How a P.E.I. couple built a successful business while capturing memorable moments
By Suzanne Bowness
When we talk about a Hallmark moment, it calls to mind a special occasion that we want to commemorate, like birthdays and anniversaries. Perhaps that’s not surprising, given that the company has been around since 1910. Today, the company’s umbrella includes iconic brands like the Hallmark Channel, Gold Crown card stores, and even Crayola.
On Prince Edward Island, the story of Hallmark is the story of a couple, Wanda and Lawson MacEachern. They opened their first Charlottetown location in April 2013, a second store off the island in November 2013, and a third location in P.E.I. in November of 2016. In 2023, they celebrated the 10th anniversary of their Charlottetown location. This year also marks their third wedding anniversary, although the couple has been together for 20 years. The couple got married at the island location during a COVID-19 lockdown. Predictably, the celebration featured many wedding gifts and decorations sold at their Hallmark store.
So, what’s a typical day like for franchisees entering year 10 of store ownership? Wanda says at the start it was all about finding their way. “Starting off, we worked seven days a week, before opening and after closing. However, after a few months, we settled into a routine that really worked for us,” she says.
Today, technology helps manage their work-life balance. “Being able to log in remotely to our inventory and point-of-sale (POS) systems has given us the comfort and ability to stay in contact without spending so much of our time in-store.”
Still, part of the adventure of retail is that each day is a little different. “Typical days sometimes don’t go as planned. But when they do, we’re working in-store with office work, opening the store, merchandising product, scheduling, ordering and receiving, and updating our inventory system,” says Wanda, adding that years of experience have proven that variety is the norm. “The trick is to roll with it. Most days are ad-libbed, making lists of things to be done and prioritizing the most important activities on the list.”
Another factor that helped the MacEacherns find their routine was learning how to share the workload. “We are very passionate about our business and complement each other,” says Wanda. “I’m very much a people person who enjoys the planning and merchandising of our stores. Lawson is aggressive in his buying and is always looking for something new.”
While both Lawson and Wanda have many years of retail experience (Lawson completed a course in retail management as part of his post-secondary education, and Wanda completed her diploma in business management), their business has given them a decade of practice to pair with the theory.
“Over the past 10 years we have become very accustomed to projecting, forecasting, and achieving our sales goals, season over season and year over year,” says Wanda. Of course, the other benefit is their time spent in the community. “Getting to know our valued customers over the years and being able to help them through many of life’s milestones—including happy events, stressful times, and losses in their families—and sharing our own personal and ‘work family’s’ milestones with them as well has been a highlight,” she says.
Like any business, the MacEacherns have also faced challenges, especially in recent years. They had to shutter their second store off the Island during the pandemic. Today they’re dealing with the rising cost of inventory and freight, as well as the rising cost of living and interest rates that have resulted in less discretionary spending. Dealing with these challenges is a work in progress. “We are continually working to keep pricing reasonable and offer great products to our customers at a good value,” says Wanda. “It’s important that we provide competitive solutions that will meet their wants and needs—both those of our loyal customers as well as those who may be new to our business.”
A bona fide greeting card brand
Part of staying top of mind with customers is their store’s name recognition, one of the reasons they bought in initially. “The Hallmark brand has been around for 100-plus years. It has been, and continues to be, a top-selling brand for all occasions—from expecting a child to the death of a loved one and every milestone in between,” says Wanda, adding that the franchise’s established rewards program also helps to create repeat visits as customers seek out products that are only available at Hallmark Gold Crown stores. “You may be able to purchase general Hallmark cards or merchandise in the mass market but will not get the exclusivity, attention to detail, and great customer service that Hallmark Gold Crown stores offer.”
Wanda also loves that the franchise is open to them offering products that are complementary to the brand. “We love introducing new and exciting products to our community and we utilize social media, our website, and local radio ads to generate excitement around what is happening in our stores,” she says. She notes that the store’s website has developed a strong following across Canada and attracts repeat orders.
So, what keeps the MacEacherns going? Both customers and family. “What we love most about Hallmark is our customers—being able to help them find that perfect card and/or gift, having someone say ‘thank you so much for your help,’ having our customers tell us their stories, making someone’s day, hearing about the special occasions our customers are shopping for, being there to listen with a sympathetic ear, and making a difference in even the smallest of ways,” says Wanda.
She also enjoys working with her husband. “We love being able to work together and have built a profitable business that we enjoy. We believe we have created a great working environment for our work family. When we opened, we had both our daughters working with us. Our oldest daughter continues to work with us and is a key member of our management team.”
With years of experience, the MacEacherns have a few recommendations to those who want to follow them into Hallmark ownership. While their own retail experience helped the MacEacherns tremendously, they don’t believe it’s 100 per cent necessary to be successful. What they do recommend is having a good business sense and a strong business plan, training and working with staff effectively, finding a good location with fair rent, and finally, working hands-on in the business. “It is key that you work in your store and stay involved with the business, regardless of how long you have been an owner.”