One day, Gillian Simon and Matt Vogel found themselves in a New York City store, disgusted. All they wanted was a simple greeting card that would transcend the holidays and inspire their friends. Instead, they were facing a myriad of "cheesy and sappy" cards that just wouldn't do. So they went home, made 12 cards to their own liking and traipsed across New York City hoping that independent bookstores and other vendors would sell their decidedly urban yet spartan cards.
Ten years later, Simon and Vogel's internationally recognized company, Quotable, scored the #203 spot in the 2003 Inc. 500, Inc. magazine;s annual ranking of the fastest-growing private enterprises in the country. "We weren't going for it, but we got it." Vogel said.
Quotable is perhaps best known for their cards, yet the company's product line has expanded during the company's first decade to include journals, notepads, mugs, magnets, and photo albums. The card line, however, is how Simon and Vogel got their start. Each square, black-and-white card features a quotation or proverb written in a distinctive style and script. "They're inspirational, everyday cards. They have universal sayings, but depending on what place you're in mentally, the quotes mean different things to different people," Simon added.
Their success didn't occur overnight. Quotable's minimalist style is obviously different from other cards, and the quotations do not necessarily correspond to particular holidays. Vendors weren't receptive to the line at first, and Simon and Vogel found marketing their cards difficult. "We walked into stores in the Hamptons and asked people if they wanted to buy our cards. Two people did. We had no idea what we were doing. We were 23 years old. We got a parking ticket, and that erased our sales for the day." Vogel said.
But Simon and Vogel persevered. Still working other jobs, they invested $10,000 of their own money and spent the next three years promoting the card line they designed and constructed in their Manhattan apartment to independent bookstores and sales representatives across the country. Vogel found the quotations, while Simon did the design work. In 1996, Shakespeare and Company, an independent bookstore in Manhattan, bought their entire 48-card line. That, Vogel said, gave them the "backbone to continue."
Acquiring a network of sales representatives to market their line during their first five years of business was a difficult and ongoing process, both said. But people caught wind of the progressive success of the company. Soon, representatives across the United States and abroad began touting the growing card line. Quotable now employs seven people, including Simon and Vogel. Simon still designs all the cards, and Vogel is the sales manager, but both run the business as well. "We just got the rights to Jack Kerouac!" Simon exclaimed. "I'm so excited!"
Simon and Vogel attribute much of the company's success to their attention to detail. "We really care about every inch of the product. We still treat the business as a start-up," Simon said. "Even though we're growing, we want to be perceived as a small company where there is amazing service." Despite the company's mounting success, Simon and Vogel are modest, laid-back people. The Manhattan office is an egalitarian space where everyone works together in an open environment.
Neither one suspected they would be in the card business after Colgate, but both agree they couldn't see themselves doing anything else. "I wanted to be a teacher," Vogel said. "I see teaching as a way of sharing experiences, and I sort of redirected [my aspirations], because this is fulfilling for me. We get feedback from people all the time. It's so touching, the power that these words have on people. People thank us for this business," Vogel said.
"I feel like there's no end in sight for this business," Simon added. "It's not some trendy thing. We've been doing it for 10 years and I'm still as inspired by it as I was the first day."