Our Year in the Sign Business
This week we’re celebrating our one–year anniversary in the sign business as the owners of NW Sign Solutions. Boy, time flies when you’re having fun! Is owning a small business fun, though? If being anxious, nervous, stressed, and frustrated on a weekly, or even daily, basis is fun, then yes – we’re having a blast! But I don’t mean to paint a gloomy picture, because, despite the challenges, we are actually overjoyed about the work we’re doing. At the end of the day, that is a satisfying reward. And that’s pretty fun.
Discovering an opportunity
Flashback to three years ago. Marshall was laid off from a company that he’d been with for 17 years. I don’t want to bore you with the details, but after much contemplation, he decided that the corporate life was no longer for him. He wanted something more meaningful and challenging. Business ownership had been something that he daydreamed about, but never had an opportunity to give serious thought. Now was the time. Now or never, to be exact.
Marshall’s research helped him to determine the type, size, location, etc. of the business he was looking for. The biggest hurdle, was getting me on board. We were recent empty nesters and I was settling into the retired mom lifestyle. Thoughtful education and consoling brought me around and I saw that the benefits of business ownership would outweigh the risks. I trusted Marshall’s instincts and became an enthusiastic partner in making this new venture a reality.
By a fluke, we learned about a business in Vancouver that was on the market and it fit Marshall’s criteria. On April 18, 2018, we met with Bev and Joe Goldsby who had owned NW Sign Solutions for 11 years. We felt an instant connection to them. Though they had a potential buyer doing their due diligence, we could see ourselves being the owners of this company. Several weeks later, we learned that the potential buyers had backed out and we jumped on the opportunity. A couple months after that, we were business owners.
How do you run a sign company?
Marshall’s diverse background in the tech industry, in operations particularly, was helpful in preparing him for managing a small business. Still there was a learning curve. Bev and Joe stuck around for a few weeks which helped with the transition. Marshall gratefully acknowledges that, “they were a great help in us getting up to speed and are still a great resource.”
The transition was relatively smooth, but challenges were expected. There was a lot to learn, such as licensing the business, insurance, permit processes and other requirements. Marshall notes that there were “no big surprises, but not having a manual to follow for all of the steps took time.” The biggest challenge was finding, and retaining, skilled employees. “We’re competing with larger companies for workers. You want to reward your good employees, but the limitations of a small business make it a challenge. We just can’t offer the same benefits as a larger company.” This is a critical point for most, if not all, small businesses. There are solutions out there, though, and one of our top goals for year two in the sign business is to find and implement them.
The joy in customer relationships
We were fortunate to inherit an existing, loyal customer base and that we continue to work with. At first, as we were learning, we were busy enough without trying to procure new business. As time went on, we’ve found new business and it’s been great to form new relationships. Important to Marshall is that, “we work with a lot of small, family-owned businesses in a diverse group of industries. It’s especially gratifying when we help small businesses who are just getting established with their branding and signage.” Our tagline is “Getting Your Business Noticed” and when we can help our customers to do that, it’s a win-win!
We often get asked, “What kind of signs do you do most?” Though the majority of our workload leans toward vehicle wraps and graphics, we do have a pretty good balance in the types of jobs we do. Business signs, window graphics, lobby signs, and even boat wraps all add up to some pretty creative branding solutions.
Our first year in the sign business is behind us and, like I said before, it has flown by. We’ve learned a ton, faced the challenges, and are keeping our heads well above water. We’ve survived! We are excited to kick off year two, to learn and grow more, and to continue providing solutions and designs, signs and wraps for our customers to help them get noticed! Back to the question – is owning a small business fun? All signs point to YES!