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Empower Engagement

April 7, 2022
Denise Spalding, Alumni

“I’m so proud of all the young women succeeding. It’s just so empowering, isn’t it?” says Denise Spalding, president and co-owner of HighNote. HighNote is a Louisville-based print and marketing communications firm. Denise is a College of Business alum, Louisville native, family business owner, and Family Business Center Board member.

Faith in Franchising

The pride Denise takes in seeing new generations of female business leaders succeed has roots in her own business experience. In the early 90s, after 11 years of print and marketing experience, Denise and business partner Jennifer Eberle were ready to purchase their own business. They were stopped short, though, when they were unable to get a loan.

“Come to find out, not a whole lot of people wanted to give two women in their 20s any money. So that was a real slap in the face right off the bat,” she says.

Denise and Jennifer attempted to buy the Louisville location of Allegra Marketing Services, a national printing franchise. The owner told them they were just what the industry needed. With support from their families, they were able to borrow money and the owner agreed to finance them in order to get started.

“This gentleman had faith in Jennifer and me to start our own company, so we knew failure wasn’t an option because we had people to pay back…We had this big idea to turn the printing world on its head and do things differently than the typical print shops did. That’s exactly what we did,” says Denise.

Allegra Marketing Services provided raving fan service while helping clients feel as if they had their own “personal marketing company” that could produce targeted direct mail. For clients, Denise says each direct marketing piece they printed directly targeted a consumer based on their customer information. “Say you’re a lapsed customer and they say ‘Hey, we haven’t seen you in the past year, here’s a special offer for you at 20% off.’ Our direct mail was personal and data-driven to increase engagement. We were on the cutting edge of that kind of marketing.”

Family-Powered Entrepreneurship

Their success can be measured by two major milestones. One was when their company outgrew the franchise and they were able to branch off as an independently-owned company now called HighNote. The second was when they made the decision to become an all-digital printing company, enabling them to maximize various print capabilities. These decisions are continually validated by the numerous awards they’ve won over the years. One that stands out as their proudest came in 2014, when they won the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year award.

“This was for the south-central region [of the US]…we were finalists and we were like ‘We’re not going to win, don’t think that, we wouldn’t be seated in the back of the ballroom if we won.’” Denise’s table was shocked when their name was announced as the winner.

“We literally jumped up, screaming from the back of the ballroom,” she says. “That was one of my proudest moments because our family was there. It was a very prestigious competition.”

Denise hopes to use her experience to empower and influence others to succeed as well. As a member of the College of Business’s Family Business Center board, she believes in the power of family-owned businesses. “We want [Louisville businesses] to be successful, we want them to go on from first-gen to second-gen to third-gen and up. I’m always listening for opportunities to share the message of the FBC and that we need our family businesses to continue to thrive in Louisville.”