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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Hallmark Quits the Flower Business

The first name in U.S. greeting cards—and PG-rated TV dramas—has not done so well selling flowers.


“When you care enough to send the very best….” To the breast-beating motto of the Hallmark card company, we now add: “When you know enough to get out of flower retailing….”

Hallmark has done just that. The company announced that it will stop “its direct-to-consumer flowers and gifts business by the end of April.”
Hallmark Flowers began as a pilot retailing program in 1999, launching in 2001 and mailing out its first catalogue in 2005. The company marketed flowers and other gifts through both the catalogue and a website. Jennifer Mann, reporting for Hallmark’s hometown paper the Kansas City Star, quotes company spokesperson Julie O’Dell: ““Basically, we have taken a close, thorough look at the current competitive marketplace — particularly for flowers — and our business model and have determined that the investments we needed to make to keep those businesses running and profitable simply couldn’t guarantee the results we needed.”

Does that mean margins were too low, postal rates too high (Hallmark Flowers mailed a whopping eight catalogues to customers last year), or flower sales are declining? Or could it be that the greeting card giant never understood flowers as gifts?

We have no inside scoop, but we do know that buying greeting cards and buying flowers are very different. And while Hallmark knows a thing or ten thousand about the former, that knowledge might have botched their efforts with the latter.

When we shop for a greeting card (being too lazy to make one ourselves), we know we’ll have to settle for something generic – “Sympathy” “Uncle Birthday” “Baby Shower” or, preferably, “Blank.” It’s our lucky day if we find one card that doesn’t resort to a joke about farting or a photo of porpoises. And if it’s not our lucky day, well, it’s the thought that counts.

But with flowers, generic will not do. We’re always looking for something fresh and explicitly personal. We’ll try the patience of any florist insisting on shasta daisies over gerberas, blue delphinium not purple, sweetheart roses rather than the long stemmed kind….

Online flower sellers and catalogues aren’t evil, they just have no way to offer nuance or serendipity. Also, when the catalogue goes to press, in January, there’s no way to know whether the white larkspur available March 27th will be raggedy or heavenly, or not white at all but pink.

Hallmark had built a “state of the art” flower-handling facility near Memphis, where ProFlowers and 1-800-Flowers also have distribution centers. Now, unfortunately, 100 people there in Southaven, Tennessee, and in Kansas City will lose their jobs.  We wish them something better. Otherwise we consider the demise of Hallmark Flowers to be good news and good business. Ease up on the farting jokes, people, and keep on doing what you do “very best.”

Posted by Julie on 03/27 at 05:57 PM
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