Running your own Yard Card Business
Interview with Steve Grubbs and Chet Arnold of Etc Yard Art
Steve Grubbs: Welcome, everybody to the VictoryStore.com Yard Card podcast and YouTube school. So, today we have with us Chet D. Arnold of Etc Yard Art. I’m Steve Grubbs with VictoryStore.com. And we’re going to spend some time just talking today about Chet and how he has become so successful. So, Chet, would you tell us a little bit about yourself and about Etc Yard Art?
Chet Arnold: I’m out of the Dallas, Texas area. I’ve been doing this for less than a year in the way that it’s being done. About 15 years ago, we did the channel matters. We did that for about a year. There were big, god-awful signs that you had to put the channel letters in, and lug that big thing around. And we stopped doing that. And when we saw this, we had this done for my son, and my son never smiles for anything, and he smiled. And we knew in July that it was something that we wanted to be a part of once we saw how my son reacted to having the yard card done for him. So, we’re into it and we are still learning, and we hope to be able to continue doing this and continue to grow.
Steve Grubbs: Great. And so tell us, so you launched in July, and for a lot of people in the United States, there wasn’t a lot going on in July. Talk to us about what you first purchased to get your business up and running.
Chet Arnold: The first thing we purchased was the starter kit from VictoryStore. We upgraded the starter kit, I believe that the starter kit was around $1,300 if I’m not mistaken. And we upgraded to between $17 to $1,800. And we got a lot of the things that we were told we needed and then we got a lot of the things that we wanted. And we continue to grow from there. From that, within the first week of that order, we ordered, which is still our favorite setup, it’s the girls pink and the boys blue that we still use, which to me is one of our most popular setups that goes out week after week after week.
Steve Grubbs: Is that the “It’s a baby” setup?
Chet Arnold: No, it’s not the it’s a baby. It’s the one with the celebration hats from VictoryStore. And we use that so much that we try to keep up to date on what we know we need. And so we’re going to duplicate those two sets within the next two weeks going into the spring and the summer because there were times where we had it out, we’re starting to go out, and then people were still requesting it. So, we were able to change them over to something different, but going into this spring, summer we know we want to duplicate those two sets.
Steve Grubbs: Sure. Absolutely. And can you just give us a sense of how many setups are you doing per week now? You started seven, eight months ago, and now you’re doing what?
Chet Arnold: It’s weird. We wanted to do, when we first started, we said okay, if we do one a week, one to three a week, we would consider that being successful. And it wasn’t long after we got going where we were doing one to three a day. And then our weekends would fill up where we would do 15 sometimes, a couple of times we did 15 on a Saturday and that’s like two weeks in a row. And then we did 15 -- we started doing at least 13 to 15 Saturday and Sunday. And that since then has grown to where we’re not necessarily just busy on the weekend where we’re doing two to three a day. And we like the two to three a day versus the just being crazy over the weekend.
Steve Grubbs: That makes sense. And so you keep saying we, who else is involved with you?
Chet Arnold: My wife helps me. The part that she does is she sets the signs up for me to take out. She helps to store them, to put them in an orderly fashion to where when we need something she knows where things are. Now, I don’t understand her setup at all. If I have to come in here and do something, she has to tell me where things are. But when she comes in and I’m watching her, she has things set up in a way to where we don’t have to search for things. She has things put away together, whether there’s the children’s themes, the balloons together, the gifts together and flares and things of that nature. So, she has them in a way to where we can get them and go. And if it wasn’t for her help, I couldn’t do this, not by myself.
Steve Grubbs: And Chet, how much do you charge for a setup? What is your pricing structure?
Chet Arnold: We charge on average $85. And we get a lot of people who want just price, like how much for this. And we’ll tell them that the average is $85. Being in Dallas, I know a lot of people don’t like to go too far. But being in Dallas, and this is what I do full time, I’ll drive an hour away, and you can drive an hour in Dallas and still be in Dallas. Fort Worth is adjacent and then you have a lot of suburbs to where you will spend an hour on the road going to setups and we do a lot of driving. And that’s just, I think being a male, I can go places where maybe a lot of females aren’t comfortable going. And I could go at night or I could go early in the morning and even still being a male sometimes be in places alone that makes me nervous.
Steve Grubbs: Sure. You look pretty strong, I wouldn’t want to get in a fight with you. I know that. So, talk to me about a couple of different things. So, first of all, what are your most popular setups or events that you’re doing?
Chet Arnold: The most popular thing that we do is birthdays. 98% of what we do is birthdays. We do very little anything else. On a day-to-day basis, we do birthdays. And we use the group a lot to try to figure out what we are supposed to be doing or what we should expect. There are times of the year where graduation takes over. And we’ve only experienced it really the fall graduation was the top most that we got into it. And we were told to expect more going into May and June. So, we have that to look forward to. But, for the most part, we do more birthdays than anything else.
Steve Grubbs: Yeah. We expect May and June this year to be especially significant because so many kids have had such a crazy year that -- everybody celebrates graduation in a big way anyway. So, our monthly BOGO, our monthly buy one get one is on graduation sets this month to help companies affordably prepare for a big graduation celebration. Because you only get to use it once a year. It’s not like the birthday items. Or maybe you get to use it twice a year but certainly not as often. So, talk to me about how are you -- So, you’ve got a lot of customers, and what is your percentage of new customers to repeat customers in a month? Is it 90% to 10% repeat customers to new?
Chet Arnold: Well, with us having only been here or going since we’ll say the first week in August, most of our -- it’s probably 60-40 with the 60 being new customers. We get a lot of repeats and we’ve started getting a lot of repeat and referral lately. And that’s just starting out and going through it. Birthdays are starting to come back around again for that family if they have multiple kids or other kids, the mom, the dad. We’ve only recently within the last two months, start seeing the repeat customers, family members in the home. So, we’re currently new to the repeat customers.
Steve Grubbs: Great. And that leads to a couple of interesting questions. So, first of all, how do you take payment? Do you take it as the site or online or how do you handle all that?
Chet Arnold: We do the payments through PayPal, Zelle, Venmo cash app. We’ve done less than a half percent where we take the cash on the spot because if we’re delivering between most of the time one 01:00 AM and 06:00 AM, there’s no time to stop and visit with the customer. And the way, we’ve explained it to the customers just as they’re doing drive-bys, because of the pandemic, we don’t want to put ourselves in a position to where we’re endangering our family members by visiting with the customer. And we don’t want to endanger ourselves by visiting with the customer. But there have been two times where the customers were just adamant to the point to where they would leave the money under the doormat because they did not have the electronic payment option. So, we do not -- There’s been times where we’ve turned jobs down, because we just did not take cash or payment on site. That slows us down. So, if I lose one customer to make sure that the other customers are done in a timely manner, then I’m okay with that.
Steve Grubbs: And if you do have to travel a little farther, do you charge that extra supplemental fee?
Chet Arnold: Most of the times that we’ve been asked to travel further than what we normally would, it’s somebody that was referred to us, and they’ll generally tell us that, “Hey, you did so and so or I was at a party and you did so and so. Will you please…” And to say that we charge extra, it depends on the situation. I think we’ve only charged extra on two occasions where if we’ve traveled outside of our area 15 and 20 times more than that because it was a referral or something like that we didn’t. We tend to take care of the people who are repeat, and referrals. We want them to continue to trust us and to call us without hesitation. So, we tend to bend a little bit more. And that’s the same, to me, that’s the same as giving a discount by not charging them that extra. And they tend to appreciate that.
Steve Grubbs: If you just joined us, I’m Steve Grubbs with VictoryStore.com. And we have Chet D. Arnold of Etc Yard Art. Really one of -- a very successful yard decor company and really showing how to get it done. So, Chet, you started last, say August, first week of August. And what did you do before? And let me see if I understand this, you’re doing this full-time now?
Chet Arnold: I am.
Steve Grubbs: So, you are your own boss now. Were you your own boss before?
Chet Arnold: I have always been an entrepreneur. But for the past 13 years, I published a local magazine called In Mesquite, there’s an In Garland, and an In Rockwall. March of last year, I walked out of my office to go on spring break. And I had, you know, we were doing what we normally do every spring break, we go somewhere and I never returned to my office. This past November, we finally let our lease go and we’ve moved everything out of the office. We fully expect to go back to publishing our magazine. However, if we don’t go back to publishing our magazine we’ll just continue to do what we’re doing now. And so I’m a publisher by trade. I’ve always been in marketing. Well, I’ve been in advertising and marketing in some form for the past 25 years.
Steve Grubbs: So, two things. First, I want to talk about the work ethic that it takes to succeed because I think some people look at what you do and think, “Wow, that looks easy. I could do that.” But, we all know, to start a business -- I’ve started four of them, I get it. It’s hard. I mean, you really have to commit yourself and you have to capture moments of downtime if you use your time effectively. If you were to give advice to people that are starting out or struggling or just anyone else, talk to me about the type of work ethic that’s necessary here.
Chet Arnold: Well, being an entrepreneur, that takes a special person to begin with. Before or right after high school, I’m an army infantry veteran. And so the work ethic that I have comes from my time in the military. So, I think like this, if I’m going to go out and I’m going to do a sign and I’m tired, I’m sleepy, at least I’m not being shot at while I’m doing it. So, that’s my motivation to get it done and get back home. The time that it takes to do this, especially doing it full-time, sometimes I will take a job that’s a little bit further away, I will take the job that I don’t necessarily, I’m not excited about, then I’ll get excited about it. It’s just when the customer is not conforming or not helping you to help the process, I’ll do it.
And my goal here is to turn that customer around to where they’re happy, and I’m happy that I did it. Being an entrepreneur, it’s different. The work ethic from that, or having been doing this for a while, as carried over into doing what I do now. Getting up early in the morning, to put the signs out, going and pick up the signs, cleaning the signs, maintaining the signs, and being available for phone calls, in the middle of dinner, being available for messages when I’m doing family time, and trying to juggle all those things, all those things makes for a successful business. Those customers don’t realize that you’re doing anything other than waiting on their phone call when they message you. And trying to be prompt and courteous when you’re tired, it’s something that you just have to learn too.
Steve Grubbs: Did you grow up in the home of an entrepreneur? Or has it just always been a thing inside of you?
Chet Arnold: It was never a thing inside of me. I worked for Yellow Pages and advertising after college. I worked for a magazine selling advertising after college and I kept getting fired. And I had an entrepreneurial spirit where I always wanted to do things my way, but the company wanted you to do things their way. And some companies are weird like that, if you don’t conform, they don’t want you there. And it took me a while to realize that if I was going to be successful and stop getting fired or terminated, then I needed to do things my way and I needed to do things for me. And 2009, I started my own company, and I struggled for five years. And at the five-year mark, it took off and up until March of 2020, I was doing it and I was doing a good job at it.
Steve Grubbs: Wow. I love that. And so let’s talk about marketing, you know a little bit about marketing, obviously, you’ve spent your life doing it. So, what’s the best thing that you do, and then we’ll talk about maybe the second and third best things that you do. What’s the best thing that you do to grow your business?
Chet Arnold: The best thing that I do to grow my business is believe in myself. When I’m talking to people about marketing, and I tell them how much I spend, they are in awe. But you have to invest in yourself. What we do, the majority of our business comes from Facebook, the sponsored ads. We spend probably anywhere between 400 to $600 a month on sponsored ads. And from that, we get about three to six messages a day, from people who are wanting pricing. And at that point, you have to close those people. Some of those people, their concern is price. If you talk to them and let them know what you’re going to do or what they’re getting for that, because they don’t know, they don’t know what to expect. In their mind, they just hear a price. So, you give a price, you give a feature, you give a benefit. Now, features and benefits have always been what you do in marketing.
An example of a feature is the price. An example of a benefit is what you get for that price. So, if I give you a feature, then I have to give you a benefit. Every time you ask for a feature, I could give you the benefit to that feature. And as long as you keep a balance with features and benefits, you’ll close more. And you’re not going to close everybody, but you will start to see that you’ll get a lot more yeses than you get anything else. Lately, we’re getting, “Well, let me think about it.” And I am a very impatient person and I have to say, “Yes, ma’am.” And then I’m starting to see that when I don’t show that I’m pressing, those people generally come back in a day or two. Because maybe they went somewhere else and they didn’t get the features and the benefits. All they got was the features. So, patience is something that I’m having to learn and I’m starting to reap the benefits, the rewards from the patience that I’m learning.
Steve Grubbs: And how are these -- So, you do a Facebook ad. And I spend literally 10 to $15,000 a month on Facebook ads. So, we know they work. That’s a difficult thing for a lot of people do. They’re nervous about letting their money go, but you have to be smart in how you target it. You got to target it geographically. And you have to target the right age group. And you have to target it to, you know, we know from our data, and we’ve got a lot of statistical data that women react to our yard decor ads more than men. And there’s certain age groups that react more as well. And so your money is best spent on the demographics that react to the best. And do you see some of that same thing?
Chet Arnold: Absolutely. The majority of the people that respond to us are women, the decision-makers are women. They’re the ones that usually will say yes. We do see a lot of that, the part when I’m talking about the patience is, “Well, let me run this by my husband.” And that’s something that you have to get used to because it happens, it’s going to happen. And then when they get back to you then it’s usually yes. And then I want this, this, this, this, and then it flows smoothly after that. And I talked to my wife about that and she says, “Hey, that’s the way it’s supposed to be.” You shouldn’t be making decisions without talking to me. She shouldn’t be making decisions without talking to her spouse because that’s how couples work. And so we see a lot of that. And the men, when they message, would normally ask more questions. Their questions is sometimes about the price but then they want more -- men will want more features. They want to know the price and what size the sides are. Women will ask all of that and more but they’re letting you know, right from the start they want it and they know exactly what they want. Men need to be told what they want.
Steve Grubbs: I was going to say I find that moms, they know they want to get something special for their kids. Dads do as well. But it just seems to be more moms and dads. So, let me ask, how are people reaching out to you? Are they reaching out to you via Facebook Messenger? Or do you put your email address in the ad? Or how are they coming to you?
Chet Arnold: We use Facebook Messenger. That is the majority of the way that people are coming to us. On those ads, my phone number is there. We will get more phone calls, but we do get text messages from people who saw the ad. So, first, it’s Messenger, phone calls, and then text through there. We do have our email address there, but we get a small percentage of people who actually use the email. The email, my wife checks that more than I do, because I tend to forget that the email is there. Once I start communicating with somebody by email, I move them to text message. I like to have it streamlined and I can move faster and I can be more accurate on text messages than I can communicate with someone through email.
Steve Grubbs: And are you using your personal phone, or did you get a secondary business line?
Chet Arnold: I have one cell phone number that I had all my life. Whenever I went into publishing, I had an office number and a cell phone number. But the majority of my literature in my marketing pieces had the cell phone number on it. So, when I stopped doing the publishing, I just used the cell phone number. My cell phone is my personal, it is the business. So, when I answer my phone for my mother, for my dad, for my wife, I say, this is Chet. So, my friends say, “Why do you answer the phone that way?” I said, “Because I rarely explain to you as my friend why I answered the phone that way than to a customer who’s calling about business why I just said hello.” So, I have one phone number. That works for me, that doesn’t work for everybody but I can’t have two or three different phone numbers. I’d go nuts.
Steve Grubbs: Well, you know the great thing is that today it’s so easy to block somebody on the phone if they become a problem. And you know, people really aren’t problems, it’s more the spammers who are the problem. Before we run out of time, a couple more questions. Did you go out and buy insurance for your business? Or how do you handle that issue?
Chet Arnold: We are under our parent company In Mesquite LLC. In Mesquite LLC has insurance. Etc Yard Art is a subsidiary of In Mesquite LLC. We probably, and know that this -- we probably need to protect ourselves a little bit more than we have. We’re still learning. There are people that have been doing this for many years, and I’ve been in this business a short period of time. So, I’m working from common sense, and bringing another business, and trying to use what I’ve learned in other professions. There are other people who can tell you that you probably need more insurance than you have. And when you think you have enough, you probably need more. And I’m glad that you brought that up because my wife and I talked about this some time ago, and then we never brought it up again. So, we’re probably going to look into getting more insurance than we have just to cover ourselves.
Steve Grubbs: And the nice thing is you now have a profitable business. And it’s easier to pull the trigger and make those decisions once you’re profitable, even though, you know, ideally, you’re tackling those before you become profitable. So, when you’ve got 15 setups to do, how do you map all that out?
Chet Arnold: We do a lot of writing. I’m a writer, I love to write. So, if I have 15 setups, the way that I’ve mapped them is I try to do the ones closest to me first, and then I work my way out. If I have 15 setups to do, I’ve told everybody that they’re going to be done by eight. So, if I have to start at nine o’clock at night to be done by 8:00 AM, then I’ll do that. If I started at nine, I’ll do four or five, I might take a three-hour nap and then I’ll continue to do the rest of those, and to be done by eight. And I have not been late yet so I get those out, starting closest to me and working my way out. We’ve only had that problem once, twice, where we had 13. We haven’t been in this business, at least to this point, we’ve learned to try not to do that. At some point, it’s just too many. And I don’t want to upset somebody and I don’t want to be so tired that I can’t put the things on the lawn in a way that each home or each person is happy with what they have when they wake up the next morning.
Steve Grubbs: And how long does it take for you to do a setup generally?
Chet Arnold: Generally, once I arrive, I want to be done within 30 minutes and on to the next lawn. So, about 30 minutes
Steve Grubbs: Okay. And talk to me about the type of stakes that you prefer. Obviously, other companies offer their stakes, we offer three or four different types. Do you have a preference among the stakes?
Chet Arnold: I don’t have a preference with the stakes. And I need to have a preference with them because the problem that I’m going to need, to them, is that sometimes I can’t get the sign to stand up straight. And I’ve been told that I need to go to 10 gauge. I think my wife likes the EZ stakes. We were doing taco folds for a while and then we got the stakes from you guys to where we don’t have to bend our stakes. And for the letters like the Ys and I think ones and some of the characters that are smaller, we got recently, from you guys, my wife loves those, the taco folds make it harder to store. The new ones that we got are smaller and so it takes up less space. And having been in the business even a short period of time and having as much inventory as we have, storage is starting to be an issue and will be an issue for a lot of people if they’re not planning properly.
Steve Grubbs: Sure. We hear that a lot. It’s storage, storage, storage. And so it looks like you use some plastic tubs to store a lot of yours. Do you have a specific storage strategy?
Chet Arnold: I don’t. We use the bins for the letters. We use the bins for the flares. The boxes that all the letters came in from you, we use those for the ones that are going to be on the ground, stakes that we use, we keep them in alphabetical order and we use those boxes for color. There’s probably a better way to do things than the way we are doing it. But the way we’re doing it right, right now, without ever having been taught a way, or finding another way it works for us. But the bins, we use the bins for storage and for transport. We have bins with wheels that I like. And then we have some smaller bins that I like if I’m not doing that many yards, and so that I can reach everything.
Steve Grubbs: Sure that makes sense. Well, last question. First of all, I’m Steve Grubbs with VictoryStore.com. And this is Chet D. Arnold with Etc Yard Art. And we’ve spent 30 minutes here covering a lot of topics. So, if you came in late, take some time to listen to it. And we will put it on our podcast or Yard Card Cast that you can download on your iPhone or Android. It’ll also be on YouTube if that’s how you prefer to watch. And we will turn it into a transcript and post it on our website. So, you can actually read it if that’s your preferred method. So, last question, Chet, if you could give one piece of advice to people who are just starting out, what would that be?
Chet Arnold: I like that question. My biggest piece of advice is, it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been doing this. If you’ve been doing it, 10 years, 15 years, there may be somebody that’s been doing it one month and figured out how to make something more efficient. It doesn’t matter what background you come from, that it could be somebody that’s been doing this 20 years, and can give you some advice on how to make whatever you’re doing better. And I can learn from anybody. And I certainly do. The VictoryStore page has been helpful to me. There have been other people that have ordered things that I’ve seen that I like. There’s been people who have posted layouts and things that we didn’t think to lay things out that way. And the advice part of this is you can learn from everybody. You can learn from somebody being successful, you can learn from others’ mistakes so that you don’t make the same mistakes.
And more than anything, you got to have fun. I try to find fun in everything I do. If I’m out at five or six in the morning, and the sun comes up and it’s a beautiful sunrise, I will stop and I will take a picture. I like to interact with my customers. Just have fun, have fun, no matter what you’re doing. And sometimes that fun gets me in trouble when I’m having too much fun with the customer if they walk outside, and then I need to be going on to the next place. But then I know that that customer enjoyed it. But just learn, just keep learning, keep learning. And customer service, I made a note to speak on customer service. No matter how good you are at what you’re doing, you have got to spend some time being with customer service and making sure that you have great customer service skills. That’s going to be where you make the most strides and repeat customers and new customers and referrals.
Steve Grubbs: You know what, Chet? Thank you. To me, you are the epitome of the American dream. The pandemic dealt you a bad hand like it did so so many people, but you picked yourself up and you are now running a great business and you are your own boss. And that’s what so many of us have always aspired to. So, congratulations to you, and thanks for spending 30 minutes with us today. All right.
Chet Arnold: Thank you for having me.
Steve Grubbs: I appreciate it, Chet. Everybody, thanks for joining us and check out the podcast or the YouTube or the transcript on the VictoryStore.com website. I’m Steve Grubbs. Thanks for watching.