The spirit of an entrepreneur is one of innovation and resourcefulness, of which Rodney Keiser, founder of HayBale Banners, LLC, a GROW Nebraska member, is a prime example.
By identifying an untapped need, and combining his creativity with the resources he had at hand, Rodney has managed to build a successful business that is both unique and relevant to our area: the Heartland of America.
The story of HayBale Banners begins at a company that Rodney had previously worked for. They had run into difficulties getting printed material in their area, and decided to buy a big HP large-format printer. Rodney then helped set up a division called “Exceptional Prints.”
One year, for the Wauneta Annual Harvest Festival, the Chamber decided to hold a hay bale decorating contest. As Rodney was president of the Chamber at that time, he was involved in the event.
“I had no idea what that was all about,” he said. “I was more of a tech person. A ‘graphics technician.’ But that’s where I got the idea. I thought, ‘Wow, nobody makes signs for these big round hay bales.’”
His company had just gotten a new printer, so he decided to do some research. He eventually talked to Charlie MacPherson, the UNO business development contact for rural areas, at Mid Plains Community College. MacPherson saw the potential and encouraged him to try to obtain a patent.
Though they discovered that there’s no patent classification for printed material, Rodney plowed ahead, showing people pictures and mockups of his plans.
“I only had two people think it was a bad idea,” said Rodney. “Everybody else loved it. That’s the first time in my career I’ve had 80% of people like a business idea.” He laughed. “Eventually one of those people who hated it came in and asked for two for his high school reunion!”
2020 did take a toll, however. “Last year, because of COVID, was a challenge,” he added. “One of the markets we’ve homed in on is the state and county fair manager convention. Originally there were 10 fairs in Nebraska that were willing to go, but only one of them actually happened in 2020.”
He worked hard at marketing the business, though, and reports that 2021 has been the company’s best year so far. He’s looking forward to November, December, January, and February, when he’ll go out and market to states with large rural populations and round hay bales.
GROW Nebraska has also had a hand in his success. In 2019, Rodney took advantage of the GROW Nebraska tables at the Nebraska State Fair, where he met a woman from Iowa looking to buy 8 banners in 2020. While the order didn’t happen in 2020, it did in 2021, along with a 6 banner order from another county fair — a referral from the woman in Iowa.
He’s also enjoyed GROW’s technical education, specifically Facebook and Google advertising.
“I’m glad I did it,” he said. “Just last night I got a phone call from a corn maze company in Wisconsin, who found us from Facebook ads.”
Rodney says the popular items right now are school spirit banners, pictures of seniors with their classes, and messages of good luck for the schools. While they are still working on some event banners, he’s found that many parents are putting in extra effort this year to make things special for their kids, after such a hard school year last year.
GROW Nebraska is proud of our members, and we love seeing them thrive!
Story by Lauren Bonk, owner of the Curtain and Pen Copywriting Services, a GROW Nebraska member. Lauren hails from Kearney, NE, where she works as a freelance copywriter for small businesses, startups, and even larger corporate entities in need of professionally-written marketing content for their businesses and organizations.