About this Episode
Ben Scrivens 0:00
I’m really happy with the team we have and the income that we have., why am I going to mess this up by trying to push it somewhere that maybe it doesn’t need to go and change maybe the way I work and maybe even my values to a degree that sort of fit this mold that seems successful to everybody else.
Angela Giovine 0:24
This episode is brought to you by Click Funnels.
Angela Giovine 0:32
Pop culture has become obsessed with entrepreneurship stories from Silicon Valley, and big startup. But the backbone of our economy is made of small local businesses. Every day, millions of small business owners deliver quality products and services, support the local economy, employ their neighbors and follow their passion. We think their stories are worth telling. I’m Angela Giovine. Welcome to the extra ordinary small business podcast. It’s dizzying to think about the way the Internet has shaped and reshaped the way we do business, make money, and lead our lives. One of the more interesting aspects of e commerce is the ability to really be successful and profitable in niche businesses. Ben Scrivens was a horror movie enthusiast from an early age, age four to be exact. Little did he know that his hobby, combined with his creativity and ability to wield a little bit of coding would help him to create one of the premier destinations for horror genre fans on the internet. Ben started Fright Rags dot com in 2003 with one idea for a t-shirt. Since then, he’s grown it from a one person operation, in the spare bedroom of his apartment, to a seven person business operating out of an old morgue in Rochester, New York. The Fright Rag story is a fantastic example of the success that can come from combining the power of niche with the power of the internet.
Ben Scrivens 2:16
Hi, my name is Ben Scrivens, and my company is Fright Rags, and we sell horror apparel and accessories online. Been about 16 and a half years now I started back in September of 2003.
Angela Giovine 2:29
You could say you’re you were in the original internet, boom, so to speak.
Ben Scrivens 2:35
Yeah, I guess so. Like, I never really thought of it that way, but when I go back when I think back to 2003 it was sort of the early kind of the early days of, you know, e commerce especially for you know, small businesses, obviously, that was after the sort of dot com boom, but at least for people to sort of starting up small businesses online, I guess. I guess it is sort of in the initial wave.
Angela Giovine 2:58
Yeah, somewhere around the bubble the first bubble bursting I guess, I remember in that timeframe, everyone was building commerce websites, then they a lot of them bus, I would say you’re very close to being an original. So you don’t just get into horror for no reason, you must love the genre. Tell me about that.
Ben Scrivens 3:15
I do. I’ve loved horror movies ever since I was four years old. I was at a, it was the night before Halloween in 1981, and we were at a friend’s party. And I was bored. My brothers and sister ran off somewhere and we were at a family friend’s house and I was just really bored that I tugging at my mom’s, you know, sleeve going, Can we go home and she said, You know, I just go watch TV. You know, that’s what any parents did in the 80
Angela Giovine 3:43
Ben Scrivens 3:43
Just tell them to go watch TV.
Angela Giovine 3:45
I remember those parties.
Ben Scrivens 3:46
Yeah, so I just walked over to TV and sat down. I literally remember being like, a foot away from the TV. And as soon as I sat down, John Carpenter’s Halloween came on and unbeknownst to me, because I was four, this was the network premiere of the movie. And I sat and watched the entire thing and just could not believe it, it was incredible. I was so I mean up until then, I think I was just used to Scooby Doo and Popeye and and other things and
Angela Giovine 4:18
Four years old.
Ben Scrivens 4:19
Yeah, I’m four years old.
Angela Giovine 4:20
And you were not terrified with nightmares for forever?
Ben Scrivens 4:23
I wasn’t, it’s weird when I watched it again, probably a few years after that I got scared but it was weird. I was scared, and I was also completely enamored by it, like there’s something about it maybe enamored isn’t the right word, but I was fascinated by it. It just freaks me out like I’ll never forget the look of the mask that Michael Myers wears and how he came through the closet trying to get Laurie Strode, which is played by Jamie McCurtis and just it, it etched something on me and I just knew as I was growing up, that’s what I wanted to see more of, I wanted to see more stuff like that. So totally I would not be a horror fan if it weren’t for that experience. Maybe I would be, but that that definitely, that definitely sparked it for me.
Angela Giovine 5:07
Yeah, it was a formative experience.
Ben Scrivens 5:09
Angela Giovine 5:11
Obviously, this started with a love and a passion. Tell me about that progression. You kept your love for horror through high school, and at what point did you think you might want to turn it into a business?
Ben Scrivens 5:25
It was about summer of 2003. You know, I yeah, like you said, I’ve loved horrors since then, so that was always a part of my life. And I’m a creative person, I’ve always liked doing things, you know, art or playing music. And I’ve always wanted to do something with my creativity but I never really had an outlet that I pursued in any way other than just sort of as a hobby. And in the summer of 2003, I was working at one of my first jobs out of college, and it was a small, small operation I was working at, you I was a designer at a laptop bag company. And it was only about three of us there. And it was a great job but I was a little bored. And this was, you know, before my wife and I were married, we were living in an apartment so we had way less responsibilities than we we do now obviously now we’ve kids and a house and things. And I had a lot of time so I spent a lot of time online, hanging out in message boards, you know, before Facebook and MySpace and these things, in the in the horror genre. So I like to talk to people about horror movies and things in among these forums where people that made stuff like a Jason Hockey mask, or these Michael Myers masks or a Freddy glove, like fan made things that they would be selling online, whether it was through the forums, or they had their own website. I just I just was inspired to create something and
Angela Giovine 6:45
And then clicked.
Ben Scrivens 6:46
Yes, something clicked at least to make something and then I sat down and thought, Well, what could I make? And I started thinking that I’ve always been into interesting and your t-shirts. So you know, even as a kid. I was always very particular about what shirts I wore like, we went on vacation, what shirts I wanted to buy on vacation, you know, I’d say Disney or like, I don’t know, Busch Gardens wherever we went to I was always very particular about the way they look. And then I remember wearing shirts that had like a big Gilligan face on them when I was in high school, like almost like the first sort of wave of retro type of things, and pop culture. So I thought, Wait a minute, I don’t own any shirts, with horror movies on them and I love horror. So I might have owned like one like a promotional shirt, but I didn’t really own anything that spoke to me as a fan. And when I searched online, I did find a website that at the time was kind of the only game in town where you could get a horror t shirt. And it was just sort of the black and white version of the movie poster of these movies, slapped on a shirt and I thought, you know, I feel like I could do better or at least better for myself. Again, this was more of a personal
Angela Giovine 7:56
Something different, something inspired, creative.
Ben Scrivens 7:59
Exactly. And the thing that really sparked the idea of actually putting the two together is I came up with the design. Back then in 2003, there was a big, what would Jesus do sort of that was when that was kind of big and it was on bumper stickers, an d billboards and all these other things. And I just was playing around one day, and I did WW. And I put a Hockey mask and then a D and a question mark. And I thought, well, that’s, that’s funny but would Jason do, and it just, it hit me and it was this weird intersection of humor and horror that I thought that’s funny.
Angela Giovine 8:32
It’s something that’s super fans would get.
Ben Scrivens 8:35
Exactly. It didn’t need to have a title on it, it didn’t even need to have a graphic image on it. Just as soon as you saw that, the people that knew knew and they looked at you when
Angela Giovine 8:44
They were in on it.
Ben Scrivens 8:45
Exactly, totally. And that’s really the what sparked the entire idea.
Angela Giovine 8:50
And what year was that?
Ben Scrivens 8:51
Angela Giovine 8:51
2003 and you created that design and it sounds like maybe you studied graphic design?
Ben Scrivens 8:57
I did. I studied graphic design in college. So I have have a bachelor’s in that.
Angela Giovine 9:01
So you had both sides of it, you had the passion for horror, and you had the ability to create these designs yourself without having to hire any type of graphic designer early on. And, and so you just put the image out there or you you immediately put it on a t-shirt?
Ben Scrivens 8:57
So I mocked it up that and there was two other images I came up with. And a friend of mine who ran one of these popular message boards, he made mask for his living, he actually made these fan-made masks, which were amazing. He and I became friends. And he I showed him my images, and he said you should really post them on my forum and get some feedback. And I thought that would be great if you don’t mind and we posted them. And people were like, Whoa, I would totally buy that as a t-shirt. I mean, I had it mocked up on a t-shirt and they’re like I would totally buy that. And that was my first sort of taste of seeing people’s reactions to something that I did that could possibly, you know, generate some income. And so once I posted that I spent I think it was Labor Day weekend in 2003 I just hand-coded my own website, plugged it into PayPal, designed the quick logo and came up with a name and just sort of did it all, just sort of off the cuff in a way and just threw it up there so I could start taking orders. And that is really how it started, yeah.
Angela Giovine 10:18
And back in 2003 there was no Shopify, there was no easy website creator like WordPress or Squarespace so you just, I’m assuming went and got yourself an HTML book and put something basic out there.
Ben Scrivens 10:32
Yeah, that’s you’re exactly right. You know, it’s so easy today to whip something up, back then, you know, I’d had some experience in college, I built a couple websites because I took some of those classes. And I literally opened Dreamweaver and hand coded the HTML code and then had to figure out the Buy Now button from PayPal and coded it there. And every page was hand coded like, everything, it was just-
Angela Giovine 10:55
Right, no cart, just sort of like figure it out one product and a site,
Ben Scrivens 10:59
exactly. I mean, it was so I mean, I look back in the the way back machine and look back at some of my old pages, and I just cringe but you know, Hey, you got to start somewhere.
Angela Giovine 11:08
Exactly. And I think that’s such an important lesson that it’s not about having the perfect business plan, or the business case or the best website. I think so many entrepreneurs and small business owners get really hopped up on like, my logo has to be perfect, and my website has to be perfect before I launch, but it’s just about get it out there and keep you know, learning and and growing and changing.
Ben Scrivens 11:30
That’s right, absolutely. You got to start somewhere, you just got to dive in and go for it.
Angela Giovine 11:34
So from that first t shirt, were you thinking this will be a good side hustle for me or you weren’t quite sure at the moment. At what point did you say I think I need to think about this as a business?
Ben Scrivens 11:47
That’s a good question. So when I first started, honestly, I never even considered it as a as a moneymaker, if that makes sense, like I I bought my first 60 shirts online, I had a place online do them, and it was $600. And my biggest concern was paying that back to my credit card because I had no idea how I was going to be able to do that.
Angela Giovine 12:10
Ben Scrivens 12:10
I had never started business before I had no training, there’s no precedent, at least for me to do this. So it really was about the connection to the customers and the fans. And so when I got my first order, it was like, Whoa, I just made this connection to somebody in California. I’ll never forget his name it was Joe, he sent me in what I think at the time was charging $15 per shirt. To me, it was always about feeding the passion and the idea and it was about making money, I guess, it’s secondary. So it took me quite a few years before I realized, Oh, wow, this is like, kind of like a business.
Angela Giovine 12:49
Like I should maybe think about stuff like profit margins, stuff like that.
Ben Scrivens 12:53
Yeah, exactly. And all that stuff started coming into play as time went on, and I started learning more. And of course, as you know, as I wanted to quit my full time job that became, of course, even more important, but it was always about the idea first, and just seeing how far I could take it.
Angela Giovine 13:10
And what is so amazing about your story is you had this built in focus group with these message boards, you had these super fans all coming to one place, and basically telling you what they like.
Ben Scrivens 13:22
Yeah, it was really, it was a nice push for me to jump over the edge, because if I was operating in a vacuum, I don’t know if I would have gone through with it but I had all these people sort of rallying me on, and that really pushed me over the edge to actually act. For one of the first times in my life to actually act and in idea that I had, and of course, they supported it and then helped grow it into what it was and what it is now.
Angela Giovine 13:46
Now you said something really interesting, actually act on an idea that I had, do you feel that you had entrepreneurial spirit in your blood, so to speak before this? It was just something that you always had different ideas and just never really acted?
Ben Scrivens 14:00
I think I do. You know, I remember when I was about nine years old, I had like four or five manila folders. And they each had a title of a book and a bunch of blank paper inside of them. And I, they were all books I was going to write someday. I never, you know, got any further with that I had comic book ideas that I wanted to make, I had movies that I wanted to make, I think in some ways, I wouldn’t say businesses that I wanted to start necessarily, but creative ideas that I wanted to turn into something, whether it was a movie, a comic book, a regular book, or whatever. I always had ideas, and I always worked on things, but I never really continued on with any of those ideas or passions that really fright rags and doing these t shirts was the first thing that I ever really, I feel like I kind of jumping off the diving board into the deep end, that’s the one thing that I finally did, and grateful that I did.
Angela Giovine 14:53
And it was really driven not only by your love for horror, but also because you could see that people also loved what you’re doing?
Ben Scrivens 15:02
Yeah, I think that that played a huge part in it. I think I was just at a point in my life, and even at that point in my life, you know, I started a weird tangent, but I’d started exercising and working out, and I’d seen some accomplishment with that, just in terms of getting more fit and losing weight at the time. I think by that time, I dropped like 60 pounds. So it was, I think, seeing that I could create results by focusing on something I think it was sort of a snowball effect. I think that those types of things, graduating from college, all these things sort of helped me start realizing, Hey, you can kind of do things if you just put your mind to it. And then yeah, of course, having like minded people like these fans of the movies champion what I was doing, was absolutely crucial to getting over that edge.
Angela Giovine 15:50
Early on 2003. It’s just you, sort of making t shirts in your spare time fulfilling orders, at nights and on the weekends and at what point does it really grow into this is too much for me to do in my spare time?
Ben Scrivens 16:05
It was about three or four years, you know I’ve been doing it on my own, like you said, from my basement, you know, early, early mornings and late nights, we had had some successes with getting our shirts into some retail stores, and that seemed to be a a really good direction for me, but then that kind of collapsed after a couple years and I kind of went not back to the drawing board, but I really refocused my efforts. But it was around 2007, it was summer and my friend we are we are visiting friends for the summer. He had just asked me and said so, you should be able to like quit your job now. Right? And I didn’t know like I don’t know what that means, because at the time, all the money that came in for the company was just used for the company. I wasn’t paying myself.
Angela Giovine 16:48
Right, you were taking the profits and then using it to buy more inventory.
Ben Scrivens 16:52
Yeah, exactly. So it was this sort of self you know, running machine but I was not personally benefiting from that financially.
Angela Giovine 17:01
Just a labor of love.
Ben Scrivens 17:02
Exactly. So what I did is, you know, at the time, which is seems crazy to think about now, this was late 2007 savings accounts, were giving 5% interest. I said, Okay, this is what I’m going to do, I’m going to sign up for a savings account at a bank that I don’t have any affiliation with. I don’t have personal accounts with, I don’t, I don’t I would normally not go to. I’m going to have what I would normally get paid for my job, taken out every Friday from my Fright Rags account, it automatically sent over to this bank, and I’m going to, I’m going to cut up the debit card, anything, I don’t want to touch it, I don’t even want to know. And I want to see what happen. And so I had it automatically deducted every Friday, what I would normally make for my paycheck at my job. And I just kept going and I I definitely thought about it. But it’s not something that I it drove me in any specific way. I just kept running the business the way I would normally run the business. And after six months, I realized that number one, I could continue running Fright Rags the way I had run it prior to that and number two, I had six months of living wages saved up earning 5% interest.
Angela Giovine 18:06
Ben Scrivens 18:08
Oh well, thanks. There was no downside to that, if I couldn’t make it work, then I would just pull the money out of the account and and go back to what I was doing. But if I could make it work, this money was making me money because at the time, I just had my first child, and she was just over a year old. So, you know, there’s thoughts of, Oh, am I going to quit my job? If I do what happens? And so I ended up quitting my job in January of 2008. And I actually went to work for a graphic design firm as a part time entry level position, just in case, it was only like 15 20 hours a week. It was part time, so I just wanted to make sure-
Angela Giovine 18:46
But you figured skin in the game, cover yourself, my baby daughter can still get diapers and formula and…
Ben Scrivens 18:52
Yeah, exactly. And it’s funny because I love that job too but after about four months, I had to quit because I was so busy with Fright Rags that I was Like, I got to go do this full time. And and I did in August 2008 and never looks back.
Angela Giovine 19:05
That’s amazing. And what’s so amazing is you never said, Okay, let me get some partners in this and get a bunch of capital and it sounds like you’ve always taken the profit that you’ve made from the company and used it to grow organically.
Ben Scrivens 19:19
That’s right. I’ve never taken outside investment money. I mean, obviously, we have like a line of credit and things, but we never have taken any outside money. In fact, in the past year, I’ve been approached a few times to partner or be acquired by a few larger companies, and I’ve turned them down because it’s just not something that interests me at all, actually.
Angela Giovine 19:40
And why is that?
Ben Scrivens 19:41
You know, it’s interesting, I think, a lot of yeah I read Ink Magazine and I’m, you know, I love learning about businesses and reading what business is. And, you know, people are always saying, if you’re not growing, you’re dying, and you got to grow and blah, blah, blah. And I started realizing after a while, I don’t know why, why I want to grow like, there is no reason I can put down on paper saying you should grow because blank. And so I’ve made a decision to not to not grow, but to not use that as my primary reason, you know, these companies that wanted to acquire us were wanted equity in the company, they wanted to provide more money, and I thought, what am I going to do with more money? So I can buy more inventory for what? Like, I don’t have a problem with inventory. You know, if anything, it would get us into larger stores or all these retail distribution networks.
Angela Giovine 20:35
Right, just at a time when everyone’s going direct to consumer,
Ben Scrivens 20:38
Right, it’s not that I don’t want that at all. Here’s the thing, I look at me, do I want to stress myself out more? Do I want to add more people and more levels of complexity to this business? Or do I like where I’m at? And I finally stopped one day and said, You know what, I’m happy. I’m really happy with the team we have, and the income that we have. Why am I going to mess up by trying to push it somewhere that maybe it doesn’t need to go. And change maybe the way I work and maybe even my values to a degree that sort of fit this mold that seems successful to everybody else. Honestly, I feel incredibly grateful and lucky to be doing what I’m doing. And that’s all the success I need.
Angela Giovine 21:20
Right. And we sort of skipped over the fact that it isn’t just you anymore, you have continued to grow without bringing in any partners. So tell us what does the company look like today?
Ben Scrivens 21:31
So we are seven people today that’s including myself, so it’s myself and six others. We all work out of an office, actually, it’s apropos it’s the old city morgue in downtown Rochester, New York.
Angela Giovine 21:42
Oh my god.
Ben Scrivens 21:43
Yeah. And all of us work out of there, except for one person who lives about 45 minutes away. He’s our lead designer. I am really happy with the people that I have, and the positions that we have for them and it’s been very gratifying and rewarding to have this team of people that we can all work great together. I mean, it is. I know people say this a lot, and they throw this term around a lot. But it really is like a family. We’re very close with each other. I mean, it’s a small group. So, you know, it’s hard not to be close to to people when you’re working day in day out with just a small group of people. And we work really well that way. And it’s funny because when we post on social media about things that we do, whether it’s company get togethers or trips we’ve gone on or things you know, I always get people like, I want to work for you guys. I would love to work for you guys. And that’s very humbling and nice to hear. We we’ve grown organically over time, and everybody that’s there has gotten there, through some weird alignment of the stars and very, very organically people that I’ve known, I’ve never had to put out a one ad you know, it’s always been friend of a friend that came on for a couple hours because they just wanted to volunteer because they love what we did so much. And the next thing I know, they were working part time and then after a few years, they’re full time.
Angela Giovine 22:57
I was going to ask that, so is everybody on your team a horror lover? Or..
Ben Scrivens 23:01
Oh, yeah, we all we all love the genre, we all have our stories about the first movies we saw when we were way too little,
Angela Giovine 23:08
Ben Scrivens 23:09
And that that’s what makes it this family network. And again, everyone has been there for a reason. And it is interesting when I start thinking about how people got there and and and how things sort of aligned for them to come into my life at the right time. So it’s, I try not to look a gift horse in the mouth, you know.
Angela Giovine 23:27
What’s so interesting is you have grown an e commerce business in a time when the internet really changed over a 15 year period. You came from a time like you said, where you had to hard code websites, ecommerce was very basic and rudimentary to a time when web 2.0 ,social media, Google AdWords, tell us about some of the ways that the evolution of the Internet has expanded your business.
Ben Scrivens 23:58
I think using the tools that have come up over the last several years, obviously, there’s a social media aspect which we’ve had to navigate as new companies, you know come up like when Facebook came up, and Twitter and these things trying to figure out how to use those tools to not only promote our products, but to interact to our customers and we use those to engage and connect with our customers. But you know, as a as a business, when we moved the website over to a couple different platforms, in fact, in the last platform we were on was an open source platform called Zen Cart, And then four years ago, we moved it to Shopify. And so using tools such as that, email marketing and using Clay Viu, and even most recently, with the tax laws changing for sales tax across the, you know, the country where now they can start charging people sales tax, where, you know, we don’t have a physical presence, you know, using companies like Avalara have really helped us. Like being able to have somebody else shoulder that work because you know, as we’ve grown, all of these other things come into the day to day operations that I’m just not qualified for, I don’t know sales tax laws, I don’t even know, state tax laws so much, you know, and I don’t want to be mired in those and nor can I hire a huge staff to take care of this. So, you know, using payroll services and finding companies that can help leveraging those companies to take some of these day to day things off our plate has really helped us focus on just keeping what we do, and focusing on what we’re doing best.
Angela Giovine 25:36
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Angela Giovine 28:32
Early on you were using those message boards as sort of a focus group and also a place to sell your wares. At what point did you start to utilize things like search engine, to grow audience or did you never do that?
Ben Scrivens 28:47
I dabbled on it, probably around 2006 2007. I’ve always been interested in trying to figure out how to get the word out there so 2006 2007 I I started learning it a little bit on my own, and I had a friend that kind of specialize a bit in it. So you know, I hired him to do some things on the side. And then, that transitions quickly and to me really focusing on email marketing in about 2007 2008 is when I really got interested in how can I leverage someone’s email address and data not just to keep pitching them stuff, but how can I even segmenting customers have always been interested in the idea of approaching customers in different ways depending on if they’re brand new customer, if they’re a VIP, if they if they bought once but who knows if they’re going to buy again, I’ve always been interested in that. And then in the past four or five years, I have a friend of mine who’s taken over all of our social media advertising and ad buying on Google ad and social media, you know, Facebook and Instagram, and he’s a kind of contract basis, but he he does that every day and and works on that. And of course, we work very closely with each other to make sure that we’re hitting our goals. Luckily, again, having people sort of they’re part of the team, but they’re sort of working in a satellite basis, you know, on contract basis definitely helps us.
Angela Giovine 30:07
I’ve noticed as ecommerce has gotten more and more pervasive, especially now you can purchase through social media, watching people like Kim Kardashian and Kylie Jenner, and one thing that really struck me is a lot of the newer newcomers to e commerce, utilize this scarcity mentality, right? This collection is going live and then it’s selling out instead of keeping things in stock all of the time. Is that a strategy that you use? Have you ever used it? Or do you keep certain products that are just evergreen, always popular, available for your customers? Do you utilize that like limited edition type of thing?
Ben Scrivens 30:46
We definitely utilize it. I mean, it’s it’s a mixture of those ideas. So basically, you know, there are definitely some shirts for example, that seemed to always sell well, but then again, if they’ve been around too long, sometimes they don’t sell through as quickly. So we’ll take it, you know, we’ll let it sell out, we’ll kind of discount it, get rid of it. And then maybe in a year or two, we’ll bring it back, because, you know, we handle, I think right now over 70 movie licenses. So there’s it’s a lot to kind of handle especially because we don’t just do t-shirts, we do lounge pants and hats and enamel pins and stocks and all these other things so, we’re constantly releasing new products, and product can kind of go stale after a while. It It’s just not selling through, you know, quick enough. So we have to sort of use that model and let people know like, hey, these are done in batches, but if you don’t get it now, you might not get it again, or it might be a while. So, there’s definitely that part of it. But there’s other times, for example, we just released a figure, an action figure last week, and we let people know it was limited to a thousand. And it actually sold out in 40 minutes. We didn’t realize,
Angela Giovine 31:53
Ben Scrivens 31:53
sell it so quickly. We thought we were going to leave it up for five days, and let people know like hey, after five days if you don’t get in on it, he might get it later on when it’s released. But we also told people it was limited to 1000, not thinking we could sell that many that quickly. And yeah, 40 minutes It was gone.
Angela Giovine 32:10
At what point from making that first t-shirt to now, did that become something where you had to go to the movie companies? And how does all of that work? It was always on my mind when I first started because I knew the images I was using on my t-shirts were copyrighted. Even in from the beginning, I thought, Oh boy, I’m doing this even though like that Jason, what would Jason do shirt, didn’t say Friday the 13th, it had a hockey mask on it that looked exactly like Jason Hockey mask. I did try to look into licensing when I first started but I was such a small company, I wasn’t even a company and I was a guy in a-
Angela Giovine 32:44
Right these big movie companies, you’re like a flo- yeah, they’re not
Ben Scrivens 32:48
Yeah, it’s totally insignificant. So I I definitely, It was like the wild wild west back then and I would just release stuff knowing full well that I could
Angela Giovine 32:58
Ben Scrivens 32:59
Get pretend- exactly and, and I did get my my share of of letters, actually. I’ve had definitely a few cease and desist letters come through that some of them have settled out of court, some of them, in fact that What Would Jason Do when I did get a cease and desist from newline studios, they said, you have to stop selling the shirt, you have to destroy our inventory, and I actually kind of probably more ballsy than I would care to admit, I changed the Hockey mask to look more like a generic hockey mask. I took all of their trademarks off of it. But it still set the point across. I sent it to their lawyers and I said, Listen, I’ve taken your trademarks off of this mask, I’m going to continue to sell it it’s a parody design. And pretty much balls in your court and they wrote back saying, that’s okay, just don’t call it Friday the 13th, which I never did. And the next day, Hot Topic ordered 8000 of them, so…
Angela Giovine 33:11
Ben Scrivens 33:11
not a bad change. I always try to get licenses and I would get these small titles here and there over the first few years, and then it wasn’t until 2008 2009 where I started getting some bigger titles, and then right into the early 2010, like 2011 2012 then I started getting bigger titles, and then it just snowballed and now today we have over 70 of them.
Angela Giovine 34:13
I got a cease and desist order in our first year of business as well, I think a lot of people that would really, really just end them, right? They would be like, I can’t do this anymore. I happen to be the daughter of an attorney, so
Ben Scrivens 34:26
Angela Giovine 34:26
like I was, it was something that didn’t freak me out, because I just knew these this is what people did, I guess? We’re in such a litigious society, and I think one thing that’s interesting is that as a small business owner, like you have to write that line a little bit because you have to progress and, and like you said it for a long time, nobody is going to care about you until they care. It’s a fine line. It sounds like at this point, you’re big enough to gain enough critical mass that you matter to these companies to be able to get the right licenses.
Ben Scrivens 34:57
Yeah, definitely. And honestly, my intention was always to try to license it even from the beginning but like you said, like you have to tow that line, and I knew, in the back of my head, I always thought, you know, if my kids ever asked me what I do for a living, you know, while they’re younger, I want to be able to look them in the eye and tell them, honestly what I do and have it not be something where I’m like, Well, you know, daddy sells t-shirts for movies that he doesn’t have the rights to.
Angela Giovine 35:20
Ben Scrivens 35:21
So, that was not to say that was the only driving factor, but it definitely was something in the back of my mind like, I want an honest company.
Angela Giovine 35:27
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Ben Scrivens 35:28
An upstanding, you know, a company and
Angela Giovine 35:30
Will be proud of it?
Ben Scrivens 35:31
Yeah, exactly. But like you said it, you know, it takes little while to try to get up to that point.
Angela Giovine 35:36
Tell me about a time where you decided to take a big risk and did it pay off? Or was it a learning experience?
Ben Scrivens 35:44
Aside from quitting my full time job, which, obviously it worked out for me at least 11 years or 12 years on now. It’s interesting, I’ve always tried to mitigate my risks. I think in some ways, I’m a conservative person when it comes to that type of thing, but I always try to cover my bases when I take a risk, but I know the early days when I was really trying to get into stores like Hot Topic what I thought at the time that was my, I guess sort of next level or meal ticket or whatever you want to call it
Angela Giovine 36:14
Legitimizes you, elevates you, right.
Ben Scrivens 36:16
Exactly, right. And this was 2005. And I had contacted them because they were selling actually a t-shirt in their stores that was, ripped off of one of our t shirts.
Angela Giovine 36:26
That was my next question, so someone did copycat you okay.
Ben Scrivens 36:29
Yes, so one copycat. That’s when I wrote Hot Topic, I literally use the contact form on their website, not thinking I would get a response, and said, Hey, you’re selling a t shirt that looks a lot like this one that we sell, and Oh, and by the way, do you want to buy some of our t-shirts, and within two hours, I got a response. We struck up this conversation and it was about a week later it was on November 1st, it was the day after Halloween, I’ll never forget it, I was driving home and I got a call from my boss and he’s like, you just got a fax here, from Hot Topic they just ordered 2000 t-shirts. I’m like Uh what? And you know, here’s the thing, you know, I’m sure you know, but companies like that they don’t pay you upfront, you know, they pay 60 or 90 days later, right? And it was this
Angela Giovine 37:12
How am I going to afford 2000 units, basically?
Ben Scrivens 37:15
Yeah, I turned around, I got the paperwork, I got home and I sat there with my wife, and I was like, how are we going to do this? Because they sent me a 60 page manual of how to fill their orders. I mean, things were, you know, junior companies handle this all everyday, this is me out of my house. I didn’t know how the heck I was going to be able to do this.
Angela Giovine 37:34
So you jumped off the cliff, and you were building the parachute on the way down basically?
Ben Scrivens 37:39
It’s totally, I had to buy all the inventory upfront I printed the shirts with my printer who I was using somebody in town at the time, out of the garage. We had to fold them to a certain specification, my boss let me use their loading dock in the weekend to build the pallets and all these things. It was and by the way, you know they needed these shirts in two weeks. You know, it wasn’t saying they were I had three months to fill the order.
Angela Giovine 37:42
Ben Scrivens 38:02
So it was such a jumping off point. I mean, my wife and my mother drove four hours to buy blank shirts because we didn’t want to spend the money on shipping because we needed to save all the money we could. The following year, you know, ordering, they ordered 8000 of those, What Would Jason Do shirts, we did that again, and then they ordered more. And we ended up hiring a company to take care for us. Oh, and not to mention, I got my check from them, on December 31st, It was a $12,000 check. And I’d never that was the most money I’ve ever seen in the check in my life. And it was made up of Fright Rags, and I ran down to my bank, and I said I need to I need to deposit this today. I forgot exactly why, but I wanted to get it in before the end of the year, I don’t know it’s the acount maybe for that.
Angela Giovine 38:47
Yeah, yeah, tax purposes.
Ben Scrivens 38:49
Yeah. So my the person that the teller said well, We don’t have a bank account under Fright Rags. I said, No, this is my-
Angela Giovine 38:57
you like I’m Fright Rags.
Ben Scrivens 38:59
Yeah, exactly.They’re like, well, don’t you have a DBA? I’m like, what is a DBA? Now mind you this is two years after I started the company, and they’re like, well, you have to go to the doing business Ad. I said but where’d you get that? And they’re like the County clerk. I’m like, Where is that?
Angela Giovine 39:12
You’re like it’s December 31st.
Ben Scrivens 39:15
I ran down town, sat in line, got spent 30 bucks, filled out a DBA, ran back to the bank, they put it on my account, and I was able to deposit the check. It was crazy. In time.
Angela Giovine 39:27
This is what you do, you figure it out as you go. So from that day, have you had many other copycats? Is that an ongoing issue for you?
Ben Scrivens 39:37
Unfortunately, it is a rampant issue especially again, like we discussed before how easy it is to get into e commerce these days. One of the worst ones and usually happens closer to Halloween, we get a lot of sites popping up with our designs, and it actually nowadays happens pretty much every day. In fact, I just sent one of our team members a link this morning to a site that was selling some copycated stuff, as of late last year, was in September or October. There was a website that was actually they must have had some code to skim our website because it was all the text in the products that we had. In fact, we would put one up a product up and two hours later it was on their site. So
Angela Giovine 40: 13
It was like feeding it. They’re just mirroring your site, somehow.
Ben Scrivens 40:17
And unfor- yeah, exactly and they were on Shopify too, and unfortunately Shopify they were just like Well send us to take down notice and we did, but then those shirts would go back up. And that company was essentially a false company so all their information was not like their contact information wasn’t real.
Angela Giovine 40: 31
Hard to catch them.
Ben Scrivens 40:32
Right, and they’re like well you have to send them a court order. I’m like, I can’t send anybody a court order if they don’t exist.
Angela Giovine 40: 38
Ben Scrivens 40:39
So it’s a weird thing and we were on Shopify for a long time. I mean I would pester them with emails and phone calls and these take down notices until it took like 3 months for the site to get finally shutdown completely. And it was ridiculous because they had no legal like stand on and we were the ones with the burden of proof on our hands.
Angela Giovine 40: 58
Ben Scrivens 40:58
And I was really frustrated. But we deal with that pretty much in a daily basis but in most cases we can get things taken out pretty quickly.
Angela Giovine 41:05
So you’re still on Shopify?
Ben Scrivens 41:07
We are, that’s definitely put a little bit of a vamper on my feelings for them, because I just didn’t feel heard. I felt like I was getting the run around, and I’m like Listen i’m on your plus program I pay a lot of money a month to be on your platform, please like do me a solid here
Angela Giovine 41:22
Ben Scrivens 41:23
listen to me as a person.
Angela Giovine 41:22
watchful property, yeah.
Ben Scrivens 41:26
Exactly, so it is frustrating but we’ll see if it happens again and we’ll just have to figure out what to do.
Angela Giovine 41:32
As you become a team of seven, I imagine you’re responsibilities day to day has changed. Is delegation hard for you? And what is day to day like for you now as the leader of your business?
Ben Scrivens 41:44
Yeah, I would in some ways delegation is hard. I’m always just figure out, I do it myself. You know like, Oh I got to email that person, or that person needs a design sent to them for approval, I’ll just take care of it. And then I realize that I’m saying yes to all these little little things and that be a lot of things and it take me away from sort of the higher level thinking that that I want to do. And it’s not that the people on my team don’t want to do the things I’m asking not not at all, I’m just I’m my own were standing me when it comes to those things.
Angela Giovine 42:14
You’re like I can do this faster, quicker just get it done.
Ben Scrivens 42:17
Right, and I do I do hold true to the fact that if someone can do it you know 70% as good as you can give it to them, so on the flip side of things, I do my best to try to be like you know what, you do this, you figure it out, and then if you fail, it’s okay. Like it’s not the end of the world for you. So just just go out, go learn it or try if you messed up or sometimes I’ll see things from like errrmmm… I would have done that differently but I not going to jump in here because done, it’s okay. I got to I got to be okay with things not being perfect, I mean I’m not perfect but I’m just saying like you know, you have a vision in your head and
Angela Giovine 42:52
Ben Scrivens 42:52
someone doesn’t execute it the way you see it. You kind of just want to jump in there but I get to stop myself. So in general, I try to, you know, I’m still very much you know I look at every design that comes through. So we use a lot of artist, I don’t do the art anymore. I stop doing that years and years ago. I got to a point where I needed to run the business. And it was never I never started this for my own art, I started it for the idea, right? So
Angela Giovine 43:16
Ben Scrivens 43:16
I always look at hiring the best people for the job. So there’s I am not the best artist. I would much rather, I hire people that are way better and more talented than I am. So even though we have a production manager, who takes care of all the nitty gritty of the approvals with the studios and things, I look at every design and I’ll say Yup that’s great send it for approval, or I’ll be like Uh change this, change this, let’s try to do something different. So I’m sort of the first person to go to that can make any of those changes, and then the studio obviously has to agree to it or not and we have to make any changes they need to make. So I deal with a lot of that, I’m still more focused on the marketing aspect of things, I’m very interested in just how we communicate with customers, and connect with them, And of course just sort of the higher level stuff trying to figure out where were going to next, what’s our next moves, what kind of categories we can get into otherwise and just things like that.
Angela Giovine 44:10
Do you view your marketing almost as a community so to speak? Like is there a place online where the Fright Rags community interacts with each other?
Ben Scrivens 44:20
That’s interesting, not one specific group. I mean we obviously we have a facebook page where people write and then course instagram so in in the most of the regular social media channels, you know, we have people that are always tagging us and stuff and promoting our products and shouting out to us . So it’s pretty much interacting in on those platforms is where we we reconnect the most.
Angela Giovine 44:46
We’ve talked a lot about you know, growth and not growing for growth’s sake but being personally gratifying for you, do you have a vision for the business? If do you have a vision a 10 year plan, a 5 year plan? How do you plan for the future for the business?
Ben Scrivens 45:01
Well I I always thought about where I want to be in you know 5 10 15 20 years and the one thing that I will say is I just wanted sustain what were doing and whether that means we have to grow a few percent a year to like maintain that sort of status quo is okay with me, I just I for me personally, I would love to see a place in 10 maybe 15 years where I can maybe step aside a little bit more, and let somebody else kind of manage things, that would be where I’d like to see it. But I don’t have a specific vision of of where we’ll be at as much as it is just maintaining what were doing. If I can keep, listen if I can keep this business going the way it’s going for the next say 15 20 years, and be able to, not necessarily retire fully but step down or step aside so that I can kind of dabble in it if I want to.
Angela Giovine 46:05
Ben Scrivens 46:05
But yeah, it’s running itself with other people involved, I think that to me would be successful because I do feel like if I’m not there to helm the sheep, I don’t know where it would go right now. It’s not- again it’s nothing that says nothing against the people I have
Angela Giovine 46:25
Right, you are the leader, sure.
Ben Scrivens 46:27
but I’m the leader and and and I love that job and I’m grateful for it. And I certainly have not lost any passion for that job because you learn in every single day and that’s what keeps me going, but I would love to see it I would love to see the ability sort of, step away from that and still have the business run because I don’t want it for me to step away and then have 6 people or more at that point out of the job or not knowing what their doing.
Angela Giovine 46:52
Right, right. Now you’ve, your business been around long enough that you seen recession, we happen to be talking right now in the middle of the Covid crisis, have this types of economic downturns affected your business?
Ben Scrivens 47:08
I would have to say, so far in a knock on word, no. I remember back in 2008, that recession that’s shortly after I quit my job. And I remember watching the news, I was going to pick up my daughter at my parents house they were watching her while my wife and I work and I remember watching news and they’re like talk about recession recession, I was like Oh my god I just quit my job and here I am in the middle of this, you know huge recession, what’s going to happen to me? And nothing evers affected the business. And speaking of you know the Covid crisis that we’re going through now, I worried the same thing and I thought Oh god you know just a month ago, or a month and a half ago, I thought What are we going to do? And our business is up right now. I mean it’s it’s we’re up 20%
Angela Giovine 47:53
People are bored.
Ben Scrivens 47:54
from last year.
Angela Giovine 47:55
Ben Scrivens 47:56
Exactly. And I also think you know our shirts are on the higher price than, you know they’re 20 dollars so they’re not cheap, I mean they’re not, you know, like some crazy 150 dollars t-shirt but
Angela Giovine 48:07
You’re not talking about a luxury iterm.
Ben Scrivens 48:09
Right. It’s an affordable luxury and I think because we operate in the space we do, we sell memories, we’re selling nostalgia. That is what we style, it’s in the form of t-shirt, it’s in the form of factor, a figure or something, but it’s tapping into that moment where I had a four years old watching Holloween and all the moments that these people have and it’s this communal experience, so that’s a form of escape as in and it gives people hope. Weirdly to say because it’s horror related but it is truly a happy nest, for us.
Angela Giovine 48:42
Ben Scrivens 48:44
Angela Giovine 48:44
Ben Scrivens 48:45
You know I’m sitting in room right now sorrounded by posters of of movies that I love growing up and it is really, it makes me happy and it brings joy so, I think that that doesn’t go away. You always want to have joy in your life. I mean you need things like food and course toilet paper as you’ve seen, but I think you know as you meet those needs, you want to have something to look forward to and something to make give you comfort and I think we offer that.
Angela Giovine 49:14
I could totally see that. So have there been other times not related to economic cycles that have put stress on to your business?
Ben Scrivens 49:24
Hmm… That’s interesting I I think a lot of the times that there’s been stress in the business that’s been self induced, on my part because I I’m always coming with ideas and I’m always sort of throwing myself and and by that everybody else into the fire.
Angela Giovine 49:39
Right, overloading yourself?
Ben Scrivens 49:41
Yeah, remember that thing I said we were going to do? Now, were going to do this. Or hey I got this great idea like I’ll sit down with everybody and say Hey I got this idea and everyone just kind of looks and goes Oh boy here he goes again.
Angela Giovine 49:49
Yup, yeah my employees do that too.
Ben Scrivens 49:52
And so, its I think
Angela Giovine 49:55
You’re starting a podcast Angela? Really?
Ben Scrivens 49:57
It’s exactly it, you know, and I think for me, I have waffled back and forth of the last several years about this wholesale thing about selling not just direct to consumer, but in stores and things and about a year, a little over a year ago, I was really pushing it to a point where I think I was stressing myself up but also a few people on my team where we are trying to figure this out because we are really trying to kind of fit a square peg in a round hole type of situation, and I just said you know what? I don’t, this is too much work. I don’t really
Angela Giovine 50:30
What were the expectations you were trying to meet that didn’t work for you business?
Ben Scrivens 50:36
So I felt that we could grow like I can, I was still not trying for growth for growth sake but I thought what if we try to get into these stores and other online stores even, so that we could have our products like we could playball set to the front, we could be direct consumer and focus on what we’re good at, but also, take these other designs and sell them to the other places and we could have 2 channels running where it’s a you know my mind in a perfect world it was, we’re selling retail to the people that want that stuff and it’s different designs, we’re not competing with ourselves. And it’s kind of got this 2 cylinders running and we don’t need the retail business but it helps support what we’re doing in the direct consumer business. And so my expectation was to have both channels running smoothly and simultaneously and I realized quickly that that was almost impossible because the retail side deals with so much more complexity with how they fill orders and all these other, honestly headaches? That
Angela Giovine 51:36
Headaches, the margin gets shrunk. There’s a million diffent – yeah.
Ben Scrivens 51:40
And and I started just just looking at it going what what the heck am I doing?
Angela Giovine 51:45
Ben Scrivens 51:46
Why am I what what’s the what’s the reason? Like where does this get me in the end? And I thought you know what? Not worth it. It’s cool, like I don’t really need it like again, it we did some Hot Topics stuff in the fall and we were able to have a company take care of it completely kind of turnkey for us. Our printer is here in town, but I don’t seek those out anymore. If yeah, they’re interested in some of the designs and titles we have, Hey if you want to buy you know, few hundred or thousand or whatever of them, great, we’ll sell them to you but I’m not going to be begging from business and putting together all these things try to pitch people, no I don’t need it. It’s okay.
Angela Giovine 52:23
I mean, your positioned because the whole world is going direct to consumers so you’re able to kind of ride out the retail wholesale space while it still exists, but you’re positioned, I mean you have the quote unquote blue waters and and the niche community and they know who you are, and you have the product. So you kind of have the supply and the demand.
Ben Scrivens 52:45
Yeah, that and and you’re right and I think at some times I just have to remind myself of that, you know. I’ve gotten better like I said since last year I’ve gotten better just being okay with saying No were good, we’re okay with, that you know.
Angela Giovine 52:58
Sure. It’s a really hard thing to do because when you’re when you are a small business owner, when you are an entrepreneur, you are an entrepreneur because your brain is built a certain way and it is in your nature like you said yor grew up, writing story ideas as a child for movies and and books. This is something that we, have all done if most of us who are small business owners this is how we work so it’s hard to turn that off sometimes and it’s hard to know which thing is a good a good idea to follow and which one we should be a little bit more disciplined and not focus on.
Ben Scrivens 53:30
Absolutely, your you know you hit the nail right on the head. Because, I am wired like that just like you said entrepreneurs are and you know yeah we’re always going to try things and some things might work and some things might not work and that’s okay. But as long as we’re doing it in our little sandbox, and I think that’s one of the reasons why I think about not growing or taking on an investment capital or or trying to get this to next proverbial next level. It’s like Wow man adult is really cool playground, and I can just go and play in the sandbox or swing or go down the slide, and maybe you know maybe I’ll put in a new thing to ride on or climb on, but like this is just really fun for us
Angela Giovine 54:12
It’s your world, you built it.
Ben Scrivens 54:13
Yeah, exactly. It’s my world and honestly, I’m perfectly happy living in my own world and if I can keep that going in my own bubble, then that’s grea- and I and I understand it takes innovation and you know all these other things to do that you know which certainly, the last thing we do is rest on our laurels. You know we’re only as good as the last thing we put out so,
Angela Giovine 54:34
Ben Scrivens 54:34
we we never ever take what we have for granted in thinking that you set it, forget it but that’s what keeps me going is is thinking of new things and I just don’t need any any other like headaches. I have enough to work with, this is good.
Angela Giovine 54:50
Right, right. And that’s such a a blessing sometimes to just know know those parameters for yourself then. Finish this sentence, I would not be standing here today if not for blank.
Ben Scrivens 55:04
My immediate thought is to say, my wife. And I think you know we’ve been together now for, we’ve been married 16 years but we’ve been together actually 25 years. we were together when I was a senior highschool, and she was a freshman in college, she was my bestfriend, and the thing is my parents have always supported me in whatever I wanted to do. They’ve been amazing people by my side and they’ve always supported my business, but my wife has been someone who forced me to sort of get my stuff together and grow up, you know. As I was floundering in my late teens and early 20s, you know I think I I really if I, if I pictured myself now, without having her, I don’t know if I would have gotten to this point with without her. I think, you know, she has just been that sort of rock by my side and obviously my kids, you know adding additional dimension to my life but just I don’t think I could have gotten to this point in my life had I not her that had her a long for the journey.
Angela Giovine 56:11
Is she in the business?
Ben Scrivens 56:13
No, she’s actually, she’s a she’s much smarter, she’s a research scientist. So she has the science brain, she’s actually working on a medicine and vaccines and things so she, that’s her world. She’s about research scientist. So we definitely I mean she’s spiritistic and we both, she’s not into horror per say but loves Halloween like the holiday so you know we’re always decking at the house and were always into it around the Halloween all parties and stuff. She won’t sit here and watch you know Friday the 13th with me, she did couldn’t care less about watching those things, but she’s definitely into the sprit of Halloween and things like that so that’s good.
Angela Giovine 56:53
Sounds like she’s been of a an accountability coach for you, in your life in general. Do you talk to her about your business?
Ben Scrivens 57:03
I do, I mean it’s interesting, like we obviously we talk about our work and other things and she obviously is my shoulder to sort of lean on, you know and I kind of vent my frustrations with her and there’s definitely times and it’s interesting now that she’s a manger now. She’s been a manager for the last I think 3 or 4 years. And so it’s interesting because we can sort of commiserate with each other, now like I think she sees a little bit more of what I work with and deal with and of course I can commiserate with her because she’s the manager of people, so when she’ll say something about what a like, Yeah, I know how that goes, you know like
Angela Giovine 57:37
Ben Scrivens 57:37
and again, we you know we both have great people who we work with but you know it’s fun to sort of, we were kind of speaking the same language. I just think in some ways she is my, she’s my sounding board. She’s my, you know confidant and I can just talk to her and just you know even if it’s just venting and frustrating, not that she has the answers but she can just be there to listen as an impartial party. And also I think just love me unconditionally no matter what happens, you know, whether the business was dally up or whether it was successful, it it doesn’t matter. She loves me for me, it’s not it’s not have anything to do with with this business. And it helped ground me in in many ways.
Angela Giovine 58:16
What’s one piece of advice that you would give your 18 year old self?
Ben Scrivens 58:21
I would say, trust yourself. I think in some ways I’ve always kind of gone through the beat of my own drummer. I’ve always kind of just done things no matter what, like in the phase of whatever, but certainly there were plenty of times when I was younger that I flounder, like didn’t I didn’t think I was meeting ecpectations you know. I quit college after the first year to work and then I end up going back couple year later to finish up my degree. I actually went back as a freshman when I should have been graduating on my for 4 years. I think I would just, I I didn’t know what I was doing even when I was graduating college. I remember sitting with my now, wife back then girlfriend, crying because I just didn’t know and have the confidence. I didn’t know what I was going to do next and I just wasn’t sure where things are going to take me. And I think if I could go back and just say Listen, just trust yourself. Just go with it even when it’s hard, just trust that you you will get through it somehow no matter what.
Angela Giovine 59:24
Ben, thank you so much for your time, this has been fantastic. It’s been a pleasure, and I look forward to checking out more from Fright Rags.
Ben Scrivens 59:34
Well thank you so much. I really appreciate you having me on here.
Angela Giovine 59:36
One more shoutout again to today’s sponsor Click Funnels. Make sure you go get yourself that offer. It is amazing. Head to extraordinary small business dot com backslash Click Funnels.
Angela Giovine 59:53
Thanks for listening. For more information about our show and our company, head to extra ordinary small business dot com. And don’t forget to follow us on Facebook or Instagram. We would be so grateful, If you could help us reach more listeners. All you have to do, is go to iTunes or wherever you get your podcast and rate, review and subscribe. It would mean the world to us. Ratings, reviews, and subscribes are how iTunes decides which podcasts are worth sharing. Help us continue to bring these stories of extraordinary small business owners to the world. By rating, reviewing and subscribing, you’re helping our small business. It’s free and it takes just a minute. Thanks!