Thursday, October 05, 2006

Welcome to the neighborhood

As I was researching how Welcome Wagon home visits have been replaced by direct mailings targeting newcomers for today’s article, I grew a little sad about the loss of the personal touch.

Welcome Wagon, the pioneer company that delivered baskets of gifts and coupons to new arrivals, stopped home visits in 1998 and began mailing address books listing local businesses instead. Other smaller companies with similar business models switched to direct mailings soon afterward, and the companies are thriving in the Charlotte area thanks to our 80,000-plus newcomers every year. Movers in targeted ZIP codes can expect to find an envelope of coupons for free meals, deals on dry cleaning and hair salons, and more.

I’ve seen the coupons, and they offer some great deals that are no doubt convenient for those who have recently moved. They also benefit the local businesses who pay to be included in the coupon packets, by giving them first crack at newcomers’ loyalty. And I understand that most people don’t have the time for a home visit or the trust to open the door to strangers these days. But there’s something appealing to me about the idea of a knock at the door and a personal welcome.

And it turns out those home visits haven’t gone away completely. I heard today from Suzanne Meyer, president of The Welcome Committee in Mooresville. Personal welcomes haven’t gone the way of the dinosaur, she wrote.

“I have been running a successful personal welcome service business for eight years.... Many newcomers enjoy the personal welcome visit. We can answer their questions about where to get their driver's license, NC car inspection, how to register to vote, what day is trash collected and how to get a trash/recycle bin? These are everyday questions that my staff and I answer in person.

“I believe that we need to continue with the personal welcome visits. It makes the newcomers feel genuinely welcomed, they have someone they can call if they have questions about their new community. Our society is losing the personal touch as we are inundated with direct mail, TV and radio commercials, billboards, kiosks, internet advertising, etc. Automated voicemail is more popular than ever. I'm afraid our society is losing contact.

“My ten Welcome Reps and I are invited back to their homes. During visits we're offered everything from coffee and lemonade to lunch and dinner invitations. Newcomers offer us tours of their home and ask us to help them choose paint and wallpaper samples during our visits.”

I was glad to hear about her business. You can check it out at


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