Did you know Princess Diana was a diligent thank you note writer? According to Woman’s World, she spent weeks writing as many notes as possible to the over 10,000 people who gave her and Prince Charles wedding gifts (source). This was in addition to her full-time duties!
She also wrote thank you notes to everyone in her orbit, thanking them for simple kindnesses to herself and her children.
It may seem, in today’s instant everything digital world, that handwritten thank you notes have gone the way of the dinosaur. But they haven’t – and won’t if two enterprising young men, and their father, have anything to say about it.
Brothers Anthony and Alex Hussak are building a thriving business around custom notecards for businesses – including manufacturing.
They didn’t start with notecards, however. The brothers joined forces in 2018 to start a data consulting company, Start Imagining, to help businesses imagine new efficiencies and ways of looking at things. Anthony (the older brother) did the macro coding for automation, manufacturing, and financial industries, while Alex focused on marketing.
“By 2020, we were getting some pretty big projects . . . then COVID hit,” says Anthony. “Our customers put their projects on hold and we were left with very little work.”
Looking back, Anthony said it was actually one of those events that changed their lives. “My brother and I were raised to use our imaginations,” he says. “We grew up playing with LEGOS and blocks and building model railroads.”
To keep cash coming in, he and Alex started a side business, Start Imagining Birds, where they looked to provide a bird feeder service to nursing homes and residential customers. At the same time, they also taught themselves photography and came up with the idea to provide 6″x9″ photos with descriptions of birds to those who couldn’t get out to enjoy nature.
Both ideas were good but didn’t gain traction because of COVID. “We couldn’t get our bird photos into nursing homes because everything had to be disinfected; people were also understandably hesitant about engaging with us about keeping their bird feeders filled.”
After lots of trial and error, the brothers got into the retail side of things. “People love birds!” said Anthony. “We began selling notecards we created, using our bird photography, to nurseries and gift shops – and built up a following.”
Start Imagining Bird cards can now be found in 60 retail locations across 15 states. And, anyone can buy them online from the Start Imagining Birds website (link below).
The brothers took this expertise and began moving into the business notecard sector.
Start Imagining . . . bringing joy to business relationships
Expressing gratitude improves well-being for both expressers and recipients. According to Anthony, slowing down to write a thank you note delivers many psychological benefits: As the sender, you have to be intentional about what you’re writing – so you spend a minute or two thinking about the person to whom you’re writing. You feel happier and more joyful.
The research backs him up. Researchers for a 2018 Psychological Science study (source) had participants in three experiments write thank you notes.
The results: “Expressers significantly underestimated how surprised recipients would be about why expressers were grateful, overestimated how awkward recipients would feel, and underestimated how positive recipients would feel.”
The researchers concluded that “underestimating the value of prosocial actions, such as expressing gratitude – [aka writing thank you notes] – may keep people from engaging in behavior that would maximize their own – and others’ – well-being.”
Business people seemed to agree. By 2021, Start Imagining had built a considerable book of business creating custom thank you cards for companies in various industries, including logistics, consultants, financial, manufacturing, and the trades.
“Our message is you can build relationships using thank you cards – and it’s really resonating,” says Anthony. “We had a conversation with the owner of a roofing company and the gentleman said no one had reached out to him about sending custom thank you cards. It’s an old-school approach.”
A true family affair – Dad joins the team
“The cost of sending custom thank you cards is insignificant when compared to other marketing and sales costs,” says Stephen Hussak, the boys’ father. A mechanical engineer by trade, Stephen spent 35 years in technical sales and marketing.
“The companies I worked for spent so much money on trade shows but we never spent any money on pre- and post-show follow up using handwritten notes.”
As Anthony and Alex began moving from data coding to retail sales, Stephen provided mentoring and consulting. He had also had his position at a company eliminated when he took time off to care for his father who had dementia.
While Stephen joked he took a hands-off approach and let his sons make the business decisions (and learn lessons in the process), the three became a team in 2021. Stephen helps with prospecting and making outbound calls – while “having a blast!” he says. “It’s been a pure blessing working together like this.”
Custom notecards made in the USA
Start Imagining oversees the design and production of the notecards – which are all customized to clients’ specifications. Clients can supply their own photography or the Start Imagining team can create custom graphics; they’ll also add logos, tag lines and other branding elements.
What makes Start Imagining different from the big online printers is highly personalized service and product quality.
“When you order notecards from a larger company,” says Anthony, “the cards aren’t necessarily shipped to you folded. Now you have to take time and carefully fold them and ensure the edges line up – which is tough with card stock. Business people don’t have time for this.
“Or, if you have a large print run and a mistake appears on dozens of the cards, it’s not caught until months later. Now you’re stuck with these cards – and they end up in the trash or you need to resolve the issue with customer service. We hear repeatedly that people have trouble trying to order cards online, don’t understand how to upload images, choose paper weights, glossy vs. matte, etc.
“We take care of everything for our customers. They want perfect cards without the hassle.”
Weeks before asking for this interview, I ordered two sets of custom Oriole bird cards. Without my asking, Anthony sent over mockups with his suggested additions, including adding a tagline about being an advocate for Made in USA and my logo, address, and website URL.
The customizations make a huge difference. Now they’re my cards versus generic cards I picked up at a store. They stand out because they’re different and personal. Plus, they reinforce my love for birding.
I now enjoy writing out my notes and as Anthony says, sending a bit of joy in the mail to customers and others makes me feel happy.
What I love even more, however, is that the cards were made in upstate NY by a family who feels the same as I about business, relationships, gratitude – and yes, birds.
Whether you’re in manufacturing or software, at a 10-person or 100-person company, it’s time to consider sending handwritten thank you notes to your customers. Your customers may not say anything to you when you do send them, but your gesture will be noticed and remembered.
To learn more about Start Imagining, and the types of custom cards they can create for you, visit their website: www.startimaginingbiz.com
And if you want beautiful bird cards, visit: www.startimaginingbirds.com
Links to Start Imagining are “free.” I’m not paid nor asked to write about US-made products. I buy products, use them, and if I like them, I tell everyone about them. I’m also thrilled to support small, family-owned companies.
I do this because my mission is to keep manufacturing jobs stateside. This mission is my way of giving back. We like to think our “small” choices won’t make a difference. They do.