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Maggie Harlow

Sign Managers Can Audit Their Own Shops By Asking These Questions

Your answers will tell you which parts of your business are succeeding and which aren’t.




I AM FOREVER challenged by the flower garden I’ve cultivated at my home over the last couple decades. Every year or two, I pull out something that isn’t working well, I add something new that I spotted at the nursery, or, as I have most recently, I realized I’ll need to transition my backyard space into a shade garden because my favorite magnolia has grown to completely dominate it! While this has been one, ongoing project, my garden itself has taken many different forms as I’ve adjusted to what the yard needs.

My signshop is the same.

After nearly two decades in operation, I can see that while I’ve owned one shop for 19 years on paper, in a sense I’ve owned several different shops! Year in and year out, the business model I use has changed and evolved, and so have I.

Changes happen in my shop because of lots of factors: who we hire, equipment purchases, the specific clients we are serving, where I am in my leadership experience, and, of course, the local and national economy.

Most recently we acquired a local, independent signshop. It has been a challenging experience to say the least, but we’re starting to see changes, and I’m confident in a year or so we will look like a very different sign company.

In addition to the acquisition, we’re looking at a very different hiring and recruiting world. Lastly, as CEO, I contemplate what kind of things I want to work on in these last 10 or 20 years of work life!


My message to you is this: As the manager or owner, or even department manager, pay attention closely to the “garden” of your business and figure out what’s thriving, what needs pruning, and what you want to see grow the next year.

Here are some questions to help you “plant seeds” in or “pull weeds” from your business!

  • Are you excited about some part of your business? Maybe a new type of client, a new employee who shows promise or a new capability you want to add?
  • Is there something you’re tired of dealing with? Sometimes eliminating a difficult or unprofitable product or service (or client!) is needed.
  • Is there equipment that would make life better? Consider investing in something more reliable or something that facilitates faster production. Have you done the calculation on how much equipment “breakdowns” are costing you and your team? Maybe you’re spending a lot on an outsourced service or product; consider bringing that in-house and maximizing your profit.

Don’t be afraid to make big moves or changes to bring new life and energy to the business. Like a garden, take a fresh eye to it and be bold.

What are some of the changes my company has made?

  • Eliminating some products we no longer want to outsource
  • Bringing new capabilities in house, thanks to acquisition
  • Learning different techniques and approaches to pricing from new employees
  • Listening to new customers about how to provide the right level of service and price points
  • Employing a more robust review of exactly which clients and projects we’re excited about, and being willing to turn away those that aren’t most ideal for us.

There’s a leap of faith in this effort. It can be scary at times! Forge on and trust in your own experience and skill. Your sign business already has roots — now nurture it and watch it flourish.


Maggie Harlow is the CEO of Signarama Downtown Louisville (Louisville, KY), one of the largest and most prestigious locations for the global sign franchise. Contact Maggie at



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