At the start of his career, Jim Hernandez was cold-calling businesses to sell printers. Now, he is a top-level executive for Hallmark, having been with the company for twenty-seven years. Being at the leadership level is certainly a source of pride for Hernandez, but at the same time humility is infused in everything he does—a value he says is characteristic of his Mexican heritage. Hispanic Executive recently spoke with Hernandez to find out why he has never wanted to leave Hallmark. He speaks about how his personal values align with the largest manufacturer of greeting cards in the country.
HE: Can you start by giving us an overview of your role as VP of retail marketing?
JH: My team develops strategy for new independent specialty stores in North America. We determine where the consumer is located and place product in places where we can meet her needs. We are charged with finding opportunities that allow Hallmark Gold Crown independent retailers to grow by partnering with current independent retail businesses.
HE: How would you sum up your key objective?
JH: My objective is to work with leaders and teams throughout Hallmark to develop the distribution strategy we need to increase Hallmark distribution by finding new spaces and places to offer our products to the consumer. It is critical that I ensure the market development vision is understood by my team and that we leverage every available resource to succeed. My role is to drive results by leading my team and keeping our partners engaged in our goals and vision.
HE: Who’s on your team?
JH: The team consists of several different areas of expertise; real estate, distribution planning, market development, and new business acquisitions. I am lucky to work with such a talented group of people who are constantly adapting to change and learning new ways to succeed in an evolving entrepreneurial atmosphere.
HE: Speaking of the individual retailers, is Hallmark a franchise business?
JH: Hallmark stores are licensees. The retailers are licensed to use our name, and we expect the stores to deliver a consistent brand experience to our consumer.
HE: Are all the products you’d find in a Hallmark store Hallmark products?
JH: Hallmark stores carry a large percentage of Hallmark products—nearly 65 percent in most stores. The balance of product is typically sourced locally and purchased from other top notch gift suppliers. As you know, we also have a large keepsake ornament business. Our gift collections include lines for every holiday as well as a wide variety of everyday gifts.
HE: Tell me a little bit about what you did before coming to Hallmark in 1989.
JH: I started in retail with Montgomery Ward in El Paso, Texas. After that, I joined the sales team at Ricoh and sold copy machines. Cold-calling is a tough job. I learned a lot about building relationships and the value of perseverance.
HE: Can you give me an idea of how your career has evolved within Hallmark?
JH: The company wanted me to learn the business from the ground up and Hallmark invested in my development. I understood early on that if there were opportunities, you had to earn them. I started off in sales based out of Salt Lake City, where my territory was part of Utah, Wyoming, and Idaho. After about two years, I moved to Southern California, where I became a sales executive. After my time in California, I made the move to Hallmark headquarters in Kansas City, Missouri. I temporarily left my selling bag behind and learned another side of the business: product development and category management. Eventually, I found myself back in sales in multiple levels of leadership.
HE: How do you see that early experience as important in getting you where you are with the company today?
JH: It was critical—they gave me opportunity to basically be a mini-CEO. I started off with my first territory and Hallmark empowered me to make decisions at a local level. I also had a lot of support, a lot of mentors. At each level, I found the same thing: the leadership was clear on expectations, clear on the results they wanted. They gave the information and training needed to meet the objectives.
HE: What is your impression of the business climate in retail today?
JH: Retail is a tough environment—it’s become a 24-7 business. A lot of companies are looking at closing stores and downsizing to keep financials in line. But we are aggressively looking for business owners and local entrepreneurs to help bring Hallmark to their local communities.
HE: So you’ve opened new stores recently?
JH: Absolutely! One of our strategic priorities is to grow the business and add new places in new spaces. Over the last fourteen months, we’ve opened ninety—and counting. We’re really excited about that.
HE: One thing you’ve been doing is focusing on the Hispanic market to drive growth. Can you tell me about that?
JH: Yes, just this morning we had a meeting about a lab we’ve developed to test and create offerings for Hispanics, and also African Americans. When you look at Hallmark’s goal of helping people connect with each other, we should be the destination for people of all backgrounds. People trust our brand to help them celebrate life’s milestones. Our job is to place the brand, fulfill the consumers’ need, and create an appropriate style design for the market. As the demographic shift continues, Hallmark will continue working hard to meet the needs of consumers from every background.
HE: Can you give me an example?
JH: We are currently working with store owners in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood. The store focuses on party supplies and the youth soccer market. The business owner has done a great job shifting as the local demographics have evolved. We believe this is an extraordinary opportunity for Hallmark to partner with this local business owner to fill his consumers’ need. The business sees opportunity with the Hallmark brand and values the authentic connection our product creates. This Hallmark store-in-a store will be the first in their community.
HE: You’ve been with Hallmark for almost thirty years. Why have you stuck around?
JH: It’s a great company—it’s a company that’s invested in me and challenged me to learn and grow. As a result, I’ve been given opportunities to do something new and think outside the box. Every single day is different than the day before. It is also a company whose mission is to make a genuine difference in every life, every day. I feel great about that mission.