Hallmark Cards To Close Plant, Lay Off Workers, Cites E-Cards

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Hallmark Cards layoffs

By Heather Hollingsworth


Say it's your birthday or you've just had a baby, maybe got engaged or bought your first house. If you're like many Americans, your friends are texting their congratulations, sending you an e-card or clicking "Like" on your Facebook wall.

But how many will send a paper greeting card?

"I'm really, really bad at it," said Melissa Uhl. The 25-year-old nanny from Kansas City, Mo., hears from friends largely through Facebook. "Maybe," she said, "an e-card from my mom."

Once a staple of birthdays and holidays, paper greeting cards are fewer and farther between -- now seen as something special, instead of something that's required. The cultural shift is a worrisome challenge for the nation's top card maker, Hallmark Cards Inc., which last week announced it will close a Kansas plant that made one-third of its greeting cards. In consolidating its Kansas operations, Kansas City-based Hallmark plans to shed 300 jobs.

Pete Burney, Hallmark's senior vice president who overseas production, says "competition in our industry is indeed formidable" and that "consumers do have more ways to connect digitally and online and through social media."

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Over the past decade, the number of greeting cards sold in the U.S. has dropped from 6 billion to 5 billion annually, by Hallmark's estimates. The Greeting Card Association, an industry trade group based in White Plains, N.Y., puts the overall-sold figure at 7 billion.

Brian Sword, 34, of Kansas City, said he's "definitely" buying and receiving fewer printed cards than he did a decade ago, though he still prefers to send them to -- and receive them from -- a small group of close friends and family.

"I do think there are a lot of benefits and it does say more when it comes in a paper card format than when it comes even as an online greeting card," Sword said. "There's just something about receiving that card in the mail and opening it up and having it be a physical card."

Even the paper cards people buy have changed. Many people now use online photo sites to upload images and write their own greetings. High-end paper stores are attracting customers who design their own cards, sometimes using graphics software once available only to professionals.


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Hallmark Cards To Close Plant, Lay Off Workers, Cites E-Cards

Seasonal job openings: 5,200

A staple of many shopping malls across the nation, the gourmet gift basket retailer relies heavily on holiday sales to add to its profits. A privately held company, Hickory Farms perennially hires as many as 6,000 seasonal workers to work at its stores, which it calls "Holiday Gift Centers." Though many jobs involve interacting with customers, the company also needs additional workers to fill stock and labor positions, which may include driving in some locations, it says.

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Seasonal job openings: 50,000+

Though it has no bricks-and-mortar stores to staff, Amazon.com Inc.'s seasonal hiring plans  are nonetheless robust. It needs plenty of additional workers to help fill orders and keep products moving through its warehouses nationwide. The Seattle-based company, which is unveiling a new line of Kindle-brand electronic readers and tablets, also plans to add 2,000 new jobs at three new distribution centers to help deal with demand driven by the new devices.

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Seasonal job openings: 52,700

The department store operator announced it September that it would ramp up holiday hiring by more than 10 percent from last year to support its business in stores and online. Wisconsin-based Kohl's Corp., which operates 1,134 stores in 49 states, plans to hire an average of 41 workers at each store, a 4 percent increase from last year. The company also expects to add about 5,700 seasonal positions at distribution centers and more than 30 seasonal credit operations jobs.

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Seasonal job openings: 45,000

The former No. 1 seller of toys in the U.S., Toys R Us Inc. credits a gradually improving economy and an increase in consumer spending for its decision to hire 11 percent more seasonal workers than the 40,000 it did in 2011. Of those it hired last year, Toys R Us says roughly 15 percent of them were kept on after the holiday sales season ended.

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Seasonal job openings: 50,000+

The holidays are the busiest time of year for the world's largest retailer and the company plans to hire more than 50,000 temporary workers to help keep store shelves and move customers through checkout lines as the 2012 holiday season approaches. Walmart Stores Inc. also plans to give existing employees the chance to work more hours during the season, acknowledging complaints among some workers who said they weren't able to work as many hours as they would have liked.

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Seasonal job openings: up to 90,000

Though far smaller than rival Walmart, the nation's No. 2 retailer nonetheless plans to hire plenty of holiday season workers in 2012. The Minnesota-based company plans to add 80,000 to 90,000 seasonal jobs, down a bit from the 92,000 it hired last year. Hiring forecasts are likely be held in check by Target's expectations of an "ultracompetitive" holiday sales season. Target Corp., along with Walmart, is keeping an eye on expenses, which of course includes labor costs, so as to lower prices and stimulate sales.

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Seasonal job openings: 80,000

The king of all department stores, Cincinnati-based Macy's Inc. said it's hiring nearly 3 percent more seasonal staff than it did last year, in anticipation of higher holidays sales. Sales associates and call center employees are among the positions Macy's is looking to fill, which also include those in its distribution and fulfillment centers, to support the department store operator's growing online business

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Seasonal Job Openings: 24,000

Best Buy Co. plans to hire about 9,000 more seasonal workers as it did last year, though this year's number is still below the 29,000 it hired in 2010. In July, the world's largest consumer electronics chain cut 600 of its "Geek Squad" employees in response to weak sales. The boost in seasonal hiring is helping to contribute to what analysts say is the best year of seasonal-job creation that the U.S. has seen in five years.

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Seasonal Job Openings: 17,000

Much like Best Buy, GameStop has seen its sales erode as more and more consumers turn to buying online. Faced with strong competitors such as Amazon, GameStop has nonetheless managed to hold its own in terms of sales and profits. As with most retailers, the Grapevine, Texas-based company derives much of its sales during the all-important holiday sales season -- and its more than 4,400 stores in the U.S. need more staff to help keep those cash registers ringing.

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Seasonal Job Openings: 40,000

J.C. Penney Co. has struggled to remake its namesake JCPenney stores into a retail business that's more modern and less reliant on discounts to draw customers. And the coming holiday shopping season will be an important test of whether the signs of improvement that Plano, Texas-based company has lately been showing are real or not. Sales are expected to be tepid this holiday season, but at least one company representative says that won't affect the need for seasonal workers. "[It] looks like there will be another increase this year over last year's hiring," said, Bob Parker, a site manager for JCPenney in Sarasota, Fla., "probably by as much as 10 to 20 percent in some cases."

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Seasonal Job Openings: 20,000

The fall is prime season for privately held Party City Holdings Inc., which is perhaps best known as a seller of Halloween costumes. But the retailer also sells party supplies and seasonal decorations, which result in a steady flow of customers this time of year. The Rockaway, N.J.-based company has 600 stores nationwide. In addition to its namesake Party City stores, it also operates The Paper Factory, Halloween City and Factory Card & Party Outlet shops.

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Seasonal job openings: 20,000

It takes a lot more workers to help move the millions of boxes and packages Americans send to each other each holiday season. And though FedEx Corp. expects shipping volume will be up 13 percent, it's hiring about as many workers as it did last holiday season. The company says it can stick with the same number of seasonal workers as last year because it has been hiring staff throughout 2012.

The Memphis, Tenn.-based company, which is closely watched as an indicator of consumer demand and economic health, anticipates handling more than 280 million shipments during the holiday season from Thanksgiving to Christmas. Competitor UPS added about 55,000 workers for the holidays last year, 10 percent more than it hired in 2010.

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Seasonal job openings: 55,000

With expectations of delivering 527 million packages this holiday season, UPS Inc. is adding 55,000 workers to sort, load and deliver packages, the same number it hired last year, but 10 percent higher than in 2010. Based on the company's forecast, it appears those and full-time UPS workers will be busiest during the final week before the Christmas holiday. UPS says 28 million, or 5 percent of packages, will be delivered Thursday, Dec. 20 -- projected to be the busiest of the year.

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"What Hallmark started with met the needs of the consumers in that early 20th century period to mass produce these personal greeting cards with art and poems and the only way you could communicate was by mail essentially," said Pam Danziger, who analyzes the industry as president of Stevens, Pa.-based Unity Marketing. "It's no surprise that in the 21st century with so many other communication vehicles available that the old idea of a greeting card being sent by mail just doesn't work anymore."

According to a U.S. Postal Service study, correspondence such as greeting cards fell 24 percent between 2002 and 2010. Invitations alone dropped nearly 25 percent just between 2008 and 2010. The survey attributed the decline to "changing demographics and new technologies," adding that younger households "both send and receive fewer pieces of correspondence mail because they tend to be early adaptors of new and faster communication media."

While Hallmark says it's committed to the paper greeting card, it has made changes over the years. It has an iPhone app, for example, that lets people buy and mail cards from their phones. It also partnered with online card service Shutterfly to share designs that consumers can use to build specialized cards online.

Its chief rival, Cleveland, Ohio-based American Greetings, actually went from trimming costs and jobs amid the recession to announcing in August that it's adding 125 workers to an Osceola, Ark., plant. It's part of an expansion that will allow customers to design their own cards -- online, of course.

Judith Martin, author of the syndicated Miss Manners column, says she thinks the move away from mass-produced sentiment isn't all bad.

"The most formal situations still require something written," she said. "The least formal are easily taken care of with texting or email, which is terrific. The idea that it has to be all one or all the other and that one method is totally out of date and the other one takes over until the next thing comes along just impoverishes the ways that we can use these different things."

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Amanda Holmboe, a 25-year-old power plant quality control worker from Portland, Ore., has mixed feelings about the rise of digital communications. She said that her friends email, text or post something on Facebook when something big happens in her life.

"More people know about my life and what's going on. I hear from more people, so in some ways I'm connected to more people, but it's a less personal connection," she said.

But Holmboe isn't giving up on cards.

"I love sending cards," she said, adding that she mails some from the cities where she travels for work. "I think they're fun, and I like being able to write a personal note to somebody because I like getting mail, so I guess I just think everyone likes getting mail."





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