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From the September 7, 2001 print edition of City Business

Firm adds signature touch to mailings

Pen & Ink services include handwritten letters, calligraphy

Tim Sturrock Editorial Intern

Golden Valley-based Pen and Ink sends out 5,000 to 20,000 letters a week, but co-owner Rob Boisvert says the mail from his company -- hand-addressed in colored ink by his crew of contractors -- has a better chance of being read.

"With all the junk mail and e-mail out there, something's been lost." The personal touch evident in handwritten letters and addresses makes them float to the top of a stack of junk mail, said Boisvert, who owns Pen and Ink with his sister Marge Boisvert. He runs the operations; she has a full-time job at a law firm but pitches in.

Other attention-getting services the firm supplies include calligraphy and complex packaging -- guests who opened the black tube holding their invitation to a NASCAR party were greeted with a car engine sound. Boisvert, now a board member of the Midwest Direct Marketing Association, launched the business after he got word last September that his sales job at Hallmark Cards-owned Irresistible Ink in Minneapolis would be eliminated. That division also does custom mailings for clients, mostly through computer-simulated handwriting.

Within a week of receiving his notice, he quit, bought supplies and settled on a name. A week later they had 10 contractors and the following week 10 more.

David Knoll, Irresistible Ink's chief operating officer, said the two businesses don't really compete for the same customers; Irresistible Ink employs 250 and usually does larger jobs, while Boisvert does smaller orders. When Boisvert left, two of Irresistible Ink's clients, including Grand Casino Mille Lacs, switched their business to him. Cindy Kedding, database manager for the casino, said that Boisvert\'s eye for detail and his prices drew their business. Boisvert said having his contractors work at home is key to holding down costs and prices. "I saw an opportunity to make it more affordable by not having a big warehouse or corporate office." Although Rob and Marge keep their workers busy, they would like to see their business become more steady. Rather than one-time jobs, which now dominate their schedule, they want more ongoing jobs (for example, a contract with a furniture store that needs thank-you cards every time it sells a couch). For now, projects such as invitations and holiday cards are the bulk of their business. The holidays are the firm's biggest season. Pen and Ink grossed $89,000 in sales in its first year, $32,700 of it during November and December. Boisvert said the firm already has enough orders for the holidays this year to gross $53,000, a 62 percent increase.

One potential client, a travel agency, heard about the firm and asked for a bid on 500,000 thank-you notes. That job alone, the co-owners said, would take about 12 weeks with 150 full-time employees. As of now, the Boisverts hand out assignments to about 40 part-time writers. Marge said if they get that bid she'll quit her job.  

The following article appeared on

Published on Sept. 04, 2001

Handwritten Mail Piece Proves Sure Bet for Casino

Grand Casino filled a 740-seat all-day party for NASCAR's Winston

Cup race after mailing a handwritten promotional piece to 3,500 of

its most frequent patrons.

Crowds of other mail recipients had to be turned away that day,

according to the Hinckley, MN-based casino, which apparently has

been hitting the jackpot with handwritten pieces for the past


The casino has used handwritten letters to consistently fill

free-admission, invitation-only, themed, bimonthly parties that

include gambling, dinner, giveaways and entertainment. Pen & Ink,

Golden Valley, MN, a company that employs 45 people to handwrite

call-to-action mail pieces, has printed the letters.

Opening the recent mailer set off an audio chip that made the

revving sounds of a race car. A brochure detailing the casino's

154 hotel rooms and other services such as an 18-hole golf course

was included. The cost of the mailer was unavailable.

"Return-on-investment figures are still in development and

probably will never be made public, but you could guess that it

would be an extremely positive number because these are our best

players," said Cindy Keding, manager of database and promotions at

Grand Casino.