The Proof Of Concept

January 13, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — In need of an all-inclusive client to prove that his firm could deliver a complete branding package, Bird Design principal Mark Bird devised a novel solution: Create one.

"I didn't really have any clients that were all encompassing, so I thought, 'I'll just make one," he said of his six-month-old product launch, COOCOO Greetings.

A play on the creator's and parent company's name, COOCOO is Bird's first full-scale product launch. It is meant to demonstrate the creation of a brand, along with the lengthy development process of taking the product line(s) to market. The greeting cards intertwine with the 10-year-old firm's primary competency: graphic design.

There are three lines of cards. The first includes a corresponding set of basic greetings, U and I, which feature greetings such as "I Love U," "U Suck," "I Suck," and "U R Invited." A sticker set can also customize blank U and I cards with a variety of greetings.

The most popular line so far is a set of offbeat, event-driven cards. These apply campy messages such as "Congratulations on your new double-wide" for a house-warming, "Congratulations on your release from prison" for broken-heart mending, and the best-selling "Congratulations on your new minimum-wage job" for college graduation.

A third line features blank, all-purpose greeting cards with elaborate designs on the cover.

"They're supposed to appeal to somebody that has a little higher design aesthetic," Bird said of the three lines. "Someone that doesn't want a mainstream card or something that looks like a Hallmark card."

Soon, COOCOO will also showcase other Bird skills: Web design and e-commerce. Originally set to launch in November, the brand's site, www.coocoogreetings.com, should be active sometime this month.

"I'm going to develop it into a full-fledged business eventually," Bird said. "We're taking it slowly right now."

As his e-commerce channel illustrates, driving an end-to-end product launch — especially as a side venture — is more complicated than Bird expected.

"I know a lot about graphic design and a lot about printing, but I don't know much about wholesaling and retailing," he said. "As I'm developing these cards, I'm asking retailers for their opinions. It's almost like a laboratory experiment. I'm working toward a clear understanding of what specific steps are involved. I'll know all the touch points that a brand is going to come in contact with."

Such as, for instance, a shipping invoice. When orders first started to come in last fall, Bird discovered one of many details often taken for granted in the branding process — the packing list. As a graphic artist, he couldn't simply print up an invoice and send it along. He needed to create something that would represent his company, on the fly, in every detail.

There were other aspects of starting a retail business that weren't part of his detail-oriented branding campaign.

"I was a little overwhelmed," he said. "Things like setting up with Visa and MasterCard — all the little details that go into starting a business like this that I wouldn't have anticipated."

With the launch nearly complete, Bird has high hopes to expand COOCOO into a stand-alone business. He is excited for the brand as a creative vehicle, and for its potential to balance out the financial peaks and valleys of the graphic design business. In time, he intends to diversify the line to include other gift items, including clocks and lamps.

Following the e-commerce launch, Bird will begin a direct mail campaign to retailers throughout the Midwest and in selected sites on the East and West coasts. Local retail distributor Ryann Lambay of Shekina will represent the brand at trade shows and to wholesalers.

The cards are currently available in Grand Rapids at Nourish and Bird Design's headquarters, both on

Cherry Street SE
, and in Kalamazoo at Tempted and Petals & Postings.    

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