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Retaining Sign Employees and Collaborating with Competitors Lead December’s Tips

Plus, treat every one of your customers the same.




“Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone?” — Joni Mitchell, “Big Yellow Taxi”


1 My bread and butter has always been athletics, high school and university-level sports spaces, weight rooms, meeting spaces and other areas that correlate with the school’s hype and excitement toward athletics, says Steve Linville, Linville Design Studio (Farmington Hills, MI). “Lately, it seems there are more and more companies focusing on [their spaces], so I have been going after more small businesses, working toward building and encapsulating their entire brand and public look,” he says. “It’s worked, not drastically, but I have definitely gotten busier with new accounts unrelated to sports.”

EMPLOYEES Retention Plan

2 Every company should have a “career pathway” for employees, advises Adam Brown, Sign Effectz (Milwaukee). “Think of a lattice structure instead of a corporate ladder, allowing employees to shift and move sideways through your organization,” he says. Incumbent employees are typically more valuable than new recruits. Onboarding costs have already been spent. “Most employees just want opportunities and to know they’re not ‘stuck,’” Brown adds. “For them, just knowing that, or knowing they’re in charge of their future, stabilizes their movement.”


3 Experienced and apprentice installers remain very difficult to find — a problem far too common. “We have found that when you buy and keep brand new trucks and equipment, it’s an incentive for prospective employees, and in keeping your team happy,” observes Jim Sutterfield, Signs Plus Inc. (Bellingham, WA). “We buy at least one new truck every year to keep our fleet fresh,” he says.

MARKETING Get Involved in the Community

4 Nancy Wilde (Wilde Signs, Vernon, BC, Canada) suggests joining a referral group or service club and making solid connections. Ask your customers to post work you did for them, e.g. lettering, a service van or a new fascia sign. Those posts create new potential customers who see your work and read a great recommendation.


SALES Collaborate with Competitors

5 Reach out to other sign company owners who specialize in something you do not do and who do not do something that you specialize in, recommends Jeff Thomas, Crossroad Sign Studio (Lynnwood, WA). Agree to send qualified leads to each other for a year as a test. Then find more referral partners. “Works for us!” Thomas reports.

KNOW WHEN TO FOLD ‘EM Know When to Cut the Cord

6 The best poker players know when to fold. In her book Quit, former pro player Annie Duke notes that in Texas Hold ’Em, the pros play fewer than 25 percent of their hands before the second-round cards hit the table. Amateurs play more than 50 percent. Duke’s core argument is that we should all fold more. We spend too much time on too many pursuits that are no longer worthwhile to avoid feeling like we have failed. But in poker — and in business — that’s a good way to go broke. “Success does not lie in sticking to things,” Duke writes. “It lies in picking the right thing to stick to and quitting the rest.” Once you face the fact that something is not working out the way you’d anticipated, cut the cord. You can refocus that energy into efforts that have better odds of success.

Tip Briefs

  • Sometimes outsourcing aspects of a sign project is a better use of time in the long run. — Cindy Gillihan, Gilly’s Super Signs, Placerville, CA
  • Outsourcing isn’t always the best thing. — Derek Atchley, Atchley Graphics, Columbus, OH
  • Buy a crane if possible. It’s a game changer. — Jeremy Vanderkraats, Signs by Van, Salinas, CA
  • Improve sales, communication and productivity with ChatGPT. — Patrick Clifford, Clifford Signs Inc., Kokomo, IN
  • Handwritten thank you notes have done more for me than any one single advertising item in my arsenal. My clients not only remember them, but make a point to let me know they appreciated the gesture. — Marti Etheridge, Laguna Bay Printworks, Laguna Vista, TX
  • Make sure every customer is treated the same, no matter how small or big their sign is. Everyone is very important. — Cody McElroy, Commercial Signs, Houma, LA

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