The Billboard Family: Wearing Your Heart on Their Sleeves

billboard familyGive the Martins credit for being resourceful -- their business plan requires very little overhead or office space, new clothes every day, and the entire family is involved, even the unborn baby, due in December. It's as simple as this: All four members of the self-titled "Billboard Family" will wear a T-shirt with your message and logo on it for the entire day -- for a price.

"It's the perfect family business," says father Carl Martin. "We love spending time with our kids, and we always go out together." They live in St. Louis, Mo., and he says the four of them wearing the same T-shirt draws a lot of attention. "The kids are thrilled they get to help," Martin adds. "Originally it was just going to be my wife and I, but they wanted to be included. They wake up every morning and say, whose shirts are we wearing today?"

The fledgling business, with a website that went live just last week, is also a creative way for them to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps without having to rely on the government. Several years ago, Martin left his job as a service technician with Hyundai to start a metal recycling business. But when the bottom dropped out of the platinum market, the family's income plummeted. Martin had just received his computer science degree in application development when the idea for the Billboard Family struck.

Inspiration from elsewhere

He admits the concept did not originate with him. It probably began with Jason Sadler of in Florida, who first began offering advertising on his chest. His business was so successful that now he has other shirt wearers working for him in different parts of the country. It was then picked up by Jenae Plymale, of who got some media attention by offering to post videos of herself in your shirt for $75 per day, but she seems to have dropped the ball on her snazzy website.

Enter the Martins, who believe their niche is to publicize the more family-oriented products that wouldn't go over so well emblazoned on the chest of a single Generation Y guy.Carl is 32, Amy is 26, son Layne is 4 and daughter Kaitlin is 3. Not only will all four-and-a-half of them (Amy is sort of a two-fer since she's six months pregnant) wear the logo emblazoned on the T-shirts you send them, but they'll blog about you, they'll tweet about you, they'll post about you on Facebook... hey, they'll even make videos of themselves wearing your shirts, and they'll post those too. They have more than 5,400 followers, and the number is growing every day.

You might think a family with teenage kids who are more into social networking and have more outreach might be a little more effective than a family with youngsters, but Carl is quick to point out that there are very few teenagers who would be caught dead wearing the same shirt as their mom and dad all day. Plus, small children are innocent, and less likely to do something intentionally embarrassing while wearing client's shirt.

Is exploitation an issue?

The parents have caught a bit of flack for "exploiting" their young children -- for using them as billboards. In defense, Martin says, "Look, they're going to be wearing shirts anyway, many of them with logos. My kids are just getting paid for it. If your kids are wearing Nike shirts for free, are they being exploited?"

Martin also points out that there is quite a bit of community service involved. They pick a charity of the month that gets a tag on their daily videos and mention on their blogs and websites. Also, one of the activities they pursue that gets the family out into the community is charity work. "I like to teach the kids that they need to be giving back," says Martin. "Charity begins at home."

Those who want to take advantage of the Martins' for-profit services find an interesting scale -- it starts at $2 per day on Jan. 1, and goes up $2 every day after that. They're currently giving half-price deals on the available days left in 2010, however, and there's a handy calendar on the Family Billboard website that tells you what you'll pay.

Dec. 31, of course, is the most expensive day of the year, but in 2010 it's also the most valuable. That's Amy's due date. Imagine all the excitement and media attention when little Alex is born. Yes, on the last day of the year, you could have your logo on four T-shirts and a onesie, for the bargain rate of $304. Who could resist?

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