Call it a sign of the times.
As businesses across the country experience layoffs, furloughs and closures as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, sales have skyrocketed for one small and perhaps surprising segment: the yard greeting company.
"It’s been a crazy year for us," said James Stanley, who co-founded Card My Yard in Austin with his wife, Jessica Stanley, and their friends, Amy and Josh Arnold. "It’s been monumental growth."
As people have in recent months looked for safe, socially distanced ways to celebrate milestones because of the coronavirus pandemic, Card My Yard has seen its gross volume increase across the franchise by more than 400%.
Card My Yard, which specializes in elaborate, personalized yard greetings for occasions such as birthdays, graduations and anniversaries, started as a single location in Austin in 2014 and now has more than 200 franchises across the country. During the first six months of 2020, Card My Yard made nearly $8 million in gross sales and fulfilled more than 65,000 orders across the United States. In the first six months of 2019, the company had made $1.5 million and fulfilled 14,000 orders.
"I love getting to be a light in the darkness," Amy Arnold said. "There are people who are uncertain, who are scared, who don’t know how to celebrate, and we are there to help them. We will come do all the work for them, we will bring joy to their front yard. That keeps us going."
Jamie Fagan, owner of Lone Star Yard Greetings, said she installed more yard greetings in April 2020 than in all of 2019 combined. She said she went from installing 10-15 yard greetings in an average week to as high as 70 a week during the coronavirus pandemic.
"It just exploded, and now everybody knows about it," said Fagan, who started Lone Star Yard Greetings in 2014. "You’d have to be living under a rock to not know about it, because this is all anybody could do during the shutdown. You couldn’t have a party; you couldn’t go to Chuck E. Cheese. This was it."
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On top of its traditional greetings, Card My Yard has added new, quarantine-themed graphics, such as toilet paper, emojis wearing masks and bottles of hand sanitizer. In addition to its yard displays, Card My Yard also has provided greetings to hospitals and retirement homes that are prohibiting visitors. Jessica Stanley recalled receiving a heartfelt call from a retirement home resident who received a Card My Yard greeting for his 100th birthday.
"Amy and I texted each other, both crying," Jessica Stanley said. "It was just the sweetest thing to hear these people still feel celebrated and loved when nobody could come and visit them. We love what we get to do."
‘Blessing’ in a pandemic
Jessica Stanley and Amy Arnold — who met at a Bible study in their Steiner Ranch neighborhood and each have three children — conceived the idea for Card My Yard in 2014 as a flexible and fun way to earn money that would allow them to avoid the 9-to-5 workday grind and be more present as moms.
The company started selling franchises in 2017 and now has 225 locations in 36 states. In the months of March and April alone, Card My Yard received more than 3,000 inquiries from people interested in opening franchises.
"During this pandemic we consistently get calls from our franchise owners that say, ‘You don’t know what a blessing this business has been to our family. It has sustained us through this hard time of my husband’s job loss,’" Jessica Stanley said. "That is something we don’t take lightly, that brings us so much joy, to know that we’ve created something that allows families to have additional income and be able to sustain their lifestyle through something like COVID."
James Stanley said the Card My Yard co-founders were initially concerned about the effect of the pandemic on their business.
"We thought, let’s just see what happens in the next two weeks, three weeks," he said. "My hope was that we would stay where we were. My worry was that we would fall off."
After a few slow days in mid-March, Card My Yard sent a well-timed email reminding customers that it’s a socially distant business and that yard greetings are a way to "spread joy, not germs." Orders began to roll in.
"All of our locations are essentially sold out every night," Josh Arnold said. "We are adding new locations as fast as we can add them."
Fagan said she, too, had to scramble to keep up with her demand.
"We’ve had growing pains and had to figure out how to handle so many greetings at one time," said Fagan, who, in her six years of business, has provided signs for everything from graduations to divorces to funerals. "There were times when I couldn’t even answer all the requests that were coming in because I needed to be staking letters. I’ve just had to figure it out, but I’ve got a lot of people in place to help me."
Signs of continued success
Fagan said the spike in interest has even prompted an unexpected camaraderie between businesses. She recalled one night when a competitor from another yard greeting company she’d never met stopped by to introduce herself.
"She said, ‘I just wanted to say hi to you and meet you, because you’re the one person in the world who knows what I’m going through right now,’" Fagan said.
Fagan said that despite the recent hustle, she’s grateful every day for what she’s able to do.
"I’m just so happy that I can be doing something that means something to somebody and makes them feel special for the day. I love my business," Fagan said. "I have so many wonderful customers who are very loyal. I’ve been thrilled to be doing this, bringing people a smile in this crazy world."
So what does the future look like for yard greeting companies amid a pandemic and a new era of drive-by birthday parties and socially distant happy hours?
"That’s part of the fun of it," said Josh Arnold. "We’ve done this for six years, but we knew nothing about it when we started, so every day it’s like, ‘What’s our challenge today? OK, we have to figure it out.’"
James Stanley said he’s optimistic that Card My Yard will continue to see steady growth.
"The concept now, because of COVID, is well-established," said James Stanley. "The population of the U.S. is somewhere around 350 million. That’s nearly a million birthdays a night. We’re a fraction of that. That’s a lot of birthdays to celebrate and a lot of joy to spread. Right now, more than ever, people want that."