There’s a certain kind of power that comes from a handwritten note. Whether a note of love, thanks, sympathy or congratulations, the warmth and graciousness it exudes leaves a gentle, yet lasting impact. It’s the same way employees and customers describe Katie Smith’s way of doing business at Please Reply, a stationery, invitation and gift store in Mountain Brook’s Crestline Village.
Twenty years ago, Katie was planning her wedding, when she and her mother, Betty McKewen, couldn’t find a place in Birmingham that had a wide selection of paper products for wedding invitations and stationery. After the wedding, Betty decided to open a store of her own. After mulling the idea over with her daughter, Katie named the business “Please Reply,” and it stuck.
What started as a business in Betty’s home soon grew into a brick-and-mortar location. Katie was a teacher at the time, but seven years later, she decided to join her mother in the business, and five years later, Katie took over the business she’d named.
Growing the Family Business
“She has grown the business so much,” Betty said of her daughter. “I’m extremely proud of her.”
Katie, who was smiling nearby, added, “I spent my childhood wanting to start a store and was excited when the opportunity presented itself through buying my mother’s business.”
Today, Katie’s leadership has propelled the business into new markets, and she’s increased sales considerably each year since she’s taken over. In addition, her remarkable connection with customers and the unparalleled level of service she offers them is a bright light in her shining success.
In 2017, Katie was named an Alabama Retailer of the Year in her annual sales category, and she came close to also receiving the Customers’ Choice award, which is selected through a Facebook contest. Hundreds of customers chimed in to offer their support, sharing stories of their positive experiences in her store. Katie personally replied to each comment; somehow remembering something about every commenter’s conversation with her in the store or a special event happening in their lives.
One of her employees, Suzanne LeJeune, said of Katie, “She treats everyone with such genuine and selfless care. Katie commands our respect in a very subtle way. She is our friend, but she is also someone we all look up to, admire and want to work hard to bring continued success to her business.”
Katie is also deeply involved in the Mountain Brook business community, serving as an officer for four years on the Mountain Brook Chamber of Commerce Board. Smith said the opportunity to serve in this capacity allowed her to meet other local business owners and collaborate advertising and event ideas to uplift the entire community.
A Work of Love
Mountain Brook Chamber Project Manager and a Please Reply customer Molly Wallace said, “It is a team that makes you feel happy. You can tell everyone just loves to work here.”
For Katie, though, success comes back to her team, made up of employees who are friends as well as members of her family. When the store gets busy during graduation season and the holidays, Katie says her family and her team are the first to show up to help unload boxes or restock displays.
“Our team of people who work here is just incredible,” said Katie. “They go beyond the extra mile. What our loyal customers know is that if they order koozies, napkins or anything for a wedding from us, their order will be here. We care about making sure we get it right, and they know they can depend on us.”
You can shop Please Reply at 42 Church Street in Mountain Brook from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday – Friday, and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.
Story and Photos by Melissa Johnson Warnke
Also find this article on Pages 18-19
of the February 2019 Alabama Retailer.