By Mario Toneguzzi
For 103 years, Hallmark Canada has been a staple of the greeting card business across the country.
Now, with a new leader at the helm, the company is strategically planning its next era of growth and expansion in Canada.
“I’m going to be overseeing the strategy and the business operations and all the key customer relationships from coast to coast,” said Carolyn Spriet, who became president of Hallmark on September 4. Prior to that, she was a general manager and vice president with Sun Products Canada. “They brought me in because I’m Canadian and so they are wanting to use the insight and the expertise that I have having worked in this industry for 25 years to kind of develop the strategic roadmap for Hallmark Canada.
“I’ve only been here since September but I’m certainly looking at the business in its totality taking a look at the strong mass business that we have and determining how we’re going to grow with those partners and what kinds of programs we’re going to put in place to continue driving that growth. The independent stores are also an important strategic priority for us to be able to have our product available in as many locations as possible.”
The company will invest in growth, in product, in ecommerce and in creating a really positive retail experience.
Hallmark Canada has 120 Gold Crown stores - some are corporate-owned and some are independent - and several stores within a store location. It also sells products in 4,000 retail locations across the country.
In April of 2018, the company announced the strategic decision to focus company resources on strengthening its independent network of Gold Crown stores. As a result, Hallmark is exiting approximately 20 corporate-owned stores in Canada by either transitioning them to independent ownership or closing them.
“Hallmark Canada remains committed to the Canadian market and will focus our resources on strengthening our network of more than 100 independent Gold Crown retailers and growing our network of Hallmark Gold Crown store-within-a-store (or multi-focus) departments across the country. We believe brick and mortar retail remains highly relevant and that consumers enjoy the emotional experience of seeing and feeling our products before purchasing them,” Spriet said.
It has 700 full-time and part-time staff.
“They brought me on to continue to drive the growth agenda,” said Spriet.
In a day and age where technology has taken over virtually every aspect of an individual’s life and connection and communication is instantaneous, where does the physical greeting card fit in this evolving landscape?
“I also had this question when I joined the company. But certainly digital and social media has changed the way that we communicate. Besides its emergence, the greeting card industry is actually really stable. It’s large. We sell over 6.5 billion cards each year so that’s about 18 million cards a day (in North America),” said Spriet.
“And when you take a look at the people who are buying cards a lot of the questions I get are about well are Millennials buying cards? The reality is yes they are because they represent 20 per cent of the dollar on greeting cards and if you take a look at their spending habits they’re spending faster than any other generational segment in the category.
“It kind of makes sense. If you think about it, Millennials are very interested in relationships and connecting and self-expression. Possibly more so than any generation before them. They do want to do it in an authentic and a meaningful way. So yes they do have a multitude of mediums by which they communicate but communication for them is very important and getting the right product for them is really important. That’s what we focus on doing.”
Spriet said ecommerce is also a priority for the company.
“That’s actually a priority growth area for us. Right now we have a presence on Amazon and we’re continuing to look at ways to grow that. But we’re also taking a look at how we might grow online as well as our retailer customer programs. The click and collect programs. There’s a number of retailers programs that are really starting to take flight. We’re interested in understanding how we can play those. We do have an ecommerce strategy that we’re working right now but we definitely see this as being an important part of the growth trend,” she added.
In late October, Corus Entertainment's W Network and Crown Media Family Network's Hallmark Channel announced an exclusive multi-year, multi-platform channel partnership that brings the United States' most iconic family-friendly entertainment brand, along with its content, to Canada for the first time.
Hallmark Channel, and its highly popular original movies, was launched November 1.
The partnership grants W Network exclusive Canadian licensing rights to all movies and scripted series produced by Crown for Hallmark and Hallmark Movies & Mysteries.
“The first weekend that they were running the Hallmark Channel the W Network had off the charts ratings for their key target audiences,” said Spriet. “This is a property that for years and years and years people have been really wanting to come up in Canada. So when we announced that we were finally going to have it available starting this year, our loyal Hallmark consumers were so excited and our social media blew up actually the day we announced it.”
Spriet said Hallmark is a company that is focused on helping people communicate and emotionally connect with the people that matter.
“What Hallmark kind of believes in is that this need for human connection is timeless and it’s universal. Everybody needs to be and wants to be recognized and cared for. That’s as important now as it ever has been,” she said. “It really goes beyond age, gender, culture and geography.”
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary has 37 years of experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, city and breaking news, and business. For 12 years as a business writer, his main beats were commercial and residential real estate, retail, small business and general economic news. He nows works on his own as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.