Adventure-Seeking Cop Finds New Thrill in Greeting Cards

MARYSVILLE — Andy Illyn is a thrill seeker. He served overseas in the US Coast Guard, fought wildfires in Oregon and taught martial arts before beginning his career in law enforcement. Two years ago, he devoted the little free time he had to a new passion: making greeting cards.

“It always seems weird to say it out loud,” Illyn, 36, said of his side business, which he says helps him find peace of mind.

Illyn, of Marysville, is the Deputy Chief of the Mukilteo Police Department. Over the years, he struggled to disconnect from work and not constantly think about cases or respond to emails when he was off the clock.

“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. So, greeting cards.

Illyn likes to think up bad puns, dad jokes and corny lines. Not wanting to lose them, 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 models. He’s not much of a graphic designer, so he plays around with stock footage in Adobe Photoshop, then sends the finished card to a local printer. Many of Illyn’s cards feature profanity and adult humor, which he says sets them apart.

“In stores, you don’t find diarrhea birthday cards,” Illyn said. “It’s a niche market.”

Other cards are based on Illyn’s stock of 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 waitress at a restaurant and after hearing several corny lines, she gave Illyn her phone number.

Illyn sells her cards online, at farmers’ markets and at 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 local grocery stores and florists because it’s easier for her to sell wholesale. But it’s tough for him to compete for storage space against industry giant Hallmark.

“Trying to sell them feels like going out again,” he said. “It’s rejection after rejection.”

It’s an uphill battle, but Illyn is persistent.

A Valentine’s Day-themed card by Cardstalked available at What’s Bloomin’ Floral Oct. 28 in Arlington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

From his background, Illyn doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who would start a greeting card business. In 2004, he enlisted in the Coast Guard after graduating from high school. He cited a lack of direction mixed with a thirst for adventure as his motivation.

“And to be honest, at 18, I don’t know if I was mature enough to go to college,” Illyn said.

Illyn spent most of his service participating in counter-narcotics operations off the coasts of Mexico and South America. In 2006, he volunteered to serve in Iraq for 14 months where he patrolled rivers and guarded oil rigs in the Persian Gulf. He ended his stint patrolling fisheries off the coasts of Oregon and Washington.

“It sounds boring, but it was actually the most fun,” Illyn said. “There’s this weird kind of adrenaline rush from the bad sea quality all the time. It was like you were in a constant storm.

In 2008, Illyn decided to become a firefighter and spent two summers with the US Forest Service battling wildfires around Bend, Oregon. In his spare time during the school year, Illyn studied Krav Maga, an Israeli martial art, and taught karate to children, which he called “the coolest job in the world.”

In the end, Illyn chose to pursue a career in law enforcement instead. He earned his bachelor’s degree in Homeland Security from the American Military University, then landed a job at Mukilteo. He worked for the department for a decade and said he loves the job, but it has 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, adding that doing a one-size-fits-all government job didn’t leave much room for creativity. So he ventured into making greeting cards, and it helped improve his mental health.

“Instead of worrying about calls or cases, I worry about greeting cards. Which overall isn’t too bad,” Illyn said.

Between family and work, Illyn can usually find one day a week to devote time to her job. He doesn’t make a lot of money with his business, or as he puts it, “Nobody drives a Mercedes selling greeting cards.” Some of the little profit he makes is donated to charities such as St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, UNICEF and Snohomish County Domestic Violence Services.

Ideally, Illyn would earn enough to afford a part-time helper or sales rep to sell her cards to vendors. Illyn also wants to create a range of coasters and prank cups.

Whether he makes money or not, Illyn plans to pursue his passion for the foreseeable future. For him, the best feeling is when someone reads one of his cards and snaps.

“If only I could pay off my mortgage laughing,” he said.

For more information, visit cardtalked.com.

Eric Schucht: 425-339-3477; eric.schucht@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @EricSchucht.

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Mika R. Pyle