14: What’s a Giant Inflatable T-Rex Doing in a Selden, Kansas Furniture Store?

Written by Rob Stott

March 24, 2020


Oh, that’s just Renee Spresser, owner of Paul’s Furniture continuing a hilarious video series she’s created to brilliantly market her business in the town of 200. Spresser was recently honored with a Synchrony Pillar Award and joined the podcast from PrimeTime in Houston to share her story.

Rob Stott: All right, we’re back on the Independent Thinking Podcast and coming to you again from Houston at Nationwide’s PrimeTime show back in Houston. Well, really the first time I think in Houston. So this is a cool time for us and right now we’re sitting here with Renee Spresser of Paul’s Furniture in Selden, Kansas. Renee a member of Nationwide, first of all, thank you for… I know schedules are crazy here. We’re all over the place running around just got done lunch, but meetings left and right so I appreciate you finding some time to sit down and chat with us.

Renee Spresser: You’re welcome. I’m happy to do it.

Rob Stott: So what number PrimeTime is this for you?

Renee Spresser: This is the one, number one I’ve never been.

Rob Stott: Number one? Oh wow. What got you to want to come?

Renee Spresser: Well, Synchrony reached out to me about coming and being part of their booth a little bit to kind of feature the Pillar Project. And I had always wanted to come so I thought, “Hey, this is a great opportunity to do that and also to go to my first PrimeTime and see what that’s about.”

Rob Stott: Oh that’s awesome. So as your first PrimeTime, you’re kind of coming in blind. Is there anything you’re excited about or that you’re looking forward to seeing?

Renee Spresser: Well, it’s always fun to go to any kind of market for me anyway. I mean I guess when you’re in retail you’re limited as far as your different categories of things you like to do. And not only do we generally like to sell furniture and do that kind of thing, we like to go look at furniture for some reason. So I always like to do that, reach out to other people and just networking and meeting other retailers. I found even as a Pillars Project winner, it was so great to talk to other business owners and see what they like, what they don’t like, what they’re doing. That actually it’s not something that you really think about when you go to PrimeTime but it’s actually one of the most beneficial things you’re going to come away with. I mean it’s just talking to the other people and really getting a lot of their ideas.

Rob Stott: For me I… I’ll just give you a little background on me. I came from another side of the industry a trade publication, I used to cover this show. So I had always seen the trade show but now being a part of Nationwide this is my first PrimeTime as a member of Nationwide. And you never got to see this side of things, the education side and these networking events and the classes and all the learning that goes on. You hear about it and you hear that it’s awesome but to experience it so we’re coming at this together first-timers here so no, that’s pretty awesome. So tell us a little bit about you and your business Paul’s Furniture. You and your husband owned the business?

Renee Spresser: We both own the business but actually he doesn’t really have a role in the business other than trying to keep me financially afloat if you ask him. He has an excavation business it’s very successful luckily because I like to say in some of my lean times I lean on him and that’s a good match for us. But the store has actually been there for 87 years and had a great following as far we’re from a very rural area in Northwest Kansas. And it’s always been kind of a little scavenger treasure hunt type of place where you go in and it’s five Main Street buildings all stuck together and there’s all these different rooms and-

Rob Stott: It’s like middle American.

Renee Spresser: Yes. And so seven years ago we purchased it from the original owners who were basically just aging out. I mean, they would’ve stayed in there even longer if they weren’t both in their mid-eighties. I had been in insurance before that and was a salesperson always, but we were afraid that the store was going to close and in a town of 220 people, that’s a huge deal.

Rob Stott: That’s a big deal.

Renee Spresser: Yeah and so we felt we were in a position to be able to do it. Everything just kind of fell together so it just seemed the right thing to do and the right choice for me as far as a career path.

Rob Stott: That kind of answers the gist of what my next question was is why retail? You did it to save a business that you felt was important. I guess another way of asking that though is what made you feel comfortable that you could go and… You have the sales background but insurance to retail is very similar in a sense because you’re selling but very different. So what made you confident and comfortable to hop into the retail space?

Renee Spresser: Different in a very good way. What I felt like was as an insurance agent I was selling a non-tangible product that people didn’t want to buy. Then I all of a sudden found myself selling products that were tangible that people did want to buy. And so as I’m kind of an excitable, happy, fun person and it’s really hard to turn insurance into happy, fun, excitable type stuff. So I’m a high fiving my customers-

Rob Stott: Geckos just don’t do the trick.

Renee Spresser: Yeah. And so it was really fun for me to change that up that way. I didn’t really consider myself to be a creative person before I got into retail of furniture, but now I see that I do have that side and luckily I can watch a lot of HGTV and steal Joanna Gaines’ ideas-

Rob Stott: Oh, Chip, and Joanna.

Renee Spresser: Yes. I tried to aspire but.

Rob Stott: Do you have a lot of shiplap in your store?

Renee Spresser: I do. I have big clocks, metal chairs, I always tell people we can Joanna your space if you want even chalk paint. 

Rob Stott: That’s awesome. No, that’s really cool. So you talk about it a little bit. I mean a town of 200 that has to present a lot of different challenges for someone that I come from Philadelphia so a very different town, a couple million live in that metropolitan area. So Selden, Kansas what’s it like running a business in that type of town and community?

Renee Spresser: There’s a lot of good and a lot of bad. I’d say the challenges that we encounter are logistics for one. Out and in, we have a tough time sometimes getting products brought to us. On the other hand, I also have a little bit of trouble getting things sent out from someplace that there’s just not a lot of traffic and that kind of thing. Another challenge that I tend to have and although I don’t think it’s just a small town challenge, it’s finding help. Finding people who want to do such a physical job. A lot of moving furniture-

Rob Stott: What is? What is that like finding talent? In a separate podcast recently we talked to the NFIB, National Federation of Independent Businesses about what it’s like, it’s been a tough job market. So in a town of 200, the pool of talent is very small, so what is it like trying to find talent? How do you guys do that?

Renee Spresser: Well when I was at the Pillars Project we talked about HR when we were talking to other businesses and they were “Oh, I get 100 applicants and I narrow it down and I do all these things.” And they’re, “What do you do?” And I’m I like, “I just pray.”

Rob Stott: That can work too.

Renee Spresser: Because you just don’t have a lot to choose from and then it’s hard to as such a small business. Honestly, it’s me and I have two people who work for me regularly and then maybe two or three that kind of fill in when we have trouble like if I’m at PrimeTime or doing something. And honestly, I’ve kind of almost gone exclusively to women which is kind of crazy when you’re thinking about delivering furniture and that kind of thing. But there’s a lot of methods to move things and in a way that it’s not going to cause injury to anybody. But besides owning the business, I deliver all the time, I unload trucks every day. It’s just you kind of have to do it all. And then I have to find people who are willing to do those things as well, do every aspect of the business.

Rob Stott: So we hear constantly about owners that wear a lot of hats and in a town like that, and in a business like that, it’s everyone’s wearing a lot of hats.

Renee Spresser: Exactly.

Rob Stott: That’s interesting.

Renee Spresser: Yeah. But even so, I mean there’s a lot of good things because it is such a small community and it’s just more of a family and it’s hard for me to think about living anywhere else. I mean, there’s been other times that I have lived in the city and it seems like I always gravitate back to the small town. And I think it’s just the way of life is slow and just a neat way to exist.

Rob Stott: I was going to ask that. Having experienced both I can’t say I have the same experience but what is it like, what’s the thing that attracts you to that small-town lifestyle?

Renee Spresser: Well, speaking from actually this morning driving into downtown Houston-

Rob Stott: Traffic, that’s the number-

Renee Spresser: I would say the fact that I live in a town with two paved roads and I drive two blocks to work. It takes me approximately five seconds from my garage door shutting to getting to my store and so that is a huge perk. I don’t get a lot of chances to catch up on my books on tape or anything but I can sleep in.

Rob Stott: Yeah, right. Oh man, those forty-five minute commutes let me tell you, they’re something else. A lot you can do with that time.

Renee Spresser: Yes, exactly.

Rob Stott: But speaking of your work in your showroom I know we’ll get into the Pillar Award in a little bit here but in the description that I read of the Pillar Award your showroom was described as something of an attraction and able to bring customers in from hundreds of miles away. In a town of 200, I guess you got to have to attract that kind of attention and customers from that far. So what is it about your showroom that makes it an attraction in your own words?

Renee Spresser: Okay, well I think that the store itself is a little bit of an attraction just because of what I described, it’s five different buildings that are all together on Main Street. So what the past owner did was they started out in a store they’d buy next door break out a hole and go, expand, expand, expand. So we have two separate basements, a whole middle floor then we have a little bit of an upstairs so the building itself. But I’ve just really tried to update the look of the store, try to make there be a category of furniture for every single buyer.

I also really try hard to have different things than the other retailers that are in the larger towns around me. Because why would you drive to Selden if you’re going to get the same product at the same price? You might as well buy it where you’re at. So I just try to be different, some of my online marketing and things like that have really proved to be important. And just like I say, just trying to make it a place that people want to go, “Just hey, I just want to go see what’s going on over there.” And that has really proved to work well.

Rob Stott: So has anyone ever bragged to you about how far away they’ve come from to see your store?

Renee Spresser: Well, I do tell people that I have delivered to Nashville, Tennessee but to give you the whole story there that was my daughter.

Rob Stott: Hey, was it a sale?

Renee Spresser: Yes it was.

Rob Stott: It counts.

Renee Spresser: But I’ve even had people from Denver. I mean, once they realize the difference in my prices and things and if they have any kind of ties to Western Kansas which is only two and a half, three hours away I do that every so often I have delivered up to Woodland Park and Colorado Springs and that was just people finding us online and coming down to see what we had.

Rob Stott: That’s pretty cool.

Renee Spresser: Yeah.

Rob Stott: With that much space, is there a part of your… Obviously, as an owner, you’re going to love every corner and square inch of your showroom and your store. But is there a particular part of it or area that you think does better for you or that you’re more attracted to or that excites you a little bit more than some of the others?

Renee Spresser: I don’t know if I could pick out a particular product that I like better than other things. I think the thing that I liked the most is just because it is a small place and I don’t have a hundred people in there at a time I generally have time to spend with my customers. And that’s just it seems the thing that is most valuable to them and also to me is that that connection and that time that we can spend and I can really figure out… A lot of times people walk through the door and they don’t actually even know really what they want. And they may be saying they want something, but then they keep pointing out other things. And it gives me time to kind of key in on that and really get to the bottom of what they’re trying to accomplish and it just seems a good formula.

Rob Stott: That’s awesome. So you already kind of talked about this a little bit but the creative side that you’ve been able to tap into so we got to talk about these videos.

Renee Spresser: Okay. Have you watched the videos?

Rob Stott: I have, I spent some time… Your website is kind of the YouTube rabbit hole.

Renee Spresser: Yes.

Rob Stott: You get into one and it’s like, “Oh my God, I got to keep going.”

Renee Spresser: Yes.

Rob Stott: Describe to our audience first of all just what these videos are and then we’ll get into sort of how they came together.

Renee Spresser: Okay. Well basically there’s a series of videos, I do have some other things going on with my videos, but I started seeing those inflatable T-Rex outfits on YouTube and Facebook and places-

Rob Stott: The people that run the marathon-

Renee Spresser: Exactly.

Rob Stott: The 100-yard dashes in the T-Rex costumes.

Renee Spresser: Yes. Well, the one that came out of the horse racing deal and then snowball fights and stuff. And it occurred to me that no matter what those inflatable T-Rexes are doing, it is funny.

Rob Stott: They’re phenomenal.

Renee Spresser: There is nothing that you can do in an inflatable T-Rex outfit is that is not humorous and so-

Rob Stott: Fair point.

Renee Spresser: Yes. And so my philosophy on marketing is I don’t think that you should shove product down people’s throats. I mean, I feel you’re going to get so much more interest, and like I say I’m trying to get people to go, “Hey, what is going on over there? Let’s go see what’s going on in that store.” And so I started thinking if I’d come up with some videos, and especially on the Facebook side of things where I’m not limited to 30 seconds that I’m trying to do something on a TV ad. I have this not unlimited time but more time and I could just entertain people and they’re kind of like, “I really like her. She’s not afraid to make fun of herself and she’s not afraid to make a fool of herself.” And I think the more you see somebody in that way, even just your favorite TV character you start feeling you know them. And so-

Rob Stott: Yeah it humanizes you in a sense.

Renee Spresser: Exactly. So I kind of felt people are going to start going, “I feel like I know her already and I feel like I’m comfortable with her.” Maybe this is not for everybody, I mean maybe there are some people who have not come to the store because of that.

Rob Stott: Listen, I want to meet the person that doesn’t like the T-Rex costume.

Renee Spresser: I know.

Rob Stott: Because I just want to find out like do they have a soul? Do they have a heart?

Renee Spresser: Right, exactly.

Rob Stott: You can’t not like those things.

Renee Spresser: And so I just started thinking, “Hey, it’d be really fun.” The one that is called the best boss is basically based on every HR video you’re ever going to watch. And my mother was one of the dinosaurs, she was one of the people inside the dinosaur. She’s the one I kick at the end accidentally. And I just thought, “Hey we can just do silly things with the dinosaurs and just see what happens.” And it really has become kind of a thing. Everybody’s like, “When’s the next video going to be out?”

Rob Stott: It has. I mean it starts as a fun idea, is it something that… Does the creative genius just continue to flow?

Renee Spresser: It does. I’ll see something or I’ll see another commercial or I’ll see a TV show and I’ll think, “That would actually be kind of fun. How can I work that into…” I try to make it about furniture, I mean it’s not completely random. But I just try, I just think it… Well, I will give you a little bit of a teaser. Right now I’m working on an epic music video where I have a little rap that continues on the, “If you need furniture, come see Nay-nay.” And the dinosaurs are of course my backup dancers and also my crew that’s going to help me get that rap so stay tuned for that. If you’re watching my videos, you may want to check that out.

Rob Stott: We’ll be on the lookout, that’s so awesome. Oh, man. And a lot of fun too. And it really makes kind of what you do fun and showcases your passion for it in a different way. And everyone has their thing and yours just happens to be inflatable T-Rex costumes.

Renee Spresser: I mean bless the person who came up with those because I-

Rob Stott: They’re doing well.

Renee Spresser: Yes, they have to be doing well but like I say, anything you’re doing in an inflatable dinosaur outfit is just funny by nature. You can’t even be not funny.

Rob Stott: Heck No. But back to the Pillar program, I want to get back to the Synchrony Pillar Award, you mentioned that you were honored with one. Tell us a little bit about that program and then obviously too what having a partner like Synchrony has done for you.

Renee Spresser: Well, let me start with the fact that the CEO of Synchrony was in New York when we went there and he is very passionate about small business. And so I think that is just an amazing thing for somebody that’s at that level in his career. And trying to really… I guess what I want to say is it’s just kind of his passion. I mean it’s kind of you don’t think about that all the time but that’s what he’s really gearing toward. And so he came up with this Pillars Project because they have the Inc 500 and 5000. Is it 5000?

Rob Stott: Yes.

Renee Spresser: And those are the businesses that I could never compete with ever because they’re million dollar companies and million-dollar ideas. But he thinks that there are 5,000 of those businesses and there’s probably more of an amount there, but why feature just that? There are so many small businesses that really need a voice and need some recognition and I just thought that was so great. And so they sent out the invitation to apply for that award and when I was reading the description I thought, “I can win this.” How Nay-nay in a town of 2000 with her dinosaurs and just a little quirkiness, but I just felt like I really feel they’re speaking to me.

They wanted somebody who was important to their community, gave back to their community in different philanthropy type things and then also the online marketing. They really wanted somebody that was looking at that kind of thing. And when I went and met the rest of the winners they’re from all over different industries but we all had a lot in common about we were small businesses just trying to kind of find our path and it was just a great opportunity. And we just, all of us felt so blessed that Synchrony would take the time to recognize us first of all, to invest back into our businesses, treat us so well as they did. And so I definitely, anybody listening to this podcast I say if you get that invitation from synchrony in the spring-

Rob Stott: Take it seriously.

Renee Spresser: Take it seriously and see what you can do because they… And in fact, even if that doesn’t happen they really have a lot of great programs that are all about us keeping our businesses viable.

Rob Stott: That’s awesome. And obviously a big partner here on the show floor and a lot of great stuff that comes out of them. And to see them like you said, caring about this side of this business, the smaller businesses out there and being willing to partner with you guys. The award program obviously is an excellent honor and a well-deserved honor for sure, but to even be willing to partner with this industry, the independent business and see how they’ve committed themselves to it, it’s awesome, it’s really cool. But any last words? I’ve taken up more of your first Prime… This shouldn’t be a podcast show for you. There’s plenty more to do a PrimeTime than talk on a podcast but what words of advice would you leave to some of the independents or members listening to this podcast?

Renee Spresser: I would just say it’s everybody’s in it together. The one thing that I did learn going to the Pillars Project and they even just today talking to all the other retailers that I’ve had a couple of meals with and things. We really are all doing the same thing and don’t be afraid to reach out to even just a local business. And I came home and started thinking about that different as “Hey, this is not a competition. I have my strength, they have their strength and there are maybe times that I need a little help and they need a little help and why not reach out and see?” I really think that people would be surprised what they’re going to find out that there’s a good camaraderie and everybody’s doing and fighting against the same thing.

Rob Stott: Yeah. No, that’s awesome. And I think a nice cap to a pretty awesome conversation with you. So this has been fun and Renee, I appreciate again, you taking the time to come on and sit down with us here in the George R. Brown Convention Center at PrimeTime. And hope you enjoy the rest of your show.

Renee Spresser: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Rob Stott: Yeah, you got it.



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