We love Nashville. We love the people, the places to see, things to do and some of the interesting and exciting businesses that take root in this great city. One really cool business we stumbled upon came from our incredible trip to Austin. We met some really cool people, Ali and Elizabeth, that told us about their really awesome business called "Walls Need Love." In short, they are around to make you love your walls again by making them your own. So tune in and check out this really fascinating business.
How and why did you start your business?
Ali- So, I was running a mall kiosk, a small business. I started doing photographs on tshirts and stuff and started doing customized license plates for the front of cars, because you don't need a front plate. People would want their name or a sports team. From there, I started using a vinyl cutting machine to make those. And then after that, I started doing large car decals like stickers for cars and stuff. So, I had a kiosk in Opry Mills here. [In the beginning] it was mainly teenagers that wanted stuff, wanted stickers for their cars. Then one day, this little short probably 60 year old lady came and said, "Can you make me a sticker that says, 'Grandchildren welcome, parents by appointment'?" I thought to myself, that's a funny saying, because I was raised by my grandmother who didn't really like my mom that much, and so I laughed at it and said, "Yeah, I can make that. You want that for your car?" She said, "No, I want that for my wall." That's what first sparked the idea. I just thought it was such a cool idea [to make wall decal art]. So, my plan at that time, it was like July, was to start designing wall quotes and then during Christmas, I would open that up in the mall, next to my car stickers. Both were using the same kind of technology, just a different graphic. We opened the booth, and there was a lot of rubbernecking, like "What's going on here?" They didn't really get it.
So, probably 4 or 5 years earlier I set a goal in my head that I wanted to start an internet business. This was always something I had in my head, to start an online company. Every year I was in the mall, I would hear, "Retail sales down, internet sales up." Every single year. I was like, man, I need to get on the internet, because I didn't really do that great in the mall. So, literally out of spite, I started a website. Within a few months, it was doing as much as our mall kiosk was. So, I decided to just focus on that. That 's what kind of started and sparked it all.
What makes your products different than others?
Elizabeth- Well, higher quality, for sure, but we also have an in-house graphic designer both for text and the actual images. I think that's what sets us apart. The uniquenessss of our products is also generally what sets us apart.
Ali- We do generally use the best quality stuff that we can get. For example, I've got samples over here of something we bought at from a local store, and when you open it up, it smells like a swimming pool. It's literally printed on this plastic-y, kind of crappy vinyl that's made in China, which you could get for 10¢ per square foot. We pay something approaching a dollar a square foot, just for our material that we're printing on. And then the inks we use are water proof, and we print using a water based ink, not a solvent. If you know anything about printing solvents, they put off gases and they're kind of bad [for the environment]. But, they're cheaper and they're faster and you can print a whole lot of things that way, but we stick with a water based ink, and just use the best vinyl, really. Also, if there's a defect or something, we're not going to send it out. We want to make sure that the things that we have go out are good quality.
Elizabeth- We also really try to stay on top of the market. If we see something trending, we'll make that product. We meet our customers where they're looking, instead of just defining what we think.
How do you target that?
Elizabeth- I do a lot of that through the bloggers that we follow and through Pinterest. So, if it's trending on Pinterest and it's a stencil, so something that's labor intensive, but very popular- we can take that labor intensive item and turn it into an easy to install wall decal.
Talk about the fabric and what you print on
Ali- There are two things that we make our products out of. #1 is vinyl. That's the kind of thing that you would see a quote [in]. It's all one color, it's cut out. Now that, if it sticks to itself, it's not as reusable as our other product, which is fabtac, it's an achesive back fabric that you can stick to itself, peel it apart, you can crease it, you can wad it into a ball and still pull it apart. As long as you clean your wall before you put it up, you're going to be able to reuse it dozens of times over. So, otherwise, if you don't clean your walls, it's going to pick up dirt and that dirt is going to take away some of the adhesion. So, that's a really cool product. When I found that, I knew that it was something we needed to move forward with and design a whole array of products on. I was tired of hearing customers say, "I got my decal, but I messed it up putting it on the wall", which still happens, and don't get me wrong, vinyl is still very useful for a lot of things and still has it's advantages, but the fabtac just opens up a whole new range of products. And, you're not going to mess it up. The instructions are on every product. It says, "1. Clean your wall. 2. Peel up your art. 3. Stick and smooth. That's really as easy as it is. We literally just print the instructions right on there, because literally, even a kid could do it.
Elizabeth- I have one in my library at my home, that I moved 6 or 7 times. It has been completely stuck to itself and you can't tell at all.
Ali- So, it's like a fabric, like a canvas pretty much. It's really resilient and durable, with great adhesive on the back. And now we just started printing with a waterproof ink. If you get something on your wall paper, you can just take a wet sponge and rub it and rub it and rub it until it comes off. The ink is going to stay on there. That just happened this week actually. We shifted to using fully waterproof inks.
So, we were looking at the website and saw that the dogs hang out at the office?
Ali- Yeah, having your own office like this is cool, compared to the mall, where you had to be there at 10 and close at 9 or else I would get fined. You know? And there was always someone over you... and having your your own office is great. We don't have walk-in customers, so we all come to work however we want. So, there's no problem bringing the dogs. There's orders that go out that have dog hair in it, honestly. But then at the same time, there's orders that go out sometimes that have my own curly hair in it. We've had customers comment on that saying, "Oh, how cute. I got a bunch of dog hair in my order." They actually think that it's cute, you know, haha. Like, from all of the static, it will hit the floor and just suck up some of the dog hair.
Elizabeth- We tape all of the boxes ourself, and I do a lot of that, and I have long hair and like half the time, my hair gets stuck to almost every single box that I'm taping, so there's like a special piece of my hair with every order.
That'd be really bad for a secret admirer.
Elizabeth- Haha, yes.
Ali- I want a cat. Should we get a cat?
Elizabeth- I'd love a cat.
Ali- We could have a cat.
Elizabeth- Well, we have to get chicken first.
Ali- Oh yeah, speaking of pets, we built a chicken coupe. haha We have a chicken coupe in the back of the office. We don't have chickens yet, but that's because I want to get them from the chicks. Because I want to raise them myself, so they feel friendly.
Really organic, haha
Ali- Well, we do have a garden out front.
(Ali and Elizabeth grab the fruits 'and veggies' of their labor found in the garden)
Who or what inspires you?
Elizabeth- I think it's our customers really. We get some really great feedback from them and they really like our product, and they know us and get excited to talk directly to us and we know a lot of them by name. They tell us what they're looking for and what they're interested in. We've heard some really great, moving stories from them. You know, if we didn't care about them, we wouldn't be creating quality products.
Ali- I think the art and the creativity part as well is a big factor. We could go out and just make a lot of things that are already on the market, which we do have products like that, but we have a lot of original products, like the adhesive taxidermy. No one today has even done that. The whole taking a real life item and cutting it out, I actually didn't know of anyone doing that except for Fathead, and they were just doing sports characters. Why Joe Montana?… why can't it just be a deer, or a butterfly, or a bird. I mean, there so many things that we can do with that. In taking that, you can create any kind of scenario you wanted. So, we have the animals with the hats, because you know you always see the rednecks with their deer [wearing hats]. But, I'm from Arkansas, from the country, I use the word redneck freely. I only graduated with like 45 people. haha
Elizabeth- I graduated with 15.
Ali- So there's a lot of ways you can express yourselves on the walls... especially when your'e just sticking something. When you're mounting something it's a lot more work… plus, who doesn't like playing with stickers?
What does a day in the office look like?
Ali- Check out our Vimeo channel, then you'll see. It was shot about 8 months ago, so it's not completely up to date, but it kind of shows how hectic it is. Our production methods have just recently become more streamlined.
Elizabeth- No day is the same as the one before. There's always something new happening, whether it's putting out fires, creating new products… there's never a dull moment.
How many different designs do you have and how often do you add new products?
Ali- Some of our main categories are wall quotes. Those are great. You can get any quote in any color and in multiple sizes. Another common category is nursery and kid stuff. We also have the easy stripe which is our baby and kind of what we're going after. It's going to be in stores soon. So, it's basically adhesive striping on a roll. We kind of start the whole manufacturing process ourselves in house. The stripes were always a cool thing to do, so kind of streamlined the way that's made.
So actual vendors will sell them?
Yes. We're actually working on a lot of product packaging. Our business model is shifting quite a bit, from business to consumer to business to business, because [on] FAB.com, we're open 365, Jackthreads, Gill.com, Amazon, our Etsy store, PALS, OBAZ. The internet is kind of shifting a bit now, because what you have is a lot of really cool products out there, and now it's all about who can take that collection of products [and sell them]. The business model is shifting.
Elizabeth- [Working with these companies] helps us narrow down our designs, because then they will generally pick which ones they want and what works with their demographics.
Ali- We have tons of different products. The stripes, the quotes, the wallpaper, and the prints.
What are your top 3 selling products?
Ali- I'm not going to say specifically, but design packs in general, which, design packs are something that we give a name where we give you the tools, but then you make the design yourself. Like polka dots, or bamboo segments. Like a print is finished, a wallpaper is finished, but [design packs you can move around, mix and match]. So, I would say, the design packs. When you look at one product that's available say in 3 sizes and 40 colors, that's 120 products available, really, even though it's one product.
Where do the ideas of your products come from?
Elizabeth- It's a mixture of things. Pinterest, suggestions from customers, things that we see from people like Jackthreads and stuff like that. It's endless.
Ali- I remember seeing a deer on the wall once with Mardi Gras beads and a hat on and thinking, "why did that animal have to die?" You know? haha That's where [the idea for] adhesive taxidermy came from. Really, just being out and about, as well. Travelling for me, really helps me come up with designs, because when you travel, you get out of your environment and your mind opens. Like, when we went to Austin, there was something that I saw there that gave me ideas. All the antiques. We're working on a pack now that has antique clock faces, antique keys, and some other things. Basically, it's an antiques collage kind of pack where you would design your own kind of layout.
Tell us about your involvement in the community, and tell how you are giving back.
Elizabeth- We give back 1% to soundforest.org. Sound forest is an organization that plants trees. We have a pretty [clean] sustainable business. We recycle, we try not to use too many paper products, we're pretty environmentally conscious around here.
Ali- I met Thomas who runs Sound forest the same summer I was starting walls need love. A buddy of mine was in a band and he said, "Hey, we're going out to plant some trees today." I was at the computer and he was like, "Do you want to come out and get your hands dirty?" I said that I'd love to do that. I went out and met this guy Thomas, and he was talking about how he was trying to start some business called Song Forest, where like every song you bought it would be donated to plant a tree. He's planted over 25,000 trees, and the thing I like about him is, even if no one shows up to volunteer, he's still going to go plant those trees. He's been out in the rain, in the cold… busted his knuckles. I mean, he's just one of those steadfast, hardworking guys. I was just amazed at someone that was like, hey, I'm just going to go do this, and it's takes so much grit. At that time, I remember thinking, "If I can't give away 1% of my revenue to help a good cause, especially to someone whose doing stuff in my local community you shouldn't be in business… not that there's anything wrong in giving to global places, but, you know, he was pointing at a basic need in our community. He was like, "Look, there's no trees. No one's planting trees anymore." Now you can drive on Bellmont and any of these cross streets. You could look across the street right now and see trees that we've planted. People take it for granted, but it's like, this creates environment for birds and things like that that all contribute to happiness and our overall well-being. We've donated quite a bit. We're his primary donator. Also, I myself don't own a vehicle. Patrick, who also works here, rides a bike and he only has one leg, because he lives right here in this community. And Chad, another employee, who lives about five miles away, just bought a bike and is commuting to work. Elizabeth is still driving. haha I think of it like that, just getting one vehicle off the road, it doesn't really say a lot, but I think it helps. And there's something about being in a vehicle, in a closed box, that I think is just kind of antisocial. There will be so many times that I'll be riding my bike and someone will yell at me, and I'll just swerve right over and talk to them. That would never happen in a car.
Well… not without running into somebody.
Ali- Haha, that's right.
How has the business changed since you've been around?
Elizabeth- In the year that I've been here, it's changed drastically. And all of our roles have changed drastically. I can say that I've changed desks like seven times.
And with that your wall decals, right?
Elizabeth- Yeah, absolutely.
Ali- Our roles are constantly changing. For the past month, I've mainly been building and painting stuff, where six months ago I was doing conversion optimization (the science of when a customer comes to your site, how do you get them to buy?) Now, I've got light boxes and I'm setting up product shots. That's what's cool about everyone, they all understand that. A pet peeve I always hate hearing is when people say, "But we've always done it this way." I made sure to make sure no one would ever say that and not to think like that, because being an online company, things change overnight… It's exciting, it's interesting. They all love that new thing to work on.
What do love about your company?
Ali- All the people that work here. I've tried to run some businesses before and it was just me. Never really like a team, family kind of effort, but this has been something like a blessing.
Elizabeth- That's my favorite part too. It is super family-centric… We work really well together and we fight like siblings. haha We operate very much like a family.
What's one of your future goals and where do you see the company going? A Year… 5 years?
Ali- I'll just say in a year, because you never know, in 5 years, we could have an economy crash or something. In one year from now, we basically want to be mass producing the coolest adhesive art in the world- but at the same time being very nimble. That's why we like working with these online companies, because they don't really want to buy and hold a lot of stock. Not that we're opposed to selling stock, but, for example, cd sales, that's something that's changed recently where they used to buy a huge stock and pump them out, but now it's almost all downloaded, so now there is none. I think I'd like us to stay very nimble, but be able to pump out 100 products as easily as 100,000. I could see us having a very cool, tight knit design team, that works on specific projects in a timely manner, saying maybe for this week, we'll do this or this will be something for this month's collection. Tight knit designing and smooth flowing production. None of us really have experience with that, but we all learn as we go.
What's your favorite product?
Elizabeth- I have two. One of them is a definition of the word "read," that I love very much. It's in New Typewriter font, which I love. And we are about to launch in our design pack a basic triangle set, and I have a big wall in my living room that is going to be completely covered in triangles. I am very much looking forward to that.
Ali- Mine would be Easy Stripe. You can get any color stripe you want in any width. I mean, you could even use it to tape down electrical cord to the floor, which is something I have personally used it for. You could use it to wrap around your bicycle to creat designs. I mean, you could create hex patterns, vertical, horitozatl. …I could stripe this table right here, with the colors. I mean, I like the whole [idea] where you create something simple, but has endless possibilities. That's my favorite.
Stripes are very popular right now.
Ali- I think it's one of those things that will also evolve. Well, not really evolve, but it will never cease to be a good product. For example, horizontal may be good, or now we have chevrons… Guess what? you can make chevrons out of these stripes as well. There are two stripes on her sleeves right now (pointing to Nicole), stripes are good.
Let us note that two people in this room are wearing stripes right now.
Ali- Even the couch we're sitting on has stripes. This rug has stripes. These are all patterns you could make if you wanted. It's the basic building block of anything. You can make letters out of them, with striping kits, if you wanted.
Is there anything else you'd like to add, any inspiring quotes… last words?
Elizabeth- I mean, we kind of live by "do what you love, love what you do." That's kind of been our mantra lately.
We loved getting to spend time learning about these awesome individuals and what they have to offer to the business community and the global community. We were very thankful for them to take some time and allow use to get in their space and learn a little bit about their process. Be sure to check them out on their site, and buy tons of their wall art! Through it all, it made us want to go home and order a lot of stuff off of their site. And by the way, that antique pack... so getting it. :)
Brady + Nicole