KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Getting Hallmark Cards Inc. to sell Veterans Day cards became a personal crusade for Keri Olson after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Olson, who has worked for Hallmark for the past two years and whose father received a Purple Heart for combat wounds in the Vietnam War, managed to convince the Kansas City-based company that making the cards was a good idea, even though Hallmark had considered it at least twice before but decided consumers weren't interested.
The cards hit the shelves earlier this year, and so far, Hallmark spokeswoman Rachel Bolton said, sales have been better than expected.
"Sales have proved she was right," Bolton said.
The difference, Bolton said, between now and when the company tested Veterans Day cards in 1985 and 1999 was obvious.
"We felt so strongly that things had changed, that people were feeling different following 9/11," Bolton said.
'I began to understand'
Most of the 20 Veterans Day cards in Hallmark's line are aimed at specific types of veterans. There's one for each branch of the military, for veterans of World War II and the Korean, Vietnam and Persian Gulf wars, for women, for fathers and for sons.
Olson's experience with her father last year prompted her to push Hallmark to sell the cards.
"I think with the events of Sept. 11, I began to understand all that he had sacrificed. I really wanted to tell him," she said.
As a Hallmark employee, she naturally wanted to use a greeting card to thank her father. Because Hallmark didn't make Veterans Day cards, Olson chose one that expressed appreciation and gave it to her dad last Nov. 11.
"When he got this card, he started crying and saying that no one had ever thanked him before," Olson said.
The next day, she went to work "determined to make this happen."
Olson eventually convinced Hallmark to give the cards a try, Bolton said. A team of writers and artists volunteered to help with the Veterans Day cards along with their normal duties.
The team projected that about 5,000 stores would want to carry them, Olson said. More than 18,000 stores ordered them, with each store getting about four copies of every design, Bolton said. Some stores already have asked for more, she added.
"But what surprised us was people were buying the cards several weeks ago," Bolton said.
'A niche market'
Hallmark does not yet have reliable data on the exact number of cards sold, Bolton said.
Hallmark's chief competitor, American Greetings, has found that Veterans Day was "more of a niche market," said Laurie Henrichsen, spokeswoman for the Cleveland-based company.
"They sell very well for what they are. But it's not a holiday that's as big as something like Christmas and Valentine's Day," Henrichsen said.
Last year, American Greetings offered some cards for Veterans Day in conjunction with other patriotic cards issued after the terrorist attacks. This year, it is offering electronic Veterans Day cards only on www.bluemountain. com and www.american greetings.com.
For Hallmark, the top-selling card so far, Bolton said, is one for fathers that features two children with their hands over their hearts. The tagline inside reads: "Thanks for Defending 'Liberty and Justice for All.'"
Another popular card salutes World War II veterans, Bolton said. It reads: "Veterans of World War II led the way for countless heroes to come. Today your sacrifice and courage mean more than ever. ... Today your service and you are remembered with honor."
Jerry Newberry, a spokesman for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said the organization, whose headquarters is in Kansas City, was happy with Hallmark's decision to sell the cards.
"We think it's a great idea. In fact, we encouraged Hallmark to do that some years ago. We're really happy they did. I know most veterans and their families will be appreciative that those cards will be available," Newberry said.
He agreed with Hallmark that recent events should lead to increased interest in the cards.
"There's a new awareness, I think, of what veterans have done to maintain our way of life, and all of the sacrifices that are attached to the service," Newberry said.
On the Net
Hallmark Cards: www.hallmark.com