Twenty years ago, Carol and I were best friends when we both lived in the Sussex village of Wineham. My father was the landlord of the local pub where Carol was a very frequent customer, and as time went on she and I became extremely close. We shared the same sense of humour and outlook on life – as well as the same passion for sending each other witty greetings cards!
Being in our early 20s, however, it was inevitable that careers and marriage would intervene in our friendship and after a time we both moved away from Sussex. Our friendship continued for a while, but the cards became less frequent. Eventually I lost Carol’s address and then she lost mine.
A few years ago, I decided to sell up in the UK and move to France to start a new life. I bought a lovely house in the Tarn in south-west France and found that, quite by accident, I’d chosen an area with a long-established community of British ex-pats. I was warmly welcomed by everyone and felt that life really couldn’t get any better.
Don’t I know you!
Well, in July 2004 it did. One evening, I popped in to say a quick hello to a friend who has a chambres d’hôtes business. My friend, Pippa, invited me in to join her for an apéro with her B&B guests. I was introduced to the handsome husband, Chris, but not the wife, who was still getting ready for supper. Just as I was about to leave, the wife came bursting through the door – and it was Carol!
We immediately recognised each other, burst into tears and a bottle of champagne was opened! Nobody could get a word in edgeways for the rest of the evening and we found that we still shared the same sense of humour, still had the same outlook on life – and still loved to send greetings cards to friends! It also didn’t take long to discover that Carol and Chris were in the process of moving to France and that they’d bought a house in a neighbouring village.
With both of us in France, our friendship picked up from where we’d left off. We spent many a happy hour reminiscing over glasses of wine, but also found ourselves discussing possible joint business ideas. One evening in Carol’s kitchen, as we were writing the birthday card of a mutual friend, we were bemoaning the fact that you couldn’t buy any decent cards in our local Presse.
‘Ah,’ said Carol, ‘this could be just the business idea we’ve been looking for. English greetings cards would give everyone round here a really good laugh. No more rosy-cheeked peasants or fluffy bunnies or kittens in party hats – what we need are chocolates, diets and ladies of a certain age!’
Both of us were too excited to sleep that night wondering whether our idea could possibly work. Early the next morning, Carol rang me to suggest a name for our venture – ‘French Kiss Cards’. It was perfect and would certainly get us noticed!
As the week progressed, we spoke to friends about the idea. All were heartily enthusiastic, so we too our first step and contacted the manufacturers of our favourite cards. Negotiations started.
The business takes off
Our first sales were made at coffee/wine mornings with both English and French friends. We held a few ourselves and then encouraged friends to host them – and each hostess was offered a complimentary selection of our cards as a thank you. Living in a close-knit community, the word spread quickly and the business started to take off.
It wasn’t long before people started asking us whether we had a website so that they could browse our stock and even order online. Web Agency LuzMedia in St-Jean-de-Luz was recommended to us by several friends, so we contacted them to find out how easy it would be to set up a shopping website. We also wanted to know whether they’d be able to cope with having us as clients.
Once the price was agreed, the website took just a few weeks to design and get online. It has galleries of all the cards we stock and customers can order and pay for them via the website. We accept all major credit cards via PayPal – an international secure payment system. Alternatively, customers can send us Euro or sterling cheques, or even pick the cards up from us in person if they live locally.
We also offer a ‘Send It For Me’ service if you’re in a hurry to get a card sent off – or if you want it to be sent anonymously (particularly useful for Valentine’s Day)! In addition, having a website allows us to supply cards to British ex-pat communities across the world and we’re also hoping to offer fun gifts with our cards in the future, such as chocolates, teddy bears, balloons, Champagne’
Twenty years ago, Carol and I thought we’d got our lives beautifully mapped out. How wrong we were. But fate and France have thrown us back together again. This time, however, nothing’s going to stand in the way of our friendship or business venture – especially now that we have an infinite choice of witty and poignant cards to send to each other!
One last thing. Just in case you’re wondering about the ‘Kiss’ in French Kiss Cards, all will be revealed if you visit our website with the computer volume turned up. And those are Carol’s lips, by the way!