MARYSVILLE — Andy Illyn is a thrill seeker. He served overseas in the U.S. Coast Guard, fought Oregon wildfires and taught martial arts before starting his career in law enforcement. Two years ago, he poured what little free time he had into a new passion: making greeting cards.
“Still seems weird to say out loud,” Illyn, 36, said of his side business, which he said helps him find peace of mind.
Illyn, of Marysville, is the assistant chief at the Mukilteo Police Department. Over the years, he has found it difficult to unplug from work and not constantly think about cases or answer emails when off the clock.
“The work was taking its toll on me,” Illyn said. “I hate being bored. I don’t relax well. So I always need a project or something to do. Thus, the greeting cards.”
Illyn enjoys brainstorming bad puns, dad jokes and cheesy pickup lines. Not wanting them to go to waste, he decided to turn them into cards for birthdays, holidays and other occasions. He calls his business Cardstalked.
So far, Illyn has created about 70 designs. He isn’t much of a graphic artist, so he plays around with stock images in Adobe Photoshop and then sends the finalized card to a local printer. A lot of Illyn’s cards feature profanity and adult humor, which he thinks makes them stand out.
“At stores, you don’t find diarrhea birthday cards,” Illyn said. “It’s a niche market.”
Other cards are based on Illyn’s stockpile of pick-up lines, like, “Are you reincarnated from a whiteboard? Because you are remarkable.” Illyn told some of these lines to his wife when they first met. She was a restaurant waitress and after hearing multiple corny lines handed Illyn her phone number.
Illyn sells his cards online, at farmers markets and in local stores such as Leschi Market in Seattle, Nugents Corner Market in Everson, What’s Bloomin’ Now Floral in Arlington, and Darrington Pharmacy. Illyn wants to sell to more locally owned grocery stores and floral shops as it’s easier for him to sell in bulk. But it’s challenging for him to compete for shelf space against industry giant Hallmark.
“Trying to sell them feels like you’re dating again,” he said. “It’s rejection after rejection.”
It’s an uphill battle, but Illyn is persistent.
Based on his background, Illyn doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who’d start a greeting card business. In 2004, he enlisted in the Coast Guard after finishing high school. He cited a lack of direction mixed with a lust for adventure as his motivation.
“And to be honest, at 18 years old, I don’t know if I was mature enough to do college,” Illyn said.
Illyn spent most of his service participating in counter-narcotic operations off the coast of Mexico and South America. In 2006, he volunteered to serve in Iraq for 14 months where he patrolled rivers and guarded oil platforms in the Persian Gulf. He finished out his stint patrolling fisheries off the Oregon and Washington coasts.
“Sounds boring, but it was actually the most fun,” Illyn said. “There is this weird kind of adrenaline rush because of how bad the seas were all the time. It was like you’re in a constant storm.”
In 2008, Illyn set out to become a firefighter and spent two summers with the U.S. Forest Service fighting wildfires around Bend, Oregon. In his free time during the school year, Illyn studied Krav Maga, an Israeli martial art, and taught kids karate, which he called the “coolest job in the world.”
In the end, Illyn opted to pursue a career in law enforcement instead. He earned his bachelor’s degree in homeland security from American Military University and then landed a job in Mukilteo. He has worked for the department for a decade and said enjoys the work, but it does have its downsides, he said.
“I love my current job, but there’s a lot of emails, a lot of meetings, a lot of bureaucracy,” Illyn said, and added that performing standardized government work doesn’t leave much room for creativity. So he ventured into crafting greeting cards, and it’s helped improve his mental health.
“Instead of stressing about calls or cases, I stress about greeting cards. Which in the big scheme of things isn’t too bad,” Illyn said.
Between family and work, Illyn can usually find one day a week to devote time to his craft. He doesn’t make a whole lot of money from his business, or as he puts it: “No one’s driving a Mercedes by selling greeting cards.” A portion of what little he does profit is donated to charities such as St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, UNICEF and Domestic Violence Services of Snohomish County.
Ideally, Illyn would earn enough to afford part-time help or a sales representative to sell his cards to vendors. Illyn also wants to create a line of bar coasters and prank mugs.
Whether he makes money or not, Illyn plans to continue his passion for the foreseeable future. For him, the best feeling is when someone reads one of his cards and cracks up.
“If only I could pay my mortgage off in laughs,” he said.
For more information, visit cardstalked.com.