Personal Touch Welcome celebrates 15 years

Dee and Joe Strilowich run Personal Touch Welcome, which celebrates its 15-year anniversary this year. Ms. Strilowich visits new movers in Ridgefield and Redding, delivering them a gift basket of free items and coupons that’s estimated at $2,000. Mr. Strilowich puts the baskets together and organizes the company’s finances. — Steve Coulter photo

Dee and Joe Strilowich run Personal Touch Welcome, which celebrates its 15-year anniversary this year. Ms. Strilowich visits new movers in Ridgefield and Redding, delivering them a gift basket of free items and coupons that’s estimated at $2,000. Mr. Strilowich puts the baskets together and organizes the company’s finances. — Steve Coulter photo

Dee Strilowich remembers the welcome visit she received when she moved to Ridgefield in 1970.

It was an experience that was so touching — so genuine and heartfelt — that it motivated her to become the town’s “Welcome Lady” more than two decades later and start her own business, Personal Touch Welcome, with her husband, Joe, in 1999.

“We moved here real quickly from Pleasantville and we didn’t know anybody in town,” Ms. Strilowich recalled. “Then we got a call from this gal who wanted to come over and welcome us to town with her famous welcoming basket, and I thought, What an awesome concept.

“Twenty-four years later, I was given the opportunity to be on the giving end with Welcome Wagon and it touched my heart,” she said. “I knew right away this is what I wanted to do — I was in between jobs and wanted to work in Ridgefield and do something rewarding for my community.”

She’s covered a lot of ground and used the same two baskets for the last 20 years, becoming a town staple to both newcomers and longtime residents.

“I welcome new movers, whether they’re new to town or they’ve moved around town,” she said. “I also visit parents of new babies, new businesses and relocated businesses.

“A lot of the new businesses help me learn about services I didn’t know existed, which is helpful,” she added. “I invite them to become a sponsor in my welcome basket and then they can include nice gifts or coupons to entice new families to come visit them.”

So what’s in Ms. Strilowich’s famous welcome basket? The better question may actually be, What isn’t?

The basket, which features an eight-pocket folder with categorized information about every type of business from eye doctors to construction workers to pet care services, includes material items like a stuffed teddy bear, a coffee mug and a yardstick.

“Locksmith, overhead doors, house cleaning, garbage pickup, chimney cleaning, audits, water companies — that’s just the home services pocket,” she said, flipping through the eight folders.

It also comes with an additional bag of community information that includes maps, magazines and answer books.

“Rec Center, Department of Motor Vehicles, Keeler Tavern Museum,” she begins to list again.

However, the real value is in the coupons that are a part of the Strilowich’s “smiley bag,” which gives customers everything from a dozen bagels to five gallons of gas to 100 copies.

“I always ask the sponsors what they’d like to have in the basket and that’s what I try to pass on,” she said. “That way it’s a partnership driven by ‘what can you do for the customer?’ not ‘what can you do for me.’

“I encourage people to always bring the smiley bag with them in the car when they’re out and about — the goal is to empty the bag,” she said. “Businesses will have a customer for life if they give away something that’s special.”

Her two most memorable sponsors are Steve’s Bagels, her first-ever client, and Paris Hair Designs, the business that was part of her own welcoming basket back in 1970 and remains with Personal Touch Welcome in 2014.

“Many of these businesses have been with me the full 20 years, ever since I was with Welcome Wagon, which is just absolutely amazing,” she said. “Steve’s Bagels was the first client I ever signed; it’s under third ownership now, but whoever has owned it has gone along with the tradition of giving away a dozen free bagels.”

While a majority of the businesses she works with are in Ridgefield, Personal Touch Welcome does offer customers a look at what the surrounding towns have to offer.

Klaff’s Home Design in Danbury offers a $200 gift certificate.

“That’s just one of many really nice gifts,” Ms. Strilowich said. “The value of my basket is over $2,000, thanks to these generous sponsors.”

Despite the business’s success, she doesn’t have any plans for expansion, saying that towns like Wilton and New Canaan already have welcome ladies.

“I’ll be 74 this year; Joe will be 77,” she said. “We’re just happy keeping busy with what we’re doing, and it keeps us busy.”

“It also allows us to travel when we want — take off to see family in the West,” said Mr. Strilowich, who organizes the baskets and oversees the company’s finances. “We like getting away, but we’re the ones making up the work when we get back.”

Another problem the couple face is the rise of Internet consumerism and an increased dependency on cell phone technology, which makes it difficult for them to do visits by appointment.

It’s the personal touch — the information folder, the smiley bag, the personalized welcome letter, the self-designed cards — that has kept business steady.

“I do about 25 to 30 visits a month, which works really well,” she said. “This winter I haven’t been able to hit that average because of the weather.

“When the snow disappears, I’ll be back out knocking on doors.”

She added that she covers about 60 square miles between Ridgefield and Redding.

In a typical two-hour work window, she gets into 10 to 12 houses in specific neighborhoods.

“I go out with my appointment book and try to get them to schedule a visit — they last anywhere from a hour to a hour and a half,” she said. “On Sunday afternoons, sometimes I go out knocking on doors and end up with a visit or two, which is always nice,” she said. “I talk for about an hour and then relax and let them ask any questions they may have.”

Before Personal Touch Welcome, Ms. Strilowich was a part of Welcome Wagon from March 1994 to July 1997.

In four years, she went from “having pretty much no skill set” to earning Welcome Wagon’s Representative of the Year in 1996.

She exited as a Platinum Welcome Wagon Representative, a newly minted honor given to only “a handful of Welcome Wagon’s top performers.”

“In 1998, Welcome Wagon was purchased by a major corporation and they proceeded to fire every welcome lady in the United States,” Ms. Strilowich said. “At that point, I was flying around the country, training other representatives and attending seminars.

The experience allowed her to join a national network of home greeters, who meet annually.

In addition to that network, Ms. Strilowich is part of a network of businesswomen and a member of the Chamber of Commerce.

“We go to all the ribbon cuttings — we’re usually the ones holding the ribbon in the photo,” she said.

She’s used to the spotlight.

Ms. Strilowich had a full-page feature in the New York Times in May 1996 and then went on to be on The Today Show later that year.

The work hasn’t always been glamorous though.

In her first year with her husband working on Personal Touch Welcome, Ms. Strilowich broke her leg in October 1999.

However, that didn’t derail her from making 72 visits in February 2000, according to her record books that track every single visit she’s ever made.

While she plans to have a celebration for the business’s 15-year anniversary, Ms. Strilowich’s most proud milestone will come sometime next year when she delivers her 10,000th basket.

“I’d like to do something at the end of this summer for our 15th-year anniversary,” she said. “Maybe a ribbon cutting or something — not in our living room.

“I’m at about 9,700 baskets right now,” she concluded. “I do about 250 visits a year, so I’d imagine that the 10,000th basket will be delivered in the middle of the next year.”

For more information about Personal Touch Welcome, visit the business’ website at www.personaltouchwelcome.com or email the Strilowich’s at [email protected] 

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  • Jenny Zack

    Congratulations, Dee & Joe. I know newcomers appreciate the warm welcome you give them, and the businesses you represent appreciate all the new customers you send their way.

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