CHATHAM, NJ—Like all of us, Carly Alvarez wasn't prepared for the coronavirus pandemic to strike last spring. But if you were to look at her business, it would have appeared she could see the future.
"I opened Card My Yard in January 2019," the Chatham mom said, "I knew there was nothing like this here, at least not in my area."
Alvarez, who formerly worked on Wall Street, saw an opportunity when she started the first Card My Yard franchise in New Jersey. Little did she know that just as the business was catching on, virtually every event and gathering in the state would be canceled, leading to a demand for outdoor decorating for drive-by birthdays, graduations, and other occasions.
"I was the only one in New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey," Alvarez said, "I had a very large territory that I was servicing. When covid hit in mid-March, I was inundated with 7 or 8 signs a day."
Alvarez said she was busy from the beginning, though.
"Even in 2019, I was always busy," she said, "and Chatham, Summit and Short Hills were always my biggest towns. Morristown and Madison started picking up in January 2020, and I was so excited because I was getting lots of graduation orders."
She said once things began to shut down, the orders began to pour in, mainly from parents trying to make quarantine birthdays special.
"I was getting calls from all over at that point," she said, "Sparta, the Hamptons, from everywhere, because kids were having birthdays and they couldn't go anywhere or see anyone."
Although business was booming, she said there was a cautious thought that ran through her mind as she racked up orders.
"I knew the economy was going to take a hit," she said, "and I wondered whether people would have the money, or want to spend it, on things like this."
Fortunately, the business just kept growing. She began getting orders from people quarantined in other states to decorate yards of parents, relatives, and friends.
Although she isn't complaining, and recognizes how fortunate she and her business have been, she still wonders how the business would have adapted if she had more experience running it.
"It would have been nice to get one more year under my belt before covid hit," she says, "just to see, from a business standpoint, what that would have looked like, two years in."
Alvarez said for all of 2019, she had about 200 orders. As of late September, she was already past 670. It was a nice problem to have.
"I had to sell my territory in Madison," Alvarez said, "and I sold Basking Ridge. They're similar to Chatham, and it was hard for me to give those up. I had to decide where to keep my cluster. So I focused on Chatham, where I live, and Summit, New Providence, Berkeley Heights, and others, so I still have a big territory."
Alvarez said there are now eight territories in New Jersey, and several in New York. She said she is fortunate to be able to narrow her area and focus on a smaller geographic zone as Card My Yard moves forward.
As a small business owner, she typically transports and installs the decorations—which she stores in her garage—in her customers yards. It's one of her favorite parts of owning her own business.
"We always call ourselves joy spreaders," she said, "and that's a reason I started the business, because it's so much fun. The reactions of a mom or a 5-year-old makes it totally worth it."
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