American Greetings Corporation is a privately owned American company and is the world's second largest greeting card producer behind Hallmark Cards. Based in Westlake, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland, the company sells paper greeting cards, electronic greeting cards, party products (such as wrapping papers and decorations), and electronic expressive content (e.g., ringtones and images for cell phones). In addition, the company owns the Carlton Cards, Tender Thoughts, Just For You, and Gibson brands.
American Greetings's former toy design and licensing division, initially called Those Characters From Cleveland, subsequently renamed AG Properties and American Greetings Entertainment and now separately owned as Cloudco Entertainment. American Greetings also holds an exclusive license for Nickelodeon characters.
Sapirstein Greeting Card Co. was founded in 1906 by Polish immigrant Jacob Sapirstein (1885–1987), who sold cards to stores from a horse-drawn cart, American Greetings has been run by members of the family since its inception. Irving Sapirstein, Jacobs's oldest son, became the Jacob's first partner in 1918 at age nine. Irving's brother Morris started working at the card company in 1926. Morris and Irving in 1928 got a post card contract worth $24,000. The company started using self-serve display cabinets for its greeting cards in 1929 further cementing its position in the market. Sapirstein Greeting began in 1932 making its own greeting cards.
In 1934, the company began hiring sales representative. Harry, the youngest son, joined the business in 1935. In 1936, the company opened its first branch office and the first major manufacturing facility.
Sapirstein Greeting Card Co. was renamed in 1938 to American Greetings Publishers. In 1939, the firm first issued the Forget-Me-Not card line. Irving and his brothers changed their last name to Stone in the 1940s. American Greeting Publishers was incorporated in 1944. John Sands Pty. Ltd. of Sydney, Australia and the company signed a licensing agreement, the firm's first, in 1949.
The company changed its name to American Greetings Corporation as the company went public in 1952, issuing 200,000 shares. The funds raised were earmarked for acquisitions and expansion. In 1956, American Greetings formed Carlton Cards, Ltd., a Canadian subsidiary. Also that year, the Hi Brows humor studio card line was launched.
In July 1957, the company moved its headquarters to One American Road, Brooklyn, Ohio. In 1958, American Greetings went public. Jacob Sapirstein became chairman of the board while Irving assumed the company's president post in 1960. In Forest City, North Carolina, the company build a cabinet manufacturing plant in 1960. A Mexican subsidiary in Mexico City was set up in 1969. In 1971, a retail subsidiary was formed called Summit Corporation, later called Carlton Cards Retail, Inc.
Holly Hobbie premiered in 1967 as a line of greeting cards by American Greetings. The character's public appeal lead to the formation of Those Characters From Cleveland, Inc.. Sale the next year topped $100 million. In 1972, the company introduced Ziggy, created by Tom Wilson, which soon had a newspaper cartoon strip generating additional income. By 1977, Holly Hobbie became one of the top female licensed character in the world.
Morry Weiss, Irving's son-in-law, and Irving Stone in 1978 were appointed president and chairman & CEO, respectively. Also in 1978, the corporation set up two new subsidiaries Plus Mark, Inc. and A.G. Industries, Inc. Plus Mark was formed to manufacture Christmas gift wrap, boxed cards, and accessories. A.G. Industries was a display fixture manufacturer. American Greeting had seen itself as a mass-marketer and was serving pharmacies, variety stores, discount stores, and supermarkets with low cost cards. While, Hallmark Cards ignore the mass market outlets until 1959 with issuance of its Ambassador card line. The company then used its licensing revenue on national advertising and other efforts to gain market share from 1981 to 1985. While they had a net income increase of 613 percent over ten years, Hallmark still maintained its market share. Gibson Greetings started a price war in 1986 and ended in 1987 which had the three major greeting card companies taking a loss. With a drop in licensing revenue, American took until 1989 to recover.
Those Characters From Cleveland was started up by Tom Wilson on behalf of American Greetings in 1980. The first property out of Those Characters was Strawberry Shortcake, which generated in 1981 $500 million in retail sales, followed by the Care Bears with $2 billion in sales over its first two year.
AG came back with a doubled net income by 1991 with 10 percent growth in sales to Hallmark's 1 percent. Weiss was promoted to CEO while Ed Fruchtenbaum was elevated as the fourth and first non-family president. Weiss had streamline operations, cut cost and decreased its card idea development time frame to market. Fruchtenbaum stressed information systems technology with the development of software to aid the sales force, managers and their retailers to track inventories and trends. The following year, Weiss and Fruchtenbaum were promoted again to chairman/CEO and president/chief operating officer, respectively, with Irving Stone becoming founder-chairman.
Custom Expressions, Inc., the CreataCard producer, was acquired in 1992, The CreataCard units had 1,000 card options and printed cards in under four minutes for $3.50 each. The company placed a few thousand units in mass-merchandise outlets in the US. By early 1994, 7,000 were installed. The kiosks generated modest profits off healthy revenue. With the Touch Screen Greetings and the Personalize It! method, Hallmark in 1992 sued AG over patent infringement with a 1995 settlement that allow both to use the technology worldwide. By 1995, the kiosks were being left behind by personal computers and the internet. The units were partially written off. American had also made deal with online services, Prodigy, CompuServe, and Microsoft Network in early 1996. Their website was redesigned to allow the cards to be designed on the website then mailed from its Cleveland fulfillment center in 1997. Two CD-ROM products, Personal CardShop for Home and Office and CreataCard Plus, were published both allowed for personalization. CardShop had 150 card choices and used the modem to order them to be printed and mailed by their fulfillment center. while CreataCard had 3,000 predesigned greeting cards, invitations, stationery, and announcements and three methods of fulfilmment, print on home printer, by e-mail or via the company's center.
In the mid-1990s, American Greetings expanded it operations with acquisitions or starting up of new lines of business and starting in 1996, the promotion of sideline product categories to semi-autonomous units. A reading glasses manufacturer, Magnivision, in 1993 is purchased. Also in 1996, the party goods line is relaunched under the DesignWare name. Also in 1996, American Greeting entered discussions with BEC Group Inc. to acquire Foster Grant Group, a sun glass manufacturer, but declined to pursue the purchase. A candle line is relaunched in 1997 under the name GuildHouse. A supplemental educational products subsidiary, Learning Horizons, Inc., is set up in March 1997. However in August 1997, American Greetings did sell two subsidiaries, Acme Frame Products, Inc. and Wilhold Inc., producer of hair accessory products, to Newell Brands. Contempo Colours, a party goods company in Michigan with licenses included Monopoly and Sesame Street, was bought in August 1999 to add to DesignWare.
In Canada, the Forget-Me-Not brand was launched in 1993. American Greetings in July 1997 launched its "The All New American Way" marketing strategy that consisted of massive revamping of its everyday card lines over the next year and a half to meet nine American culture trends.
In 1990s, American Greetings also pushed more into international markets. Acquisition occurred in 1995 with a purchase of 80% share of S.A. Greetings Corporation in South Africa and in 1996 with the purchase of John Sands, the top greeting card company in both Australia and New Zealand. In 1998, Camden Graphics Group and Hanson White Ltd. were purchased to add to its UK operations. While in 1999, a majority stake in Memory Lane Sdn Bhd, a Malaysian greeting card company, bring American to Asia for the first time.
American Greeting made a bid for Gibson Greetings, the number 3 card maker, in March 1996, which was rejected. In 1999, the company agreed to buy rival Gibson Greetings and united the second and third largest U.S. greeting card makers. Through the Gibson purchase, American gained its strong UK unit and a 27% stake in Egreetings Network Inc.
In 1998, the company shares moved from trading on the NASDAQ to the New York Stock Exchange. AmericanGreetings.com, Inc., while not turning a profit, was announced in June 1999 to be taken public, but was withdrawal due to the early 2000 tech stock collapse.
In March 1999, Hallmark started a price war with the introduction of a 99-cent card line forcing American to do the same. In 1999, the implementation of a new inventory system that slow shipments to retailers. However, this reduced sales by $100 million, 1.5% decrease, ending a 93rd consecutive year of increasing revenue.
Fruchtenbaum was terminated in June 2000 for insider trading policy violation after the board learned that he purchased stock via options then sold them in December 1998 before the announcement about the new inventory system implementation's expected loss. Board member James C. Spira was then appointed vice-chairman.
In November 2000, Spira was appointed to oversee a massive overhaul. The company cut 1,500 jobs, closed six manufacturing and distribution centers, discontinued Forget-Me-Not, one of its four main U.S. card brands, and cut the offered greeting cards to 10,000 from 15,000. The firm also shifted to recognizing sales at the retailer's register not when it was stock on the retailer's shelves to better control inventory. This cost them $300 million and highly unprofitable in 2001 and 2002 fiscal years.
In its online sector in 2001, American Greeting purchase the Egreetings Network shares that the Gibson did not already own. In January 2002, the company purchased Blue Mountain Arts (BlueMountain.com) from [email protected] with Excite to buy ads on American Greeting websites and Blue Mountain would continue providing ecards for Excite. The company thus had four online greeting cards website including BeatGreets.com, a musical greetings website. While the online operations expected to become profitable by the fourth quarter 2002, the division had a lower loss then in the prior year.
In 2003, Morry Weiss's sons Zev and Jeffrey became CEO and President respectively; Morry Weiss remained Chairman. American Greetings has also branched out onto the internet and owns a network of websites. October 25, 2007, it announced the purchase of Webshots from CNET for $45 million in cash.
In July 2004, American Greetings sold Magnivision to an affiliate of Foster Grant sunglasses manufacturer. In October 2005, American Greetings recalled its Sesame Street toy sunglasses sold from December 2003 through August 2005, because the lenses can separate from the frames, posing a choking hazard to young children.
American Greetings on February 24, 2009 purchased Recycled Paper Greetings. In two cash deals with Schurman Fine Papers on April 17, 2009, the company sells its remaining 341 stores to them and in the second buying Schurman's wholesale division, Papyrus brand cards and paper products, and a 15% equity stake in Schurman.
In April 2010, the company closed its DesignWare plant in Kalamazoo as the company moved to Amscan manufacturing their party goods. American Greetings received $25 million and a warrant for 2 percent of common stock in AAH Holdings, Amscan’s parent corporation, while Amscan received inventory, equipment and processes. In Mexico, the company moved strategically to third party distributor model and closed its warehouse there.
In 2010, American Greetings announced plans to move its headquarters from Brooklyn, Ohio to a new facility at Crocker Park within the nearby city of Westlake. However, in 2013, the company announced it would delay moving its operations to Westlake. Construction had been scheduled to start in early 2013, and American Greetings said it was only delaying the $150 to $200 million project. In 2014, American Greetings sold its Brooklyn, Ohio headquarters to developers and began renting its current offices from the new owners until the move to Westlake. American Greetings opened their new Westlake headquarters in September 2016. The company leases the building from the Wiess family until August 2031.
American Greetings forced Clinton Cards PLC in May 2012 into administration. In June , American Greetings acquired assets from Clinton Cards together with some of its subsidiaries including UK Greetings. UK Greetings' card brands at the time were Camden Graphics, Hanson White, Forget Me Not and Xpressions. Clinton operated stores under the Clinton and Birthdays brands. American Greetings brought in Dominique Schurman, CEO of Schurman Retail Group, to lead Clinton.
American Greetings went private once again in mid-2013, thus removing itself from all the public markets, agreeing to pay $18.20 per share, valuing the company at $878 million. The Weiss family owned Century Intermediate Holding Co. purchased the public shares.
In 2018, the Weiss family sold a 60% majority stake of the company to the investment firm Clayton Dubilier & Rice (CD&R). The Weiss Family will continue to operate as directors and shareholders of American Greetings as well as retaining ownership of American Greetings Entertainment, which was spun off as Cloudco Entertainment. UK Greetings continued with American Greetings under CD&R while the Clintons retail chain in the UK remained with the Weiss family. On closing of the deal, David Scheible was named Chairman in place of Morry Weiss and President John Beeder was promoted to CEO (the former chairman and co-CEOs remaining on the board). In January 2019, the Weiss family placed AG's headquarters up for sale.
- North American Social Expression Products
- International Social Expression Products
- AG Interactive (Webshots was formerly part of AG Interactive)
- a non-reportable operating segment, sometimes referred to as "Retail"
Subsidiaries and holdings
- John Sands (company), Australian subsidiary
- Schurman Retail Group (15%) runs American Greeting retail stores
- UK Greetings, British subsidiary
Cloudco Entertainment, officially CloudCo, LLC and formerly Those Characters From Cleveland, American Greetings Properties and American Greetings Entertainment, was the former American Greetings's former character brand division. Cloudco is owned by the Weiss family. Properties owned by the company includes Care Bears, Holly Hobbie, Madballs, Buddy Thunderstruck, Tinpo, Topsy and Tim, The Get Along Gang and Popples.
Holly Hobbie premiered in 1967 as a line of greeting cards by American Greetings. Knickerbocker Toy Co. manufactured stuffed Holly Hoobie dolls from 1968 to 1983. The character's public appeal lead to the formation of Those Characters From Cleveland, Inc. In 1972, the company introduced Ziggy, created by Tom Wilson, which soon had a newspaper cartoon strip generating significant additional income. Universal Press later purchased the creative rights. By 1977, Holly Hobbie became one of the top female licensed character in the world.
Those Characters From Cleveland was started up by Tom Wilson on behalf of American Greetings in 1981 to handle its licensing business. The first property out of Those Characters was Strawberry Shortcake, which generated in 1981 $500 million in retail sales, followed by the Care Bears with $2 billion in sales over its first two year. The Care Bears were announced in 1982 with M.A.D., Marketing and Design Service of the toy group of General Mills, and launched in Spring 1983 with toys with a syndicated TV special.
With Topps' 1985 Garbage Pail Kids trading card series release, Ralph Shaffer, senior vice-president and creative head at From Cleveland, created the Madballs, balls with disfigured faces. Amtoys, another American Greetings subsidiary, released them as toys in 1986 and reached the #4 on toy best-seller list by September of that year.
With Mattel, Those Characters From Cleveland had launched the Popples in 1986. in 1986. In 1987, Those Characters came out with four plush variants that do more than just be huggable but playable to be introduced in 1988 through three toy companies.
AG Properties in 2001 named DIC Entertainment the licensing agent for Strawberry Shortcake. With DIC merging with Cookie Jar thus transfers the rights, the company sued. In the settlement, AG agreed to sell Shortcake, the Care Bears and the Sushi Pack crime-fighting characters to Cookie Jar for $195 million with payment due September 30, 2008. Cookie Jar could not come up with the financing, but continued to claim to have Shortcake licensing rights. AG found a new buyer of Shortcake and the Bears in MoonScoop, while settling with Cookie Jar with AG to buy out its rights to Shortcake. MoonScoop was to pay part of the purchases price to allow AG to pay Cookie Jar for its rights. Missing that deadline, AG back out of the deal as MoonScoop attempt to complete the deal by the full payment deadline of June 7, 2009. MoonScoop sued with American Greetings winning the case in November 2012. In February 2015, Iconix Brand Group acquired the rights to Strawberry Shortcake from American Greetings for $105 million. DHX Media would eventually acquire the franchise in 2017 as part of their buyout of Iconix's entertainment assets, which also included an 80% majority stake in Peanuts owner Peanuts Worldwide.
AG Properties by September 19, 2012 became global licensing agent for Pukeko Pictures’ The WotWots as they sublicensed the property to EXIM Licensing Group in the Latin America region, Segal Licensing in Canada, Stella Projects in the Australian and New Zealand region.
Sean Gorman was promoted to president of AG Properties in June 2013 with the mandate to add boy franchises. Gorman was hired in 2007 as vice president, entertainment production and development.
In 2006, senior designer Jeff Harter pitched Packages from Planet X to AG Properties. Planet X eventually was licensed and produced for Disney XD by DHX Media in Vancouver and Disney and premiered on July 13, 2013. In January 2012, American Greetings Properties and Exim Licensing Group international licensing agent signed a Holly Hobbie publishing deal with V & R Editoras for most of Latin America and the Caribbean.
On October 6, 2015, American Greetings changed the unit's name to American Greetings Entertainment as an indication of a shift in focus to the Care Bears and additional multi-character and entertainment properties like the recently co-created Buddy Thunderstruck stop motion animation show for Netflix. AGP pick up world wide distribution of Claude, Sixteen South's TV Adaptation of Sixteen South’s adaptation of Alex T. Smith’s bestselling picture book series, in May 2016.
American Greetings Entertainment was spun off from American Greetings as a stand alone company in August 2018 as Cloudco Entertainment. Management and Weiss family ownership was retained in the spin off with Sean Gorman as president.
In April 2018, Hulu agreed to take a Holly Hobbie live action TV series by Aircraft Pictures. Boomerang order a Care Bear series for its streaming service in September 2018. On June 24, 2019, Warner Music Group's Arts Music division launched the licensed Cloudco Entertainment label with the release of the current Holly Hobbie TV show theme song as a part of a multi-season deal.
(Note: original creations by American Greetings now mostly owned by Cloudco Entertainment. Other properties were licensed from third parties, where indicated)
- Popples (1986) introduced with Mattel
- Strawberry Shortcake (1980—February 2015) sold to Iconix Brand Group  Berrykins, her little pals in the forest
- Ziggy (1972—)