Western Nebraska Entrepreneur Creates Billboards Out Of Hay Bales
In the cities, they have billboards on every street corner to advertise businesses, events and causes.
In rural Nebraska, we have hay bales sitting in fields across miles and miles of rural roads and highways. So, why not use them for advertising rural businesses, events and causes?
That is the idea behind a two-year-old company, Hay Bale Banners LLC, started by rural Nebraska entrepreneur Rod Keiser of Enders.
Rod graduated from high school in Wauneta, and he thought his future life would be in the hustle and bustle of a big city far away from his rural hometown. But Rod eventually found his way back to rural Nebraska, and that is where he has decided to live work and make a difference.
“I don’t think people realize what good things they have here,” Rod said. “I think it’s good that people get out of Nebraska so they can appreciate what they had and that they can come back to.”
After high school, Rod attended engineering school at Valparaiso University, about an hour outside of Chicago.
“I was one of those persons who grew up in southwest Nebraska, and I couldn’t wait to get out of Nebraska,” Rod said.
After graduating from college, he worked for software and electrical utility companies in central Indiana and then in Denver and eventually started his own technology business. During the “dot.com” crash in the early 2000s, a chance meeting during a visit to his hometown changed his path. A former classmate told him that rural Nebraska could benefit from all the technology services that he could provide.
So, 14 years ago, Rod left his city life behind and became a rural entrepreneur. He started Champa Group and began helping rural businesses with computer networking, security and other technology solutions.
“There definitely is a need for technology solutions in rural Nebraska,” Rod said. “We had a nice business going and doing that type of work.”
Hay Bale Banners
Several years later, Rod discovered a need for large-scale printing services for his business. He figured others had that same need so he started Exceptional Prints to complement Champa Group and to fill a need in western rural Nebraska. The print company creates large-scale products on vinyl and canvas plus offers other printing services.
A few years ago, he discovered a new product to offer at his print shop.
“We had a discussion at a chamber meeting one evening about doing a hay-bale decorating contest at the annual harvest festival in the summertime,” Rod said.
At the time, Rod was serving as the chamber president and decided to dig into some more research on the hay-bale decorating.
“One night, I was cruising the internet searching for ideas,” he said. “I just noticed that no one was doing signs or vinyl banners, especially round banners, for hay bales.”
The vinyl banners he typically printed were rectangle or square, but he knew he could make them round. He started conducting market research and received positive feedback. He created a mock-up banner and placed it on a photo of a hay bale in Photoshop as an example.
“Once people saw that, the interest became like 75 percent to 100 percent on the meter,” Rod said. “I’ve never run into an idea or concept that has that much positive interest from people.”
Then, people started offering suggestions on what they would advertise on the banners, and Rod knew he had something viable.
Rod set up an appointment at Mid-Plains Community College in Imperial with business development expert Charlie McPherson, who gave him some great advice. While he learned that he couldn’t trademark the words Hay Bale Banners, he is working on a trademark for the term Hayboards. He also joined Grow Nebraska and actively participates in the organization’s seminars and events.
Hay Bale Banner Customers
Rod sells Hay Bale Banners to a variety of customers, mainly in Nebraska, but a few are from out of state, including the National Hay Association in Ohio.
“Our customers are individuals, organizations and small businesses,” he said. “We’ve done one political banner. This year is a political season again. We will get involved in that. We’ve done a lot of graduations and weddings.”
Rod said he recently created several banners for a trade show in McCook. The event organizers placed Hay Bale Banners on entrances to McCook on all four sides of town. Rod also sponsored a booth at that trade show, and he was impressed that visitors from Kansas and Colorado sought him out at the event to share their excitement about Hay Bale Banners.
The village of Tryon purchased three Hay Bale Banners to advertise last summer’s solar eclipse events in their community. A small business owner in Trenton purchased a banner to advertise to tourists traveling to nearby Swanson Reservoir. One insurance company ordered a banner to celebrate a 20th anniversary.
One farmer successfully sold 1,500 round bales of cane within 60 days thanks to Hay Bale Banners. Another farmer sold out of his alfalfa bales in 30 days with help from the sign.
“They are really effective,” Rod said of the banners. “Both of these farmers were really positive that they were instrumental in helping them sell out of their alfalfa and cane.”
The round banners cost $99 plus a design fee, which is typically less than $50. If it’s just a standard banner with words, such as “Hay Bales for Sale,” no design fee is charged.
Rod does not provide the hay bale, but he said it’s easy to locate one in rural Nebraska by asking a farmer or any FFA member.
“We have lots of hay bales in Nebraska,” Rod said. “They are not as hard to find as you would think.”
Future of Rural Nebraska
Rod recently moved his home and business to his family’s farm near Enders. His grandparents built the home in the 1930s. With its location along Highway 61, Rod is excited to advertise his own business to highway travelers with of course, Hay Bale Banners.
He operates his business solo with some occasional help from freelance graphic designers. In 2018, he hopes to focus on expanding Hay Bale Banners to a larger audience.
“We are focusing on Hay Bale Banners because that has the most potential nationwide,” he said.
He will continue to do his work from rural Nebraska, the place he once wanted to leave. He was reminded of why he made the move on a recent business trip to Denver to promote Hay Bale Banners.
“At about Fort Morgan, I saw the brown clouds and then later the traffic,” he said.
He prefers the less-crowded rural Nebraska landscapes free of smog and lines of cars.
“I like the wide open spaces,” Rod said. “I really like the conservative nature of Nebraska as a whole and the friendliness of the people.”
Creating opportunities for others to move back to rural Nebraska is important to Rod. When he’s not working on Hay Bale Banners and Champ Group, he hopes to spend some time finding solutions to the rural Nebraska housing problems that can be an obstacle for younger generations wanting to live and work in the area.
“I’d like to figure out how we can create housing that is attractive and affordable to young people wanting to move back to rural Nebraska,” he said. “When I’ve tried to hire technology employees in the past, the obstacle has always been a lack of housing available in the community.”
For more information…
Hay Bale Banners, LLC
72344 Hwy 61
Enders, NE 69028