Hallmark’s Gold Crown Programme On Positive Growth Curve

Hallmark’s ‘root-and-branch’ revamp of its Gold Crown programme in the UK was a bold step to take, but almost year on from its relaunch and the take up from indies is looking good.

“We had not revamped the Gold Crown programme since 2012 and a lot has changed in the world and in the industry over that time, resulting in new challenges for independent retailers,” Ciaran Leonard, Hallmark’s head of sales for UK and Ireland, told PG Buzz. “You cannot ignore the decline in footfall, growth of Card Factory and supermarkets, as well as how consumer shopping patterns generally have changed,” he added in the run up to the re-launch, setting his sights on growing the Gold Crown network up to 200 stores over the next few years.

Above: Retas award winning Baileys Cards and Gifts is part of a new breed Gold Crownie.
Above: Retas award winning Baileys Cards and Gifts is part of a new breed Gold Crownie.

There are now 115 Gold Crown stores trading with several more in the pipeline, assures Graeme Francis, Gold Crown business manager. The FLEX store environment, developed in 2017 and trialled in the concept Widnes and Nantwich Gold Crown stores continues to be rolled out across network members.

“In 2019 we will install 22 new and refurbished FLEX store projects and take the total to 31 FLEX new look stores across the Gold Crown network,” quantified Graeme.

He explained that a key target for 2019 was to stabilise the Gold Crown programme and ensure all its members are well supported across the core expectations of its ‘five pillars’ – product, environment, marketing, service and future proofing.

“We are delighted by the reaction to the programme re-launch with commitment from Hallmark for Gold Crown giving the confidence for many members to look to expand and grow their business with Hallmark and invest in new stores.”

Above: A jubilant trio of Retas winners. (Left-right) Hallmark’s Graeme Francis with Simon Bailey (Bailey’s), Alison Baker (Island Greetings), Lynda Bygrave (Celebrations) and Penny Bailey (Bailey’s).
Above: A jubilant trio of Retas winners. (Left-right) Hallmark’s Graeme Francis with Simon Bailey (Bailey’s), Alison Baker (Island Greetings), Lynda Bygrave (Celebrations) and Penny Bailey (Bailey’s).

Graeme cited Retas award winners Simon and Penny Bailey, owners of Bailey’s Cards and Gifts, Ainsdale who opened a second store in Crosby earlier this with a third planned to open in January 2020.

He also highlights Laura Houlston, who has recently opened Paper Wishes in Prestatyn to add to her store in West Kirby (which reached the finals in The Retas in the Best Newcomer North this year).

This year’s Retas saw Gold Crownies triumph, winning a trio of trophies with Island Greetings (in Jersey) winning Best Independent Greeting Card Retailer – South West, Bailey’s Cards and Gifts in Ainsdale and Crosby winning Independent Greeting Card Retailer – North while Mandy Bakermanager of Celebrations, Aylsham was crowned Greeting Card Retail Employee Of The Year.

There will be more awards on the cards at the upcoming annual Gold Crown Owner seminar, which will take place on 26 September at Oulton Hall in Leeds, which will mark “the launch new 2020 initiatives in service and marketing to future proof our partnership,” says Graeme.

One lucky Gold Crown member attending this year’s event will win a Hallmark refurbishment of their store in 2020 while the Gala Dinner will also see the announcement of the 2019 Gold Crown Retailer of the Year along with other awards and recognition.

Laura’s New Jewel In The Crown

Laura Houlston was working in a office, but felt sheneeded a new challenge” so, in May 2017, she bought West Kirby Cards, an existing Gold Crown store and set about putting her stamp on it, reaching the finals of The Retas in the Best Newcomer – North category as testament to her success. She now has the ‘card bug’ and has recently opened her second Gold Crown store, in Prestatyn in North Wales.

Above: Gold Crownie Laura Houlston (right) with Hallmark’s area sales manager Sue Strong at The Retas in July.
Above: Gold Crownie Laura Houlston (right) with Hallmark’s area sales manager Sue Strong at The Retas in July.

Here she shares her tale… 

“I previously worked in an office, but felt that I needed a new challenge. Retail has always been in my family as my parents, grandparents and auntie and uncle have all owned a Post Office previously.

The location of West Kirby Cards was far enough from family in North Wales, but close enough to be able to travel back to and it has given me a new area to explore, so I took over the shop in May 2017.

Above: Laura’s West Kirby Cards shop was in the finals for The Retas in the newcomer – north category.
Above: Laura’s West Kirby Cards shop was in the finals for The Retas in the newcomer – north category.

Then, at the beginning of this year I felt I needed to expand and so started looking for another shop, ideally in North Wales, an area I know very well as  I was brought up there.

I started looking at empty properties and came across one Prestatyn which seemed too good an opportunity to miss, especially as the competition was only one big chain. The shop had been empty for around two years, but the fixtures and fittings were still in good condition. The feedback I had about the shop was positive as all I kept hearing was that Prestatyn needed a decent card shop again.

Above: Inside the new Paper Kisses store in Prestatyn.
Above: Inside the new Paper Kisses store in Prestatyn.

So I approached Hallmark, who was very supportive and helped me so much to get the shop ready so that we were able to open on 27July. So far the feedback has all been encouraging and it’s definitely proving worthwhile!”

Top: Paper Kisses in Prestatyn is a brand new Gold Crown store.

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