Nancy Lowell Gibbs
Elegant, upbeat, thoughtful,
fresh, expressive, creative and warm are just a handful of words
that describes not only Lallie, Inc., the Annapolis-based custom
stationery manufacturer, but also Lallie the person.
Nancy Lowell Gibbs, a native Bostonian, is the creator and president
of Lallie, Inc., which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.
Nancy credits the name, "Lallie," to her father. "Lallie is short
for Lollapalooza, the nickname he gave me when I was born weighing
10 pounds. The name just stuck." Now, it is a trademark.
Nancy began Lallie as a senior project while at the University
of Denver where she was a graphic design major. She returned to
Boston after graduation and began the Lallie-Ads Agency where
she received so many requests for stationery that, in response,
she developed a signature line which made its debut at the New
York Stationery Show in 1977. It was well received, to say the
least. Over the next couple of years, the business boomed and
her reputation was established.
Faced with an opportunity for relocation-and the possibility to
live almost anywhere-Nancy and her husband visited and fell in
love with Annapolis. It wasn't long before they moved here and,
in 1979, she opened her first Lallie location on Church Circle
with a subsequent move to a storefront on Maryland Avenue. A growing
business necessitated a larger space, so she moved to her current
location on Gibralter Avenue.
Today, the award-winning Lallie Collection is carried by more
than 500 retailers in the U.S., Europe and Canada, ranging from
Bloomingdale's and Neiman Marcus to select smaller shops. Locally,
Lallie can be found at Pris' Paper in West Annapolis. The products
are displayed in catalogues and categorized: Lallie Babies, Lallie
Holidays, Lallie Kids, Lallie Parties, The Stationery Collection
and Quiet Thoughts. Nancy describes the Lallie style as "upbeat
traditional," with each unique creation "so happy and fun-some
very elegant, some very conservative. But we put on a little spin
that makes it refreshing-yet not overdone or stiff-because that's
who we all are." Lallie's 27 employees share her smile and enthusiasm
and the atmosphere is casual and friendly, yet no doubt productive.
Nancy and her staff, teamed with additional holiday employees,
produce enough Lallie for $1.5 million dollars in annual sales.
When you choose to buy Lallie, you are in good company. Her clients
include Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, Dan Marino, Sam Donaldson,
Michael Jordan, Cal Ripken, Faith Hill and Aretha Franklin, to
name a few-she has an entire catalogue of celebrity clientele.
Nancy's Lallie Babies selections began in 1980. "Many of the baby
boomers were having children yet, when looking for birth announcements,
there was no one catalogue dedicated to that market. They had
to search through different catalogues which was both frustrating
and time consuming." Then she had a brainstorm. "Wouldn't it be
great to go to the shelf and pull off one book filled with invitations
and just look and look and look?" Hence, she developed Lallie
Babies. Today there are more than 100 of those types of catalogues
yet, despite the competition, Lallie remains a distinguished name
in the industry.
Nancy credits her success to the quality of work and the pride
taken in each order. Even Lallie packaging is meticulous and detailed.
"It is so rewarding to receive an order on paper, turn it into
a creation and know the person on the other end is going to open
the package and say, 'wow!'" She is very quick to credit all of
her employees for the success. "I have a great team, many of whom
have been with me for a long time. One of my artists has been
with me for 17 years."
When the Lallie Holidays catalogue emerged in 1991, Lallie added
selections to its line of expertise for every holiday in the calendar
year: Christmas, Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, Easter, New
Year's---you name it---each thoughtfully and beautifully designed
with a touch of Lallie. Nearly one half of their business is done
in November and December when dedicated employees work long hours,
never losing sight of the personal care and special touches that
make Lallie what it is. On December 24th, Nancy closes shop until
after New Year's, recognizing the importance of family during
the holidays. It is also a time for rejuvenation.
When asked how she and her team continuously come up with so many
unique ideas for her catalogues, she explains, "We have art meetings
every Tuesday---sometimes they go on all day. We'll take a design
and we actually know where each other is coming from and we talk
about it and get it to a place where we're creating a new catalogue---or
how can we make it more fun or what would be the ultimate---we
just love what we are doing."
Quiet Thoughts began as an inspiration after Nancy lost her husband
and business partner to a drunk driver 12 years ago. She was also
in the car and was eight months pregnant. She delivered her baby
six weeks later. "I had so much loss." After receiving numerous
letters and gifts from retailers and friends, she created and
printed a thoughtful, emotional note that expressed the complexity
of the circumstance: an expression of sadness for her loss, gratitude
for the condolences and an announcement for the birth of her daughter.
"Sometimes you are not emotionally able to respond individually
to such a situation, but you are so appreciative for the support
from others." As time passed, she wondered, "What can I give back
to the world?" So, she created Quiet Thoughts, which includes
notes from the terminally ill and sympathy acknowledgements, and
has received much positive feedback. "I wanted people to know
that it is alright to send out a printed letter and be as emotional
as you need to."
And if that's not humanitarian enough, in the midst of the 2001
holiday rush, Lallie sent out a separate mailing with cards acknowledging
the tragedies of September 11, donating the proceeds to the cause.
"All of our employees were so excited. They could not work fast
enough or hard enough, putting in extra speed and extra hours---it
was just a really good feeling to contribute something."
Persevering? Yes. Today, Nancy---with her two children---is happily
remarried and enjoys her family of five children and two dogs.
In May, Lallie will go back to the New York Plaza where it all
began and host its 25th anniversary celebration, extending invitations
to its retailers, perspective retailers and clients. Luncheons,
dinners, and cocktails for two full days will commemorate the
building of a legacy. When asked about her achievements and celebration,
Nancy smiles radiantly and says, "We love it."