Living the American Dream

An Interview with Jerrad Green, Vintage Marquee Lights

 

Last year, Vintage Marquee Lights grew over 250%. How did you come up with such a great idea and turn it into a successful business?

Anybody would give luck and timing a lot of credit. But we did work our butts off and made a lot of good things happen for us.

We like to think we combined the craze of the American Pickers show and Pawn Stars. These are huge TV shows that people really like because of the “nostalgia” aspect of the items they find/sell. People LOVE old stuff! We’re plugging in to that craze with our rusty marquee lights that have a vintage Vegas/Broadway/antique flare to them: I think people just like to see their names in lights! It just caught on.

Our journey really started with custom handbags, of all things. In going to market for the handbags, we stumbled across the idea for alphabet photography. You take pictures of nature and architecture that look like letters and then you put them all together to spell something out. We developed a unique product for that and that’s how we learned how to make money on our hobbies and interests. We started selling to stores wherever we could.

Interestingly, we wanted to come up with a great booth that would get a lot of attention at market. We had some wooden letters that I drilled holes in and put some Christmas lights in them. They looked awesome! It spelled the word “Art.”

Literally, it was like a light bulb went off over our head when every person that went by asked, “How much are those letters?”

We came home from the show season and I immediately started producing them. Then we hit the road and started selling them at shows all over. We did a year of shows, sold out like crazy at every show, and then decided that this was our future.

I think it’s such a trendy product. We hit it at the right time. People are searching for it, seeing it on TV, seeing it in magazines, and they are seeing it in photo shoots. Most of what they’re seeing is ours!

How did you build out such a robust distribution network?

At first, it was doing all the trade shows. We picked up a lot of wholesale customers that way. A lot of them transitioned from our alphabet photography to our marquee lights – that was kind of a built in transition.

From there, we began advertising in wholesale/trade magazines, and we were able to pick up additional wholesalers. Now, wholesalers can sign up directly on our website. We’re in over 600 retailers right now. We do a lot of volume from Internet resellers, as well as brick-and-mortar stores that are carrying our products. I know many retailers use the lights for window displays because they are really attractive. Since we can drop ship, a customer can walk in and say, “I want to buy that!” and the storeowner can say, “Well, we have every letter – what letter do you want?”

What other marketing successes have you had?

Getting into Facebook marketing was big for us. I think we still have a few years of huge Facebook growth. I lot of people think Facebook’s played out and on the way out, but we’re still seeing great results from social media in general. Facebook has a great advertising platform for entrepreneurs like me. Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest don’t really have the same advertising platform, but we try to do as much as we can with them and then just blow out Facebook.

I teamed up with a great Facebook marketing company called Admixt, and they’re targeting the people that would like us and that would buy from us. I also teamed up with a great Google ad agency too, PurePPC. Finding great partners allowed me to turn over my advertising, my Facebook, my Google advertising to people who really know how to do it.

What is the biggest lesson you learned as an entrepreneur?

The biggest thing I learned in the last year is hire people to do things that they are trained to do. It’s easy to get in the mindset of “I need to save money and do it all myself. I can do my own advertising. I can do my own website. I can do my own social media marketing. I can do my own photos. I can do my own customer service. I can do my own bookkeeping. I can do my own taxes. And so on….”

But after realizing I’m spending ALL of my time on those things, I finally realized I’m an entrepreneur. I need to know a little bit about everything, but I should not be spending my time on that stuff. I should hire people who know how to do it to help me grow my business. That’s what they do. That’s what they’re in business for: to make my life easier. And it’s the ONLY way to grow and scale this to a big business. Once I came to the realization that it’s okay to spend money on these things, my life and business were transformed. That’s the biggest thing I learned over the past year.

A year ago, I was running my own warehouse. I had one employee and he’d ship stuff all day. It was still pretty small beans in the whole scheme of things. I was trying to run my own website, I was trying to run all my own advertising, I was trying to utilize Facebook to my advantage. I thought I was doing well with all that stuff.

We were at the tipping point. We needed to go big or go home.

Thank goodness for my decision to sign up with Symphony Commerce. The Symphony team was really big about managing all of the tedious stuff that bogged me down like website maintenance, inventory and fulfillment, and customer service so I could go out and grow my business. I think that is a big reason for the growth.

Last year was kind of a struggle: I had a lot of letting go of control issues with inventory, shipments and stuff like that, but it’s much better now. The fact that I hooked up with Symphony was a huge reason for the triple digit growth. It allowed me to release a lot of back office/admin stuff that was suppressing my ability to make more sales, and it freed me up to get excited about getting in touch with new channels to sell our products. Not to mention, new product design!

What does the American Dream mean to you?

My wife and I lost our jobs on the same day on 2011. We both worked in show business and were performers in the same show. We have always been entrepreneurial, and tried to find something that we could do and be passionate about and be our own boss. We always had a little something going on the side, but we had a full time job with a paycheck and benefits so we could never fully immerse ourselves in our business.

We thought we were taking it seriously before, but when you don’t have another source of income, you really gotta figure out how to make this work. When we lost our jobs, we both knew we never wanted another “traditional” job. So the only option for us was, “Let’s make this thing big!”

It takes a lot of hard work. I literally worked 20-hour days. I go to bed excited about what I’m going to do tomorrow. I can’t wait to see who emails me, “Hey, let’s do business!” or “Hey, can you build this for me?” It’s a lot of persistence and hard work, and here we are today: I think we grew 250% over the last 9 months.

I’m just really thankful that we put together a team and found the right people to help us get where we want to go.

I’m really grateful to go from losing our jobs, to doing something that we love that is supporting our family. As a lifelong musician and a life long classically trained dancer, we’re very creative people. We don’t do either of those things very much anymore, but our passions morphed into this other creative side and we feel that we’re able to express our talents through it. And we’re living the life we want and creating jobs doing it!!!

To me that is the American dream: to do what you love and make a living doing it.

About Vintage Marquee Lights

Vintage Marquee Lights sales have grown over 250% since transitioning to the Symphony platform. Symphony’s negotiated shipping rates shaved 26% off the standard shipping rates VML was paying previously. VML was able pass the savings on to their customers in the form of tiered shipping rates, so customers enjoy transparent rates and lower order costs. VML’s wholesale distribution network has nearly tripled in size after launching with Symphony. VML can now be purchased in over 600 US boutiques, as well as from the web site.

Read the Vintage Marquee Lights Case Study.

Visit Vintage Marquee Lights.

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