Reigning cats and dogs

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Avanti Press pushes the greeting-card envelope


  • Dave Laubach, Avanti Press Director of Design, at the West 18th Street office. Photo: Ryan Segedi

  • Dave Laubach, Avanti Press Director of Design, with this year's LOUIE Award nominations, The Pug in the Afro Wig and Exercise Cat. Photo: Ryan Segedi  

  • Avanti Press, 2017 LOUIE Award-nominated cards: Exercise Cat, and The Pug in the Afro Wig. Photo: Ryan Segedi

One company has been in the business of cranky cats and anthropomorphized dogs long before they started breaking the internet.

Colleagues dismissed Rick Ruffner when he employed photography as the primary medium for greeting cards to launch Avanti Press in Detroit in 1980. Years later, those same naysayers also balked when he began using dog and cat images. As it turns out, the joke is on them.

“Rick takes great pride in not listening to the general consensus and successfully striking out into new frontiers. Avanti is now published in 30 countries and 12 languages, and we all know animals rule,” says Dave Laubach, Avanti’s Director of Design since 1998, based in New York.

After nearly two decades at Lever Brothers, a Fortune 100 company that inhabited an entire building, it was a bit of culture shock for Laubach to transition to the small, privately-owned business to run the West 18th Street office of nine. But he quickly acclimated, and by all accounts loves his gig.

“Having daily discussions about alpacas, chickens, and prairie dogs is so unlike corporate America. It’s a dream job. Just being able to come up with funny ideas every week is gift from the universe,” says Laubach.

Ruffner’s passion to support his hometown has been a critical factor in maintaining Avanti headquarters in downtown Detroit for thirty-seven years. However, during the pre-internet days, when all of Avanti’s images were licensed from New York City stock photo agencies, it was advantageous to have a satellite office. Today, the New York location also affords them access to a wide variety of photographers and other creative resources.

“I confess; I attended a lot of photo shoots early on,” says Laubach. “We generally want as many of the litter as we can get. As you can imagine, herding kittens is a lot more challenging than working with a trained dog — but it’s so fun.”

Women continue to buy the lion’s share — about 80 percent — of all greetings, though much has changed during Laubach’s tenure in the industry. Price points have increased substantially with consumers paying over $10.00 for some cards, and digital greetings have dipped into market share.

“We assume a certain amount of business may have moved to digital, but the industry’s retail sales remain steady at $7 to $8 billion a year,” says Laubach. “It’s more likely to be tech-savvy younger consumers purchasing digital greetings. Still, there are certain occasions like wedding, sympathy, and bridal shower, where digital cards don’t cut it.”

The internet and its numerous social media outlets have also opened up avenues for the global humor brand to find inspiration.

“Nothing is off limits. We scout everywhere — Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, Flicker, you name it,” says Laubach. “If there’s an image we like, we try to license it. In fact, we have an advertising image from a pharmaceutical company that was licensed before I started working here, and it’s still in our line today.”

The Avanti line skews more unisex, with images and captions that also work well for kids. A*Press, the company’s graphics-based card offerings often employ glitter and deliver a sassier and more sophisticated level of humor. The group will unveil their new America collection at the National Stationery Show held at the Javits Center on Sunday, May 21. The line contains images and stories from the ‘20s through the ‘60s that capture America’s heart, humor, and history.

Later on Sunday, it’s on to the Edison Ballroom for the LOUIE awards ceremony — the Oscars of the greeting card industry — where two Avanti entries will vie for top honors: The Pug in the Afro Wig, a get well card in the under $4.00 category, and Exercise Cat, a lenticular, or 3-D, card in the over $4.00 birthday category.

The cat’s leg moves up and down in sync with the woman on the TV set behind her while the effort shows on her face. Inside, the verse reads: “The price we pay for having our cake and eating it too. Happy Birthday.”

“It’s our first card ever nominated in the Birthday over $4.00 category, the toughest to compete in,” says Laubach.

Team Avanti has garnered over forty of the prestigious awards since the Greeting Card Association launched the annual event in 1988.

As for whether more Avanti card buyers are cat people or dog people on the whole, well, the pussies have been outperforming their archenemies in recent years.

“Cat people seem to love all cats, while dog people tend to be more breed-specific in their passion,” says Laubach. “We usually have a general idea of how well cards will perform, but it’s really fun when we’re surprised by what appeals to the consumer at retail. Currently, the best-selling cards are two chickens, a prairie dog, and a gorilla. Who knew?”

For more information about Avanti Press go to

Follow Avanti on social media: Instagram @avantipress and Facebook @avantihumor

The National Stationery Show takes place May 21 — May 24 at The Javits Convention Center.

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