Otis Richardson is an artist and owner of Lavenderpop Greeting Cardsnow the first independent and Black-owned greeting card company to be sold at Jewel stores in the supermarket chain's 121 years.
"Becoming a Jewel vendor was a step-by-step process," said Richardson, who lives in Chicago's Washington Park neighborhood. "When you partner with such a big retailer, there are so many things you have to have in place, [such as] business insurance, display racks, specific UPC codes and certifications. The executives at Jewel were very helpful in walking me through the maze.
"The response from the public has been tremendous. Hundreds of Facebook congratulations [came in]; people saying they would start buying greeting cards again just to support me; people who live outside of Chicago would promote my cards to their family members who live here. [Plus], other buyers who couldn't get to a Jewel store, but decided to purchase online. I'm so appreciative."
Richardson's Lavenderpop cards are available in 10 area Jewel stores, mostly on the city's South Side, as well as Homewood and Oak Park.
"I had a disastrous interview with another grocery-store chain, so when I got a 'no' from them, it motivated me to approach Jewel. It [was], like, 'I'll show them,'" Richardson said. "Once I found the correct category manager, the process started to determine if it was even allowable for my cards to be sold there because of their prior relationship with American Greetings Co. When I finally got the OK, I buckled down and made sure I accomplished every step I needed to do to make this dream happen.
Lavenderpop cards also are available at the Whole Foods in Englewoodand he's been an online card shark of sorts since 2004.
"I've survived pretty much by sticking around … you know, the last person standing," he said, laughing. "Like many entrepreneurs, I have my day job to fund my creative endeavor. I've been able to maintain and keep improving my designs over time. Now that this retail opportunity presented itself, I was ready to take advantage of it.
"I believe the strength is eye-catching and relatable illustrations. Part of my motivation is to offer cards for people looking for another option for Black greeting cards. I also want to have fun cards that connect to Chicagoans. So several of the birthday cards have Chicago themes, such as Chicago=style hot dogs, Chicago mix popcorn, house music and even a card making fun of the bag tax at local stores."
Richardson is the greeting card designer and the company's sole proprietor.
"Business is really great," he said. "Securing this 10-store deal with Jewel-Osco has really been a turning point for Lavenderpop. I've been in business for years, but it's only in the last few years that I've been able to get into retail stores. Before that I sold primarily online, [at] vendor fairs, and pop up shops."
Richardson said the most popular Lavenderpop card is a birthday card featuring a smiling woman with natural hair, adding, "I also have a series of [popular] blank cards, one with a sister meditating, and others featuring a man and woman with a fade hairstyle. These are extremely popular."
Lavenderpop cards are primarily purchased by women, particularly Black women, as many card designs feature Black women.
"My focus are Black images and Chicago themes," Richardson said. "I started with more LGBTQ designs years ago. That represented an atmosphere when we had more LGBTQ bookstores and gift shops. With the loss of a lot of these brick and mortar stores, it made sense to pivot and have designs that appeal to many identities, but really celebrated Black people because of the lack of diversity in the stationery industry."
Richardson, like countless business owners, has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. He has, for instance, set back due to his own concern in delivering to all the stores. Plus, he was worried about the safety of shoppers and if they felt comfortable spending time to look for a card when focused on getting essentials.
"Sales have been great, though. I've restocked several times and the cards have only been there for about a month," he said.
For more about Lavenderpop Greeting Cards ( LavenderPop.com ), the company can be found on Twitter @LavenderpopCards; Facebook, at Lavenderpop Greeting Cards; Instagram @lavenderpop; and Etsy, at LavenderpopCards .