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Focus On: Hallmark keeps it real

Officials at Hallmark Cards believe they have all their bases covered — and by doing so can offer their retail partners the best chance to maximize sales from the overall social expressions category.

What began as strictly a greeting cards business, quickly becoming the largest in the world, has now become, over its long and storied history, a company that caters to a large base of consumers across a variety of gift and event-related categories, and in more than 100 countries and 30 languages across the globe.

Of course, it is all by design. Started 108 years ago by J.C. Hall in Kansas City, Mo., Hallmark has made an incredible impact on mass retail for decades by stressing its ability to offer consumers a number of creative solutions across multiple segments and giving these shoppers a name they recognize and trust.

Today, Hallmark is as respected for its many and diverse lines of greeting cards as it is for its gift wrap, Crayola business and Crown Media, and its media business that includes the well-respected
Hallmark Channel. The privately-held company has more than 49,000 different items in the marketplace and offers about 10,000 new or redesigned cards per year.

[caption id="attachment_591106" align="alignleft" width="201"]Hallmark VIDA A card from Hallmark’s VIDA line[/caption]

“This is a very broad organization committed to helping people live more caring and connected lives filled with meaningful moments,” said Amy McAnarney, the Kansas City, Mo.-based company’s vice president/general manager for key accounts and business development. “We realize the importance that social responsibility plays in all of this and we take it quite seriously.”

While Hallmark developed gift wrap in 1917 when the company ran out of colored Christmas tissue and improvised by substituting decorated envelope linings imported from France and diversified into other businesses later, greeting cards do remain the backbone of the company.

The only difference, however, is that Hallmark officials realized decades ago that to maximize the potential of the category they needed to offer cards that made sense to as many segments shoppers as possible. So, included in Hallmark’s greeting card portfolio are a number of different lines — the Signature premium line, the Shoebox humor line and the Studio INK line for millennials.

While cards for specific demographic groups have always been a part of the Hallmark strategy, the company started to truly focus on ethnic and cultural-specific products beginning in the 1960s. Its Mahogany line, introduced as a 16-card promotion for African-American consumers in 1987, became a permanent card line with both everyday and seasonal cards in 1991.

The VIDA line, the company’s Spanish-language offering that debuted in stores in 2003 and the Tree of Life line, targeted at Jewish consumers, was introduced in 1995.

Hallmark acquired DaySpring in 1999. The subsidiary is the premier source for cards, specialty gifts, back-to-school items and home décor for Christian consumers. Paper Wonder, a line that features intricately-designed works of art that unfold, pop and expand to reveal a surprise, is set to be introduced for the holiday season. The company plans to introduce an Asian-inspired card line in 2019.

“Our job is to make sure that we have the products that consumers are looking for when they’re shopping for greeting cards,” added McAnarney. “We want to have cards that speak to our extremely diverse shopper base.”

[caption id="attachment_591108" align="alignright" width="220"]Hallmark Tree of Life A card from the Tree of Life line[/caption]


It also means working more closely with retailers to ensure that the product mix in the social expression category is right on a store-by-store basis. As officials at all of the major greeting card companies emphasize, greeting cards and the overall social expression department not only serve as a moneymaker for merchants, but also can set a tone for the overall store that can build consumer morale and interest in the total shopping experience.

McAnarney said that Hallmark has invested in “localization” tools to ensure that the right items are in the right stores. “We want our retail partners to understand that we are looking out for their best interests and offering products that will sell through for them,” she said.

Online, Hallmark is extremely active, as well. The company is partnering with retailers to drive profitability by bringing the greeting card aisle to the online marketplace through its Click and Collect program. This focus on delivering new and innovative solutions comes at a time when the grocery industry is experiencing growth in online sales.

Company officials said that Hallmark’s research discovered online grocery shoppers are more likely to be card buyers, which emphasized the need to create a dedicated e-commerce team focused on developing strategies, solutions and tools for its retail partners to seamlessly extend their greetings aisles to their online markets. Additionally, consumers expect to find everything they need while browsing online for their weekly groceries — and that includes greeting cards. Showcasing greeting cards online reminds the shopper of her greeting card needs and makes it easy for her to buy personally relevant and rewarding Hallmark products whenever and wherever she wants them, company executives said.

Of course, innovation plays a leading role in keeping the brand at the forefront of the industry and working with retailers. “We think retailers choose Hallmark for a number of reasons, including the fact that our historical performance from a financial and brand standpoint has always been superior,” McAnarney said. “Plus we are continually re-investing in innovation and product superiority, as well as developing new trends in the growing digital space. Finally, we are quite proud of our marketing efforts with consumers to stay at the forefront of our industry.”

And, while McAnarney said the future looks great for the category, she said that Hallmark is still focusing on building sales among millennials and constantly updating its digital strategies to determine how they can still help retailers build sales regardless of their merchandising approach. “Part of what makes Hallmark valuable to our partners is our ability to innovate new solutions, remain flexible and iterate right alongside retailers as we navigate this changing retail environment together,” she said.

As it works to stay with the times, Hallmark remains true to the vision of its founder, J.C. Hall. According to the company’s website, Hall saw greeting cards as more than a form of communication. Instead, he saw them as a social custom, and, as such, authenticity, product diversity and quality was — and still is — encouraged.

“Our mission is pretty clear,” McAnarney said. “We are extremely focused on the future and our job to stay best-in-class through great products, innovation and localization. It is also to help our retailers get the most out of the category in terms of sales, profits and the other intangibles that make the greeting card category so important to their store operations.”
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