KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Before Sept. 11, Hallmark Cards was touting a line of cards celebrating the small moments of normal life — a child losing a tooth, buying a first car or even successful potty training.
When the terrorist attacks upset Americans' routines, the greeting card company swiftly designed a new batch of patriotic cards, to hit stores next week, and re-emphasized its core responsibility to help customers find the right words during emotional times.
"Even in typical times, when unnerving things happen people tend to want to reassure each other," said Irvine Hockaday, Hallmark's president and chief executive officer. "They will gravitate to cards and cards shops because they are comforted by them."
In an internal memo sent to employees Oct. 1, Hallmark Chairman Donald Hall and Don Hall Jr., executive vice president, re-emphasized the company's purpose to employees.
"The importance of human relationships lies at the heart of our corporate purpose," the memo said. "... These businesses bring to us unique opportunities to serve mankind ... each of us should be proud of the opportunities we have to help others express themselves through human emotion."
Patriotism is one emotion being emphasized. Six new cards — featuring the flag, an American eagle, the Statue of Liberty and verses thanking the military for serving — will reach shelves nationwide by next weekend. Four others will be available in boxed sets for Christmas.
"I personally hope we have entered a patriotic phase in this country," Hockaday said. "I think that's been lacking for awhile in America. If Hallmark can help support that with its product we will."
American Greetings Corp. also will have new cards and other accessories in stores by mid-October, with new Christmas ornaments available by mid-November.
The company will offer 38 cards, some geared toward Veterans' Day on Nov. 11 and others with verses specifically mentioning Sept. 11, said Laurie Henrichsen, a spokeswoman for the Cleveland-based company.
Not that the companies are giving away the cards. The cards will generally cost $1.99, as will American Greetings' ornaments.
Both companies are scrambling to produce the new cards.
"With the sudden demand for cards, they had to be turned around in record time," Henrichsen said. "But our people were really clamoring to work on this project. Both our creative and manufactuing people have put in hours of overtime to do this."
Unlike other businesses, greeting card companies may be immune to criticism over responding to a perceived market created by the attacks.
"Hallmark can get away with it because of the nature of its product," said Carrie Heilman, an assistant professor at the John M. Olin School of Business at Washington University in St. Louis. "If consumers are going to those stores to buy something, they aren't going to be thinking about any ulterior motive."
The company didn't feel pushed to create cards addressing other emotions because existing cards already do that, said Marita Wesely-Clough, trends manager at Kansas City-based Hallmark.
"Our business is about the range of human emotions, so when terrible things happen, our natural response is to support," Wesely-Clough said. "When someone is deeply wounded, we ought to have every single way to support them, whether it be in iambic pentameter or a simple verse saying 'I'm thinking of you."'
Many current cards simply took on more significance after the attacks, said company spokeswoman Rachel Bolton.
"A child losing a tooth does seem more insignificant now than it did before," Bolton said. "On the other hand, some of the cards have taken on much deeper meaning."
She cited cards that congratulate someone for entering the military, becoming an American citizen, sympathy cards for sudden deaths or those celebrating "everyday heroes."
"I suppose this is the supreme example of Hallmark's calling, of what we are here to do," Bolton said. "We certainly did not want this opportunity, but when faced with it, we feel we had what people needed."
Preliminary figures seem to support that claim. Sales dropped dramatically in the days immediately after that attack, when many people stayed home. But since Sept. 17, card sales have increased 4 percent, with the biggest impact in the east, south-central and northeast states.
Sales of Hallmark's core sympathy cards increased 10 to 14 percent in the two weeks after Sept. 11 and a three-month supply of a card featuring an American flag sold out almost immediately, the company said.
Hallmark anticipates sales also will rise during the upcoming holiday season, Bolton said, although it is not currently planning any new products other than the four patriotic cards.
"The universal expectation here is that people are going to want to celebrate Christmas in a different way this year. They will likely want to make sure that in case something else happens, nothing is left unsaid, important people in their lives are not left untouched."