Building a Multifaceted Shop
How’s this for customer retention? Years ago, we were approached by Meerkat Pest Control to brand their fleet. While our work for them started with just vehicle graphics, as our relationship grew, we expanded into other areas. A surprise order of complimentary screenprinted t-shirts to show them our range of services encouraged Meerkat to come back to us for more shirts, as well as embroidered hats and polos. Last year, when they moved to a new location, we provided a new awning, large logo wall decals and store hours/directional graphics for their new space. Most of this would not have been possible had Infamous Graphics (Albany, NY) remained the small, sticker-and-window-tint shop that it once was.
A VISION TO DO MORE
Right from the beginning, even as my shop reeled in odd jobs here and there, I knew potential clients were going elsewhere for other jobs that we weren’t capable of completing at the time. Over the years, I worked to change this within my shop. This industry does not simply produce signs or wrap vehicles. It provides services that brand other businesses and can potentially fulfill many of those branding needs. My goal was to create a business that would become a one-stop shop for customers – a place they felt comfortable coming to for all of their sign and graphics needs. While daunting at first, it has been an incredibly rewarding transformation.
Over time, we have expanded our production department many times. My shop manager, J.R. Cooke, has 25 years of experience in the sign industry; he’s really brought my vision to life. While cut vinyl is a staple in the industry and digital printers are an absolute must in the sign world, we’ve actively searched for ways to branch out into other areas of signage and graphics.
To get our foot in the door with larger and more complex signs, I made inroads with larger shops and began by selling wholesale signage. This was a very profitable way to begin, to learn that part of the business and to support others in the industry. Turnaround times from national wholesale companies are often fast and the margins are good. The permitting process, which scares off some shop owners, is not that hard to learn. If you can bring in this larger business while you continue to keep the printer and plotter running to maintain your vinyl work, you’ll have a great foundation to know when – and in what areas – to diversify.
MORE THAN JUST SIGNS
I found the same to be true for apparel. If clients were investing in truck graphics and signage, chances were good they would also be in the market for uniforms or apparel. Similar to signs, wholesaling was a great place to start. Actually competing against local apparel printers can be tough, but it’s less difficult if you are selling clients more than just shirts or caps.
Once we had established enough of a base for signs and apparel at our shop, we had the opportunity to invest in a router, a bucket truck and a full wood-and-metal shop, as well as screenprinting and embroidery equipment. Factor in J.R.’s knowledge of fabrication, and we’re now a full-service provider of branding needs – electric signs, temporary banners, vehicle wraps, embroidered shirts, hats, etc. – so much more than the one-stop shop I envisioned many years ago.
As my business has grown, I’ve also upgraded. I now have larger trucks, faster printers and routers, more embroidery heads, and more employees. While this may not be the path for everyone, I feel a huge sense of accomplishment as my shop has been able to meet more and more needs of our community. Driving down the road, I see signs we fabricated. I regularly pass by vehicles that we wrapped or lettered. I run into people wearing apparel we branded.
Multiple revenue streams not only have protected us against a downturn in any single sector, but have also made me a more integral part of my community. My advice to signmakers? Increase your knowledge in all aspects of signage and advertising, and branch out!