Clinton Cards: The shop that played its hand wrong

Don Lewin turned £500 into a huge gift-shop empire. But Clinton Cards failed to adapt to the internet age – and now may be forced to fold

When Don Lewin took £500 in savings and opened his first card shop on Epping High Street in the late 1960s, he was hoping to make enough money to fulfil his childhood dream of owning a Rolls Royce.

Click HERE to view graphic

He was the son of an east London chimney sweep and left school with no qualifications at 15. But within two decades he had become the multimillionaire kingpin of Britain's largest greetings card chain. At its height Clinton Cards – named after Lewin's eldest son – had more than 1,000 stores and a presence in virtually every major British town.

Now it faces a precarious future after it was announced yesterday that the greetings card chain would go into administration. The fate of its 8,000 employees is in doubt, as Clintons becomes the latest seemingly ubiquitous high street chain to fall victim to an inability to adapt in difficult economic times.

Since Woolworths imploded in the aftermath of 2008's credit crunch and subsequent recession, Britain's high streets have taken a beating. But the past five months have been particularly bloody.

Blacks Leisure – the owner of the Millets and Blacks camping stores – fashion chain Peacocks, lingerie retailer La Senza and video game outlet Game have all gone under since the start of the year. Peacocks, La Senza and Game were given last-minute reprieves in partial buyouts that allowed a small number of stores to remain open, but all four chains have seen their presence on the high street severely depleted.

Poor consumer confidence, high business rates, competition from supermarkets and the internet as well as an inability to adapt have created a perfect storm which has destroyed the weakest members of the retail industry. "It certainly emphasises that even familiar high street names with a widespread presence are having a hard time in the current trading conditions," said Sarah Cordey of the British Retail Consortium. "Retail is a naturally competitive industry. Even in good times some retailers will fail."

Analysts said Clinton Cards was as much a victim of its own hubris as it was a hostage to market forces. The Lewin family liked to boast that their industry was watertight because the desire to send each other cards would never go out of fashion. And they were right. But what changed was the way we go about buying cards.

Online greetings retailers such as Moonpig and Funky Pigeon – both of whom rely on infuriatingly catchy but successful television adverts – have swiftly muscled in on their competitors with cheaper prices and the ability to personalise greetings with messages and pictures.

"Clinton Cards did eventually set up their own online shop, but it was too late and they didn't do enough to promote it," said Maureen Hinton, a retail analyst at Verdict.

"Because of their television adverts, Moonpig and Funky Pigeon are at the front of consumers' minds when it comes to cards, in the way Amazon is the first stop for books and music."

Those looking for silver linings on the high street can take comfort from Clintons' main competitor, the Card Factory. Set up in the late 1990s, it has managed to thrive even against online retailers.

Last year it posted profits of more than £50m from its 500 stores. The key to its success has been that it designs, sources and prints its own cards – allowing it to make handsome profit margins despite deals such as selling seven cards for £1.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
A survey carried out by Sainsbury's Finance found 20% of new university students have never washed their own clothes, while 14% cannot even boil an egg
science...and the results are not as pointless as that sounds
politicsIs David Cameron trying to prove he's down with the kids?
Dominique Alderweireld, also known as Dodo de Saumure, is the owner of a string of brothels in Belgium
newsPhilip Sweeney gets the inside track on France's trial of the year
Cumberbatch was speaking on US television when he made the comment (Getty)
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Tom DeLonge, Travis Barker and Mark Hoppus of Blink-182 pictured in 2011.
musicBassist Mark Hoppus and drummer Travis Barker say Tom Delonge is 'disrespectful and ungrateful'
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'
tvBroadchurch series 2, episode 4, review - contains spoilers
cyclingDisgraced cycling star says people will soon forgive his actions
Britain's Prince Philip attends a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace in London
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran will play three sell-out gigs at Wembley Stadium in July
Lena Dunham posing for an official portrait at Sundance 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Ashdown Group: Client Services Manager - Relationship Management - London

£30000 - £32000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, int...

Recruitment Genius: Credit Controller / Customer Service

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly expanding business...

Guru Careers: In-House / Internal Recruiter

£25 - 28k + Bonus: Guru Careers: An In-house / Internal Recruiter is needed to...

Recruitment Genius: Tax Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Tax Assistant is required to join a leading ...

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea