Photo credit. Joseph DiPalma-Fragetta of Walking Creative
Despite how versatile a smartphone is and all the ways it enhances our lives, very few people actually like to talk on the phone anymore. “Back when my husband and I were running our businesses, computers weren’t as commonplace as they are now - everything was done on the phone,” recalls Billie Jean “BJ” Strahan, owner of SnapIt Boards and the live voice behind the customer service line. BJ has been a customer service pro since she was a child. Her “roll up her sleeves,” “whatever it takes” approach to business evolved from odd jobs as a child and teenager, such as hauling bricks, delivering flowers, babysitting and helping in her grandfather’s Ford dealership. "As a young mother with three small children at home, I had a 50 foot cord added to our phone so I could manage calls for our family business and chase children. The computer, while it’s certainly enhanced the way we do business in many ways, just isn’t as personal as having a conversation on the phone," BJ says.
BJ flips through her notebook where she tracks the calls she takes from SnapIt Boards customers and recalls a couple of recent calls that really touched her. Last year she chatted with a New York City nurse on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic and she felt how weary the nurse was from navigating such a fast spreading and unpredictable illness.
Recently, BJ took a call from a young stay-at-home mom from Houston who makes quilts and she was so excited her husband encouraged her to buy the boards she wanted despite how tight money had been for them. BJ helped her get the best discounts to stretch their budget and she just sensed how grateful the young woman was, “I wanted to give her all the boards right there,” BJ said.
Outside of customer service, as a small business owner, BJ truly wears many hats. When she’s not taking calls, she serves as the company creative director, quality control manager, delivery and logistics manager and operations advisor. Though SnapIt Boards is primarily run by BJ, she isn’t a one-woman shop. It’s truly a family business. She gains support in all areas of the business from her family. Her husband, Bruce Strahan, has been her biggest cheerleader and supporter. Her son, Bill, is the engineer and designer of the original SnapIt Brackets. Her daughter-in-law, Becky runs operations and marketing. Her granddaughter helps with quality control by inspecting new boards when a new shipment arrives. Her close friends and other grandchildren are always asking how the business is going. “They know how important SnapIt Boards is to me. I truly believe our family, our people, and the support they provide are what make this business better than any other in this market,” says BJ.
SnapIt Boards just launched in 2019, but it’s growth has exploded beyond anything BJ could have imagined when the Strahan family brainstormed what the business could be like. In coming up with the name SnapIt Boards, BJ said she threw out some names, her son Bill would suggest words that played off BJ’s words and POOF! SnapIt Boards was born. Though BJ doesn’t recall the words that were involved in that brainstorming session; if there’s anything she’s learned about the Strahan family, it’s that they know how to trust their gut. “That’s been my biggest lesson over the past two years running SnapIt Boards - I need to trust my instincts more,” BJ says. Too many times something doesn’t feel right about a design or an operational decision and BJ admits she’ll overthink it and try to force a decision. She says if it doesn’t feel right, she’s learned to scrap it and start all over.
SnapIt Boards really works very hard to make the board designs as photo realistic as possible. At times, this requires many iterations to ensure the colors are accurate, the textures come through as real as a 2D image can provide and the image absorbs or reflects light appropriately. BJ’s attention to detail translates into photo boards with the absolute highest quality. Even the tiniest little flaw that most people would never see renders the board “rejected” and is either donated or sold in SnapIt Boards' "seconds" line. The design of new boards coupled with the stringent quality control process makes for a rather lengthy 90-day lead time from idea to launch. “We have to be very careful about the types of images we select - we don’t want to choose something that’s too trendy. Ninety days is a long time and some designs date themselves very quickly,” BJ laments.
Inspiration for new designs comes from all sorts of places. BJ keeps up with image trends with staying power in magazines, housing and design websites or Instagram images, and in textures she sees in life. BJ admits she could stare at a distressed rustic fence for an excessive amount of time, just taking in the colors, the weathered-effect and other naturally produced details. BJ’s daughter-in-law, Becky, contributes often in the design brainstorming process. The pair seem to have a keen eye for customer preferences, but BJ’s favorite design is Rustic Rainbow. She knows the colors can be overpowering for some photos, but she loves the warm colors and it’s her favorite to use for her own photographs.
“Even though I was in awe of my Great Aunt’s Houston home of grandeur, my own life is very casual. I enjoy using our boards to photograph things that are fun or have meaning in my life, like antiques that were handed down or a pig with candles,” BJ chuckles. By using the boards to test results, BJ has a better idea of how to help them more when they call.
Given the way the pandemic has isolated so many across the nation, BJ can tell sometimes customers who call just want to talk. They are weary and lonely. SnapIt Boards works very hard to deliver shipments quickly, which is a basic tenant of customer service, but “our approach is to go above and beyond,” BJ says. “Our customers who call know what great support looks like and what bad support looks like. We really want to treat every customer as our top priority and give them any support they need.”