The Leavenworth Times - Leavenworth, KS
  • Hallmark here making “the very best” for 66 years

  • At times, the environs of the Hallmark production center in Leavenworth can resemble descriptions of the fictional Wonka candy factory in Roald Dahl's book “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”
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  • At times, the environs of the Hallmark production center in Leavenworth can resemble descriptions of the fictional Wonka candy factory in Roald Dahl's book “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”
    Giant rolls of tissue paper in every color and pattern act as partitions of sorts on the factory floor. Machines spin and spew silvery bows and ribbons to be sorted and shipped. And colorful cups, plates and stickers are produced by the hundreds with equipment that uses advanced printing and assembling techniques. Almost everything seems to be moving, or is about to be.
    It's all to keep shelves stocked with the latest products of the largest greeting card company in the U.S. Tony Prohaska, manager of Hallmark’s Leavenworth Production Center, said the facility is one that has to be on its toes, considering its primary specialty ― producing plates, cups, napkins, wrapping and tissue paper, many of those proprietary goods bearing movie and cartoon characters as well as professional sports team logos.
    “If there's a hot movie, then that's going to be instant, get it, all the product needs to be there before the movie launches,” said Production Manager Albert Green. “Because the minute the movie launches, mothers and grandmas need to go out and have product for grandkids and kids at birthday parties.”
    That applies to more than just licensed products ― Green said the design team, based at the company's headquarters in Kansas City, will change products to reflect current trends in patterns and color. It's then up to the Leavenworth facility to produce those new lines quickly.
    “We will get a new design every week,” he said.
    Since 1947, Hallmark Cards has had a facility in Leavenworth producing these items and more and since 1967 has been located in its 765,000 square-foot building on Eisenhower Road here. Following an earlier move out of the Hallmark Select Building nearby on Fourth Street, Hallmark's operation here is now 17.5 acres under one roof of production and warehouse space, Prohaska said, with 270 full-time employees currently working three shifts. He said some things have definitely changed over the years, with the factory now adhering mostly to what he called “lean manufacturing,” meaning the facility produces a line of goods that, instead of being warehoused, are being shipped immediately to the Hallmark Gold Crown stores and other retailers. As a result, Green said the facility's massive warehouse is considerably empty.
    “There is no finished product sitting in our warehouse,” Green said. “It just doesn't happen.”
    One of the best examples of that kind of turnaround, Prohaska said, is the company's Superbowl products.
    “A month before the Superbowl, when you get the the division playoffs, we will produce the division champion napkins, plates and cups and we will ship those on a Monday to get to the stores on a Wednesday so that they can sell them for their football or Superbowl parties that weekend,” he said. “And then we do the Superbowl plates and cups. We're making it right on the spot and we're delivering it direct to retail.”
    Page 2 of 2 - But that same type of schedule covers a number of different products, with timetables for producing and shipping those items out speeding up seemingly each year, Green said.
    For about four months out of the year, he said production is mostly steady but ramps up sharply at other times.
    “We're a Christmas plant from about mid-May until until September,” Prohaska said.
    Most recently, the factory welcomed new employees and new responsibilities as the company shuttered its plant in Topeka, cutting 300 jobs, and consolidated operations to Leavenworth and Lawrence. That resulted in additional personnel at the center here as well as new product lines and types including, for the first time, ribbon and stickers, according to Prohaska.
    “The consolidation of the Kansas plants,” he said, which took place in October, “was basically taking what we refer to as specialty products and putting it all in one location... It allows some synergies with our business partners and maybe some innovative ideas and product that might come out that might not otherwise.”
    In general, Prohaska said he sees the ability for customers to personalize products of their own as being a potential growth area for the company in years ahead.
    “We've got a small operation where people are going online, they're submitting a photo, we're putting it on a party plate and shipping it to them,” he said. “It's a small niche, but therein lies, I think, the future.”
    Green said he suspects that another trend from recent years ― that of more designs coming quicker ― will continue as automation and technology allow for faster turnover from the production lines.
    “Hallmark strikes very, very quickly, and when that happens, we don't have months to respond,” he said. “We have to respond in days.”
    Through that transition, it's the Hallmark brand itself that Prohaska said is likely to remain one of the company's biggest assets, along with some attitudes that aren't likely to shift even as mobile technology changes the face of the greeting card industry.
    “Helping people to celebrate and connect with their lives, we've always been there and we've been there for 103 years,” he said. “The human need to do that still exists. It's still not appropriate when there's a death in the family to send an e-greeting, or a text or an email. So there's still a need to have a very personal connection.”
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