Two stay-at-home moms redefined what having a work life outside the house entails.
By Brianna Caleri, Photos courtesy of Card My Yard
The people who invented sliced bread (in 1928, apparently) probably weren’t hoping to set the bar for every innovation for the next century. It didn’t even need to happen. It just made life a little bit more wonderful. Then everyone started doing it.
Not to declare the best thing since sliced bread, but Austinites Amy Arnold and Jessica Stanley followed a similar trajectory as they turned a cheerful yard sign into their livelihood, and by 2022, into 500 franchise locations around the United States. The biggest effect hasn’t been changing the way Americans think about their yards, but changing the way stay-at-home parents and other hopeful people see their futures as entrepreneurs.
“People have seen our story and wanted that for themselves,” Arnold says. “They’ve said, ‘If they can do it, I can do it.’”
Arnold was expounding upon an obvious pattern among Card My Yard staff—now 16 in total and nearly 70% women. That was just the type of team the business drew on its own. She adds, as a footnote, that men own some of the franchises, too; although women seem to identify with the business, it’s not a niche interest.
Fans of the business have extended past consumers looking for festive home decoration. Card My Yard was ranked the number four top emerging franchise of 2022 by Entrepreneur, just above a nearly identical Texas business (with a racial slur in its name) and eight other franchises with at minimum six times the initial investment. Arnold and Stanley were selected as Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year finalists in Central Texas and won the inaugural “See It To Be It” award at Austin Woman’s Woman’s Way Business Awards this year.
A Story of Relatability
The signs, in bright colors and bubble letters, increasingly buried as the company grows under extra motifs like stars, hearts and flowers, are lovely, but the story captivating franchise owners and critics alike is one of relatability.
When Arnold and Stanley met at their kids’ bible study, they bonded over some pretty standard mom feelings, simply appreciating their parallel stages of life. But they both felt another pull: a desire to step out of their typical roles as stay-at-home moms. It really wasn’t meant to be groundbreaking, just something to get some creativity flowing and bring in a few dollars on the side.
“You get into this rhythm of serving your family every single day, and I think both of us bonded over the thought of doing something with our brains,” says Stanley.
Card My Yard: The Franchise
It was October 2014 when the friends decided to dip their toes into a new project. They spent $1,000 in total. The reusable corrugated plastic yard sign said “BOO” in an orange, black and yellow chevron print. It didn’t look amateur—it just looked normal. That’s all the neighbors needed. The cute signs brought a little Halloween spirit to the front yard, were easy to install and store and perhaps reminded neighbors that they lived in a community, not just a series of separate houses.
This was in the Steiner Ranch neighborhood, and the pair kept it there until 2017, working from Arnold’s garage. They still work at home sometimes, calling in to chat with Austin Woman from the very same house. Camp was out that day, which meant kids at home and things to juggle outside of work—the norm for many Card My Yard franchise owners. In fact, the franchisees get to experience much of the same initial experience, starting in the basement and working outward if they so choose.
“The beauty of Card My Yard is that you don’t have to have a storefront,” says Stanley. “So it’s very accessible for men and women to buy a franchise and be able to run it out of their home and out of their garage. Some of our Northeast locations keep all their inventory in basements.”
Giving Up Control
Even though this business is straightforward, with many variations on one product, it was hard to give up control in the beginning. Of course, the transition from total creative control to standardization is hard enough. Then letting others represent the company name, something that grew around friendship, supportive family and communities, is another battle.
“It’s hard to give up control, because you love your business so much; you’re unsure that somebody will love it as much as you do,” says Arnold. “But as we’ve taken each step, we’ve realized that other people are as invested as we are. They’re owners of their own business, and they do love it, and care for it, and want it to grow.”
It didn’t happen overnight. First the kids and husbands started helping, all splitting up to pack signs in different areas. Their husbands already lived in the business world. Josh Arnold had been working within a family business making watches, which was unexpectedly displaced by the ubiquity of the Apple Watch. In his first pivot, he moved to the oil and gas industry. James Stanley used his background in sales and business development to build Card My Yard’s ecommerce website, teaching himself to code in the process.
Having the Family Behind You
Eventually, the orders grew too many and the drives grew too far. The two families couldn’t be 10 places at once. Hiring helpers lightened the load, and making the shift to franchising meant the business could make its first real expansions out from its home base. This started a period of exponential growth, and during the pandemic, the franchise added 250 locations. Even non-logistical admin started hitting a wall, so in a paradoxically traditional and progressive pivot, the husbands joined the wives full time.
“The key ingredient to a successful business is to have your family behind you, and they’ve always 100% supported and worked with us in this process. They just had other jobs, too,” says Arnold. The co-founders take the role of family so seriously that when interviewing potential franchise owners, they make a point to cover family dynamics, encouraging interested buyers to consult with their families before committing.
Yards with Friends
Much business advice around hiring friends and family is ravenous for boundary setting, with owners understandably apprehensive about letting potential stressors seep from one setting into another. Because Card My Yard was a home, family business from the start, Arnold and Stanley stand firmly on the opposite side of that advice, not pessimistically but realistically noting the absence of clear boundaries, and leveraging that absence with compassion.
Especially between each other, this rejection of rigidity is compensated for in anticipating each other’s needs. By not taking specific roles, the two women are constantly glancing at each other’s plates, offering to share workloads or fix mistakes without judgment. Over time, as the co-owners became accustomed to loosening control with franchisees, they started noticing a similar creative exchange, even across the firmer lines of founder and franchise owner.
Creative Freedom to Franchise Owners
One owner from Houston—noticing how rough weather would skew signs, or celebrants would knock letters over while posing with them—suggested the sturdier overlapping letters that are now one of the main design elements in the company’s signage. A group of them from South Florida developed a system for taping the signs for longer use. The co-founders recognize that franchise owners across the country are experts in their own regions’ needs, in ways the pair could never anticipate on their own. Thanks to those interviews and creative exchanges, they remember families’ stories.
One franchise owner who went to college in Austin, Angelica Carrete, knew she wanted to get involved in the franchise like her cousins in El Paso, to support her budding photography career. Unfortunately, there were already enough locations in the area. When she moved to Manor, she seized the opportunity to bring the franchise there, followed only a month later by another opportunity in Pflugerville. It would be easy to feel like the market was oversaturated after her experience in Austin, but celebrating customers’ personal achievements has been both rewarding and indicative of endless potential for creativity. “My franchise is unique because of the amazing community I’m surrounded by,” she writes.
“Heroes Work Here”
As Carrete points out, this is a business about community, and there are as many possible forms it can take as community members who might fill out the online form, and permutations therein. In its simplicity, it can address any situation, not just expressing joy, but sometimes solidarity. Card My Yard applauded a 13-year-old embarking on a grad school journey to a doctorate (pretty sure there’s no standardized celebration for that). During lockdowns, it anchored many drive-by birthday parties and thanked hospital workers with signs reading, “Heroes work here.”
It donated 100 signs to Uvalde, Texas, to show support and help fundraising after the Robb Elementary School shooting. Profits from every “Uvalde Strong” yard sign went to the school. It may seem odd to purchase a sign for the front yard, but there are few more straightforward ways to direct neighbors to a fundraiser.
Investing in the Community
This hasn’t been the only “strong” campaign run by Card My Yard, which has also supported Susan G. Komen, local and national ministries and other causes mostly focused on helping women and children. Some situations just don’t call for a sign, so the franchise sends monetary donations to church groups and nonprofits once a month. It’s not just the founders’ job to find beneficiaries.
“We are heavily invested in our community, and we train our franchise owners to invest in the communities where they live. We quickly realized we’re not going to be in tune to what’s happening in every community across the country,” says Stanley. “So that was really important for us, to have business owners that were plugged in and knew what was happening. [They] could offer free signs to various community events.”
A few kind words from someone who really knows you could be the most memorable part of an important day, proof that a loved one is paying attention or a centering reminder to keep going when things are tough. The signs are adorable, but the real superpower is knowing what to say.