"I love this business," exults Robert Kaynes Jr., vice president of sales (and grandson of the founder) at Bron Shoe, the Columbus, Ohio-based company responsible for putting millions of pairs of bronzed baby shoes on bookshelves in the homes of loving parents across America for the past 75 years. "It may sound schmaltzy" Kaynes concedes, "but it\'s a schmaltzy business. We\'re selling sentiment."
Still, how do you market a memory? For companies like Hallmark, FTD, Bron Shoe, and others in the "sentiment expression" industry, selling can be a daunting task. After all, its hard enough to describe sentiment, let alone market it.
Of course, its not all blue smoke and mirrors; there are products involved here. But even though you can "reach out and touch" things like flowers, cards, and bronze baby shoes, these aren\'t your standard durable goods by any stretch of the imagination. The real function and purpose of such items is to act as a messenger--a vehicle of communication between sender and receiver designed to capture a moment in a way that\'s both memorable "and affordable (in other words, not as constricting as vows or as expensive as diamonds), conveying the proper sentiment in a language and fashion that\'s as close to universal as possible.
Naturally this requires using some highly creative sales and marketing techniques, and its a testament to the success of these three companies that many of the strategies they\'ve developed over the years have since become standard operating procedure in areas like point-of-purchase, direct marketing, and distribution. And if you\'re wondering whether prophets can also make profits, consider this: Hallmark, FTD, and Bron Shoe together generate sales of over $5 billion a year, a figure that\'s guaranteed to make even the most hardened marketer a little misty- eyed.
Despite such an impressive record of innovation and achievement--both historically and financially--these companies aren\'t content to rest on their laurels. For them, success in selling sentiment is an ongoing process: Hallmark introduced both the first mass-marketed greeting card and the first computerized card; FTD developed flowers-by- wire (and later flowers-by-phone), as well as the first catalog of standardized bouquets and, more recently, the first tie-ins between flowers and brand name products; Bron-shoe was the first company to bronze baby shoes and has continued to innovate by adding porcelainizing techniques and branching out into related areas of sentiment expression.
With more than 200 years of sales and marketing experience among them, these companies clearly bring a lot to the table when it comes to formulating strategies and tactics. The following stories of their individual successes provide irrefutable proof that--with the right combination of perseverance, positioning, and product--even the most nebulous concept can come up a winner.
HALLMARK
Not only is Hallmark (known as Hall Brothers until 1954) the undisputed leader in the greeting card industry, it sits on the top rung of the entire sentiment expression industry
What exactly can a humble mixture of wood chips, water, and ink do to produce such magical results?
"At Hallmark, we believe a greeting card has the ability to warm a heart, tickle a funny bone, toast a bride, blow a kiss, ease a pain and start a tradition," says Donald J. Hall, chairman of Kansas City, Mo.-based Hallmark (and grandson of the founder).
The popularity of mass-produced greeting cards can be traced to 19th-century England and America, when the advent of cheap, efficient color printing methods and low postage rates suddenly made it easier and cheaper to produce these poignant purveyors of sentiment. By the 1880s, there were literally hundreds of varieties of mass- printed Christmas, New Year\'s, and Valentines Day cards available at the neighborhood pharmacy, dry goods store, or print shop.
The only thing was, those cards were typically kept in drawers behind shop counters and brought out only at the customer\'s request. That is, until 1910, when a clever marketer--one Joyce C. Hall--made what turned out to be a revolutionary observation: why not put those charming, inexpensive greeting cards out where people can see them?
Halls point-of-purchase display essentially transformed the greeting-card industry. Before long, cards were being proffered for every holiday, every faith, and every occasion. Today, roughly half of all greeting cards purchased each