Starting a Yard Card Business: Interview with Tricia Reece
Starting A Yard Sign Business with Steve Grubbs & Tricia Reese
Steve Grubbs: Welcome everybody. I am Steve Grubbs, your host of the Victory Store Yard Decoration Rental Business Podcast Interview. Today, we have a very special guest, Tricia Reese from St. Louis, Missouri. If you're watching beyond the borders of the United States, Missouri is right in the middle of the country on the Mississippi river. So, Tricia tell us a little bit first of all, what is the name of your Yard Decoration Rental Business?
Tricia Reese: We are Happy House Cards.
Steve Grubbs: Happy House Cards. And let's talk a little bit of about your origin story. Every good superhero, every good super business has an origin story. How long have you been working in this business?
Tricia Reese: Our official first sign was Valentine's day of last year.
Steve Grubbs: So, you've got 12 months under your belt. Is it safe to say that you're still in business?
Tricia Reese: Yes yeah, it's safe to say good.
Steve Grubbs: That's good, because you know about half of all new businesses fold within the first 12 months. So, you have surpassed the first hurdle. Congratulations on that.
Tricia Reese: Okay, I didn't know that, but yeah, we're doing good.
Steve Grubbs: 80% in the first five years. So, you know we have obviously VictoryStore. We're in our 23rd year, I think. So, we're trying to keep it going as well. Tell me why in the world, would you want to get involved in this type of business?
Tricia Reese: Well, my husband was wanting to come up with, you know, kind of a side job that would bring in, maybe, I don't know, five to ten thousand dollars a year. Just something to do on the side. He would pitch something at me like a food truck or anything he would throw my way, it just seemed to just be too involved. He's a high school principal and was talking to a co-worker who has some friends that do this type of business. This is their fourth year, they're more in the city of St. Louis and they're also educators. They were making about ten thousand dollars a year and I thought you know that's pretty good. He was showing me the starter kits and about how much they run. And I thought, you know, I'm not a risk taker, he's more the risk taker. To me, that seemed like, you know, a very manageable risk if it didn't take off.
I also am a very creative person and it sounded like a nice creative outlet in a way to bring happiness to people, you know just something different. We were looking, I was needing something different.
Steve Grubbs: Sure, so you've led me to two questions then.
Tricia Reese: Okay.
Steve Grubbs: Number one, roughly, you don't have to give us the exact number, but roughly, how much money did you spend in your initial launch of the business then?
Steve Grubbs: Great. In understanding that year two should be more profitable than year one, did you reach your goal of five to ten thousand dollars in year one?
Tricia Reese: Yeah, the first two months were tough, I remember my husband saying this was a mistake. Because we started February and March of last year. I think we had five paying orders and then COVID hit. In April, we did 128 signs and May hit and we did 186 signs. So, we went from two months of five signs to the third month and then the fourth month. April and May were complete insanity. That's when we just had basically the starter kit. So, it was quite a challenge. I mean talk about being thrown into the fire!
Steve Grubbs: Just thinking about that real quick. If you average, what do you average per sale? $75, $100.
Tricia Reese: That's what we charge. $75 and we will travel up to 20 miles. For an additional day I just charged $25. So, most of our orders are one day orders.
Steve Grubbs: So, you must have broken even on your initial investment by the end of March. To break even you'd be somewhere around 27 setups.
Tricia Reese: Yeah, something like that. Well April for sure yeah, March we weren't.
Steve Grubbs: Okay, so April. Yeah, I can tell you when the when COVID happened, as you may recall, if you did business with us, it broke our business model. We quickly invested a million dollars in new machines and cutting machines and printing machines to just to be able to dig ourselves out of the hole. We had a lot of unhappy customers and we had apologized for months. But you know, it was a once in a lifetime deal and we all went through it together. So, all right. Let's get down to some really important questions. First of all, lesson number one I think that I’ve picked up already is that, with or without COVID you're probably going to start slow and build up.
Tricia Reese: Exactly.
Steve Grubbs: Fair enough, okay. Next question. What have been the best two or three marketing tools that you have used to get the word out on your business?
Tricia Reese: Okay, well before my phone started blowing up, I think it was the last day of March. We did a free sign for one of my husband's co-workers and she lives in a very large subdivision that's just down the street. A lot of the subdivisions around here are probably the same where you live. They have Facebook pages just for their subdivision. And another family saw their sign and Facebook post and hired us, and when they posted that little girl's sign, we got over ten thousand hits.
Steve Grubbs: Wow.
Tricia Reese: It was crazy, and I honestly believe that that sign right there, I mean that was a paying customer but it was stemming off of a free one that we did in this huge subdivision. From that moment on, I could not keep up with my phone.
Steve Grubbs: Sounds like a great feeling!
Tricia Reese: Yeah.
Steve Grubbs: So, I often have thought and I want to get back to your other marketing ideas in a moment. But I have often thought that it could be a good idea to, I know some gated communities allow this type of thing and some have regulations and you can't have these types of signs up, but most seem to allow it.
Tricia Reese: Yeah.
Steve Grubbs: I’ve often thought that it would almost be of value to knock on the door of one of the first three or four homes in a gated community and just offer them one for free for three days. And just say, you know whatever you want just give me a call and then put it up. You know that everybody has to go in that gate. So, if there's a thousand people that live back there, you're gonna have literally a thousand people who see your free advertising. So, the other thing that I encourage people to do is, you can go to most State Department of Transportations. I bet you every single one. We'll give you a list of how much traffic goes on each road, so you can actually look and say okay there are, like for example, one of the roads that I’ve used for this type of thing in the past. There are 15,000 cars that drive on that road a day. In 10 days, that's 150,000 eyeballs in a month 450,000 eyeballs. So, if you put up a sign just for a week, you know you're gonna get close to a hundred thousand eyeballs on your setup. So, those are the some of the things to think about you just need to make sure that people can see, a lot of people will stop and slow down to see what company it is. But I think, hey that's a great idea, is your placement.
Tricia Reese: Yeah.
Steve Grubbs: What else have you done that has worked well?
Tricia Reese: Right off the bat other than our website, I set up a business page on Facebook. I also set up a VIP page on Facebook. So, it was a lot of word of mouth that way. Customer service is so key like just making sure that, okay here's our pros, here's my process. I think I should be contacting; I get the order on my calendar so that contact is made. And then the day that I'm going to set it up that night, I text them and say I’ll be out tonight. When I can, I try and give them a time frame. Sometimes I text them 15 minutes before I get there. As soon as I'm done, I stand back and I take a picture and I text it to them. So, that they can sleep well that night knowing that it's there.
They're not worrying all night; did she show up. So, that's kind of my process. I let them know I'll be back after dark the next day to pick it up. But I have said this so many times, the renter this is as much about the renter as it is the recipient. They get so excited, the mom the grandma the friend, whoever it is that is purchasing this card is so excited. They can't wait for me to text them that picture. So, I think for them this is as much fun as it is for the person that gets up the next morning and has the surprise.
Steve Grubbs: Yeah.
Tricia Reese: So, I mean really and I always say, you know you can get a good picture you'll have this keepsake memory. So, it's fun as for me, because I love getting those texts back. And not everyone texts back all excited but I would say 95% do. It's usually "It's better than I expected" or "OMG, this is perfect". And it makes you feel good. They're excited, they can't wait for their person to see it in the morning. So, it's a real, especially in the days that we're living in, it's just a really satisfying, gratifying job.
Steve Grubbs: I always say we are in the business of happiness and I love that.
Tricia Reese: Yeah, I’ve been called sign Fairy, the sign Lady. People have equivalent like I'm Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny type, you know showing up at night and then they've got this surprise in the morning. So, that's fun.
Steve Grubbs: What about Mike, your husband is principal at a school? Have you done anything at the school so far?
Tricia Reese: Yes, we have several schools in our district and I’ve been hired multiple times for, ‘We love our teachers’, ‘Welcome back’ signs. ‘Our principal over here at the elementary just turned 50, so his wife ordered a sign to be put up. I’ve done several signs for our school district. I’ve done some free ones. Before we got real busy, I was doing some free ones over here at our local elementary. It's just a half mile down the street. But most of them since have been paying signs.
Steve Grubbs: Yeah, you know that's the whole deal. One of your best marketing budget items is to do a few free ones now and that kind of exposure makes a difference.
Tricia Reese: Yeah.
Steve Grubbs: Do you have a marketing budget; do you spend any money on marketing through Facebook or something else?
Tricia Reese: I don't know, you know you can boost posts on Facebook I think I’ve done that once.
Steve Grubbs: So, all word of mouth so far.
Tricia Reese: Yeah, we've hardly spent any money on that.
Steve Grubbs: Talk to me about the categories of setups, everybody does birthdays. What percentage of setups would you say are birthday related?
Tricia Reese: 95%.
Steve Grubbs: Really interesting. So, it's all about the birthdays. What are the other 5%?
Tricia Reese: Well, we have a ton of letter inventory. So, I can do about any message you want but I would say the next biggest, well there was a season where it was graduations. I did order some sets from VictoryStore that were specific to graduation and then I added to those. Like added their name and that kind of thing. But I’ve done Happy Retirements, we've got a It's A Girl set, a baby girl set up a baby boy set up. We've got a Mr. and Mrs. that married, just married set up. But honestly, I’ve only used that two or three times. I don't know maybe my second business is It's a Boy or It's a Girl and Happy Retirement. But it is mostly birthdays.
Steve Grubbs: In an average week now, I mean I know its winter and we're all cold and so my guess is you probably do. Our experience with most customers is they do fewer in the winter, more in the spring and summer. But during these cold months, how many setups would you be doing per week roughly?
Tricia Reese: Well, we're averaging 50 to 60 per month right now.
Steve Grubbs: Okay, all right.
Tricia Reese: I'm thanking God, this is the slowest week we've had since we started at 5. I’m just so thankful, because we're having to use yard card stands. I mean the ground is just frozen solid and it's just miserable to be out. So, we have two tonight, we have one for the next few nights in a row. So, it slowed way down. Last week I had 17, the week before that I had 20. So, this weather has caused us to almost come to a screeching halt, but I needed a break.
Steve Grubbs: Let's talk about that, because you know when I teach entrepreneurs, sometimes I’ll do some talks and such. I always talk about the philosophy of buildup, build under. So, as you may or may not know, I’ve got four different companies. And if I were doing it all myself I couldn't do it. So, many of you might work with Patty or Spencer or Trevor or any of our VictoryStore sales people. And I can only do it because they are the build under. It seems like most of the Yard Decoration businesses that I talk to have some sort of way that they, you know, hire others to do part of those setups. Are you doing any of that yet? Do you have children or friends or retired friends?
Tricia Reese: We needed a break after last April and May, so we went to the Smokies for a week. I hired a good friend of mine and her teenage daughter to take that week that we were off. We have a 21-year-old daughter who we have, she doesn't like doing it. So, he's helped us a little bit but we're getting ready to be gone here for a couple nights. I’m getting ready to turn 50. Yay, so we're getting away for a couple nights and then we're going to be gone over spring break. I honestly don't think I'm gonna take orders for that time. Because even when I’m away and someone else is doing it, I can't relax.
Steve Grubbs: You're a bit of a perfectionist, aren't you?
Tricia Reese: Very much and that's my problem, but that's just how it is that's how I am. So, for me to actually be able to take a true break from the business, I think I’m not going to hire someone to cover for us.
Steve Grubbs: Well, that's the beauty, you can do. You can just block out time on your calendar where you're not doing them. I assume there are others in the area that can do this.
Tricia Reese: Yeah, and I don't. There's the risk you run, oh well then, they'll like, we have so many repeat customers, oh my goodness so many. I mean once they've done a sign for one kid, they've got to do it for the other kids. So, you run the risk of losing that customer but I don't know that doesn't concern me too much.
Steve Grubbs: Well, I want to develop a mobile app, a phone based app where all of this can be managed through the app. Where you've got the location and you take a photo of it and it automatically sends it to your customers and then it's all sort of right there. We got the first piece of that done by getting the website option and we can now build websites for Yard Card Decoration companies. I assume you have a website or not?
Tricia Reese: Yes, my husband, well it was over a year ago when he went through Wix.
Steve Grubbs: And built his own then.
Tricia Reese: Yes, and it's not perfect by any means. There’re some things about it that I wish were different, but anyway that's what we've got for now. But I do so much personally just through texting.
Steve Grubbs: Yeah, so let's talk about that. How do you receive payment?
Tricia Reese: Our website only accepts PayPal at $75. So, if they don't have PayPal or they're paying for an additional night or there's extra mileage, then I have to explain how they need to still submit for offline payment. Then I contact them for either Venmo or I get a lot of personal checks mailed to me, which I’ve not had any issues yet with that. So, you know that's one of the downfalls we're facing with Wix, it's limiting. But most people have PayPal I’ve found.
Steve Grubbs: Yeah, and the fact that you can let people Venmo you or use the cash app, that's a big deal. So, let's talk about stakes. Let's say the grounds, obviously while the ground's frozen you're using the yard card stands. Are those the VictoryStore stands or did you build your own?
Tricia Reese: Mike built some way back in the summer when we have a lot of clay around here. We had two seasons of drought last summer. We're in Jefferson County, where we live is basically just on a rock, a big rock. And some of these subdivisions are literally just a thin layer of sod over rock. So, he needed to build a few stands on his own that we could use in case of emergency when we just simply couldn't get stakes in the ground. And thankfully, we've not had to do that very often because I hate them. I hate using stands.
Steve Grubbs: Yeah.
Tricia Reese: Since you've come out with stands, but this was before then.
Steve Grubbs: Let's say the ground's not hard. What types of stakes do you generally use? You know everybody sells different types. We sell the easy stake, the H-Stake and then the slim H-Stake. What's your preferred method?
Tricia Reese: Our preferred method, oh shoot hold on, phone call sorry. We get H-Stakes. The 6x30 H-stakes and I should have brought one up here with me. My husband cuts them, so that where the horizontal is you've got about this much above and maybe this much below. So, our back row is what we call on a medium height and then our front row is real low. You know where we stick it in the ground. The way I install and a lot of our yards around here are on incline. So, we don't need that second row to be real high.
Steve Grubbs: Okay.
Tricia Reese: Now if we come across a flat yard, I don't do two rows I just go all the way across. So, I put the age on the tall ones, so on your tall EZ stake on the tall.
Steve Grubbs: The slim, yeah, the easy stake, okay.
Tricia Reese: So, we do all what we consider medium and then we do short. And then we have some 6x30s and then some even wider ones 12x30s whatever they are. You know I’ve got those huge balloon clusters that you sell. Those are of course we don't cut those; those are even higher behind the happy birthday.
Steve Grubbs: Yeah. What about business insurance? Do you carry business insurance? Use your homeowner's insurance?
Tricia Reese: Yeah, we've not had any issues. We're real careful, we're usually right in the center of the yard. So, if someone has a sprinkler system or whatever, I mean we're probably taking a risk not having that insurance but we've not had any issues yet. And people, if there is something in their yard that they want us to be cautious about, they'll usually give us a heads up.
Steve Grubbs: And different types of flair that you have in your collection. What are your favorite pieces of the accessories and flairs, different people call it different things to you beyond your letters?
Tricia Reese: Beyond our letters.
Steve Grubbs: I guess, let me clear from my question. For those listening, what would be the best bang for their buck to have in their collection at least from your experience?
Tricia Reese: You've got a pretty large package of stars and then you have another one of balloons. Those are essential, stars and balloons are essential and hearts. The more specific, I don't do themes I haven't gotten into. I do have a gaming set, but I don't do themes. If they want a frozen theme or something like that, I'll send them to our competitors. Because I just don't want to get into all that. So, my stuff is more, now I have several presents and usually I have several cakes most of this is your inventory. Like I said, the hearts, the balloon clusters, the stars, oh I love those candles that you sell.
Steve Grubbs: Yeah.
Tricia Reese: I love because I like on that front row where it's their name. I love using four candles, two tall at an angle and then two shorts beside at an angle and then I usually have something on either side of that. So, you know I keep things more general.
Steve Grubbs: Okay yeah, that's a really great answer. A lot of people listening to you, to us, are just getting started. Is there a piece of advice that, maybe more than one piece of advice that you would give them other than run as far away as you can fast?
Tricia Reese: Well, I don't know what, this is a people-centered business. So, you've got to really make personal contacts. Even though I’m just texting with people all the time and my husband thinks I’m too wordy, but I think there's something to making personal contacts with people. And sharing in that excitement with them, you know that we're not a franchise, and I don't want to feel like one. I don't want them to feel like they're just dealing with an automated service or a robot or whatever. I want them to feel like, I mean they're dealing with a mom here with three children and two other jobs.
So, I think people need that, they need that connection and they need you to share that fun and happiness with them. They want that excitement, we're in such just frustrating days. So, I would recommend not going hog wild on inventory until you can see if it's going to take off or not. Here's another piece of advice that I’ve said, don't copy someone else. Come up with your own scheme. Like I love the 24 inches Bebas Yard Letters. However, you say that?
Steve Grubbs: I think I say Bey-bas, I don't actually know how it's pronounced either.
Tricia Reese: What's that word mean? But I love that, I'm a very type a structured person and I love, like I don't like overlapping things, I don't like clutter that's just me. So, I have a certain style and that's what I go with. And if a customer doesn't prefer that style, they have other options with other companies. But I am staying true to what I do. So, when I make decisions on ordering more inventory, I look at my collection and think, is this me or am I trying too hard? Like I don't know how I feel about all the sparkly stuff, I'm not a sparkly person. Does that make sense?
Steve Grubbs: You know it sounds like you have a very clean look you know.
Tricia Reese: Yeah.
Steve Grubbs: If you think about it, first of all it's great that people have different artistic styles. You know you don't want Degas to be Monet, you want everybody to be a little different and that's because people appreciate that. So, I appreciate your point here and the great thing is you know between us and I'm sure others, there are so many different types of alphabets and flair that everybody can create their own look and their own feel. I don't think it's bad when you're first getting started to look at what others are doing and how they're doing it. But over time, you have to develop your own look especially as the landscape becomes more competitive.
Tricia Reese: I totally agree, and you also have to know your demographic. There is a definite area of St. Louis that has accepted us as their company. Our competitors have a whole another area that has accepted them in as their, you know, as their company. So, you need to be aware of that as well. So, anyway.
Steve Grubbs: All right, final question, sort of final next to last question. Do you use any car marketing, car door magnets or car toppers or any? What do you do the market with your cover?
Tricia Reese: We've got the magnets.
Steve Grubbs: You got that as part of your starter kit I assume.
Tricia Reese: Yes, and I’ve since ordered more. So, we've got three vehicles that I tell you what, my main vehicle is my Pacifica. That is my work van and I hit it, you know it was bound to happen, I see deer all the time and I hit a deer about a month ago. So, I just got my Pacifica back, because I’ve been having to use a pickup truck and that is it.
Steve Grubbs: Yeah. Any final thoughts that you would like to visit about or advice you'd like to give?
Tricia Reese: Oh, my goodness.
Steve Grubbs: Let me rephrase, if you were to go back 13 to 14 months ago, pop in your little time machine, your Pacifica time machine and go back and give yourself some advice. What would you tell yourself?
Tricia Reese: Oh, that's a good question. I honestly don't know. I'm sorry that phone's ringing.
Steve Grubbs: That's a good sign, phone's ringing making money.
Tricia Reese: You know as far as doing anything differently, things just hit us so crazy. The timing of our business, I mean I just tell people, it was God's timing because we couldn't have come up with that. I mean we were ready to roll when COVID hit. Not knowing that that was going to hit in the first place.
Steve Grubbs: Right.
Tricia Reese: And we just did our thing. I mean we didn't know what we were doing and we just did it. And we were just trying to fill orders however we possibly could, I was doing orders that said like, "Liam is Nine" because that's all I could do and then putting a few things in. I don’t know, I mean our circumstance is so unusual because the timing couldn't have been any better. And we've just learned as we go and I don't know what else I would add. I really enjoy doing this and I’m hoping that it's not just a fad. But if it is, it's been a great, good ride.
Steve Grubbs: So, we have a few new directions that we're going to offer to business companies like yourselves. And that will add some additional sources of sales and revenue for those that choose to try them. So, we'll be rolling those out over the next few weeks and months and we're very excited about that. Tricia, thank you for being a VictoryStore customer and I know you do business elsewhere also, but we very much appreciate what you do with us.
Tricia Reese: I’ll tell my husband, because he's the one that did all the research and he chose your company and he ordered the starter kit. Then I just kind of took over, that's how I do.
Steve Grubbs: Well, tell him Thank you very much and congratulations on your success in your first year. That's, you know, most start a new business, you don't expect to make money in your first year and just surviving. It is a mark of success, so congratulations on that and thank you.
Tricia Reese: All right, you're welcome. Nice to meet you, by the way.
Steve Grubbs: Nice meeting you.
Tricia Reese: All right, bye-bye.