February 28, 2001, 12:00 AM

Printing technology plays the match-maker for greeting cards and online gifts

4YourSoul uses printer technology to ship cards with gifts.

The buzz about greetings cards on the Internet has been e-cards. Who hasn’t been captivated by a dancing, singing elephant thanking you or wishing you happy birthday?

But the truth is e-cards only go so far. Most consumers still want to send paper cards, especially to accompany gifts. In fact, Harry and David, the Oregon retailer that sells gourmet fruit and gifts through its catalog and web site, receives up to 90,000 unsolicited cards a month from customers who want the card sent with the gift package-a logistical nightmare.

Those 90,000 notwithstanding, most catalog and online gift givers have been content to let the retailer insert a little slip of paper with the giver’s name-or, even more impersonal, print the giver’s name on the shipping label.

4YourSoul.com is changing that. “We want a new generation of greeting cards,” says Doron Friedman, CEO and co-founder of 4YourSoul.com. “People buy greeting cards with gifts 64% of the time. And you can’t do that over the Internet.”

Here’s how the system works. Santa Barbara, Calif.-based 4YourSoul partners with online gift retailers. A shopper checking out at one of those sites will receive a message asking if she wants to buy a greeting card to accompany the gift. If she agrees, she is taken to 4YourSoul, a chameleon site, to select and create a card. 4YourSoul has printers in its retail partners’ distribution facilities. When a customer orders a greeting card, it is printed at the retailer’s distribution site. Fulfillment personnel put the card in an envelope, then place it inside the gift box. “We can adapt our printing and fulfillment mechanisms to any kind of fulfillment center-whether it’s antiquated or high-tech,” Friedman says. 4YourSoul’s cards cost $3.25.

“The main idea is keeping the gift and card together,” Friedman says. “We’re touching the fulfillment center; we’re another pick-and-pack item.” The technology allows for the card to print at the same fulfillment center where the gift will originate. This is important if a company has several fulfillment centers and it is not clear until the last minute from where the gift will ship. “It’s not easy to print these cards from anywhere in the world,” Friedman says.

4YourSoul developed its technology in-house. Friedman’s partner Ajay Singhvi’s company Worldwide Software, Mumbai, India, developed the software and proprietary printing technology which operates on Indigo N.V printers. Friedman says his company contracted with Indigo because of its reputation as the best on-demand printer. Indigo N.V. also services the printers. “They weren’t the fastest printers, but they had the best quality,” he says. 4YourSoul trains retailer’s employees on how to work the printer.

In addition to the proprietary printing technology, 4YourSoul also designs all its own greeting cards. The company employs writers and about 20 part- and full-time artists. For its corporate clients, 4YourSoul creates 10 unique cards for each major holiday.

In 1998, Friedman owned a small chain of cafes. “I got to know the mailman and asked him how his Christmas shopping was going,” Friedman says. The mailman told him his wife did all the shopping online. Friedman asked how they handled the greeting cards and the mailman said they didn’t. “That rang a bell,” Friedman says.

“Two weeks later I got a box of chocolates and I had no clue who it was from,” he recounts. There was only a small typed message at the top of the delivery slip. “There was definitely something missing, you can’t put a message like that on your fridge,” he says. “I researched it and saw there was a need. But I came from business school, I didn’t know the technology side.”

The hangup

Soon after, Singhvi, who was running his Mumbai software company, called his old schoolmate out of the blue; Friedman and Singhvi had lost contact over the years. Friedman told Singhvi about his greeting card idea, and received a less than enthusiastic response. “He basically hung up on me,” Friedman says.

But Singhvi relayed the idea to his wife, and she set him straight on the merits of the idea. “Five minutes later he called me back,” Friedman says. The two brought in another friend with expertise in hardware and yet another friend who was twice named California Poet Laureate. “We had the art and the writing know-how, we had the business and technology and hardware,” he says. “It just came together; it was like fate.”

When 4YourSoul approached Harry and David, the retailer said it had been trying for some time to supply greeting cards with gifts ordered online, but could not figure out how to do it. Receiving thousands of greeting cards a month for attachment to gifts, “they signed us immediately,” Friedman says. 4YourSoul has a multi-year contract to be the exclusive online greeting card provider at Harry and David.

4YourSoul beta tested its system on Harry and David’s smaller gift site NorthwestExpress.com before applying it to the higher-volume sites. “Harry and David sends a few hundred thousand gifts per day during the holiday season,” Friedman says. “To test it out on that kind of client would have been dangerous. You’re going to make some mistakes early on.” Harry and David will be putting 4YourSoul on its main web site this spring.

“If there was a Christmas wish list for catalogers, one of the top 10 items would have been the ability to send greeting cards with gifts,” says a Harry and David spokesman. “This is a great concept. We’ve tested it and believe in the product.” The retailer is looking for the service to improve customer satisfaction, thus driving return business. Harry and David also will retain a percentage from each card it sells through its site or catalog. He does not know how many customers will buy the cards, “but we expect the numbers to be big.”

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