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
newsAnother week, another dress controversy on the internet
Life and Style
Scientist have developed a test which predicts whether you'll live for another ten years
Life and Style
Marie had fake ID, in the name of Johanna Koch, after she evaded capture by the Nazis in wartime Berlin
historyOne woman's secret life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
news... and what your reaction to the creatures above says about you
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
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: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£15000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Advisor is r...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

SThree: HR Benefits Manager

£40000 - £50000 per annum + pro rata: SThree: SThree Group have been well esta...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn