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AN OLD IDEA HITS THE CHART BARE WALLS PRODUCTIONS HAS A SONG IN ITS GREETING CARD

By Published on .

Ask Frank Armenio how it feels to realize his longtime dream of marketing greeting cards featuring song lyrics, and he might say, "It makes me want to shout!"

But it was a long and winding road that finally led him to success' door.

"The idea's pretty old; I came up with it in 1978," said Mr. Armenio, managing partner of Bare Walls Productions. The Cleveland company produces Solid Gold Hits for Your Heart, a line of alternative greeting cards shaped like 45rpm records.

Bare Walls last month delivered its first batch of cards to retailers in 36 states.

Perlmuter Printing Co. in Cleveland printed about 1,000 copies of each of the 48 cards in the collection, said Dave Simon, Bare Walls' art director. The cards retail for $2.95 each.

The idea was born of simple frustration.

"I needed a card one day and couldn't find the one that I wanted," Mr. Armenio said. "So I thought, `Why not use lyrics to songs on cards?"'

He soon discovered why not. Copyright laws prohibit the practice without consent from the song rights owner.

Until a few months ago, Mr. Armenio, who was a general manager with Silverman's Department Stores in Cleveland, found himself with nothing more than an old idea and the rights to one song: "Thank You for Being a Friend."

Realizing he needed a way to market himself, Mr. Armenio last winter hooked up with Rosenberg Advertising. The Cleveland agency's president, Dave Rosenberg, thought the idea could be a hit and he turned out a prototype for the cards.

"Music's so universal; who doesn't like it?" Mr. Rosenberg said in explaining why his company got involved and why he has a stake in Bare Walls Productions.

With prototype in hand, Mr. Armenio last March began shopping his idea to music publishers.

"I wrote a letter to one of the major publishers telling them what I wanted to do," he said. "I said, `We're only using a couple of lines, and we don't think we owe you anything"' in return for the rights to the lyrics.

Mr. Armenio received an incredulous response from the president of Warner Chappell records in Los Angeles.

"He said either I was crazy or stupid" to ask for the rights and expect to pay nothing for them, Mr. Armenio said. But the bravado eventually produced deals with six music publishers and rights to use lyrics from several thousand songs, although Mr. Armenio said Bare Walls does pay royalties on each card sold.

That job accomplished, Bare Walls' Mr. Simon began designing the line of disc-shaped cards, which offer song lyrics for most occasions and are displayed in racks resembling jukeboxes.

Mr. Rosenberg said since Bare Walls is a start-up company, they are doing no traditional advertising at the moment. Instead, they've sent news releases and card samples to trade publications and Cleveland newspapers. The company plans to do likewise with other publications on a market-by-market basis.

"We hope to in the near future, perhaps in 3-to-6 months, place advertisements in the trade publications," he said. "Right now, our main marketing strategy is to let the media know the uniqueness of our product."

So far, shoppers sing the cards' praises when they browse the racks at South East Harley-Davidson's Main Street, a five store minimall operated by the Bedford Heights retailer, said Kelly Kobzowicz, a cashier.

"We've been selling them very well," she said. "They say it's worth the $2.95."

Ms. Harrison is a reporter with Crain's Cleveland Business. Rachel Rosenthal of Advertising Age contributed to the story.

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