Beyond the Build

Customer Relationships

Letters and Notes: A Lost Art

Do you remember the scene from the movie Christmas Vacation when Chevy Chase is stuck in the attic? He ends up watching old family movies of years gone by. Something similar happened to me a few weeks ago. My son has moved out of the house, and over the holidays I cleaned up his room. Lo and behold, I came upon letters I had written him starting in high school, about life, character and being a good son. He really had saved them. It was a reminder of the importance of the written word.

These days, communicating is so easy and fast we instinctively do it from our iPads, PCs and laptops. We sit down, send an e-mail in a nanosecond and we are done. To me, we have lost something in the process. Sure, e-mails work well in business, but not all the time. Especially when it comes to building relationships.

Nothing is as impactful as a real letter with a real stamp.

I was fortunate. My first boss, H. A. Brice, Jr., mentored me on writing. I always felt he would’ve made a great English teacher, beyond his construction skills. He taught me to write with sincerity, get to the point, be balanced and leave takeaways. Perhaps because of this experience early in my career, I tend to use written notes as a character indication. I’ve found generally that someone who writes a note is of character.

The good news is, I read recently, the sale of fountain pens and quality stationary is on the rise. Here is my best advice for creating memorable letters: 

Read good writing. Ronald Reagan, one of the great presidents of our times, was a ferocious letter writer. I’ve studied his writings. Pickup a book on his letters, and use that as a basis for your own style.

Use quality paper. I have four types of stationery: corporate, personal corporate (smaller) and two types of personal, one slightly smaller than the other. I use the best stationery, as it sends the right message of quality. In my case I use Symthson.

Know your limitations. While I should hand-write all my notes, I generally send a couple dozen notes or letters a week. Typing them, then printing on my stationary and hand signing is more practical for me. It certainly makes my correspondence more legible.

Be prolific. I send notes to people I barely know. I send notes to our customer relationships. I send notes to people in our company. And of course, I send condolences. To me all of this makes the trail better for them and better for me.

How does letter writing play into your relationships and with business colleagues?

Merrill Stewart Jr.

Merrill Stewart is Founder and CEO of The Stewart/Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham.