He adds, Its a niche market.

LDEs stores are located at 2927 E. 27th on Spokanes South Hill; at 7503 N. Division; at 212 N. Sullivan and 12111 E. Sprague, both in Spokane Valley; and at 101 Best, in Coeur dAlene. Separately, Moland Greeting Card Co. operates a warehouse at 2733 E. Providence.

Each store contains roughly 300 feet of greeting-card displays, Moland says, with the cards sold at prices at least 50 percent less than typical retail levels.

The merchandise the card shops sell isnt factory seconds, though, Moland says. Some cards are made by major greeting card manufacturers such as American Greetings and others he declines to name.

A typical 50% Off Card Shop is filled with colorful balloons, wrapping paper, streamers, wall decorations, tablecloths, paper dishes, and party favors. Shelves display wedding paraphernalia, over-the-hill party supplies, fancy pencils, stickers, and boxed card sets.

Moland is always on the lookout for new items to feature in the stores.

You need to always be looking at different things, he says. You keep looking at different things, but you put it in the back of your mind because you dont have any space in the store.

The toughest items to keep up with are the licensed juvenile party supplies, such as Sponge Bob party plates or Teletubbies balloons, Moland says. You just have to know when to get out of it.

More than groceries

The card shops are supplied by Moland Greeting Card Co.

At Moland Greeting Cards warehouse and headquarters, at 2733 E. Providence, one might see boxes of miscellaneous merchandise, including a Halloween gravestone with a skull, a teapot accent lamp, wedding champagne glasses, and a Luv-a-Bulldog stuffed animal wearing heart-laden boxer shorts.

Ellsworth Moland, his father, O.T., and his brother, Veryl, launched the company here in 1950.

It was a startup with very little money or know-how, Moland says.

Molands father had owned a grocery store on Spokanes North Side called Quality Food Shop, on Nevada Street near Wellesley Avenue.

There were no supermarkets then, and grocery stores just handled groceries . We couldnt make a decent living at it, though, Moland recalls.

O.T. Moland closed the grocery store around 1948, and about a year and a half later launched Moland Greeting Card Co.

We were looking for something we could make a better margin on than groceries, Ellsworth Moland says.

Selling wholesale greeting cards to grocery stores seemed like the answer. The idea didnt catch on with grocers at first. They were so used to handling just groceries, we still had a hard time, Moland says.

Thanks to his fathers skilled salesmanship over time, though, Moland Greeting Card Co. became a growing concern and at one time had as many as seven outside salespeople and displays in stores within a 200-mile radius of Spokane, he says. Now, the companys telemarketing department markets its products to retailers in the western half of the U.S.

Perhaps the companys growth is best evidenced by its patchwork warehouse, which Moland estimates has more than 25,000 square feet of floor space. It currently provides storage for between 6,000 and 7,000 shoebox-sized containers full of greeting cards and other products.

The company bought the building decades ago from a bankrupt company, has expanded it twice, and most recently added a third storage area several stories high lined with cardboard boxes chock full of merchandise. Still, its not enough.

I wish wed made it three times bigger, Moland says, adding that the company had to obtain ocean shipping containers to hold the overflow.

The company employs about 30 people there, along with Molands gray miniature schnauzer, O.T.

A new idea

In the early 1990s, Moland got a new ideato open his own chain of retail stores, called 50% Off Card Shops, that would sell his companys cards and merchandise.

The reason we went into the stores is because there was a period where national companies started buying shelf space at stores that Moland Greeting Card had been serving, Moland says. We let some of that business go.

The company opened its first retail store in 1991 at Division Street and Francis Avenue. Two years later, due to the Division Street reconstruction, that store moved to its current location at 7503 N. Division, near a Costco store.

Prior to launching the chain, Moland traveled the U.S. talking to owners of similar retail operations and conferred with a friend in Chicago who owned a chain of 200 to 300 stores. Moland says he has no plans to grow his chain that large, though.

The retail stores employ a total of between 60 and 70 people depending on the season, he says.

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