You're listening to the “REI Marketing Nerds” podcast, the leading resource for real estate investors who want to dominate their market online. Dan Barrett is the founder of AdWords Nerds, a high-tech digital agency, focusing exclusively on helping real estate investors like you get more leads and deals online, outsmart your competition, and live a freer, more awesome life. And, now, your host, Dan Barrett.
Dan: All right, this is Daniel Barrett and I am here with Ryan Dixon from REIPrintMail.com. Ryan, how are you?
Ryan: Oh, good. Daniel, how are you?
Dan: Yeah, I’m sort of good. I know we were just talking about it. We sat down to do the call. We were both like, It's been a long day and… But it’s good timing to do an interview like this. It tends to bring my energy level back up, so I'm psyched to talk with you. [01:05.4]
Let's kind of start. I want to start with REI PrintMail actually because usually I kind of get into you specifically and I want to talk about that, but before we do that, let's talk about what REI PrintMail is, what you do. For people that aren't familiar with the company, what is REI PrintMail? What do you guys do for investors?
Ryan: We are a 28-year print and marketing company that for about 15 of those years, we have specialized in the real estate investment industry. What we do is we primarily create innovative direct mail to get buyers and sellers for real estate investors. We do a host of other things, but that's our primary focus. Then probably our main claim to fame is that we employ a series of direct marketing coaches. [02:02.0]
We decided a long time ago that if we gave people advice and took the guesswork out of direct mail and we used our expertise, and we're in markets all across the United States and we send millions of pieces of mail—we see response rates. We track results—if we start using that to help people make good decisions, they're going to get more deals. And if they get more deals, then they're going to stay with us longer. And if they stay with us longer than we're going to create a fantastic business and everybody wins.
So, our main claim to fame besides just doing direct mail is coaching people in best practices, and preferred pieces and consistencies that kind of give them an edge against the competition. Since then we've grown by leaps and bounds and people love it, and it works all around, but our main idea is to just get our investors deals. [03:07.8]
Dan: Yeah. I mean, there's a couple of things I want to dig into there for sure. But I thought one of the things that I thought was so cool was that you guys take a very similar approach to what we do, in the sense that by specializing in a certain industry, you can see what works across many different markets in many different situations. I think that's a real super power.
I'm curious about the direct marketing coaches. There are a lot of companies that do direct mail. If I'm an investor and I'm curious about mail or I’m coming to you guys to do my mail, how does the coach fit into that? Are they telling me what to mail or who to mail to, or pick a list, or what role does the coach kind of fill? [03:47.0]
Ryan: Yeah, so we can do all of the above really. It depends on what stage the investor is at, so they can come to us and say, Look, and a lot of people do, they say, Look, I just want to make the phone ring. I don't know what to do.
Ryan: And you're supposed to help me, so help me. We say, Okay, let's talk about what lists we see working the best in your area, and so we can help them actually build the lists. We can sell them lists, so we do sell data. [04:12.5]
A lot of people bring us lists and they say, Do you know this list source or that list source or these people? We say, Yeah, we've worked with all kinds, so we can help them build a list in their own list source, whatever they're using, by going over preferred filters. Then a lot of times we say, Okay, let's talk about the market you're going to be in, and so if you're in a highly saturated market, and you say, And what's your budget? I want to send somewhere around 500 pieces. We say, That's not very safe. That's actually kind of dangerous. We give them advice along those lines and we really work it backwards.
So, where do we come into play? A lot of times we come into play at the list section. We come into play at quantity, and then definitely absolutely we come into play when it's, hey, what pieces work best in my area? And we see different fluctuations. [05:03.8]
During COVID we’d have a fake check mail piece and that became popular. We started to see it getting ordered in small quantities, all around the United States. I reached out to a few people. I said, “Why the fake check?” and they said, “We thought it would be smart because people were expecting COVID checks,” and we thought, That's genius. Then we went to some of our big mail buyers and we said, “Hey, send some of these pieces out. We're going to pay for it. We just want to see what the response is,” and so then we saw the response was pretty fantastic. It was also incredibly aggressive. It just took a special kind of investor, but there's an example of how we might pivot when the marketing winds change.
With the COVID, what happened was handwritten fonts started to come back and fake checks started becoming the more aggressive piece that you wanted to send, whereas that definitely was not the case six months prior. But we definitely come in there at the point where we're recommending a piece, but it really depends on where you're at. We can really help it from start to finish. [06:05.7]
Dan: Yeah, I'm curious and , I mean, I have a couple of questions that I want to dig into, but as a general rule, what do you think most investors are confused on when it comes to mail? Are they primarily confused about, Hey, what kind of creative should I be using? What should my postcards look like? What should the font look like? Should it be a yellow letter? Should it be this or should it be that? Or are they primarily worried about or confused on the list in the sense of like, Who am I singling out? Who am I targeting? How many times do I mail them? What seems to be the sticking point for the average investor kind of coming in the door?
Ryan: Yeah, a really good question, probably mimics a lot of what your industry does. With us, we call it quantity, right? A lot of people, even if they mailed 10 years ago and they come back, the amount of quantity that they need to send in their area usually has changed substantially. [07:06.4]
When you see things that happened in Phoenix and in North Carolina right now, and California and L.A. County and Riverside, and Texas and Austin, and all those places that are really saturated inside of a year or two or three, they became so saturated that the bar for entry became higher. When you talk to a client, probably the biggest whoa or aha moment is how many pieces per deal we see it takes to get in that market, right? How many pieces do you have to send to get X amount of phone calls, and of those X amount of phone calls, do we usually see a deal or two? When we tell them those amounts, that's usually the “holy cow” moment. I had no idea.
Then you talk to weathered investors and they say, Yeah, I kind of figured that, right, because they didn't know, and then we validated that point for them that this is what happens, so now we can attack it from a math- and probability-standpoint, which is what we to do, and so that's probably the main thing that they're confused about. [08:04.2]
The second thing I would say is, yes, the design. You have a lot of investors and a lot of savvy business people out there who think that creating a design is the best way to go. Again, probably mimicking your industry. You've given us a lot of advice on webpages and what needs to go where, and those kinds of things. We have tested templates, tested mail pieces, and so when someone comes in and goes, I really like your mail pieces and yet I want to create my own and I think it's going to do better, and it completely flops.
That happens more so than 99% of the time. Why? It's untested. We've got to change some verbiage around. We’ve got to spend money to test. That's what we have to do. Nothing worth keeping ever came easy and that's including your postcard design. We had to spend money to figure out which pieces to put on our site. We had to partner up with our customers and say, Try this, try that. [09:06.3]
We usually release or we try to do three designs every quarter, so that we're at least releasing a design a month by the end of the year once a month. The thing is those take a lot of testing and some of them don't last very long, and then some of them stand the test of time for many years. That's probably the second thing, thinking that you can just come at this thing, and I know what to do and I'm going to go ahead and make this awesome design and it's going to work better than anything else, and I don't understand it. I didn't get any phone calls.
Ryan: That's probably the second thing.
Dan: I'm curious if you see this. I always say that when I first moved into REI, it was an incredibly painful process for me as a designer because I'd come from web design, and I would never call myself a great designer, but I like nice design and I used to read design blogs and those stuff. [10:01.3]
When I came into REI, I was very…I won't say cocky. Let's just say irrationally self-confident that I was like, I'm going to design a beautiful landing page for this, and over and over again it would just be the ugliest possible version of the thing I’d built was the one that won. It was very, very painful.
I'm curious if that's the case in direct mail. Do you notice a trend, not a trend but more of a pattern, where the more, quote-unquote, “designy” something is and the nicer it looks, the worse it does? Is that consistent in mail or not so much?
Ryan: Yeah, it's been that way for a lot of years that the uglier thing works better in this industry, and when I was doing mail for myself in the past, I kind of figured that out on my own. When I came here, when I was kind of resetting my real estate business, and this was a perfect opportunity for me, I kind of sat back and started looking at what was working and I'm like, Holy cow, it's like that everywhere. What's going on? The ugliest thing works. [11:12.3]
I have a theory about it and it's probably wrong, but when you look at the people that are receiving these advertisements and they're reacting to them, they're in a totally different state of mind. They have what could be considered one of their most precious assets and, most of the time, they're in hard times, and hard times breed different thoughts in the brain and we've got different outlooks on life.
The other thing is that, really, ugly designs tend to maybe just work better because the people that are selling their house don't think that you're some big old company either, because a lot of times they want to relate, but then, too, the success comes out of it because those are the kinds of people that you can actually, if they don't think you're a huge company, you can get a better deal on the house and you can make more money, so just maybe those kind of float to the top as, hey, those are the ones we talk about the most because they work the best. [12:14.2]
Ryan: I mean, there are different mindsets there, but I think it definitely has something to do with it, but I definitely see what you're talking about and, yeah, I think it's industry-wide. I do.
Dan: You said my theory, which is I was like, Who are you going to get a better deal out of, Bob down the street or hyper-mega global corp investment fund, a hedge fund or whatever? Yeah, I love that. That's really fascinating to me.
I am really curious. Let's talk about you a little bit. Because you mentioned your investment business kind of before you came into REI PrintMail, what was your way into real estate investing? Because investing, I always say, it's a weird corner of the world.
Dan: It's something that most people don't know exists. I mean, I don't know if that's the case anymore, but it's used to be that not many people even knew about it. What was your entryway into the industry, just in general? [13:08.3]
Ryan: Really quickly on that, still we as investors, this little group, this little corner of the world, as you call it, after you’ve been in it for a while, you think everybody knows about it. You think everybody is up to date on it, and you talk to only investors and everyone knows everybody and it's kind of a small world. Then when you talk to your uncle or your mom or your dad, or you talk to someone and you're like, No, I'm a wholesaler, and they're like, You do what? Is that even legal? Can you do that? I mean…
Ryan: And so, really, I think we think sometimes that we're now kind of mainstream, and we're not even close. But, anyway, how I got in, I owned four convenience stores in St. Louis, Mo., where my real estate business is based, Jamieson Homebuyers, and I was doing real estate off and on and I did awful in the convenience store space. One, it's just an awful business. The margins were really low. I got robbed a few times at gunpoint, I didn’t like that, and I just started to absolutely despise it. [14:08.0]
I didn't get in because I liked it. I’ve got in because I had an opportunity to get in, which I’ll never do again. Only do something that you love and that you're passionate about because that's going to allow you to have a great life. It's like being on vacation and you actually make money when you don't chase it.
I ended up selling out two of the stores. I consolidated it down to two stores. I sold out to the stores. I got out alive and I was looking for stuff to do, and I was sending mail and this was the company that I used.
I came here. I had a discussion with the president and the VP of sales, Mike Acton, and they said, “Why don't you come here? You've got the knowledge. And why don't you teach people how to do mail? And we've got this new concept,” I said, “You can't afford me.” Then they proved me wrong and then it was absolutely fantastic. I got to talk real estate every single day. [14:58.6]
I was like, This is so much fun. I get to talk to people every day about what I love, about what I enjoy. I know this, so I can definitely help them. I've been at the place where I'm talking to a client and they're telling me that their spirit has been killed and they haven't got a deal for three or four months, and I say, Listen, I’ve been there. Do this, or I’d tell them a story about when it happened to me and this is what you should try to do. I realized, This is perfect. I love, love, love this.
At the same time, when I came on, I said, “Guys, I’ve got a real estate business. I'm going to be working my real estate business,” and they said, “Absolutely, no, we want you to. We want you to. In fact, can you test stuff for us? Can you test this? Can you test that? And we want to know what works because we truly want to help these clients get deals,” and I said that I was on board.
I was kind of a one-man show in my real estate at the beginning of that and one of the things that I realized was that, when I came here and it was known that I was pretty good at what I was doing, people started coming and asking me to do marketing for them and I realized pretty quickly out of all the local people, I could have my pick of the litter of some of the best partners in St. Louis, because they were coming to me and asking me to do mail for them. [16:12.6]
I landed on a fantastic partner. His name is Ryan. He's been doing it 18 years. We get along great. We've got kind of the yin and the yang thing going on. He goes feet on the ground and goes into the homes. I help with disposition and all the marketing, and the VAs and people that are calling and answering calls and things that. We have this fantastic balance and then that just grew. I’ve got to say that just everything really came together for me then and I realized it was because it was my passion.
When I was 13, I bought Carleton Sheets with my allowance money and he was the original guru, and now I share it. Now, this is kind of whatever 10 degrees apart or whatever the saying is, but now I share a stage a few times a year with Lou Brown who has been in the business 42 years. We're great friends and he has shared many times a stage with Carleton Sheets, which just blows my mind and it's so cool. [17:15.4]
But that was kind of my journey. I got in. I actually did two fix and flips. I lost on a horrible fix and flip where I've actually got to pay a coach this year and I'm talking to him now. His name is Tim Graham and he's a fantastic guy, a local here, again, one of my clients. I'm going to pay a coach to actually learn how to do fix and flip correctly because I lost my tail on it twice. But then I realized I was a fantastic wholesaler, and so that was kind of my road. Got out of the liquor store business, came here, and, really, it all just came together for me and now I'm really looking forward to the next 30 years. I’m really excited.
Dan: That's so exciting, man. It's like you really found a way to put yourself at the middle, in many ways, sort of at the center of the industry, right, which is awesome. [18:01.0]
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Dan: I am super curious. Obviously, you guys are a mail company, print company, right? You're sort of rooted in physical space. I'm rooted in the digital space, but I’ve always been a big fan of direct mail. I got my start in marketing, listening to guys like Dan Kennedy who were all direct mail marketers, what they did. I started off writing sales letters and then I was like, Why am I doing this? I'm never mailing anybody, but that's what these tapes said to do. [19:05.0]
Dan: So, I have a real soft spot in my heart for it. For the longest time, I was always like direct mail is in decline because mail volume is in decline and yada, yada, yada. What was really fascinating to me was about a year and a half ago, I noticed that all the most advanced digital marketers that I knew, the people that were, let's say, four years ago were all about webinars, all about Facebook, all blah-blah, they all started sending direct mail stuff. They started sending direct mail newsletters or they're sending stuff in the mail, and I was like, That's really interesting.
My friend, Nick, who's an incredible marketer, again, he’s one of the guys that I look to and I ask advice of, and typically is very ahead of the curve, I asked him. I was like, Hey, you're sending me letters. Literally, every month, they were sending a whole packet of stuff, and I was like, What's the deal with this? He was like, Emails to grab, nobody reads their email, but now everyone reads the mail because everyone else isn't sending mail, so now mail is the place where everybody wants to be. [20:13.3]
Dan: And I was like, Oh, that makes total sense. I am super curious. Backing up REI direct mail has been such a core part of our business model forever and I don't think it's going anywhere, but I’m curious if you back up and, nationally, you look at the mail ecosystem, you look at the role that mail plays in the lives of average people. I'm curious about what you think the next five, 10, 15 years is going to look like, because I don't have any sense of what that industry, how it runs or what the long-term trends are. I'm just so curious about what guys see and what you think about where it’s going.
Ryan: Yeah, that's a really good question and you're right. Probably every…yeah, not excluding one I don't think, every podcast, every Zoom call I’ve been on that has to do with one of the…I probably represent about 20 coaches and mainstream coaches in the industry and their students to help them do mail, they always ask that question. Is mail dead? And most of them are mailing with me. [21:17.0]
I go, No, no, absolutely not. It's quite the opposite. Absolutely, we're on the uptick right now. The way that I see it is marketing lives in silos, and so you've got your digital marketing. Text is still kind of there. You've got RVM kind of came and wentish. Then you've got more labor-intensive bandit signs and things like that, and cold calling, of course. About three or four years ago, the cold calling kind of hit a peak. RVM hit a peak. Texting hit a peak. Of course, when you hit a peak, you've got things like lawyers coming out of the woodwork crying, unsolicited text messages. Everybody started hearing things about it. [22:12.0]
What happens is when these silos get filled up, then it just pours. People start to pour out of the top and the people that were in the silo first kind of rise to the top, and then they jump ship into the next silo and they ride that. They ride that train for a while.
Mail, however, because it is always going to have a base effectiveness no matter what, because we're buying the thing that's attached to the mailbox, so it's not like you're going to get it wrong. You're going to send them a letter. They can either open it or not, but generally you're going to get around 1% of them to raise their hand, half a percent right now industry-wide because we have a lot of saturated markets, but still the thing that we're buying is attached to the mailbox, so how direct can you get it right there? [23:01.3]
So, when those silos started to overflow and we started to see a lot of the heavy, heavy mailers, the ones that were sending 20, 40, 50, 100,000 pieces a month, come back and say things like, Sorry I left. Can I get my same pricing? How are things looking? We had a great relationship. I took a hiatus. I’m back and I love you. Then, of course, as a company, we were open arms, absolutely, come back, so we didn't see a dip.
We'd never seen a dip, though, because the cool thing about mail and the place that it does hold is that it is a bit of a low bar for entry for inbound leads, and so inbound leads, if you pay someone to go out and put bandit signs out, they're not going to do it for too long or you're going to do it, and you're not going to do it consistently. It's not fun, right? It's snowing here in St. Louis today and I'm not going to run around and put out bandit signs. I'd rather automate it. [24:01.6]
So, when we're talking inbound leads, people that called you had to go through a lot, right? They had to look at the mail piece, decide that they had a need, read the name, read the phone number, pull out their phone, dial the number, wait for it, and in some cases, get a call back after that. They went through a lot to reach out, and so I think for inbound leads, it's really the low bar for entry and an inbound lead is the best type of lead.
As you said, we share a lot of top-tier clients. They use you and they the inbound leads, so when they do the pay-per-click and things like that and it works out well for them, and then they also blanket mail, then they get a whole bunch of inbound leads and, to them, they can convert them better and convert them more.
Then say the person that doesn't have the budget to do a bunch of mail or a bunch of digital marketing and things like that, if they have 500 to 1,000 bucks a month, they can get into some pretty serious inbound leads. That'll generally get them a deal inside of 90 days, depending on the market and that's going to fluctuate, and that's something we would talk about if somebody called. [25:07.4]
But the point is that it's a pretty low bar for entry and really what else are you going to do to get a quality inbound lead that's going to be cheaper than that? Because of that, we were always getting people that were new, and then we were getting more and more and more and more of them because there were more coaches, more people saying that this is a great industry. They're bringing more people into the industry. Then, at the same time, all of the heavy hitters really started coming back, and so then we saw explosive growth in our business, especially over the past three or four years.
Dan: Yeah. I mean, I think it's fascinating, the cycles that things go through, and you're kind of hitting on another point, too, which I think is super important, which is it’s like there are a ton of different ways to do deals in real estate investing, right down to literally walking up to people's houses and knocking on their doors. [26:05.5]
Dan: And the thing that bugs me is people who kind of expect someone to say, Oh, this way is the best way or it's the only way or whatever, but the most you ever really know is, hey, this worked for me and I’m just a huge believer in everybody in your market is doing something, do something different, even if it's just down to the postcard that you send out. You do a big pattern interrupt, just a giant tight close-up of a sweaty face, so just mail that to people. That's official REI PrintMail advice, by the way, mailing sweaty faces to people. Yeah, I think that's all super fascinating to me.
I am curious, for REI PrintMail as a company, when you guys look at what you guys are interested in or investing in kind of longer term, what is that for you guys? What do you guys view as the future of what REI PrintMail does? Is it we're just going to keep doing the same stuff, but we're going to do it better? Is it we are kind of trying to innovate in some way? I'm really curious about this industry and where you guys see your particular competitive advantage as being? [27:21.2]
Ryan: Yeah, while we were the original innovators of the industry, everybody kind of followed behind us and they know it, basically what happened was we invented the street-view mailer using the Google image on the postcard. We invented that and then people followed behind us pretty quickly because we couldn't patent that.
Then we created an AccuText function or we called it reverse texting, and that's where you put a short code on a card, and if people choose to type in that short code, the investor gets an email with their first name, last name, property address, mailing address, and cell phone number that they just captured, while the prospect gets a personalized text message. [28:04.0]
I’m not an attorney, we're not attorneys, but it's kind of seen as an illegal opt-in because they have a specific short code that they texted on the card, pretty obvious that they wanted to get talked to or opt in.
We created that. Probably, right now, 75–80% of our clients use that, and so that is a luck out for us. We see that as kind of the last big thing that we’d created. What we're going into now is really just doing mail better, getting more information, and really being innovative on the new pieces.
We're getting ready to launch a bunch of new design pieces that we've been testing that we're really excited about. We're getting ready to really focus and dig deep on probate because we see a lot of the heavy hitters are revolving around probate, and we think that that's an important aspect, so we're going to be doing some great things with that. [29:01.4]
And just really leveraging. We haven't completely leveraged all of our data that we have. We have so many clients, thousands and thousands of clients right now, and we need to really leverage that data, and so as we move forward here, we want to be able to have a one-stop shop, even a one-off mail situation where if you just want to mail the place down the street or if you want to mail five or 10 or 15 pieces a month because you're licking stamps at home and you don't want to do that, we want to be able to be the solution for that.
We think by technology, we're going to be able to do all those things, but we're kind of just taking baby steps in that direction. But all of it focuses around doing mail better and using all of our information that we have at hand to get better results, and then create tools as we see the need happen—and we're always first to the table. We almost always beat everybody to the punch on these kinds of things. We're a decent-sized company, so we can move quickly and the thing is that we also have a fantastic group of people here, so that made innovation really, really easy. [30:09.3]
To speak to that point, Jeff Charlton, the owner of the company, he bought 18 companies over the past 10 years, and what we found out by buying these failing companies is that, when you have a failing company, you get down to your best two or three people, and when you get down to your best two or three people and your company gets bought, and we take those fantastic people that have been at that company forever and have been loyal to it, and we bring them here and introduce them to a much bigger family of those people who've been loyal and they were the best of the best in their little business, you create something incredibly special, something that you really can't put a dollar amount to, something that allows you to innovate very quickly, and there's so much passion for helping people do better, get more deals, make the phone ring, that kind of thing.
That's really what we’ve got here, and so it's pretty dynamic. It makes for a fun day at work and, at the same time, I’ve never worked around more intelligent people than I am right now. [31:07.7]
Dan: Dude, that's so cool. I think it's such a fun feeling to be around people that are excited and interesting, and like you guys are working on something kind of all together. I’m super, super, super excited for you guys.
If you are listening to this right now and you have not checked out Rei PrintMail, you should. You can go right to REIPrintMail.com or you can check the show notes for this episode. We'll put a bunch of links there, including the link to get free consultation on a strategy for your market with Ryan. I’m going to put the link to that at AdWordsNerds.com/Podcast. You can go there and check that out.
Ryan, thank you so much for coming on the show, man. I was really excited to talk with you and you really delivered, so I really appreciate it. Thank you so much.
Ryan: Thanks for having me, buddy. We will talk more soon.
Dan: Absolutely. [32:00.0]
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