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Enterprise: Card designers move into foreign markets.

Byline: Martin Faint

Two Birmingham businesswomen, whose first venture fell victim to globalisation, have struck back in the international arena by becoming exporters themselves.

Sarah Danby and Sara Burford, of Digbeth-based Cinnamon Aitch, started producing hand crafted greetings cards four years ago, after their previous business making elaborate embroideries for the fashion industry became untenable.

By 2000 they had found it was increasingly hard to sell their ornate designs - which had proved popular with customers in high-end shops including Harrods and fashion houses Chanel and Givenchy - as cheaper competition from the Far East and India had eroded into their business.

They abandoned the clothes sector and over the past four years have built up their Custard Factory-based card business to an 11-employee firm, turning over some pounds 200,000.

Eager not to let go of the careful craftsmanship that informed their earlier works, the pair's card designs incorporate beads, sequins, tinsel, foiling and glitter and are now sold in over 300 outlets, including Selfridges, Blaze and Stuff and Co. in Birmingham.

It is a niche the businesswomen are more than happy to fill.

'We wouldn't go into the WH Smiths et cetera as we have such a good relationship with independents,' Sarah said. 'I wouldn't want to ruin business opportunities with independents, there are only so many cards you can sell in each town.' Eager to expand into new markets, nevertheless, last summer the duo turned to UK Trade & Investment - the Government body set up to help British companies get into exporting.

They enrolled in its Passport to Export programme - a scheme that gives new exporters the training, planning and ongoing support they need to succeed overseas.

'We knew from our own research that there was a strong overseas market for greetings cards but we needed help from people with experience of exporting,' Sarah said.

They received advice and went on to exhibit at the Spring Fair at the NEC in February and then visited the National Stationery Fair in New York this May, with UKTI paying for half of their costs.

The company met two US distributors at the Spring Fair and Sarah followed up the lead by meeting them again in New York while she was at the National Stationery Fair.

Since then, both distributors have placed an order for various ranges of Cinnamon Aitch cards, worth over pounds 10,000 in total.

'This is our first export order and there could be many more, as distributors in Canada and Australia are also interested,' said Sarah.

International Trade Adviser Jonathan Webber, who specialises in working with creative companies, added: 'Cinnamon Aitch is a perfect example of a small, focused company with creative expertise in design-led, high value added products.

'Using the UK Trade & Investment Passport Programme and allied to patient preparation and research, Cinnamon Aitch realistically can look forward to international development and growth - in sales and in the creative challenge new trading cultures demand.'

'I'm really pleased with the way this has turned out,' said Sarah. 'We took a risk, but it has paid off.'

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Sarah Danby and Sara Burford of Cinnamon Aitch
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Aug 11, 2004
Words:518
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