A Grand Plan
Joe Tindall is the founder and president of GrandMark Signs (Lenexa, KS).
Because 2020 is 2020, I’m contractually obligated to ask how the pandemic has affected your business.
Through the end of July, our business is up 21% vs. last year, so we’re actually showing pretty good growth. We do large, medium and small projects. What I’ve noticed is the small projects that are typically small business start-ups or small businesses expanding – we’re not seeing it at all. It’s dried up. What’s keeping us going are the large jobs.
What types of companies are those jobs for?
We do a lot in the health/medical industry. We do a lot of ADA and architectural signage that we design and fabricate in-house. For example, a major hospital in the area is adding a whole new building. We’re doing all the interior and exterior signage. We’re doing a lot of projects for big, new construction buildings. On top of that, we have three national accounts. And they keep expanding, which is good for us.
What was your introduction into the signage and graphics world?
I have nothing to do with signage, if you look at my LinkedIn profile. The only thing I have to do with signage is I collect antique signs, and I’ve been doing it for a long time.
I co-owned a medium-sized company for 10 years, and let’s just say I didn’t want to have a partner anymore and wanted to do a start-up. I always loved the creative side of marketing, which is my background. I did some research and what I found is that while there are a lot of signshops out there, there are very few what I call ‘professionally run’ sign businesses. Just responding to people in a timely manner and being kind to people on the phone – those things have paid huge dividends for us. And that’s not coming from me; that’s coming from my clients and what they tell me. You’re not always going to meet a deadline. But, at least let them know what’s going on and what you’re doing about it. People really appreciate communication. They get frustrated when they have to keep on asking you.
Your company is less than five years old. Let’s set the pandemic aside: What about the sign industry has surprised you, and what has not surprised you?
A surprise was – and this is me probably being naïve when I got into the industry – is that buildings are not designed or built to accommodate signage. And that creates a lot of challenges, especially with older buildings. What I’ve learned is that every sign is different and every installation is different. Often you have to improvise and figure out solutions that are going to work within the context of different buildings and different structures. The research I did up front as far as [there being] few professionally run sign businesses has been truer than I thought it was going to be.
How have you expanded your business over these five years? Square footage? Equipment?
All of those. When I got my space that I’m in now, it was meant to support a business of around $500,000 in gross sales. I put together a five-year plan, and I exceeded my fifth-year projection for sales and profits in my third year. We’ve expanded in several ways. First of all, people. We’re a group of six, soon to be seven. I continue to invest in production equipment. We bought a brand-new CNC router… a brand-new spray-paint booth … a table for laying vinyl … [and] a bucket truck so we can do installs with an aerial lift. We have two locations now, because we didn’t have enough space for the router and the paint booth.
Since you’ve grown your business this year, have you become aggressive with your future plans?
I definitely see more aggressive growth the next five years out. In April, the leases on both of my buildings expire. I’m looking at buying my own building; I know I’m going to need the space. I see us continuing to bring more and more signage in-house, which means more equipment purchases. Also, I’m trying to work on my strategies. We like to focus on retail, healthcare and higher education. It’s definitely been working for us. I’m of the belief that sometimes going after the smaller nut is a better way to go than casting a broad net. I could see us getting more focused, but also having aggressive expansion plans.
Now that you’re a part of the sign industry, are you still collecting signs?
Yes, absolutely. I have several signs that I’ve purchased over the past few years that are on my wall. I’m trying to make our place a mini sign museum. I have signs from the 1800’s through the 1940’s, so I’ve got some pretty cool signs I’ve collected.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Joe Tindall and GrandMark Signs are still relative newcomers to the sign industry.