February 14 is like a second Christmas for Hallmark. The increasing commercialization of Valentine's Day has feverishly boosted demand for lavish pink and red greeting cards, whether silly or serious. Woe betide the man who forgets to give his sweetheart at least one of these on the 14th.
Couples who take their greeting cards really seriously can step into the world of Hallmark on a factory tour in Topeka, Kansas. After receiving safety instructions (stay between the marked lines), you enter an enormous manufacturing space. Your tour guide, who normally works there, begins the tour at the foil department. Hallmark's reputation for intricate detail is evident as you watch the application of foils in gold, silver, and other colors for captions, art design, and lettering on cards. Contrasting with this delicacy, your next stop confronts you with the massive machines that cut cards out of litho sheets and send them down a conveyor belt to be stacked. Next you walk past the die-cut machines, clanking and clunking away, to the screen-print operation, which applies ink to large sheets of stock. Each sheet travels along a 30-foot round conveyor to allow the ink to dry. Moving to the end of the manufacturing process, you walk through the areas for folding, quality control, and packaging.
Your last stop on the first floor is the huge area for envelope production. This is the noisiest room in the factory: the machines here produce over 3 billion envelopes every year for the whole of the Hallmark empire. Five-foot-high paper stock disappears into the machines and emerges as a completed envelope only a little larger than your hand.
If, after this up-close encounter, you still want more, you can visit the Hallmark Visitors Center in Kansas City, Missouri. Among many other points of interest, you can watch a technician make engraving dies—the metal plates that raise the three-dimensional designs on paper—or cutting dies, which work like steel cookie cutters to make unusually shaped cards. Two presses churn out cards you may purchase 10 months from now.
More details of both these sites, and many other factory tours, are available in our book, Watch It Made in the U.S.A.
Posted By Karen Axelrod Feb 9, 2009