Sign Pro Steadies Her Shop Through Betrayal and a Near-Death Experience
“The past few years were more difficult than I could have imagined,” she says.
This story originally appeared in Big Picture magazine, a sister publication of Signs of the Times.
S MANY INDUSTRY PROS know, if your customer has to find a shop that offers a sign application which you don’t, there’s a chance you’ll lose that business altogether. It’s the driving force behind the “one-stop shop” mindset that many businesses across the country have adopted. Michele Bortree of Stonetree Signs in Asheboro, North Carolina, is someone who recognized the need for a one-stop shop years ago, and has dedicated her life to both expanding her business and honing her craft.
“Back in 1997, I started Stonetree Signs in my spare bedroom so I could work from home for my kids. I came across a material that allowed you to make sandblast stencils. I made a small ‘Welcome’ sign by cutting the pattern by hand on wood, and the sandblasted result was amazing,” says Bortree. “Since then, we’ve gone from my home, to a 5000-square-foot facility to now finalizing plans to purchase our neighbor’s business as they’re ready to retire, which will increase our capabilities and round us up to about 15,000 total square feet.”
As a result, it’s impossible to drive through Asheboro without seeing Stonetree’s professional touch throughout the town. They install graphics for local storefronts, wrap fleets of vehicles, create tradeshow booths for businesses hitting the road, and even print T-shirts, among other things.
Basically, if you need your logo printed, Stonetree Signs can make it happen. Bortree has a reputation for meeting deadlines and she‘s used to exceeding expectations, but recent history has made that exceptionally difficult. The last few years have thrown innumerable challenges toward business owners across the world. But they were intensely challenging for Bortree, who dealt with the betrayal of a close friend and business associate, and a very serious health scare that left her fighting for her life.
“I had a heart problem that essentially caused me to briefly die in the bathtub, as staggering as that is,” she says. “My husband immediately began performing CPR and my neighbor eventually saved my life. He’s an EMT and happened to be home with his defibrillator, which is why I’m here today.” That dire situation, paired with wavering COVID guidelines, supply chain issues, employment struggles, and event planning uncertainty would be enough to leave any PSP’s head spinning. But for Bortree the turmoil didn’t stop there: A former close friend and trusted associate’s (we’ll call her Jane) true colors were revealed.
Jane had worked for Stonetree for many years and earned Bortree’s full trust, handling important dealings within the company and stepping in to help run the show when Michele was swamped. The trust was so strong that it bled into Bortree’s personal life; Jane even helped plan her daughter’s wedding. And when the health scare happened, Bortree was ready to give 20 percent of the business to Jane and another employee to keep the business alive if she were to die, to provide for the family. However, what would be revealed during this process would shock Bortree to the core. While preparing to give a portion of the business over, some red flags began popping up. She noticed things were not adding up, there were many purchases unaccounted for and jobs not being billed through the company, and all signs pointed to the very person she was ready to give a portion of the business to. Needless to say, Bortree was shocked, left feeling stunned and violated. How could someone so close, someone who stood beside her during big family moments and substantial business deals, double-cross her like this?
“These past few years were more difficult than I could have imagined, but Stonetree is on pace to have an amazing 2022, and that’s what we’re excited about,” she says. “We continue to expand and grow our brand, and I really believe in and appreciate everyone on the team right now.”
Her passion for both business and life shine vibrantly, even through the phone. She loves leaving her mark on the town she calls home, and gets a kick out of seeing a local business that proudly displays window graphics created in her shop. Bortree’s perseverance is inspiring, and her willingness to bet on herself and continue expanding her business amidst turmoil and uncertainty demonstrates a very tangible and refreshing example of self-belief. No matter what life throws her way, Stonetree Signs remains solid as a rock.
PHOTO GALLERY (11 IMAGES)
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