Muslim-American Greeting-Card Makers Survive in Tough Market

Small businesses are meeting challenges from e-cards and a tough economy

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Salma Arastu’s artistic talents are highlighted on this Eid card design.

Washington — Some Muslim-American business owners say that when it comes to wishing friends a joyous Eid Al-Fitr, many customers think Internet greeting cards just aren’t good enough. They’re still turning to traditional paper Islamic greeting cards.

“These are basically people who want to make sure that they can make a tangible expression,” said Mohammed Abdul Aleem, who has been selling the cards on his IslamiCity website for nearly 10 years. “E-cards are quite common. But I don’t receive as many e-cards as I used to.”

Instead, despite a sluggish economy and competition from free e-cards, the owners of these small businesses say their personally designed paper cards continue to draw customers, because people like receiving thoughtful, handwritten, personalized Islamic greetings.

Mamoun Sakkal, owner of Washington state-based Sakkal Design and a well-known Arabic calligrapher, said the tough economy may have caused a dip in sales of his cards, but that sales had been growing “for a number of years” until the recession hit.

For Salma Arastu, a California artist and owner of Your True Greetings, the challenge has been coming from e-cards —a challenge she has met by increasing sales to companies that send cards to customers and suppliers as goodwill gestures.

“My sales have not been affected so much because the companies have picked up,” Arastu said, adding that some businesses will purchase 500 cards at a time. “A lot of companies order these days to send to the Middle East and other places.”

Aleem and Sakkal said that they, too, garner a solid chunk of their businesses through bulk sales to companies.

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Cards like this one showcase Mamoun Sakkal’s mastery of Arabic calligraphy.

Arastu, who started her business two decades ago, said she began with four designs. Today, she has more than 110.

Barbara Miller, a spokeswoman for the U.S.-based Greeting Card Association, said the American-Islamic card industry probably is growing but that the industry group doesn’t keep statistics on the number of Islamic greeting card businesses or the volume of their sales.

“I tend to think that it has grown over the years as more Muslims have settled over the years and that diversity is more recognized,” Miller said.

Hallmark, the world’s largest greeting card company, noticed this trend in the American-Muslim community and started a line of Islamic greeting cards in 2003. And American Greetings, another large American manufacturer, introduced a line of Islamic e-cards in the past year. Hallmark and American Greetings do not reveal sales figures.

According to the Greeting Card Association, Americans buy about 7 billion greeting cards annually, spending about $7.5 billion. Most cards purchased are for birthdays and holidays, mainly Christmas.

For Sakkal and Arastu, the end of Ramadan brings a boom in card sales.

“I have the greatest sales for Eid Al-Fitr,” Arastu said. “At Ramadan, people are fasting for the whole month. You are very spiritual … so you want to share with your friends and family the joy of the coming Eid.”

Despite his business’s resilience in hard economic times, Sakkal is concerned about the long-term prospects for paper cards.

“I can speculate that more and more people may want to send e-cards because the newer generation is growing up with digital media,” he said. “But the more lasting value of a printed card, I think, will certainly have a place in the market for years to come.”

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