It’s a mid-December afternoon like any other in Fairbanks, Alaska.
The surrounding streets are virtually empty as residents take shelter from the cold. Outside, it’s a frigid negative 15 degrees, but inside Date-Line Digital Printing – a small business that has served the area for more than 25 years – the cold is the furthest thing from anyone’s mind.
Business is buzzing. Local media members are pressing for interviews. The ringing of phones can be heard in the background as people call to thank the company for “changing the community”.
What exactly is going on? Why all the hype around a high-quality, short-run print shop tucked a little more than 10 miles away from the North Pole?
It all started with a thank-you card.
A Crisis of Gratitude
Flashback to 2011, co-owner Geoff Welch experienced what he calls a “crisis of gratitude.”
“Five years ago, I realized that while I was a grateful person, I did a really crummy job of showing it. In a way, I felt like I had been stealing from people. I had so many reasons to be grateful but I wasn’t giving anything back.” So he started a personal project of reconciliation, vowing to send one thank-you card to someone each business day for a year. By year’s end, he had designed dozens of unique thank-you cards and sent nearly 300.
“Expressing gratitude changed me. Thankfulness forced me to look outside of myself.”
Rather than keep these quirky thank-you cards to himself, Geoff approached his partner, Travis Lewis, at Date-Line Digital Printing with an idea: What if the shop printed the cards and gave them away for free? That way, anyone in Fairbanks could help spread gratitude.
“Thanks Fairbanks” Is Born
As small business owners, the two simply talked over this seemingly crazy proposition. No corporate ladders. No red tape.
After some thinking, it didn’t actually seem so crazy. After all, giving away free thank-you cards did fit Date-Line Digital Printing’s motto of “taking unusually good care of people.” And so “Thanks Fairbanks” was born. Any Fairbanks resident could sign up and receive three new thank-you cards every three months…for free.
“I had two worries. First, what if nobody signed up? And second, what if everyone in Fairbanks signed up?”
The latter concern was eased by the confidence Geoff had that his Xerox equipment would deliver no matter the outcome. With Xerox® Color 800 and 1000 Presses efficiently handling production, neither cost nor productivity would be an issue. And they knew the quality of the machines would do the shop justice, making the thank-you cards both benevolent gifts and professional-looking samples to show off Date-Line’s capabilities.
An Amazing Response
The project started small with just around 100 sign-ups. But as more cards were sent and word began to spread, more people signed up and the impact grew.
“I was getting calls from people thanking me. Individuals across Fairbanks started keeping these cards with them wherever they went. They were doing things like sticking them on people’s windshields. This simple project of giving away free thank-you cards literally changed how our community thought about gratitude.”
The “Business Byproduct”
Entering its fourth year running, “Thanks Fairbanks” has not only become core to the identity of Date-Line, it has become core to the identity of the community. The company recently sent out its 20,000th thank-you card and the project now serves close to 1,000 people every quarter.
Media attention has blown up, too. “The last time we were in the news was 1988 when we opened. Last year, we had a dozen media mentions alone.” Geoff is also invited to speak about the project at events across Fairbanks and beyond.
While the core mission of the project is focused on teaching gratitude and giving back, the project has turned out to be an incredible way to increase exposure and promote the Date-Line brand.
Extending the Power of Community
What can other print shops take from Date-Line’s community work? Geoff’s advice is simple: “Combine something you care about with something you’re good at. In our case, it was printing thank-you cards, but there are a lot of ways print shops can make an impact.”
What causes do you care about? How can you connect your business to something meaningful? When you’re driven by passion, the results can be extraordinary.