Your Grandma’s Favorite Store Reinvents Itself as Hip, Experimental Retailer

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The next hot, buzzworthy retail experience comes from a business best known for … old-fashioned greeting cards?

Few would point to traditional paper greeting cards as a growth industry. Greeting card sales plunged 60% over the past decade, according to one estimate. The Postal Service has pointed to the decline in mailed greeting cards as one of the (many) reasons the agency is in horrible shape financially.

A little over a year ago, most observers understood why the nation’s largest card maker, Hallmark, was closing a plant in Kansas where one-third of its cards were manufactured. In the era of daily correspondence via Facebook and other social media, as well as abundant choices of online greetings, invitations, and e-cards, traditional greeting cards seem increasingly irrelevant and unnecessary.

Most observers also understand why Hallmark is now aggressively trying to move beyond its greeting card roots, via an experimental, perhaps even “buzzworthy” new concept store. Apparently because the name “Hallmark” comes with some baggage and more than a hint of outdatedness, the store has been dubbed HMK. Its sole location opened recently at Kansas City’s Country Club Plaza mall, strategically placed in between an Apple store and a Lucky clothing shop.

“We wanted to get credit for doing something buzzworthy,” Jack Moore, Hallmark Gold Crown president, said to the Kansas City Star of the company’s new retail experiment. Customers are greeted with warm cookies at the door, and while plenty of greeting cards are for sale, the model specializes in gifts that can be customized on the spot—children’s books that allow a buyer to insert his kid’s name into the story, cutting boards that can be engraved immediately with a name or favorite phrase, and so on.

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“We wanted our brand to feel younger and more exciting to today’s shoppers,” said Moore. “We want the consumer to say, ‘Wow. This is different. This store will help me create the perfect, personalized gift that is not available anywhere else.’”

Increasingly, consumers are tiring of cookie-cutter products, and everything from smartphone covers to cars can be customized to reflect the buyer’s individual personality and style. Customization is especially popular among millennial consumers.

“Millennials want things customized and personalized for their needs,” a Millennial Marketing post explains. “Not only are retail consumers particular, they want their products and brands organized and specified for them.”

It remains to be seen whether millennials, or any shoppers, embrace HMK’s personalized gifts. But Hallmark, which has shifted its business over the years and cut global employment roughly in half since 1999, has to try something with the hopes of generating buzz.

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In the meantime, don’t worry about old-fashioned print greeting cards disappearing, or about Hallmark becoming too hip. “We think our greeting card business is still exciting,” Hallmark CEO Don Hall, Jr., told the Star, while admitting the undeniable truth: “It isn’t growing.”