As people searched for ways to celebrate special events safely during the COVID-19 pandemic, Tricia Reese’s phone started ringing more and more.
In February, Tricia and her husband, Mike Reese, 51, an assistant principal at Fox High School, began operating a yard-sign business called Happy House Cards out of their Imperial home. Business was pretty slow the first couple of months, but that suddenly changed when people found themselves stuck at home in an effort to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
“Between early February and the last day of March, we had five or six paying orders,” said Tricia, 49, who also is a bus driver for the Fox C-6 School District and a sales representative for Norwex, a cleaning product company. “We were a little discouraged. We did a couple of free ones to get some more exposure. Then come April 1, and ‘Katy bar the door.’”
Tricia said she went from setting up letters and decorations in yards to celebrate milestones once every two weeks to decorating up to six yards a night for the past two months.
“It has totally taken over our lives,” Tricia said. “It has been quite the ride.”
The Reeses were searching for a way to supplement their incomes. However, it took a while to find the right fit.
“(Mike) would come home, give me an idea, and I would shoot it down,” Tricia said. “We wanted to supplement our income a little bit, but we also wanted something that was joyful.”
One day Mike pitched the yard-sign greeting card idea. The business sets up messages in yards with bright, colored letters with some added flare around the messages, like balloons, hearts, stars, birthday cakes, emojis and other signs.
“It felt comfortable, doable and fun,” Tricia said. “We just went for it in January. He ordered the inventory, set up the website, and I started trying to promote it through Facebook and talking about it.”
The inventory includes four alphabets in black, red, yellow and blue. The couple recently ordered a fifth set of letters in green. There also are signs that can be personalized to a degree or used just to fill out the message.
The letters are used to create messages, such as “Happy Birthday,” “Congratulations,” or “Happy Anniversary.” The limited supply of letters sometimes forces Tricia to be creative with spelling and messages.
“Every day for me is a puzzle,” Tricia said. “We only have so many letters of each color. We are constantly running out of P, Y, H and A. Once a date fills up with those letters, and I continue to get orders, I try to work with people on a different message. That way we can still do something, like, instead of ‘Happy Birthday,’ it will be, ‘Look who is 50.’”
It costs $75 to have a message placed in a yard. The couple charges an extra $4.25 per mile for a destination that is farther than 20 miles from Seckman High School, 2800 Seckman Road, which is near the couple’s Imperial home.
The messages are set up at night and remain in someone’s yard until around sun down the next day, which is when they collect the letters and signs, sort them for the next jobs and then set up messages in new yards.
“This is nearly a 24-7 job for me,” Tricia said. “We will get messages all hours of the day and night. It has been exhausting. I’m not a night owl. We would normally go to bed at 9 p.m.; now if we get in bed by 1 a.m., that is an early night.”
Plenty of business now
When social-distancing measures were put in place, local residents began looking for new ways to celebrate milestones, and the Reeses’ business became a perfect backdrop for drive-by parades held to wish people a happy birthday or anniversary or recognize graduating high school and college students, Tricia said.
“At first, about 98 percent of our business was birthdays,” Tricia said. “We have done birth announcements, retirement and anniversaries. About anything you can think of, we can make with our letters.”
Tricia said they try to operate their business safely to limit the spread of the virus.
Fr example, customers are told not to touch the letters and other signage.
“We never come into contact with people,” she added. “All orders are done online, via text or the phone.”
The Reeses ask customers to contact them through either the business website, happyhousecards.com, or the company’s Facebook page to determine what days are available to set up messages and what those messages can say.
“There is a lot of give and take between the orders, but we haven’t had a complaint yet,” Tricia said.
Tricia said she does not know what is in store for the business with travel and gathering restrictions easing up. But for now, the Reeses and their three children – Natasha, 21; Dillon, 16; and Austin, 9 – are enjoying spreading joy with their yard messages.
“It will be interesting to see what happens with our business when we kind of get back to normal,” Tricia said. “Right now, we are just taking it a day at a time.”