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Play your cards right Featured

9:36am EDT July 22, 2002

Women who own businesses are more likely than their male counterparts to seek advice from associates and advisers, according to the National Foundation for Women Business Owners.

In addition, women place more emphasis on quality, service and vendor reputation.

These facts mirror the reasons for Worthington-based cardSupply.com's success and rapid sales growth during the past three years. Knowledge of the greeting card business and strong customer service, coupled with financial and technical advice from associates and minority investors, has kept this Internet business in the black since its inception for executive vice president Jody Zitsman.

Zitsman considers advice from her husband, Howard, who co-founded and co-owns the business. His business background is in investment banking, so he oversees the technical and financial aspects. She also takes advice from cardSupply.com's investors -- one has a strong retailing background; another comes from a family-owned card publishing business.

Zitsman started in 1990, selling wedding invitations out of her living room under the name Paper and Ink Promotions.

"I found quickly that I was spending 10 hours to make my $150," Zitsman says. "It wasn't cost effective. Along with Howard's help, I decided to start selling greeting cards to businesses and corporations. I went door to door like Willy Loman with my sample books. That's how we grew the first seven years."

Three years ago, she turned to the Internet. During the holiday season -- August through December -- cardSupply.com gets up to 70,000 visitors a week, she says. Off season, it drops to about 10,000 per week. She also goes from about 15 employees down to five. And now, 70 percent of her sales are from businesses and 30 percent from individuals.

"Our largest customer buys 120,000 cards for its offices throughout the world," she says. "The smallest business buys 25 cards and is equally important to us."

The privately held company projects 150 percent growth this year. Zitsman also does strategic advertising, primarily in the fall, in populated target markets that are computer savvy, such as New York, and in magazines including The New Yorker and New York magazine.

She plans to develop the business as she did from the inception: "Grow the company carefully and remain solvent. This Web site is making money. We haven't turned through hundreds of thousands of dollars of venture capital money. At the same time, we offer the best Internet experience. We have someone answering the phone 20 hours a day. We find that important. Another thing that sets us apart is that I know cards. Our customer service people can help you with etiquette questions, art and logos. I have the experience and have been doing it for a while. We hope to continue in that vein to ensure our success."

"It's a challenge being a business," she adds, more so than being a woman-owned business. "Being an Internet business, nobody cares who's on the other end of the computer key pad. They just want to order cards. I don't think it's a gender specific issue. I don't see any pros and cons to being a woman.

"The reason it works for us is not because I'm a woman or a man but because I have 10 years experience in this area," she continues. "It matters to our customers who call us that we can provide the information they need." How to reach: cardSupply.com, 430-0034 or (888) 444-CARD