Yard Sign Rental Business Interview with Expert, Chris Ann
Steve: Okay, well thank you for joining us, everybody. My name is Steve Grubbs. I am the founder of victorystore.com. And welcome to our victorystore.com yard decor university. Today, we have a very, very smart yard decor expert with us. We have Chris Ann Dale. Chris Ann, thank you for joining us. And you have flamingos to go. Is that right?
Chris Ann: Yes, sir. Yes, sir. I sure do. Thank you so much for having me on here. You know, I love to help in any way I can to share my experiences with our industry.
Steve: Wonderful. And now of all the people I've interviewed, I believe that you are our veteran in this... in this business long before others got into it. So, first...
Chris Ann: Maybe so.
Steve: Tell us first how long you've been doing this and...
Chris Ann: 21 years.
Steve: Okay. First, how long you've been doing it, and second, tell us how you got started that long ago?
Chris Ann: Okay, absolutely. 21 years, it'll be my 22nd year come June. So, I can almost say 22 years. I got started because of a need in my community. And we did not have stork yard signs. We had one that was like an hour away from town, and we had a need in our community. So, what do you do when you're scrappy? And I wanted to stay home with my newborn baby instead of going out and putting him in daycare and getting a new job. We were new into our community. So, what do you do? You get scrappy. And this is what a lot of people have had to do in the... in the past year. So, I feel like it's a come full circle.
Steve: That's wonderful. And, you know what? What you hit on there is the first rule in being a business owner, find a need and fill it. And that's what you did. So, clearly, you started with flamingo flocking, which has its own sort of beast. And you have evolved into something much more sophisticated. So, tell us what your business looks like today.
Chris Ann: Absolutely. So, for anybody who doesn't know me, first of all, I want to thank everybody for tuning in. And thank you, Steve, for this opportunity. And like I said, I've been doing this for 21 years. And I'm in Houston, Texas, y'all. And let me just tell you, anybody, I bet you there's some Houstonians here. And I was the one and only yard card, yard greeting, lawn letter, flamingo stork business in the Houston area for about a decade. Things have changed and things have evolved. And it is phenomenal what's happened to our industry and how we've been put into the spotlight.
What I have done as well is I've become a mentor kind of by accident over the course of 21 years. And so, I've now also founded the yard card business network. And what we do there is we guide and help and mentor and serve any serious entrepreneur who wants to build a stronger and more successful business.
Steve: And how do they find the yard card business network?
Chris Ann: Sure. It's on our website. Our website (and I'll put this in the link if I can), it's yardcardbusinessnetwork.com. And somewhere in here, I'll also link to our Facebook page.
Steve: Well, and you know what we'll do is, when this is uploaded to YouTube, we will put that in the message. And so, Dustin will make sure that that happens. So, anybody who's listening to this right now, post the event on their podcast or on YouTube. They can just go directly to the YouTube page and see it right there. So, and what are the resources that you provide in your business network?
Chris Ann: Sure. Well, you know, one of the first things that we've done is we do a lot of different master classes, which is the trendy term now for trainings and workshops. And we have different resources where we do different printables. We are having guest experts that come in who this is their specialty and what they do. In fact, what we have coming up soon is a Facebook ads expert. And he specializes in local businesses, not just the general online businesses. And so, this guy, he really knows what he's doing. And he's helped a number of us before. So, we do virtual meetups.
And you know what's happened is, really, we have a lot of camaraderie. We have a lot of community with us. And we help each other. We have accountability buddies, that's kind of just happened naturally. And so, we just did a road map, business class, and that was great, where we're mapping out quarter 2, because we all know just how busy things are getting ready to get. So, we'd like to look at what's coming up in the industry and you know, see what we need. And then we pivot as we need to.
Steve: So, let's talk about the spring, because you know the way we view it, spring has several big occasions that if you’re a yard decor business, you need to prepare for. You have graduations. You have realtor home sales. You have Easter in spring. And then you have Mother's Day and Father's Day. Am I missing anything?
Chris Ann: I think you've hit it on the head. We also have Teacher Appreciation in there.
Chris Ann: And that's more of a week. And you know, this year, who knows how things are going to go? We didn't know what was going to happen last year either. But we're going to go with everything is phenomenal right now. And I like people. If I may, I just want to mention, you're doing a great job. And you just mentioned everything that should be on everybody's calendars right now.
Steve: Yeah, you're right. And you have to think ahead, because the way I view it, you want to start marketing about 4 weeks in advance in whatever the marketing looks like, we're going to come to that in a little bit. But you want to start marketing for weeks in advance. You probably want to have a little bit of inventory ready to go, but then take a look at your mark. And, you know, what we are doing now for our customers something we couldn't do a year ago. But now if you need something, we ship it out next day, or within 2 days, and so it's going to show up at your door pretty quickly. So, talk to me a little bit. Have you ever done any realtor sales? Because it looks like realtor is one that started growing quite a bit last year.
Chris Ann: Yes, I have. And I've done that for years. And, you know, what's funny is a lot of the things that are now coming up as looking new, we've done. And it's a really good testament to what happens with trying something over and over. Because just because you do something 10 years ago, doesn't... and if it wasn't, you know, a huge success, then doesn't mean it won't be a huge success now. Back in the day, realtors were like, “Why would you really want to put something in the yard?” And I had a few key realtors, that they are my clients. And when they had a new home closing, I was the one that would come out. And I would make sure that we had that done. And it's just like baby, those things can move. And so, you've really got to be, you know, flexible and be able to move your schedule anytime you want.
What has transitioned is sales, so that you're the one that helps provide the custom signs, such as something from victory, or your realtor. And so, it's real tricky these days between them wanting to go do it on their own, because everybody has the internet now, versus wanting to work with their local rental company. And it's building that relationship with them that I think is really key now more than ever.
Chris Ann: Yes. Yeah, that's good advice. And so, thinking about realtors, what is the best time for them to use yard decor services? Is it when they're having an open house? Is it to do something that, “Oh, this house is for sale,”? Or is it when they've closed on it? And they want to celebrate?
Steve: Yes, yes, and yes. Any and all of the above. I think it's a great housewarming gift, but it's also great for open houses. And, you know, the great thing is, when you look at the inventory that's needed for if you're doing letters and long letters, are the huge trend right now, so I'm picking on those. When you spell out open house and welcome home, a lot of those letters are interchangeable. And so, what would be a great set is something that had the additional letters with it, so that you could have welcome home or open house and make it interchangeable. And you've got a lot of the same pieces that you can use for everything.
And I think building that relationship with a realtor and letting them know, “Hey, you've got 4 open houses this month. Let's go ahead and get you on the books for let's say May,” you know, you've got to look at that schedule and fill up your schedule ahead of time, instead of just keeping your fingers crossed and hoping that the phone rings.
Steve: So, let me ask about selling to realtors. Do you know, one thing that seems easy to do is the realtors are generally on busier streets. So, can you just drive your car down the street and walk in and leave them a little flier? Or you call them or email them? How does that work?
Chris Ann: Simply this day and age, I would email them, because most of them are not working in an office. And that's not just because of COVID, it's also because they are generally out and about and they are not normally just sitting in their office, accepting people to come in. They’re normally just working with clients. And you might get to their assistant at a realtor’s office, but this day and age, I would create a relationship with them. Start with your community, literally your neighborhood, any of your friends of friends who would recommend a realtor. When you've got those connections, that's what's powerful.
Steve: And, you know, the great thing I love about real estate sales for yard decor companies is that it's recurring business. You know, ideally, a good realtor is going to sell 5 to 20 homes a year. And, so they might use you 5 to 20 times a year. And so, you know, suddenly, instead of bringing in a customer that might use you 1 to 2 times a year, well, that's 5x, 10x, whatever the case might be. So, that's your cost per acquisition, you can invest a little bit more time and money having a realtor as a customer than say somebody who's just going to do a birthday 1 time.
Chris Ann: Absolutely. And that's what's so vital about doing this and building up that relationship, and getting them in on what I'll call a package deal, where you go in and say, “Okay, so we're going to do,” you know, I'm going to pick a number here, but I'm going to say, “We're going to do 5 in the next 6 months.” And give them options, say, “Hey, you know what? We can have a plan that's for 5 or for 10. You can use it for open houses, or you can use it for new home buyers.” Because for you, the open houses are way better, because those are planned, versus, you know, like I said, when you have so many times, home closing will flip. And so, that one can be a little bit more of a challenge. But for the open houses, you do those all day long. If you can get a realtor and you want to offer package for 5 or an offer a package for 10, tell you what, they're going to go for the 10. Nowadays, if they know what you're doing, if they know you're going to take care of them, they are going to be your best friend.
Steve: Well, and on top of that, you look at how realtors are advertising these days. They’ll by a billboard, you know, some of them on... at least in my area, are on television, on cable. And so, they might be spending on that billboard $1,000 a month. Well, if they can spend $1,000 with you over 6 months and have 110 setups, and those setups...
Chris Ann: Absolutely.
Steve: And I keep coming back to this because I want people to think in these terms. You can go to your State Department of Transportation, you can download how much traffic goes by a particular road. So, if you have a road that has, let's say 10,000 drive-bys a day, that's 300,000 a month, 3 million in 10 months. So, let's say that you put up something for just 1 month, you can get 300,000 eyeballs on that. Even if it's some repeat eyeballs, that's fine. But your realtor, or you as a business are going to get a lot of exposure from that.
Chris Ann: 100%.
Steve: Let's move on to Mother's Day.
Chris Ann: Mm-hmm, Mother's Day.
Steve: (unclear) [12:45] Mother’s Day?
Chris Ann: Oh my gosh, Mother's Day has been busy when I want it to be busy. I learned about Mother's Day is, when I'm working, working, working, so my kids are now older where they are out of high school. And one’s in college and one’s in the Navy. And so, now I am a lot more gung-ho about giving up some of that time. I used to work nonstop for all of these holidays. And this is the thing that's not going to be popular for anybody to hear from me. Sometimes you just got to stop and pause and say, “What do you want to work? And what are you giving up from your family time?”
So, assuming you've got a plan, and you want to work Mother's Day and Father's Day, you know, any of these what I call 1-day special occasions, there's so much you can do for Mother's Day, and you can make it into a weekend. And that's what's great. You’ve got mothers, grandmothers, aunts, there's so many neighbors. I have a 75-year-old neighbor, I do something for Mother's Day for her, every year. And there's so much you can do in your current inventory for it. You don't have to go buy a ton. And you've got some great, very good priced inventory for Mother's Day.
Steve: Wonderful. Like to hear that. So, let me ask you about that whole thing about when you can work and when you don't work. Because that's an interesting topic. And I work a lot, but I enjoy working. What do you do? I know I think when you had kids, you would sometimes offload some of this on your children and pay them. It's a great way to learn a good work ethic. But tell me, what do you do now, do you do it all yourself or do you have some people who might help you out?
Chris Ann: I have a team, and I've had a team off and on for 15 years. All depends on the state of the economy. And my kids have always helped me. Once one of them was able to drive, that helped a lot. However, there is something to be said for finding some help, some sort of team members. And you might not be in a place where you think, “I can hire somebody to help me.” This can be something really small. And, you know, having a staff, it doesn't have to be this fancy staff, you can do a couple of independent contractors, one extra person to help you, even if it's something like sorting signs and putting things away is so helpful.
There are so many different facets of having a team member. And that's something we just went over for our business members with the roadmap and getting ready for busy season. There's a bunch of different things that team members can do to help. It's not all just about going and setting signs up. So, look at where you're spending your time. And where is something that you could maybe give up and somebody else could do it instead of that? Because if you can save yourself this much time, your life, your mental health is going to be much better.
Steve: Sure, absolutely. Well, and do you find it's better to hire retirees or is it better to hire high school students and college students?
Chris Ann: Well, okay, so I have done it from yes, yes, and yes. The challenge with high school students is they are under 18 years old. And so, you've got some legal situations there. So, that is not something I personally officially would recommend if you know, you've got somebody that's a neighbor and all that, that's a different situation. But from a stranger-to-stranger standpoint, I'm not a fan of the high school students, unless you have some very good legal parameters because of the legalities of them not being an 18 yet.
From there, college students are awesome. My favorites are stay-at-home moms. And I've also had retirees or ladies that have their kids out of the house. And the stay-at-home moms have just been phenomenal all around, I think it's anywhere these days, really. You know, I work with their kids’ schedules, because that's where I've been. I never missed a class party, a band concert, a football game, nothing. I didn't miss a field trip in all those years. It was hard, but it was doable. So, when I bring on stay-at-home moms, it’s a phenomenal team. Because it's like, okay, you know, when we get the school calendar out, and we block it off, and I know it's my intention for them to not miss their kid’s activities, and then we work the schedule around that.
Steve: Awesome. Okay. I’ve got about 12 minutes left. So, I want to make sure we cover all the questions. And so, I've got some rapid-fire questions.
Chris Ann: Go for it. I’m ready.
Steve: Let's say that you are in your second year of business and you hustle, what should one expect that they can... what's the range of income that they can reasonably expect to bring in in a year?
Chris Ann: Okay, minus COVID, because everything with the pandemic has been crazy. You know, just we cannot look at those numbers properly for a regular business year. Look at what you've done in the first year. If it was pandemic year, maybe cut it in half. Because who knows, at this point? Don't buy a lot of extra inventory, look at what you have an existing inventory and then add on to that. But really, it's hard to look at what an actual number is. If you did a non-pandemic here, and you did $50,000 in income, not gross sales, then you should at least be getting that and add 10%. You should at least be, what I call, going up into the right on your income stream.
Steve: So, growing 10% iis a reasonable goal?
Chris Ann: I think it's a conservative goal. But I don't want to sit here and say 50% and then somebody, you know, thinks, “Well, I didn't make that. I only make 15%.”
Steve: I know that business is hard, obviously. I've got 4 companies. I know business is always hard. A lot of times, from the outside, it looks like parties and yachts and all of that, but the reality is business is hard. So, some people that try this will wash out and not succeed. But let's think on the other end of that spectrum, what are the most successful people able tto make? What is there to aspire to in this business?
Chris Ann: From a financial standpoint or from being a successful business owner?
Steve: Well, I think we know that, you know, being your own boss is awesome, or it can be. But financially, what can a successful business expect to gross and then net?
Chris Ann: Sure, well, you know, you've got your gross, because nowadays, people are buying so much inventory that they can eat up all of their income and put it right back into inventory. Before COVID, I knew several... this is before it was so busy with so many new companies now that we're making 6 figures. However, they were the anomalies, not the norm. It's a matter...
Steve: But the point is that that is what we want to... so, for example, I always think, I never think when I start a business, I never say, “I want to be in the middle.” I want to be at the top 10%. So, if we as a yard decor business reached the top 10%, 6 figures is not out of the question.
Chris Ann: It's not out of the question, if that's what they choose.
Chris Ann: For some people, $500 a month is the goal.
Chris Ann: And then they get lost in all of this craziness of, “Oh, my gosh, somebody is making 6 figures.” I'm like, “If you want to work 5 hours a week and make $1,000 a month, that is the best goal possible.”
Steve: And then that transitions to my next question, because this can be a gig economy job, sort of, like you can drive Uber, you can, you know, maybe take a job online, transcribing things, or you can deliver happiness to yards. And so, as a side job, somebody can make $1,000 a month net income and pay some bills and keep their kids in great clothes.
Chris Ann: Absolutely. They can send them to college.
Steve: Exactly. So, that's the range for people to think about. You know, it depends on what you want to do. I've talked to some people who this is their full-time job. They had another job and they've quit and they're just going full-time.
Chris Ann: Exactly. Absolutely. And you know, the fact that there's so many competitors for many people nowadays, the one thing I look at is how to create the camaraderie with that instead of everybody trying to, you know, undercut the other one. No, no, no, we need to stop undercutting prices. That's the one thing I would also like to mention. Please don't cut your prices.
Steve: Let's talk about that. And obviously, we don't want to be sued by the government for price fixing. So, we're not going to suggest everybody do the same price. But what we would talk about is, what do you charge? What is your pricing structure? And what do you think others can get?
Chris Ann: Sure. My average ticket price is $100. And I say $100 plus tax, because you never want a customer to think tax is included if it's not included. So, mine is $100. However, I am in a very strong economic community. We have NASA. We have a very strong economy here. However, in the industry, when I have pulled a bunch of different people, and I would love to do that again, if you would be willing to help me with this for some industry trends, the average has been about 70 to $75. And a lot of that really is going to depend on how far out somebody is willing to go. My concern is people are working for pennies. Because if you're driving 2 hours, and you're charging $70 and it's 2 hours, you know, for 2 round trips, it probably isn't the best way to structure your pricing.
Steve: You know, and that is a lesson I had to learn early in business. You know, there's a book called ‘Rich Dad, Poor Dad’.
Chris Ann: Yes.
Steve: And... and it's... and, really, the point is, it doesn't matter whether you grew up wealthy or poor. What really matters is, when you're in business, can you get out of thinking like you're... like poor, and think like those people who are wealthy and that will pay you what they can pay you? And, you know, tthe part of town I grew up in, very blue collar. My dad was a school teacher. You know, we never had any extras. You know, it was always sort of stressful when I’d go, “Dad, I want to go to this camp, and it's going to cost this much,” and...
Chris Ann: Oh, yeah.
Steve: That was stressful. And so, when I first started in business, you know, I thought to myself, you know, I was young, I was in my early 30s, I said, “Well, I couldn't afford to pay that.” So, I would charge what I thought I could afford to pay instead of charging what upper middle income would pay and more successful people. And, you know, if you go to our site, you know that we keep our prices, very, very reasonable. But we also have products that are, you know, when we first set the price for a starter kit at $1,700, there's a lot to it. But I thought to myself, “Oh my goodness, Will anybody ever pay $1,700 for a starter kit?” But people do all the time, because they want enough inventory to make money. So, to your point, think like somebody that's going to pay you what you're worth. And people worth more than they think frequently.
Chris Ann: Exactly. And something that's important to do on that is to decide who your ideal customer avatar is your target audience. Do not just cast a wide net, because not everybody is going to appreciate your service, nor are they going to be a customer. So, look at the people who are a magnet, that they love what you do. Look at the people who have disposable income. And that all depends on your community. So, for what's $100, for me, might be $70 for somebody else, but they're not driving 15 minutes just to go 3 miles. So, a lot of that does depend on the time. And that's something that we go into with the business network, is we do go into you know how to structure some of this. Because we are always pivoting and changing. And your business is going to be stagnant if you're not doing that.
Steve: Absolutely. Great advice. So, last topic I want to touch on, what are your 2 top suggestions, tactics, recommendations for marketing, growing the business, gaining new customers?
Chris Ann: Okay, absolutely. So, for marketing, there is not a just one thing. That is probably my biggest thing is don't just decide you're only going to do one thing in marketing. But start with freebies. If you don't have business right now, if you don't have as much business as you want, go out and do freebies, but do them strategically. Find those realtors, find the people that are on the desired neighborhoods. You want to be at the higher-end neighborhoods that you can charge your premium pricing at. Find somebody with a connection. You can even leave a flyer at the door, and start getting your freebies out.
Nowadays, we have social media. I'm dating myself, because we didn't used to have social media to do any of this. And it was all old school traditional marketing. But now we have social media. So, get in your neighborhood Facebook groups. Work with your local community.
Now, if you have an existing business, you have existing customers, love on them. Give them more TLC than you can give anybody else. Because they invested in your business, and you need to turn around and invest in love on them. If you want to do a freebie, you talk to them and say, “Hey, you know, I appreciate you so much. Who can I go help surprise for you?” Do a contest with them. Give them discounts. Set up a loyalty program. Just communicate with them. And it's all about you know, trust. And the more you build up that trust, you are going to get loyal and raving customers that will come to you time and time again. And that is where your bread and butter is.
Steve: Okay. Final question. If you could go back in time, hop in your DeLorean time machine, and head back to visit with Chris Ann, was it 21 years ago?
Chris Ann: Yes.
Steve: Okay. You're visiting with Chris Ann 21 years ago, you know, “Hey, I'm from the future,” what advice would you give to your younger self?
Chris Ann: Well, first of all, I was 9 months pregnant, so I would tell myself to nap while I could. But I digress on that. I would tell myself to make a budget. And I know that sounds crazy, and it's not sexy. But when we don't have a clear path as to where we're going, we're never going to get there. And it's so easy, I would think I was making a lot of money, well, then I was buying stuff. And then at the end of the day, what was my take-home income? And I'm like, “Wait a minute, if I just made $10,000, why don't I have $10,000 in my checking account?” It doesn't work like that. So, I would have told myself to become more financially educated and wiser with my money, and to create a budget and to not get drawn into, “Hey, what if I just tried this and that and the other?” I would keep focused and keep my eye on the price.
Steve: Alright. So, now you've led to one more question on that exact issue. Is there a percentage? So, for example, in our company, like in Victory Store, I have a target that 5% of total revenue will go back into marketing and advertising. So, you know, if we bring in $10,000, I put $500 into marketing. And then you know, obviously, we have our cost of goods. And we know that's going to run around 40%. And I got labor. And we have a target that we try to stick to for each of those. For your business, do you have a target for how much you would put into marketing, or how much you would put into purchasing additional assets?
Chris Ann: Well, I flip it and I start with, “What do I want my take-home income to be?” and then I go from there. So, I'm doing it opposite, because ultimately, my goal is, what can I have? Because I'm going to spend my time doing this, I don't want to work for pennies, and I don't want to work for free anymore. And I've been there and done that, and I could write a couple of books on it. So, I'm looking for at least a 50% profit margin for myself. And then I divvied up from there.
Inventory is lowest on my list in a general month. Now, now that we're coming into graduation season, it's going to go higher up into new inventory, however... and also, in marketing. So, really, for me, it's more seasonal. With marketing, I think everybody needs to be putting a budget into marketing. And I would say about 25% in the marketing. And the smallestin a 12-month period, I would really say the smallest amount should be inventory once you have it built up. Because you don't need to be buying $10,000 of inventory every year.
Steve: Right, right, exactly. Good. So, I like that. So, roughly, if you sell a setup for $100, you put 50 bucks in your pocket, and you put the other money towards, you know, labor or assets or marketing or whatever the case might be. So, good.
Chris Ann: And, really, truth be told, I really think that our numbers are more about 66%. Because we really can run our businesses lean once we're established, and once we're doing marketing where we don't have to just throw money out there. And that's... that's about being strategic.
Steve: That's awesome. So, if you can do 100,000 a year in sales, walk away with $67,000, and that's not too bad for being your own boss.
Chris Ann: That's not too bad. And I do take off for vacations nowadays. So, we can have a whole other subject on that. But yeah, it's there's times, y'all, you just need to close the doors for a couple of days and take a breather.
Steve: I love that. Chris Ann, thank you for joining us today on the Victory Store Yard Decor University. You are wonderful. Tell us one more time the website address for the business group.
Chris Ann: Yes, sir. It's yardcardbusinessnetwork.com. And we're actually about to have our Facebook ads workshop for our new members. So, if y'all want to go over and subscribe to our email list, we will get that information out to you. And let us know that you are coming directly from Victory Store, and we might have a surprise goodie for you.
Steve: We love that. Thank you, Chris Ann.
Chris Ann: Absolutely. My pleasure.
Steve: We will see you in the ether.
Chris Ann: Yes, sir. I will see y'all soon. Thank you very much again, Steven. Thanks for all you do for our industry.
Steve: I appreciate it. And we appreciate all of our customers, and especially customers like you.
Chris Ann: Absolutely. Thanks again. Take care. Bye-bye.