An upcoming auction of printing equipment is a sign of necessary change at the Litho-Krome plant in Columbus, not the beginning of the end, the company’s parent company, Hallmark Cards, said Tuesday.
“Litho-Krome (a Hallmark subsidiary) announced to employees back in October that they would be restructuring operations to focus on lithography for Hallmark greeting cards and Crayola products,” Hallmark media relations manager Linda Odell said via email.
“This meant ending operations of its fine art and photo reproduction businesses by the end of 2013 and moving some of the secondary production processes for Hallmark greeting cards to our greetings production facility in Lawrence, Kan.,” she said.
The bottom line for local employees is Litho-Krome’s staffing will be cut from 80, when the restructuring decision was made last fall, to about 50 by the end of June.
From a historical perspective, Litho-Krome, founded by artist and offset lithography innovator J. Tom Morgan in 1933, has seen its work force drop from about 275 in 1998 — when the company operated off 13th Street near downtown Columbus — to roughly 140 as it moved into a 150,000-square-foot showpiece plant in 2003. That current facility is located in Muscogee Technology Park in the Midland area of the city.
Hallmark Cards bought out Litho-Krome in 1979.
At one time, the Columbus company was known for producing limited-edition prints for a number of major art publishers and artists. The late Norman Rockwell and Thomas Kinkade, the latter once hailed as “The Painter of Light,” were among those who used the company’s fine art expertise.
“We did make an announcement to our folks that we’ve shut down some businesses here, which is what you’re seeing. But we’re still open. We’re still doing business,” said Litho-Krome operations manager Angelique Hill. “But we’ve just kind of redirected our focus. We’ve restructured our business to focus on lithography for Hallmark. It’s our core. We still print Hallmark greeting cards.”
Odell said the Columbus plant has been producing Crayola packaging for at least five years, with hopes to increase that packaging work as well. Like Litho-Krome, Crayola is a subsidiary of Hallmark, as is Crown Media Holdings — which includes cable TV’s Hallmark Channel — and Christian greeting card and gift supplier, DaySpring Cards.
This is not the first restructuring of Hallmark operations. In January, the company said it had completed a consolidation of two production centers in the Kansas communities of Lawrence and Leavenworth, a process that included closing a plant in Topeka, Kan. The “operating efficiencies” reduced the combined work force there from 1,300 to about 1,000.
On Tuesday, Hallmark Cards reported overall revenue of $3.9 billion in 2013, a 2 percent decline from 2012. It did not report how much earnings, or profits, were for the year, other than say they “improved over the same time period.”
Hallmark, founded in 1910, is a private firm. It has 11,300 full-time and 20,500 part-time employees around the world, about 6,600 of those in the United States, according to its website.
Nearly half of the U.S. work force is at the Hallmark headquarters in Kansas City, where more than 500 creative people — artists, designers, stylists, writers, editors, web designers and photographers — develop 18,000 new and redesigned greeting cards and gift products annually, the website says. Those products are sold in more than 40,000 retail stores.
Washington, D.C.-based Liquidity Services is handling the online auction of the Columbus plant’s printing equipment and supplies. It also worked with Hallmark during its previous consolidation, said public relations manager Melissa Gieringer.
“It’s an auction like eBay, if you will, so people can see what others are bidding and if they want to bid higher,” she said.
The online auction begins March 24 and lasts for two days, the company said, with inspection of the goods primarily via the Internet.
“You can go inspect in person as well. You have to make an appointment,” Gieringer said. “But we make it very easy to inspect online with comprehensive photos and descriptions, and then all of the bidding is done online.”
She said the winning bidder is responsible for shipping the equipment, with Liquidity Services anticipating bids from around the globe.
The Greeting Card Association estimates roughly 6.5 billion paper greeting cards are purchased in the U.S. each year, generating more than $7 billion in sales. But companies marketing electronic cards, or e-cards, have reported steady growth among the Internet-savvy crowd.