GREENVILLE — When Chelsea Fulton had her first child, she bought beautiful, custom stationery with the intention to write personalized thank you notes to friends and family. Fellow moms told her to do them in the hospital while waiting to give birth.
“The fact that so many moms do that is absolute insanity because that was the last thing on my mind,” Fulton said.
The stationery sat on her desk unused for months, and Fulton felt terrible when friends asked if she received their gift. The task felt like a burden because she didn’t like her handwriting and didn’t have the time. The same thing happened after the birth of her second child.
By the time her third child arrived, Fulton had a solution.
She bought a robot that could mimic handwriting using everything from ink to a crayon. All she had to do was type her thank you note and the recipient’s address on a computer and the machine took care of the rest. When her company threw her a baby shower, she came to the office the next day with “handwritten” notes.
“Everyone thought I was superwoman,” she said.
Fulton now offers this service to 25 clients of her 3-year-old, Greenville-based business The Write Way. They send their message to Fulton, who feeds it through one of three $10,000 machines. Each can produce 1,000 notes a day, which Fulton stamps and mails.
“There are 10,000 reasons to write someone a note but you just don’t have the time,” she said. “This makes it as easy as sending an email or text.”
Fulton was one of about 30 students in a two-year, part-time MBA entrepreneurship program at Clemson University when she started The Write Way. At the time, she was working full-time as a global planning analyst at electronic parts supplier AVX Corporation in Fountain Inn.
“I’ve learned that if something is a problem for me, it’s probably a problem for everyone,” she said. “So I decided to fix this for everyone.”
The Write Way’s biggest revenue stream is from businesses, such as a dentist’s office that mails Christmas cards or appointment reminders to patients. The handwritten element often compels people open a letter they might have thrown away, or study the letter to figure out if it is really handwritten, Fulton said.
Rebecca Bilott, director of donor relations at Furman University, said she has used The Write Way about five times in the past year after being amazed at how real the handwriting looked during a demo from Fulton. The industry standard is to send thank you notes to donors within three days but busy schedules made it difficult to sign letters in person. Now Furman staff can do it from their computer to stay within best practices, Bilott said.
“We want a personalized, customized touch for donors because they’re so important to everything we do,” she said.
Dustin Littre, marketing director at plumbing, drains and water cleanup company Roto-Rooter, contacted The Write Way after getting a marketing letter from Fulton. The handwritten envelope grabbed his attention.
“That was the whole reason it got opened,” he said. “I thought, ‘Who would write me a handwritten note?’ Then I opened it and thought, ‘Oh, she got me,’” he said with a laugh.
Roto-Rotter uses the service to send a thank you note to customers that spend more than $300. The note looks like it came from the technician that visited them. Littre said they get reviews on Google and Facebook that mention how impressed they were to receive a handwritten thank you note.
Littre said he used to write thank you notes when he was at a smaller office and some customers would hang them on their refrigerator.
“That’s like a billboard in their house,” he said. “It shows how rare it is to get handwritten notes in the digital age.”
The machines have 10 handwriting options. Unlike laser printers, which print the same note for each client, Fulton’s machine customizes each note. That means the characters are randomized. The robot knows not to use the same “e” each time because people don’t write like that, she said. For about seven days per month, the machines run for 24 hours.
Fulton jokes that the machines are the ideal employees.
“They never complain or ask for time off,” she said with a laugh.
Fulton is her own quality-control manager. The percentage of notes that need to be redone is about 1.4 percent. The notes sometimes come out with a little smear on a letter. Some clients like this because it increases authenticity while others want it redone.
“When you can tell it was faked, you lose some appreciation for it,” she said.
Fulton knew when she started The Write Way that if a financial crisis hit, customized notes to clients would be one of the first things companies cut from the budget. Sure enough, she saw a drop in business during the pandemic. But it is starting to come back, with some businesses sending “we’re open again” notes to customers as the vaccine rollout continues. She hopes it continues to pick up until her busy season from October to December.
The Write Way’s mission is to help businesses build their reputation strictly from behind the scenes, Fulton said. She purposely doesn’t include The Write Way logo on the notes so the business gets full credit.
“It’s mass mailings but custom to each client,” Fulton said.