He was a top athlete since childhood and his competitiveness on the football field drove him to the ranks of Division I college ball and the NFL.
But when Rick Elmore’s playing days were over, what lured the former University of Arizona and Arizona Cardinals defensive specialist away from corporate life and into an entrepreneurial one was the classic simplicity and elegance of the handwritten note.
Taking a class in pursuit of his MBA sparked the idea for Elmore’s Simply Noted, the Tempe-based automated handwritten letter company he founded in 2018. His professor informed that a handwritten note with a Forever stamp had a 99% open rate – exponentially larger than their computerized counterparts.
At the time, Elmore was working in medical device sales.
“I thought about it in terms of sales. I had 400 customers. I thought there has to be an easier way,” he said.
The idea: easily create simple and meaningful real pen-written communication for businesses and individuals with technology that puts real pen and ink to paper on a large scale.
Elmore’s research indicated that other companies that specialized in this did not focus on the business realm but the event industry for weddings, anniversaries and similar celebrations.
He was always fascinated with technology and combined this passion with what he saw was an unmet need. Elmore put together a team to help him bring his vision to reality and a year later launched Simply Noted.
“At the end of the day, people are inundated with digital messages, texts, everything. We’re bringing the handwritten letter back, but we’re just making it easy,” Elmore said.
Handwritten letters stand out
Elmore’s proprietary technology is used by companies in hospitality, real estate, insurance, the nonprofit sector and other relationship-driven businesses where building personal relationships with customers is key, he said. It also helps them stand out amid a sea of digitally-generated communication.
About 41% of Americans of all ages look forward to checking the mail each day, according to Gallup. With 58% of the mail American households receive being marketing mail, the average American receives only 10 pieces of personal mail a year, according to the Postal Regulatory Commission. That makes handwritten communication even more distinctive.
About 95% of clients are businesses while the rest are individuals using Simply Noted to write one or a hundred notes or letters, Elmore said. The technology incorporates tiny details — like pen indentations — indicative of the real deal.
In addition to offering clients a wide selection of styles, for a small fee Simply Noted will create an original style based on a client’s own handwriting, offering even more authenticity.
The formula is successful. Simply Noted has grown more than 300% this year over last, Elmore said. With newly-launched software that allows clients to create their own cards, designs and logos, the company is about to surpass sales in the seven figures.
Personal touch goes ‘a long way’
Tyler Ermisch, chief lending officer for Handshake Home Loans in Scottsdale, is among Elmore’s many repeat clients. For the past year and a half, Ermisch has used Simply Noted’s services to send thank-you notes to his clients as the culminating gesture with each closure.
Ermisch felt this creative touch was what his firm needed in an industry packed with competitors stuck in antiquated modes of operation.
“We felt this was new flair, a new way to get our message across to our clients. It was ultimately a unique thing that I believe most of our competition does not do,” he said.
Feedback is so positive that Ermisch plans to expand services to include birthday notes to clients as well as thank-you letters for referrals and other momentous occasions. Clients have called back to personally thank him for the notes with a personal touch.
“That goes a long way for some. It’s worth it in our eyes,” he said.
Leaving structure for entrepreneurship
After a football career at the University of Arizona where as a defensive end Elmore earned a bevy of accolades for his play, he was drafted into the NFL and joined five teams, including the Cardinals, before retiring.
Elmore found success in medical technology sales. He also returned to his alma mater in pursuit of his MBA at the Eller College of Management. This is where the seed for Simply Noted was born.
Around this time, he started to experiment with the model and tools that would eventually drive his company. He started doing the work on a small scale on the weekends and evenings, balancing his day job hours with his young family. He soon realized his side project needed more of his time, and more resources. He decided to do just that.
As a lifelong athlete, Elmore has led a structured and conservative life. This move was out of character.
“I left my comfortable, steady job,” Elmore said in a slow deliberate tone followed by a chuckle.
Encouragement from his wife, who saw how hard he was working and how excited he was for this new project, and others who saw the same, provided the gentle push to pursue something out of the norm.
“I went from being a W-2 employee to being responsible for W-2 employees. It challenges you to grow in different ways. This is something I never thought I’d be comfortable doing five years ago,” he said.
Elmore started by getting a no interest credit card with a $10,000 limit. Every time he charged something, he paid it off as soon as the bill came. He did his own marketing that included sending his handwritten cards to people with a small notation that read: P.S. This was written by a machine.
“They were blown away and called us. Our product sells itself,” Elmore said.
The product and Elmore’s meticulous financing led Simply Noted to be profitable by the end of the first year.
He talked about an insurance agency client that enlisted Simply Noted to do a marketing mailer. Using those notes generated a 24% renewal rate — higher than in previous years when the agency used email and computerized print mailers.
The technology may be complex but the recipe is based on a classic and timeless ingredient.
“People are looking for something that’s tangible and real. Saying ‘thank you’ or saying ‘happy birthday’ is never going to go out of style,” Elmore said. “When someone gets that handwritten note, it conveys a level of personalization that nothing else can.”
What: Simply Noted
Factoid: The average American receives 10 pieces of personal mail a year, according to the Postal Regulatory Commission.