Gabriel Boy is the managing partner of Fresh Ink Signs + Graphics (Orlando, FL).
You haven’t been in the sign business for that long. What prompted you to join the industry?
I came from wireless [phones]. I was a GM of a store for about five years, then ended up becoming a district manager and did that for a while. I always wanted to run my own business. My cousin was the owner of [Fresh Ink Signs + Graphics], but needed somebody to run it. They gave me the opportunity to become a partner if I was able to increase the business. I learned it from scratch. I’ve been doing it for three years. I was coming from outside-in, but I had over 10 years of sales experience. I used to manage over 100 employees. I understood how things worked in the business world; I just never received the opportunity to do it. I kind of fell into it.
What’s surprised you the most about being in the sign industry?
The customer service aspect. The constant feedback I always get is, ‘Man, you’re so different. You’re actually nice and professional.’ I’ve been in sales for so long – you have to relate to people. If you can’t relate to people, you can’t sell. People are human; they’re not robots. We landed more and more accounts just by being nice and by doing a good job.
You mentioned you haven’t had to furlough anyone during the pandemic. What has changed?
We had to adapt with the work-from-home strategy. I have a five-month-old, so I have to be smart on limiting contact with people. Our designer is working from home. The month of April, we had a lot of clients that leaned on design and rebranding. It worked in our favor; I was the only one working in the shop for the whole month. And then the person who produces the signs would come in as needed. We had to pivot, but it worked.
So when you were the only one in the shop, were you doing fabrication or install work?
Yeah. We had to wear different hats. I leaned on my production knowledge that I learned over the past three years. I was producing the graphics– not from a digital standpoint with everything being pre-done by our designer – but I would have to make sure production would flow, so printing, laminating and assembling the signs.
Who were your go-to services or clients prior to the pandemic, and how have things changed?
We leaned into the restaurant industry a lot. It shifted really quickly. We do a lot of work for a company that has multiple brands under it, and that company basically went dormant. They have multiple restaurant brands. And they were, shoot, at least 10% of the business that was coming in, so we lost a lot of that. A lot of people were stalling on paying, too. We leaned into the construction industry because they were essential and they needed signage. We printed a lot of COVID-19 signage. We printed a lot of signs for job sites, stickers – anything that you can think of, we were printing it.
Printing COVID-19 signage, in theory, won’t last forever, so I guess you’ll have to pivot again down the road.
Oh, yeah. One thing I go back to that helps me is that I’m not a normal sign guy. I’ve learned to adapt. When I was in the wireless world – think about how wireless has changed when I started there in ’07 to now – it was constantly evolving and changing, and I think that helped me.
On Fresh Ink’s Instagram, I’ve seen your advertising that the company is ‘more than signs and banners.’ What does the future hold?
We have three facets of the business: design, print, wrap. People are starting to understand that we have a full-time designer and a junior designer, that we can offer free custom illustrations, and offer logo design. On the printing side, we’ve always done business cards, but creating a customer pack … when I first started a lot of new businesses were popping up. They needed business cards, a logo, some type of flyer, they needed signage on their vehicles, and that’s the four-step process I always talk about with a client. I’m like, ‘This is what you need, and this starter pack will get you going.’ I have a lot of clients rebranding right now; I just got a text today, a client has 15 vehicles that they want to rebrand. A lot of people are using this down time to strategize. Opening the door of designing, printing and wrapping has made it easier for people to understand what we do and how we do it.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. All photos by Vanessa Boy.