Brandy McLain

Co-Founder of Modern House Numbers

Brandy is an urban planner and site designer with experience at private & non-profit organizations and has been responsible for land development and regional visioning projects. She holds a Bachelor of Architecture and Master in Urban Planning from the University of Arizona. Brandy is passionate about community involvement, anything handmade and holds fond memories of learning to sew at age five.

Together with her husband Rick, they founded Modern House Numbers in 2008 after completing a renovation of their own home in Tucson, Arizona. They wanted to install some modern address numbers as the final touch on the exterior, and couldn’t find anything they liked. With their experience in architecture and construction, they decided to make their own.

The numbers were everything they had envisioned: stylish, modern and durable. After they installed them, friends, family and total strangers kept knocking on their door to ask about their new numbers. They realized very quickly that other people wanted a modern aesthetic for their own homes too. They jumped at the opportunity to make it easy for folks to create their own head-turning, modern curb appeal.

All these years later, Brandy & Rick are proud that every modern number, letter and address plaque they make is still hand-crafted by their talented team in Tucson, Arizona.

What is your typical day, and how do you make it productive?

One of the great things about managing the daily operations at Modern House Numbers is that no two days at the office are alike. This means a lot of multitasking! It keeps things interesting for us as each day has a mix of design work, troubleshooting, coordinating with vendors, and working closely with our team to execute all of the various tasks required to fill orders. To keep ourselves productive and efficient, we have to be very organized. We have a daily schedule where our operational teams have specific daily tasks assigned to support our weekly production schedule. Paramount to each day is taking great care of our customers; that means a lot of email and phone calls, and being hyper-focused on quality control.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Teamwork! We’re creative problem-solvers at heart. Our company was born from a challenge that we faced during our own home renovation; we couldn’t find any modern house numbers that we loved. Instead of giving up, or settling for something lackluster, we opted to tackle the challenge ourselves, and through trial and error, came up with our own creative solution. That’s symbolic for how we handle most things. We work with our team to identify the challenge, brainstorm the possible solutions, and let nothing hold us back. We are quick to test and experiment so we can evaluate, improve, and move quickly to a smart solution.

We always include our team in our process. We don’t work in a vacuum. The more ideas, the stronger and more diverse the solutions! Our annual staff retreat always generates a long list of incredible ideas. It’s better than anything we could ever come up with on our own.

What’s one trend that excites you?

Seeing homeowners express their personal style, rather than following a trending architectural style. This means we’re seeing folks put our modern numbers on their homes, regardless if their house is traditional, conventional, contemporary, or rustic. It’s really exciting to see when a homeowner embraces their love of modern details and chooses to express that on the outside of their home. It’s fulfilling to see people feeling empowered!

Generally, we’re not looking for trends to inspire our collection. We have chosen our fonts and finishes to look great on any type of architecture, and to last for years to come. We focus on quality and time-honored classics that are always in style. This approach has served us well over the years as we’ve watched design trends come and go.

What is one habit that helps you be productive?

Passion! Regardless of the task at hand, we wake up every day and pour our passion and drive into everything we do. Our passion can be relentless at times. At Modern House Numbers, our excitement and dedication to our work is contagious. Our team embodies this enthusiasm, and we know our customers can feel it too

What advice would you give your younger self?

If I could go back and chat with my younger self, I would encourage a process to get the great idea to the starting line as quickly as possible. When just starting out, it’s easy to get caught up in the worry of what may or may not happen. If you’ve done your homework, don’t let other people talk you out of your ideas! This can result in some business paralysis. Once you launch, you can adapt, refine, adjust, learn, and move forward. This is the nature of entrepreneurship and growth. If you worry too much about all the possible outcomes before you’ve begun, you delay your dream. Launching is the hardest and most important part.

Tell us something you believe almost nobody agrees with you.

I hear a lot of folks say “Work smarter, not harder.” I understand the sentiment, but I believe that our success is 100% based on hard work. We also surround ourselves with people who are enthusiastic, curious, and willing to work as hard as we do. You don’t need a special talent, degree, or title to be successful. We believe the path to success is paved with passion, drive, and a great team. This approach can be exhausting at times, but we believe that the effort you exert is directly proportional to success. Sometimes a focus on efficiency alone can become counterproductive to the best outcomes.

What is the one thing you repeatedly do and recommend everyone else do?

Foster strong relationships. From our vendors to our staff, we are always working to encourage open communication to build and earn trust. Over time, these efforts result in meaningful, long-term connections with innumerable benefits. We could not have achieved this level of success or longevity without all the individuals that make up our Modern House Numbers galaxy. We don’t take anyone for granted.

When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, what do you do?

Go for a hike! Rick and I always found that getting outside with some fresh air is the fastest way to refresh and reset. Fortunately, Tucson has many great trails, outdoor areas, and perfect weather; it makes escaping pretty easy. After an hour or so you’re refocused, collected, and ready to tackle the next challenge.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business or advance in your career?

One strategy that has resulted in growth is our ability to take risks. To us, a risk often looks like an opportunity! This can look like jumping in and testing a new idea, or stepping away from something that is no longer serving us. We don’t often rest on our laurels. We’re always looking for ways to improve and better serve our customers. We enjoy pushing ourselves. This means a willingness to always step outside of the comfort zone.

What is one failure in your career, how did you overcome it, and what lessons did you take away from it?

Not trusting ourselves completely was our first entrepreneurial failure. When you’re first starting out, it’s easy (and normal) for doubt to creep in. When we valued the thoughts and opinions of others before our own, it delayed us moving ahead to realize our dream. It’s one thing to solicit advice, but it’s another to treat advice as fact. We have learned to hone and trust our gut, and we rarely listen to naysayers. We’ve realized that our willingness to try things in the face of the various possible outcomes is an incredible strength. We do our homework, and then we go for it.

What is one business idea you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Goods that blur the line between completely handmade and factory produced are on the rise! We believe that this will increase tremendously over the next decade. More than ever, consumers are interested in knowing where and how their possessions are made, and are investing in goods that have a story or mission. Advances in technology are reducing the barriers to entry for entrepreneurs interested in making and selling consumer goods. We recommend focusing on business ideas that combine craft and technology, and especially products that you have a personal passion for!

What is one piece of software that helps you be productive? How do you use it?

One of our favorite tools that helps channel our passion into action is ‘ClickUp’. This is a project planning tool that helps us identify priorities, assign tasks, timelines, and resources. We use it as a calendar, as a to-do list, and as a strategic planning tool. Our entire team uses it, and it’s been beneficial to our organization and productivity. A bonus that we’ve seen as a result of implementing ClickUp is a significant reduction in internal email, which we could all use less of.

What is the best $100 you recently spent?

A donation to a local food bank is the best money I’ve spent recently. Tucson is a close-knit community, and supporting local organizations is a priority. There are a lot of folks hurting right now, and this contribution put food on the table for Tucson families, immediately.

Do you have a favorite book or podcast from which you’ve received much value?

The book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. This is a fascinating book that delves into the often overlooked factors that lead to extraordinary success. We especially love the message that one does not have to be a genius to achieve greatness. It’s more often the environment or the people around you that contribute to achievement. “No one—not rock stars, not professional athletes, not software billionaires, and not even geniuses—ever makes it alone.” — Malcolm Gladwell.

What’s a movie or series you recently enjoyed and why?

Like lots of people, I fell in love with Ted Lasso. The light-hearted series is a great way to cap the workday and unwind. Ted’s unwavering optimism is a great example to all of us and coaching a diverse team of athletes is not unlike managing a group of talented employees.

Key learnings:

  • Jump in! If you’re thinking about starting a business, trust your gut, do your homework, and go for it.
  • Build meaningful relationships. The people you surround yourself with are just as important as your business plan.
  • Be passionate! Passion and hard work are contagious and motivating.
  • “Start how you want to finish.” It’s easy to get distracted from your goals. Have clear core values and a sense of purpose.
  • Risks are necessary for growth. Don’t let short-term successes keep you from stepping outside your comfort zone.