Company ProfilesIconic BrandJuly/August 2019

Iconic Brand: Hallmark Canada

When looking to show a loved one or friend that they truly care – through the good times and the bad – Canadians invariably think of Hallmark Canada’s network of Hallmark Gold Crown® stores, where meaningful gifts of social expression delivered with personalized service is the name of the game.

The First Name in Gifts and Greeting Cards

Hallmark truly is an iconic brand in the greeting card and personal gift space. Founded by American businessman Joyce Hall in Kansas City, Missouri in 1910, Hallmark has risen through generations to become the world’s largest manufacturer of greeting cards in the United States. In Canada, the William E. Coutts Company sold greeting cards across the country from 1916 to 1931, before forging a partnership with Hall and the Hall Brothers Company to manufacture Hall Brothers cards in Canada on a royalty basis.

From there, the relationship between the two companies grew, leading to Hall purchasing 40 per cent of the William E. Coutts Company in 1948 before purchasing the company in its entirety in 1958 to bring Hallmark Canada to life. Today, Hallmark Canada makes its mark with 72 franchised units and nine corporate stores across the country.

All Hallmark Canada franchises operate under the Gold Crown program. Hallmark’s Gold Crown stores are a familiar sight for Canadians seeking greeting cards, gifts, and other social expression products. What separates Gold Crown stores from the competition is that their locations are always offering something new, explains Michelle Smye, General Manager of Retail for Hallmark Canada. Whether it’s seasonal cards and gifts for holidays such as Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, or cards and gifts for everyday events such as birthdays or anniversaries, there’s always something innovative and exciting in stock.

In addition to Gold Crown store exclusive products, Hallmark Canada franchises also forge partnerships with local small businesses and artisans to offer customers something truly unique. Gold Crown stores often provide space for pop-up shop collaborations, which helps cross-promote Hallmark stores and compatible vendors. “We formalized the Gold Crown store program 1986,” says Smye. “We set that up as the flagship brand, and as such, we’ve given each of our franchisees exclusive access to our entire portfolio of social expression products that you just won’t find anywhere else. In a nutshell, our concept is that we’re in the business of helping people make meaningful connections with others. That really hasn’t changed over time.”

Making Connections

With the rise of e-commerce, astute brick and mortar retailers are exploring innovative new ways to draw consumers away from their screens and into their stores. For Hallmark Canada, the brand’s focus is on providing an exceptional customer experience. Smye explains how their C.A.R.E. Program is all about equipping franchisees with the tools they need to establish deep connections with customers to deliver an experience they won’t find online.

“It’s taking customer service to the next level,” says Smye. “We’re focused on the entire store environment, so when you walk into one of our stores, our retailers are creating an environment where cards are an essential part of what we do, but we’re also providing storytelling, artistry, and community content. This helps us to really engage with the customer and address their need to connect because again, we’re all about connections.”

Gold Crown store owners have taken the brand’s goal of forging deep connections with customers to heart. For Helen Coons-Schwark, who’s owned a Gold Crown store in Regina for the past four years, operating a Hallmark franchise is all about the people.

With a background in office management, direct sales, and bookkeeping, Coons-Schwark began working at a Hallmark store as a retail sales associate in 2008. Interacting directly with customers, she saw first-hand the positive role the franchise plays in the day-to-day lives of the people it serves. From there, what began as a part-time job evolved into an opportunity to own a business that she felt passionate about.

“We get the opportunity to help customers find the perfect gift or greeting card for the special people and occasions in their lives,” she says. “You get a glimpse into their triumphs and their heartaches. Some days you laugh with them, some days you cry with them. You just get the chance to make a difference in their day.”

Finding Franchising Success

To be a successful Hallmark Canada franchise owner, one must share in the brand’s vision for its Gold Crown stores, which is for them to be the go-to source for consumers to deepen their personal relationships with meaningful cards and gifts. According to Smye, Coons-Schwark epitomizes what it means to be a Gold Crown store owner.

Coons-Schwark has been recognized by Hallmark with a Leading Edge Award, which is given to the franchise’s top retailers. She attributes her success with the franchise to following Hallmark Canada’s proven system and by leveraging her experience as a retail associate to deliver the exceptional customer experience that brings people through her store’s doors again and again. It also helps to take advantage of the franchisor’s national programs, such as the Hallmark Rewards loyalty program. She explains how initiatives such as rewards programs are great customer retention tools; offering exclusive offers, promotions, and special member pricing.

“Participating in national programs and events, and following the guidelines set forth in the franchise agreement,” Coons-Schwark says of how she’s found success with her Gold Crown store. “Those tools are set in place to help us achieve success. It’d be inane not to take advantage of them.”

Hallmark Canada’s franchisee support program includes financial and marketing initiatives that are vital to building success in an increasingly competitive retail space. The franchisor provides training resources for both new and existing franchisees along with access to a team of dedicated business development specialists.

Training for new franchise owners starts with an orientation program at Hallmark’s Canadian office in Markham, Ontario, where they have the opportunity to meet face-to-face with key business partners. They’ll then spend time learning the ropes at an established store so that they can observe a franchise’s day-to-day operations first-hand.

By leveraging the training and ongoing support provided by head office, sticking with the franchise system, and believing in the brand’s vision, franchisees can expect success, says Smye.

“We really believe that when you care enough, you can change the world. That’s one of our many expressions here at Hallmark and we truly stand behind it. With that in mind, we really look to bring on individuals who understand that concept,” she adds.

The path towards becoming a Hallmark Gold Crown store owner starts with a prospective franchisee doing their research and due diligence to see if the franchise is the right fit. From there, they can fill out a franchise application form. Hallmark Canada will then set up a discovery call to discuss expectations and financial considerations.

When it comes to the nitty-gritty, building out a Hallmark Gold Crown store requires an investment of $150,000 to $550,000. Additionally, a monthly franchise fee applies. Site selection is handled by the franchisor, utilizing a market planning department and site selection specialists that study demographic information to identify possible sites for Hallmark Gold Crown stores. In addition, a team of Hallmark real estate professionals assist franchisees with negotiating the economic terms of their leases.

“We look to bring on individuals that really connect with the philosophy. They’re going to be representing our brand on the front lines with our customers. What they offer in their stores, what they say, what they do, all of that is going to be what impression of the brand is left with the consumers,” Smye says of prospective franchisees. “It’s about wanting to be there and connect with customers in a way that’s actually influencing their lives.”

By Andrew Schopp