As 2020 dawned and “coronavirus” was just a word in international news briefs, Stacie Francombe was working in the wedding industry, helping to market tuxedos. Now the Sandy Springs resident is wrapping up the year as CEO of her own business, renting celebratory yard signs to pandemic-era partiers, which in a few months has expanded to 11 states.

Call it a sign of the times. Or more specifically, Sign Greeters.

Stacie Francombe, founder and CEO of Sign Greeters. (Special)

“Like millions of Americans, I was laid off at the beginning of the pandemic, unfortunately, from my corporate-world job,” Francombe said in a phone interview. In search of a Plan B, she relied on an entrepreneurial background to find a timely opportunity.

“I really wanted to do something that was really going to help people like myself who had recently been laid off, along with helping people who were stuck at home,” she said.

She hit upon the pandemic trend of yard signs, a popular way for people to express themselves in the era of social distancing. Such signs have popped up everywhere, from thank-yous to healthcare workers outside hospitals, to congratulations for Class of 2020 seniors celebrating via car parades, to the “Everything Will Be OK” artist fundraiser based on an iconic Dunwoody mural.

The sign business was a fit for Francombe’s background in marketing and events. A former CNN producer and writer, she had started her own production company, then moved into the wedding industry, where she started a national TV show and website for brides. In recent years, she also ran the Maccabi Games sporting event at Dunwoody’s Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta.

Francombe had a connection in the sign distribution business, and partnered with Ivonne Simon, a corporate recruiter in Coral Springs, Florida and a friend of 28 years. And so was born Sign Greeters, which rents and arranges customized yard-sign displays for holidays, birthdays and other celebrations.

Francombe and Simon started the business this spring in their respective neighborhoods, working at first by word of mouth. Francombe says the business quickly proved it could meet her original goals: the signs pleased customers and offered work to some people she knew who were laid off or furloughed, like wedding planners and airline flight attendants.

But the pair had bigger plans for the business: licensing it to other entrepreneurs nationwide, who get the signs and marketing helping. The Sign Greeters website, with its licensing offer, launched on June 11. As of late October, Francombe said, the company had 44 licensees across the country, including in Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. And more were in the process of joining.

Sign Greeters lets customers choose from an inventory of signs representing letters of the alphabet and various graphics, which the company staff will set up and arrange to make messages and displays. With longer notice, customers can order graphics from commercial brands — recent examples include college football team logos and Disney’s “Frozen” movies. Sign packages start at $110, with $75 for each extra night of display.

A publicity photo of a Sign Greeters birthday display. (Special)

The company has set up signs for birthdays, marriage proposals, and every holiday since June. One customer even ordered a Labor Day sign. Francombe said the socially distanced signs are overlapping with other trends, like the growth in home renovations.

“There’s definitely a boom. Everybody’s yard is decorated right now,” she said. “It’s just like how people are redoing their homes right now… Because we’re stuck at home. We want to make it nice.”

The vast majority of customers ask for the signs to be set up facing the street, not their own home. Francombe said she thinks a factor is that people want to take a social-media-worthy souvenir photo of the sign in front of their home. The placement also has the effect of make the sign “speak” to neighbors and passers-by, inviting them to join in the celebration from afar and enjoy the colorful display.

“It just puts a big smile on everybody’s face when they see the signs,” said Francombe. And, aside from a stray, grumpy homeowners association, the signs have yet to run afoul of any local signage rules, she said.

While it remains to be seen whether the yard-sign trend will outlive the pandemic that inspired it, Francombe is confident that she’s found the way to be her own boss. She figures that yard signs will become a celebratory standard, like greeting cards used to be.

“I think I’m done with corporate America,” she said. “…I know this business is going to stand the test of time because the truth of the matter is, nothing is ever really going to go back to normal when it comes to events and celebrations.”

For more information about Sign Greeters, see signgreeters.com.