What does a couple, a homemade card and a cat have in common? Well, these are the three elements that came together to form the greetings card company Tache.

“Pennie always made cards for her friends or family,” says co-founder Frank. “We’d been going out for about six months and when it got around to her birthday, I couldn’t just buy her a card, I had to make her one. ”At the time, Pennie worked as a visual merchandiser and Frank worked in web design.

“The card had two podgy cats, one male and one female, holding a heart-shape balloon. It was all 3D, stuck together by hand. I made the envelope too and lined it with a cat pattern. Inside the card, I made a mini version of the envelope and put tickets for a London show inside it. It was very over the top but she seemed to like it.”

Seven years on, Frank and Pennie have a portfolio of 600 card designs, sold through their website and high street stores including John Lewis, Paperchase and Oliver Bonas. Quirky, hand-cut animals still feature, as well as their colourful, lined envelopes and mini envelopes, where customers can put their own tickets or buy a tongue-in-cheek voucher for breakfast in bed or a home-cooked meal.

The business is named after their cat Tache. “She’s sassy as always - Queen of the house,” says Penny. “I think she knows she has a company named after her.”

From Etsy to John Lewis

The couple sold their first card on the online marketplace Etsy, six months after Frank made Pennie’s birthday card. “We tried out 10 designs,” says Pennie. “Fast forward six months, we did our first trade show and incredibly, managed to secure a partnership with John Lewis, which gave us a great platform to grow the business,” says Frank. “I quit my job and went full-time and then Pennie came on full-time not long afterwards.”

Tache has worked with John Lewis continuously since then. “They really look after their suppliers,” says Pennie. Frank adds: “When lockdown hit, we had 100,000 cards ready to ship to a number of customers and almost 90% of those orders were cancelled virtually overnight. One of the things that really helped though, was John Lewis selling our cards really successfully on their website. It helped save us at that very difficult time.”

When the furlough scheme was announced, Tache had to enrol a number of employees to help protect their jobs. Those left, set to work processing and packaging online orders from the Tache website, John Lewis and a few other outlets. “We saw a lot of thank you cards, rainbow cards, thinking of you cards and well-done cards,” Pennie says. “When people buy a card, they can write a personal message and we’ll print it on the card for them and send it to the recipient. We’ve seen so many lovely messages from people, often thanking someone for looking after them during the lock-down.”

These heartfelt messages really boosted Frank and Pennie’s morale throughout lockdown and even with everything they had to do to keep the business going, they still found time to come up with some new designs. “We do 90% of the designs ourselves. Usually, Frank and I have an idea pop into our head and if it makes us smile and laugh, we explore it, create a mood board and then get the whole team’s opinion. We also ask friends and family.”

Team Tache

Family is at the heart of what makes Tache tick as a business. “There are 11 of us in-house and a team of 10 mums who make the cards,” says Pennie. Her mum is one of their card-makers, as is Frank’s aunt. “All the cards are handmade,” Frank explains. “As our demand grew, we started thinking about how to fulfil orders and possibly provide work for people who didn’t have jobs but needed an income. For mums, it’s something that they can fit around their busy home lives with school runs etc.”

Pennie adds: “We also work with design graduates, through internships, giving them the opportunity to develop their own range of cards.” So far, Tache has had two very successful collaborations with graduates, with their ranges now sold to high street retailers.

The whole Tache team is now back at work full-time. Tache pays a living wage and gives everyone Friday afternoons off. “We want to be progressive in the way we work,” says Frank. “We might go down to a 4-day week at some point but for now we do half days on a Friday.”

Frank’s dad John is also part of Tache. “Dad retired quite early so he works for us part-time. Amongst other things, he manages HR and anything to do with staff and holiday.”

Managing time off with Timetastic

John came across Timetastic when looking for a digital tool that would make managing absence and holiday easier. “It was really difficult to find something that was right for us - there are dozens and dozens of options out there. Most of them are over-sophisticated with too much functionality for a company of our size, with a price that reflects that. Others were very basic and not good enough. Timetastic just does the job - it’s very simple and works well for the number of staff we manage.”

John spent most of career working for a large corporate company in sales and marketing management roles and now works three days a week for Tache. “I try to make sure that we have processes in place for things, so we don’t fly by the seat of our pants too often! Small businesses are often on a steep learning curve as they grow, and mistakes are commonplace," says John. "People learn as they go along but they tend to get stuck doing things in inefficient ways. There are so many pressures and new things to cope with, that they often don’t stop to review processes and systems.”

One part of the business Tache frequently reviews is its environmental impact. “The only thing that isn’t recyclable is the sticky pads,” says Pennie. “Everything else is, including packaging.”

In October, the team’s hard work, creativity and dedication was recognised at the Henries Awards. “It’s like the Oscars for greeting cards,” says Frank. “We’ve been nominated every year bar one - there are 15,000 individual cards submitted and it’s whittled down to 100 cards in a few different categories. This year, we finally won for Best Handmade Range.”