Ask any couple running a business together the secret to their success, and they might tell you they create time and space for themselves apart from the job. Ask Brian and Jamey Elrod, though, and you'll get this answer:
"We never turn it off," Brian says.
Jamey agrees. "I'll wake up at 1 a.m. and roll over and say, 'What about this idea?'" she says with a laugh. "For us, it's a part of us. It's personal."
Over the last 20 years, the Elrods have launched three businesses together — two blockbuster successes and one flop, which is a pretty impressive ratio for founders who never tapped into the local startup funding scene.
"Being older entrepreneurs, we came up before all the start-up culture," says Brian, who is 50. "This was just how you started a business."
Educational Outfitters came first in 1999. When her son's school told Jamey she'd need to order his uniform from a catalog, she balked.
"He was hard to fit, and I dreaded the back-and-forth process of ordering and returning things," says Jamey, 49. "My wheels started turning."
Jamey sold her car to pay for inventory and started selling school uniforms in their garage. Brian still had his day job in logistics, and did the ordering in his down time from his home office in their master bedroom closet. The Elrods opened their first storefront on East Brainerd Road in 2000, and have grown the business to 30 franchises from San Diego to New Hampshire.
Their next hit came with Text Request, which recently celebrated its fifth anniversary. The idea hit Jamey back in 2011 when their youngest son had a meltdown in a restaurant, and the Elrods longed for a way to quickly send a request for to-go boxes and the check rather than trying to track down their server.
It took a few years to actually dig into the idea and launch Text Request, but once they did, the business took off. The company serves more than 1,500 businesses in the United States and Canada and recently announced that it doubled revenue and tripled the headcount of its headquarters team in Chattanooga. Since late 2018, Text Request has added 16 new employees and doubled its annual recurring revenue from $1 million to $2 million in 2019.
About 95% of texts are read in under three minutes, Brian says. The average e-mail, on the other hand, doesn't get read for about 6 hours.
"We're just on the verge of every single business being textable," Brian says. "In the next 5 to 10 years you'll be able to text any business you would now call."
The third business, Jock Sale, didn't fly. The network of sporting goods resale locations came in the years between Educational Outfitters and Text Request, and delivered a few important lessons.
"We did OK, we had seven locations," Brian says. "But a lot of apps started coming out where you could sell that stuff, so the technology really hurt that business. And it turns out guys don't like to get rid of their stuff. We struggled to get the inventory."
In fact, they had a scene once where a wife showed up to sell her husband's gear, and he came behind her to reclaim it.
"We had fun with it," Jamey says. "And the idea for Text Request was still in the back of our minds."
All their businesses have been inspired by their sons, and Jamey is the one who dreams them up, Brian is quick to say.
"Every business we've ever started has been Jamey's idea," he says. "I'm more the person who gets the ball rolling. We have different skill sets, and that's great."
Like any couple — or pair of business partners — they don't always agree, Jamey says.
"We have our moments, trust me," she says. "The business is 24/7 but we've learned to keep personal personal and business business."
Brian laughs. "You have never learned to do that."
Brian and Jamey Elrod met at a John Cougar Mellencamp concert when she was 15 and he was 17.
They married in 1991, and have three sons who are 26, 22 and 10.
Their businesses, Educational Outfitters and Text Request, were both inspired by their sons.