Hallmark Cards To Close Plant, Lay Off Workers, Cites E-Cards

Hallmark Cards layoffs

By Heather Hollingsworth

Say it's your birthday or you've just had a baby, maybe got engaged or bought your first house. If you're like many Americans, your friends are texting their congratulations, sending you an e-card or clicking "Like" on your Facebook wall.

But how many will send a paper greeting card?

"I'm really, really bad at it," said Melissa Uhl. The 25-year-old nanny from Kansas City, Mo., hears from friends largely through Facebook. "Maybe," she said, "an e-card from my mom."

Once a staple of birthdays and holidays, paper greeting cards are fewer and farther between -- now seen as something special, instead of something that's required. The cultural shift is a worrisome challenge for the nation's top card maker, Hallmark Cards Inc., which last week announced it will close a Kansas plant that made one-third of its greeting cards. In consolidating its Kansas operations, Kansas City-based Hallmark plans to shed 300 jobs.

Pete Burney, Hallmark's senior vice president who overseas production, says "competition in our industry is indeed formidable" and that "consumers do have more ways to connect digitally and online and through social media."

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Over the past decade, the number of greeting cards sold in the U.S. has dropped from 6 billion to 5 billion annually, by Hallmark's estimates. The Greeting Card Association, an industry trade group based in White Plains, N.Y., puts the overall-sold figure at 7 billion.

Brian Sword, 34, of Kansas City, said he's "definitely" buying and receiving fewer printed cards than he did a decade ago, though he still prefers to send them to -- and receive them from -- a small group of close friends and family.

"I do think there are a lot of benefits and it does say more when it comes in a paper card format than when it comes even as an online greeting card," Sword said. "There's just something about receiving that card in the mail and opening it up and having it be a physical card."

Even the paper cards people buy have changed. Many people now use online photo sites to upload images and write their own greetings. High-end paper stores are attracting customers who design their own cards, sometimes using graphics software once available only to professionals.

"What Hallmark started with met the needs of the consumers in that early 20th century period to mass produce these personal greeting cards with art and poems and the only way you could communicate was by mail essentially," said Pam Danziger, who analyzes the industry as president of Stevens, Pa.-based Unity Marketing. "It's no surprise that in the 21st century with so many other communication vehicles available that the old idea of a greeting card being sent by mail just doesn't work anymore."

According to a U.S. Postal Service study, correspondence such as greeting cards fell 24 percent between 2002 and 2010. Invitations alone dropped nearly 25 percent just between 2008 and 2010. The survey attributed the decline to "changing demographics and new technologies," adding that younger households "both send and receive fewer pieces of correspondence mail because they tend to be early adaptors of new and faster communication media."

While Hallmark says it's committed to the paper greeting card, it has made changes over the years. It has an iPhone app, for example, that lets people buy and mail cards from their phones. It also partnered with online card service Shutterfly to share designs that consumers can use to build specialized cards online.

Its chief rival, Cleveland, Ohio-based American Greetings, actually went from trimming costs and jobs amid the recession to announcing in August that it's adding 125 workers to an Osceola, Ark., plant. It's part of an expansion that will allow customers to design their own cards -- online, of course.

Judith Martin, author of the syndicated Miss Manners column, says she thinks the move away from mass-produced sentiment isn't all bad.

"The most formal situations still require something written," she said. "The least formal are easily taken care of with texting or email, which is terrific. The idea that it has to be all one or all the other and that one method is totally out of date and the other one takes over until the next thing comes along just impoverishes the ways that we can use these different things."

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Amanda Holmboe, a 25-year-old power plant quality control worker from Portland, Ore., has mixed feelings about the rise of digital communications. She said that her friends email, text or post something on Facebook when something big happens in her life.

"More people know about my life and what's going on. I hear from more people, so in some ways I'm connected to more people, but it's a less personal connection," she said.

But Holmboe isn't giving up on cards.

"I love sending cards," she said, adding that she mails some from the cities where she travels for work. "I think they're fun, and I like being able to write a personal note to somebody because I like getting mail, so I guess I just think everyone likes getting mail."

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Sandy Shepard

one of the reasons that I love using the SendOutCards.com system - especially for marketing - is that it allows me to be "different" and my clients (and friends) to receive an actual, physical greeting card. I use it especially when I travel - and since only 3% of the mail we get now is personal, this gives me a huge edge! www.sendoutcards.com/40431

October 09 2012 at 1:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I always send real paper greeting cards, the old fashioned way. Problem is that Hallmark cards are very expensive, and I usually buy a less expensive card instead.

October 09 2012 at 11:18 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I always send real cards. However, I can get an equally nice card for a fraction of the cost elsewhere.

October 09 2012 at 8:03 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Wow. Color me shocked. With more and more Post Office facilities being forced to close by a ridiculous ruling that was obviously designed to accomplish just that end, the greeting card industry is not the first, or the last, to take a hit. That's all right. Sooner or later, UPS and FedEx will start delivering mail (at greatly increased rates, of course), and everything will be fine again. The sun will be shining, the children will be laughing, and a few hundred thousand inconsequential individuals living in the country, past the edge of poverty, who find it difficult to walk eight miles each way to visit their mailbox, can just buy a new car, or hire a chauffeur.

October 09 2012 at 5:27 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Some day people are going to wake up and realize what they have lost to the "digital age". The real personnal contact with people is disappearing bit by bit. Along with jobs and services. When the only way you can get music, movies, books, magazines, newspapers, phone service, etc, is through "digital", it will be a sad day. Don't people realize that all it will take to paralyze everyone is for someone to "pull the plug" on the "digitals" and then you'll be up that perverbial creek without a paddle. It's truly sad.

October 09 2012 at 2:47 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I treasure the cards that I kept from family members who are now gone. The hand written notes inside add to the loving memories I will always have of them.

October 09 2012 at 12:51 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

It used to be that the cost of the greeting card was a small percentage as compared to the gift itself - maybe 50 cents or a dollar for the card. Now, for a decent card it's $5 or $6 or more. And please don't tell me that they cost so much because of the high cost of printing. I can get full color photos printed on heavy glossy stock at the drug store for less than 20 cents each.

October 09 2012 at 12:21 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to palmspringslen's comment

Bingo. They've jacked up the prices until people like me stopped buying their cards.

October 09 2012 at 7:36 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

And don't forget, the computer and cell phone age isn't JUST putting Greeting card companies out of business but Post Offices as well. That saddens me. I'm not into the electronic age and PREFER to choose a greeting card for each person. Only thing I don't like is how the cards cost SO much! I do understand that they need to raise the price due to the lack of sales, though. And I prefer the Post Office over the internet any day!
For me, I will always go buy a greeting card and mail it with a stamp.
I know, what about saving the forests,....well that's why we recycle.
And by the way,
You Go mesager42 ! Good for you and I feel the same way.
I wish more people did and would act on it.
I, myself just recently bought 2 Hallmark cards for family members and mailed them.
So, I can feel good about not being a part of the reason people are losing their jobs and some may ultimately lose their home as a result.

October 08 2012 at 11:37 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

The cost of the cards and then the continual cost of the stamps going up really hurt people who would like to send a card. By the time you have paid for a decent card and the cost of mailing it - you could buy the person a small gift.

October 08 2012 at 11:23 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Sending a paper card is more appealing to the receiver, however, the prices are going higher and higher. People are very aware of pricey items these days. The times are changing, and everything is going to fall in line with the times! Gasoline price is one of the top culprits.......gas moves about everything in the consumers world!!

October 08 2012 at 9:31 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

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