My First Brush With Stencils - From Curb Painting Business To Stencil Store Serving Millions
My first exposure to stencils came in the summer between my sophomore and junior years of high school.
I failed to land a job.
I’d be lying if I said I tried very hard to find one. I was pretty shy and I had a decent amount of income from consistently doing yard work for a handful of people in my neighborhood.
I figured I could ride the lawn mowing wave for the entire summer. My mom, however, had different plans.
The Beginning Of A Fun Summer Gig
Refusing to accept my fate as a landscaper, my mom instead purchased me a set of interlocking number stencils, black and white spray paint, and made a rectangular frame out of matboard.
Interested in starting your own gig? Check out our blog post: How To Start Your Own Curb Address Painting Business
She put it all in the backyard, laid down some cardboard, and made me practice. I fought back SO hard. Like I said, I was not much of a "people" person.
She came up with this plan for me to walk DOOR TO DOOR and sell this product-service hybrid of painting people’s curb numbers for $10 each. I couldn’t imagine a more painful way to spend my first summer with a driver’s license.
Regardless of my resistance, my mom prevailed. I practiced on the cardboard in the backyard. My mom facilitated some practice transactions in our court for free, although I think they all still paid me.
I started walking around the neighborhood, turning right out of my court and into the abyss. Most people were at work when I started, but eventually, a man answered his door. I started with the spiel my mom had helped me rehearse.
“Hi, my name is Colin and I live in the neighborhood. I couldn’t find a job for the summer, so I’m painting address numbers on curbs for $10 each. It only takes a few minutes. Would you like one?”
In reality, the closing “would you like one?” was probably more of a bumbling, incoherent closing statement, especially at the front steps of the first few potential clients. I’m sure they felt bad for me. But after it was out of my mind and mouth and the decision was pending, I felt better. As a bashful teenager, that was my best sales pitch. Asking a stranger to buy something from me didn’t turn out to be that bad, after all.
Potential Customer Man said no. I’m not sure what I expected to happen when this outcome inevitably arrived. Regardless, I said “Thank you, have a nice day!” and walked to the next house. Important life lesson learned. The words my father always said rang true: “The worst thing they’re gonna say is no.”
Potential Customer Woman answered the second door, and she said yes! So I went to the curb in front of the house, lined up my handmade matboard frame, and executed the transaction just like I practiced. I got my $10 and did some quick math.
- Houses approached: about 10
- Doors answered: 2
- Sales: 1
- Revenue: $10
- Time spent: 10 minutes of walking and knocking, 5 minutes of painting
Wow. I immediately became aware of the formula. More houses, more sales. There was something like 225 houses in my neighborhood. Right then, I had my summer job. Shoutout to my mom.
That first day, I worked for 2 hours and made $60. About $30 per hour turned out to be my normalized takeaway at the end of the work day. I typically only worked for 2-3 hours. Not bad for something I didn’t even want to do! Also, I didn’t keep track of this, but I’d be willing to bet that weekends netted higher average wages because a higher percentage of people were home to answer their doors. I rarely worked weekends because I played baseball and often had tournaments and games on those days.
To keep track of houses, I used a notebook to write down addresses that I’d already knocked on and crossed them out if they answered. The houses with whom I’d already completed a transaction were easier to keep track of because I could see my painted curb masterpiece before I walked up to the door. However, a couple times I lost track of the addresses that had declined to purchase, which was hilariously awkward when I approached them to deliver the same speech to a raised eyebrow and the response “You asked me this yesterday.” Keep in mind that this was 2008, so we didn’t have access to the copious Google Maps data and smartphone spreadsheets that would have streamlined my data recordings. I literally used my earnings to buy an iPhone 3G at the end of the summer. This was the same summer Apple started allowing 3rd-party apps. Today, executing this with a smartphone or even a bird’s-eye view printout of a neighborhood makes record keeping incredibly easy.
I didn’t keep track of how many times I knocked on certain doors, or what times I knocked on doors that always went unanswered. I simply walked out of my court, turned right, and started knocking on the addresses I had written down that weren’t crossed off yet. In hindsight, keeping the data of what days and times certain addresses went unanswered would have allowed me an even higher hourly wage because I could have avoided those houses at times I knew the owners weren’t home. Instead, as I progressed through the neighborhood, I started out approaching on the same empty houses over and over again. This steadily increased the time it took for me to get to an occupied household, therefore decreasing my overall hourly wage.
After a few weeks, I was getting about halfway through the neighborhood, but there were still lots of houses that remained unresponsive to my knocks. I had the idea (to be honest, my mom probably had the idea) to drop flyers at all the unanswered houses so I didn’t have to waste my time walking up to them during each shift. We printed the flyers and I dropped them at the doors of all the houses that I’d deemed unresponsive.
It was a good thought, but I learned that people are significantly less likely to say no when you’re standing eye-to-eye and asking them a direct question. I continued to drop flyers after a few failed knocks as I progressed around the neighborhood. Although I dropped flyers at about 50 or 75 addresses, I only received one response with a stencil painting request. That’s a significantly lower success rate than my in-person queries. And it makes sense; think about it, how often do you respond to a flyer left on your windshield or at your front door?
We can partially blame my failure to approach this scientifically on a couple factors. For one, summer was quickly winding down, and I had to go back to school during the day and baseball practice at night. Even if I thoroughly and comprehensively calculated the best times to knock on every door, I doubt I’d have been able to completely cover the whole neighborhood and get an answer from each household. Secondly, I was still making plenty of dough. $30 an hour was more than enough for me to be satisfied. I never considered that I could be more effective. Remember, I’m still the kid who my mom forced out of the house to do this curb-painting thing in the first place. I wasn’t exactly the ambitious businessman I am today.
Also, if you’re wondering if this is going to work in your neighborhood, I can’t guarantee it, but I’d say probably yes. Here are some data points on the zip code that I was in when I conducted this curb-painting experiment. It hasn’t changed much in the last 10 years. If your neighborhood is socioeconomically different than my Sacramento suburb, my best recommendation is to get out there and try regardless. Remember, the worst thing they can say is no!
Luckily for you, I’ve already made the mistakes that you’ll be able to avoid by reading part two of this post: Stencil Stop’s ultimate guide to starting a curb address painting business.
Bonus: Check out how severely sunlight and shade affects these stenciled address numbers after ten years in the video below.