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Ray Titus, president of United Franchise Group (UFG), the parent company of the Sign*A*Rama fran¬chise, can be very proud to have been chosen as the 2007 Ernst & Young (E&Y) Florida Entrepreneur of the Year. Corporately, Sign*A*Rama can tout having been selected as one of 11 winners of the “E” Award for exporting, “the highest honor the federal government can give to an American exporting company,” according to the U.S. Dept of Commerce.

In both instances, another winner emerges, because the awards reflect well on the entire sign industry.

The E&Y Award recognized that Titus has grown the overall UVG brand into a $500 million entity. The second award applauds Sign*A*Rama, specifically, for having increased its export sales by 700% from $1.5 million in 2002 to $12 million in 2005. (Currently, Sign*A*Rama has export sales of more than $15 million in 50 countries, Titus said.)

Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez and President Bush made the latter presentations (see photo of Titus and President Bush on www.signweb.com). This apparently represents the first time any franchise has won an “E” Award.

Indirectly, a second sign-industry stalwart received the same honors. Gerber Technology (Tolland, CT), one of four divisions of parent Gerber Scientific, also won an “E” Award. Gerber Technology provides an extensive line of integrated computer hardware and software systems to the sewn-goods and flexible-goods industries. Its sister division, Gerber Scientific Products, revolutionized the sign industry in 1983 with its introduction of the Signmaker III vinyl-cutting plotter.

Lisa Pagano, who works at the E&Y Tampa office, said, typically, 75 to 100 applications vie for the Florida award. The E&Y Awards have 12 categories, and Ray won in the Retail & Consumer Products category. The E&Y Awards, now in their 21st year, include 26 U.S. programs, and others in 40 countries.

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Ray will be among approximately 1,400 people who will attend the E&Y national awards program in Palm Springs, CA, on November 17. There, he will contend for national honors in the Retail & Consumer Products category. Additionally, one person will be the National Entrepreneur of the Year. A World Entrepreneur of the Year will be announced in June 2008.

Ray said Sign*A*Rama was nominated for the E&Y Award in Florida three years ago, but didn’t win. This time, E&Y suggested Sign*A*Rama should apply again.

Tony Foley, president of World Franchisors, another UFG brand, nominated Ray for the federal Dept. of Commerce award, which he described as a “two-year process. It started out with a very comprehensive application that included complete financial disclosures, background checks of all the officers of the company, substantiated franchise-growth records, legal background checks, supported character witnesses who vouch for the integrity of the company and, finally, a history of working with and through the U.S. Dept. of Commerce to export the company’s business model globally.”

World Franchisors plays “a major role” in Sign*A*Rama’s international expansion, said Stephanie Wilson, UFG’s PR coordinator.

Gutierrez said these 11 companies contributed to a record $1.4 trillion in exported goods and services in 2006, the first time in nearly a decade that “the growth rate for exports outpaced the growth rate for imports.” This is the 45th year of the “E” Awards, which were established by President Kennedy in 1961.

“On-premise signs are critical to the success of most retail businesses, and especially so for small, indepen¬dent businesses. I’d like to thank Sign*A*Rama for their role in helping small independent businesses and congratulate them for being a recipient of the President’s E Award,” said Colleen Litkenhaus, deputy assistant secretary, Office of Domestic Operations for the U.S Commercial Service.

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These two awards are tremendous honors for Ray, Sign*A*Rama and UFG, and the “E” Award places Gerber Technology on a pedestal. But, I’d be very interested in finding out one more thing. For all of the other winners, how important were their own on-premise signs to their success? With regard to the “E” Award, does the importance of on-premise signage differ from country to country?

When I look at the other “E” Award winners, I don’t see much branding recognition. Numonics Corp. (Montgomeryville, PA) and Hydra Platforms Mfg. Inc. (Rock Hill, SC) don’t mean a thing to me.

This changes when I look at the E&Y list of prior Entrepreneurs of the Year: Outback Steakhouse, Enterprise Rent-A-Car and a company that spoke at our own Signage and Graphics Summit, Best Buy. I suspect signage played a critical role for entrepre¬neurs. I’d love to know to what extent. But I think I already know.

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