I have always found it hard to write introductions to interviews where the main theme is to highlight the core of the business as being good or bad. But this time, it’s not difficult at all, it’s all natural and the inspiration is abundant. I have always been a sucker for visuals with an edge and as you know, I’m continuously inspired by great stories and fun working environments. These are the reasons why I became like a kid in a candy store when I stumbled across Hotcards.com. This unique company does not follow the crowd and is very different from all the rest. With some outstanding statistics and a passion for the very best, there is no mistaking that Hotcards.com is one of the top leading card manufacturers in the world.
It was evident when I interviewed the people at Hotcards.com that they are a truly awesome company made up of a tight group of people that understand that having fun is the only way to success. But then again, when you have a CEO named Columbus, there’s no failing. After all, he founded America didn’t he?
When people started to use email more than postal mail, things got turned a bit upside down. It’s no longer cool to send an email, and instead, to show our dedication and emotional attachment to someone, we use real postcards and mail – and for that, you can’t use anyone better than Hotcards.com. Simple as that!
Conducting this interview gave me both a great laugh and a nice insight into what it’s like to work at Hotcards.com and what we could expect from one of the world’s greatest card manufacturers. When you are finished reading this interview, you will not only know that using your printer to create cards is not the same thing as getting them from Hotcards.com, but also that there is great inspiration for both business and pleasure that can be found just about anywhere. You just have to take the time to look.
1. While doing research on your company, it’s quite evident that there has been a lot of time spent to perfect the edgy and outstanding look in your product. But how did it all start? When did you get the idea to begin Hotcards.com? What was the driving thought behind it?
The idea for Hotcards.com was conceived when our awesome head boss-guy, Columbus Woodruff, was a young concert promoter. Printing tons of posters, flyers, and club cards was an occupational hazard, but the high cost and low quality of print at the time made him think there had to be a better way. He figured that if he started a printing house that offered extremely low-cost, high quality full color printing, he could revolutionize the industry, and the rest is history.
2. Almost everyone remembers their first customer and what they ordered. Do you remember Hotcard.com’s first customer and what did they order?
We’re lucky enough to have an amazing collection of loyal, long-time customers. Our very first customer, however, was none other than the driving force behind Hotcards.com, Columbus Woodruff. Columbus started Hotcards.com so that he could design and print his own marketing collateral, as a promoter. To this day, we still do a lot of printing to hype events in our community, and in support of the creative outside efforts of employees.
3. Another thing that I saw when I did some research was that you guys actually have stores in 12 different locations around the U.S. What location was the very first store and is it still the headquarters of Hotcards.com?
Hotcards.com got its start in our hometown of Cleveland. There’s so much going on in the music, arts, sports, and business promotion scenes here, that print collateral is in constant demand. While we’ve branched out with storefronts all across the country, our HQ, and the base of all our designing, printing, and mailing, remains right here in Cleveland.
4. The name Hotcards.com suggests that your company started out making cards in different forms and formats. What was your first product and how did you evolve your product base throughout the lifetime of Hotcards.com?
We knew that we had to start out with a wide range of print products in order to be competitive, so we launched offering all the basics traditionally provided by offset printers. Over the years, our product line has evolved to include specialty products like stickers, banners, and vehicle wraps, as well as earth-friendly and sustainable alternatives to traditional print products.
5. Being represented in so many locations, I started to wonder how many employees Hotcards.com is housing and who is the head of the clan so to speak?
It seemed like there were only 2 people running Hotcards.com for a long time, Columbus, and his wife, Nikki. Nowadays, we hover right around the 75-employee mark, with 40 of those people working at the HQ in Cleveland. Columbus has always been the head of the clan, but these days he mostly signs paychecks and buys lunch on Fridays.
The most successful product at Hotcards.com has definitely been Hotcards.com and our web-to-print application. When we first launched the website, we were one of the only printing companies online offering a complete web-to-print service. We’ve been lucky enough to work with some great developers who created this technology for us from scratch, and the site has become not only a really simple, easy way for our customers to order and track their printing jobs, it’s also a resource for printing news and information, and a place where customers feel comfortable just hanging out.
7. Does Hotcards.com have in-house designers drawing up new designs and formats or are you buying stock art like some of the other printing brands do? If someone is inspired to start working for Hotcards.com is there such a chance for a dedicated designer?
We just happen to have an absolutely world-class, award-winning design team at Hotcards.com. In-house designers don’t tend to get a lot of credit for innovation, but our designers are incredibly in-demand across the country, and active within Cleveland’s sports and music communities. In fact, you can check out the team’s work on their blog, InHousePixels (http://www.inhousepixels.com).
While we’re a pretty tight group, the occasional new hire does make in through the crowds of feral interns.
8. There are always those people at a company that have their own genre so to speak. Would you consider the core of Hotcards.com to be dedicated designers and creative people, techies or some other… uh… breed?
Running a full-service printing house takes the combined efforts of many specialized, creative people. Designers are one piece of the puzzle, but we also rely on the fantastic folks working in prepress, on the printing floor, in mailing and shipping, and as our sales team and front-of-house staff. So there are a lot of efficient little teams at work around Hotcards.com, making it as great as it is.
Despite what your desktop printer might have you believe, printing doesn’t have to be rocket science. It can be an easy, effortless process, and it can be pretty amazingly inexpensive. And when you have a group of people who are experts in everything from print design and marketing, to finishing and direct mail, there’s really no stress on the customer’s end, which, in itself, is pretty much what gives Hotcards.com its cool.
10. To end this interview I am going to ask the question that everyone wants to know the answer to. Is there a lot of paper airplanes being thrown around at Hotcards.com from some of the waste product while finalizing the finished design?
At Hotcards.com, we’re very concerned with sustainability in our industry, so recycling waste paper is pretty central to our business philosophy. As such, we do have a large division dedicated to using waste paper to create the first full-sized, passenger-ready paper plane. We’re hoping that the “CMYK Eco-Flyer” will quickly replace traditional transport aircraft models as the passenger carrier of the future.
1. We print over 3 million postcards and flyers per week.
2. Our design team is the driving force behind LeBron2010 (http://lebron2010.com), a billboard campaign dedicated to keeping LeBron James in Cleveland once his Cavs contract runs out in 2010.
3. Hotcards.com is part of that rare breed known as the certified union printer.
4. Our interns are expected to video blog on a weekly basis, and if they don’t, they have to eat ants! (See clip below!)
5. Hotcards.com CEO Columbus Woodruff is an avid cyclist, and a rootbeer aficionado—he’s got a collection of rootbeers from all over the world!