(As seen on WZZM TV 13) Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Shannon Cohen has fast-tracked the launch of a greeting card mail service she began brainstorming nine months ago under her Tough Skin, Soft Heart brand.
Recognizing that people are stressed, overwhelmed and isolated during this season of social distancing, Cohen on March 24 launched AffirMAILtions, a service that allows anyone to order a themed greeting card to send to a loved one or client, and Cohen herself will devise and write a personalized note to the recipient on behalf of the customer and mail it through the postal service.
Cohen is founder and principal of Shannon Cohen Inc., a consulting firm with the subsidiary brand Tough Skin, Soft Heart, through which she is a speaker, author and encourager to leaders and difference makers.
The Tough Skin, Soft Heart brand also encompasses a wholesale and retail line of greeting cards, stickers, stationery, postcards, mugs and wall art.
Cohen said she began incubating the idea to mail people handwritten messages of positivity and affirmation after her Rockstar Woman brunch last year, at which she presented each of the 200 attendees with a handwritten letter.
Since then, she has been “testing the waters,” including sending personalized letters with the copies of her book ordered by corporate clients, as well as mailing notes to others when they come to mind.
But since Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued her “Stay Home, Stay Safe” executive order requiring Michiganders to shelter in place and businesses to shut down nonessential in-person activities, Cohen said she needed to “pivot” her business model for the greeting card line, as up until this point, most of her sales took place through retail stores, gift shops, bookstores and boutiques that aren’t currently open.
The custom service is $6 and includes the cost of the greeting card, a specially curated message to the card recipient and shipping.
To place an order, all people need to do is pick a theme for the card, such as encouragement, sympathy, birthday card, thank you or celebrate a difference maker; email firstname.lastname@example.org with the sender’s name, the recipient’s name, pronouns and their detailed address; and send $6 via Cashapp to $ShannonCohenInc.
Cohen will then write the personal message in one of the cards from her inventory; email the sender a photo of the inside and outside of the card, “so there are no surprises”; and mail the card to the recipient.
She said her custom service enables clients to celebrate, connect with and extend support to those they care about without violating shelter-in-place protocol.
“Even in a pandemic, human beings still have an innate desire to connect,” Cohen said. “We want to celebrate birthdays, support friends in the loss of loved ones, and uplift colleagues and community health workers in this time of crisis. We may be shut in, but expressing love, care and concern is never locked out.”
While people could write and mail their own greeting cards during this time, Cohen said she wanted to offer a service that would do “the emotional lift” for the client, who may be members of the pared-down essential workforce, unemployed, working from home while also parenting and homeschooling, or just generally overwhelmed by the new realities of life.
“You just tell us the theme and the person’s name and how to get it to them, and we’ll do the rest,” she said.
Cohen and her two employees are busy managing their inventory and marketing and all the other aspects of running a business remotely, but she said the new service has made it all worth it.
“This whole project gives me all the feels. It connects my life as a small business owner, my passions as a person and my heart to care for leaders,” she said.
“People are responding back, like, ‘I cried when I saw the card.’ Some of the folks we’ve sent cards to, one was a new grandmother whose daughter lives in South Carolina, and she can’t hold her new grandbaby yet. We’ve done ones for new moms. We sent a card to someone who lost their father. We did one for an executive at Spectrum who, it was her college roommate’s birthday, and she’s been so engrossed in everything connected to COVID that we sent the birthday card so she wouldn’t miss the friend’s special day.
“It was like, ‘I want to send something, but I’m so overwhelmed emotionally and physically with work, too.’”
In addition to business-to-consumer sales, Cohen has done several business-to-business transactions, such as when Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women and the Michigan Farm Bureau ordered cards to be mailed to all their staff members.
“I’m seeing our corporate clients use this season of pause to send affirmations to say, ‘Even though we can’t gather together,’ or ‘Even if we’ve had to temporarily close, we just want to elevate that our staff matters.’ Sometimes in silence, you start to appreciate the people who make a difference more.”
Cohen said since launching the custom service, she already has gotten more orders than she did in a month through her wholesale partners.
While she hopes to continue the AffirMAILtions service after the pandemic, Cohen said she also is committed to maintaining ties with brick-and-mortar retailers.
She said she doesn’t expect to make many sales through retail channels at a time when grocery shopping is a sprint to get in and buy essentials quickly while touching as few items as possible. But currently, Tough Skin, Soft Heart products are continuing to be stocked at Horrocks Market and Bridge Street Market, and she hopes to be able to resume selling her products in the other venues after social isolating ends.
Cohen calls the custom card mailing service “telehealth for the soul.”
“We transport the care and concern you feel in your heart on your behalf,” she said.