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Monday, January 25, 2010

THE ENTREPRENEURIAL GUIDE TO ENTERTAINMENT: Hallmark Cards Celebrates 100 Years of Greetings: What We Can Learn From Them

The Entrepreneurial Guide to Entertainment with Sandy McKee

One sector of the entertainment industry that I have yet to write about is, ironically, the business of writing. This month I had planned to discuss books---not books about business per se, but books (both fiction and nonfiction) from which we can glean fundamental principles that can be applied to any business at various levels.

The first book that came to mind was When You Care Enough: The Story of Hallmark Cards and Its Founder (1993) by Joyce C. Hall (the founder) and Curtiss Anderson. When I looked up Hallmark’s website to refresh my recollection of its company history, I discovered that they are celebrating their centennial this year. (Go to: to learn more.)

One hundred years of helping people express just the right sentiment, while expanding into a multi-billion dollar business. Gotta love it. I’ll save the other books for a later column (the one about Hershey’s chocolate is good, too). For this month, the month of Valentine’s Day (which accounts for approximately 25% of annual greeting card sales), let’s see what we can learn from the humble beginnings of Hallmark Cards.

I read Joyce C. Hall’s biography years ago and the story stuck with me as one of the most amazing I’ve ever heard. In 1910, at the age of eighteen, young Hall arrived in Kansas City with two shoeboxes of newfangled postcards, which he stored under his bed at the YMCA when he wasn’t out scouting wholesale customers. Two shoeboxes! Compare that to the millions of cards Hallmark sells today.

What we can learn from that: Follow your business dreams; but, start small and keep your costs down.

Five years later, the business had expanded to include a retail outlet within the building that housed the offices and wholesale business. Unfortunately, a fire destroyed the building and the entire inventory. Only the safe remained---along with $17,000 of debt. Hall and his brothers (who had joined him in the business) had to literally start over from the ground up. They could have quit. Most people would have. Instead, they took this opportunity to purchase engraving presses and began to manufacture their own greeting cards for the first time. We all know how that little venture turned out.

What we can learn from that: One: keep your fire insurance current at all times. Two: when faced with adversity or challenges, take some time to brainstorm ways to turn the situation around to your advantage.

During the holiday season of 1917, the Hall Brothers “accidentally” started their gift wrapping line when they ran out of colored tissue paper used to wrap the gifts they sold along with their cards. They substituted decorated envelope linings they had imported from France, priced at ten cents a sheet. They sold out. The next year they put them out again at three for twenty-five cents. They sold out again.

What we can learn from that: Once again, turn problems and annoyances into lucrative opportunities by being creative---and testing the market.

Fast forward to 1932. Hallmark signed a licensing agreement with Disney to use their cartoon characters on greeting cards. It was one of the first such deals for both companies. In 1948, Norman Rockwell began creating custom, original designs for Hallmark. In 1953, Hallmark created custom Christmas cards and personal stationery for President and Mrs. Dwight D. Eisenhower. In 1960 Charles Schultz’s Charlie Brown and Peanuts characters join the mix. In 1984, Hallmark acquires Crayola crayons and art products.

What we can learn from that: It pays to form strategic alliances and partnerships with high-quality talent, provided the focus remains on the core business.

Today, in 2010, Hallmark Cards continues to innovate and adapt to changes in the marketplace. New offerings include Webcam greetings, mobile greetings, and even a SocialCalendar app on Facebook (almost 1.8 million active users as of this writing). And, there’s a new book entitled Hallmark: A Century of Caring that delves even further into the history of the company, the people who contributed to its success, and into the events that helped shape the way we connect with one another. Hallmark, even after 100 years, understands that its core business is not selling pieces of paper with clever remarks inscribed thereon. It is in the business of helping people connect and express their innermost emotions to each other via various forms of communication.

What we can learn from that: Be innovative, trendy, and creative---YES! But, never lose sight of the REAL business you are in: helping someone somewhere solve some sort of issue.

BOTTOM LINE: Stay focused, people! One day I want to read the story of how YOUR company rose from humble beginnings to great heights of power and profitability. I pray for your success. And, I pray that I bought your stock early.

For more information, please visit Sandy's TNNW Bio.

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The Emergence of the Relationship Economy features TNNWC Founder, Adam J. Kovitz as a contributing author and contains some of his early work on The Laws of Relationship Capital. The book is available in hardcopy and e-book formats. With a forward written by Doc Searls (of Cluetrain Manifesto fame), it is considered a "must read" for anyone responsible for the strategic direction of their business. If you would like to purchase your own copy, please click the image above.


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