Say the word “Hallmark” and it conjures up very powerful brand associations around greeting cards, retail environments, and cable TV fare.
Patti Streeper’s job at the $3.9 billion company is to help Hallmark cultivate businesses that may not fit with the 105-year old company’s current image — but ones that speak to new groups of customers. We spoke with her about two examples: Easy, Tiger, a line of offbeat cards targeted at Millennials, and 5 Points, a pop-up retail concept that Hallmark launched last year.
Streeper’s title is Vice President Corporate Innovation at Hallmark Cards. She also runs the company’s Corporate Innovation Group, which works on a large number of projects across Hallmark. In early 2014, she started the company’s CREATE incubator, which develops new businesses.
“We’re learning how to work differently and experiment with different models, and move from an idea to what we hope will be sustainable business over time,” she says. Streeper’s eight-person innovation group is composed of internal consultants who work across the organization, and intersect with numerous projects companywide. Her team reports to Hallmark’s Senior Vice President of Consumer Solutions, Ellen Junger. With the CREATE incubator, she has a dotted line to the President of North America, David Hall.
Hallmark is privately-held, but its Crown Media Holdings subsidiary, which includes the Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movie Channel are public. Recapping its most recent year-end results, Hallmark said that 2013 revenues were down two percent from the prior year, which in turn had dipped two percent from the year before. That creates a sense of urgency to explore new markets.
A New Kind of Shop
Streeper’s 5 Points pop-up retail concept initially launched last june in Kansas City, Missouri — home to Hallmark’s headquarters. The space offers one-of-a-kind designer goods that tend to be made in small quantities, as well as on-site creative activities. The name 5 Points refers to the shop’s ethos: Make, Say, Share, Live, Keep.
After an initial launch in Kansas City, a 5 Points pop-up shop went live for several weeks over the Christmas holidays in San Francisco’s Mission District, home to numerous art galleries. Aimed at hipster 18-30 year-olds, the temporary store featured different collections from local artists and craftspeople. At the San Francisco pop-up, 5 Points invited customers to use an antique letter press, add to an ongoing mural, and observe as products were produced in real-time on the store’s 3-D printer.
Attracting Millennials to a pop-up is challenging. “We’re starting to learn what helps to drive the traffic. You have to keep the energy up,” Streeper says.
The product mix is also crucial. “On My Way to Wanderlust,” central to the Live collection, features a tree sloth who climbs down from his branch and decides to “live.” (A $38 screen print is at right.) His story is documented in an online blog and animated clip, and then depicted on T-shirts and signage, all aimed to appeal to a wanderlust generation. Other merchandise, including a tote made from old Army blankets, leather embossed keychains and art supplies, are meant to be modern but also harken back to another age, Streeper says. She says the shop’s personality is all about the “element of surprise.”
And while the 5 Points shop has since packed up and moved back to Kansas City to prepare for its next pop up, Streeper says they are poring over notes from their experience, and making plans for what’s next, which will include building a bigger online presence for the brand.Overall, the Mission District location that 5 Points rented for the pop-up was key. “We learned we were in the right place for the demographic,” she adds. “We just learned a ton.”
A New Take on a Traditional Product
Kansas City artists Melanie Bridges and Mike Sayre developed the Easy, Tiger product line over a number of years. Now as a Hallmark subsidiary, it is still managed by Bridges and Sayre, who handle all the creative, while one of Streeper’s team members helps with the business side.
In addition to cards, Easy, Tiger sells glassware, T-shirts, trophies and other collectibles bearing funny, quirky or risque messages. Bridges and Sayre “were sick and tired of hearing that Millennials weren’t interested in paper cards,” Streeper says. “If you have the right kind of artwork, feeling, and point-of-view, it’ll have appeal.”
To garner attention, Easy, Tiger converted a few cigarette and candy bar vending machines to accommodate Easy, Tiger cards, and decked out a 1966 Dodge van with the company’s trademark logo and green color to show off at events.
So far, business is swift, with men buying half of all the cards — an unexpected development. Easy, Tiger merchandise is now available in 50 boutiques across the U.S., in addition to 11 Barnes & Noble college bookstores. It’s also selling its art prints in 81 Indigo bookstores in Canada, as well as through the Indigo website.
And while Streeper anticipates that Easy, Tiger will eventually move under Hallmark’s main business umbrella, she says, she would only want it to happen under certain parameters. Because the brand so closely reflects Bridges and Sayre’s points of view, “It’s not an easy voice to replicate.” From a business perspective, she wants it to scale at an appropriate pace. “It’s very different from a well-established business,” she adds, “you don’t want it to get crushed.”
Hallmark’s overarching vision is to create a more emotionally-connected world, says Streeper, who has been with the company for 33 years. “That’s inspiring to me, especially in a world with so much turmoil and divisiveness,” she says. “I’ve worn a lot of hats and had a lot experiences. I’m bringing all those experiences together to try to find new ways to help people meaningfully connect.”