Go Forth and Prosper
Danielle Goforth is the owner of Goforth Sign + Design (New York).
What drew you to the sign industry?
I went to school for graphic design at a technical school. There was a signage portion of the class, and out of 60 people in my class, everyone thought signs were boring. When nobody else wanted to get into it, I thought it would be something amazing that I could get into. I worked at FASTSIGNS for five years, then at Trade-Marx Sign and Display (Seattle) and Vertical Visual Solutions (Mountlake Terrace, WA). When I moved to New York City, I decided to start my own company because the amount of money I saw cross my desk versus what I was getting paid, that started to get to me a little bit. I decided to see if I could do it on my own.
What makes Goforth Sign + Design different than its competition?
The one-on-one support that my clients receive from me. I’m constantly all over the place – meeting with clients, showing samples, helping with design intent and content. All of my clients have made the comment over the past four years that it’s really nice to know that they’re going to be working with me and not somebody else who isn’t focused on their job or isn’t making sure that they’re happy.
Is appealing to your clients’ needs something that’s natural to you, or is it something you’ve picked up along the way?
I’ve always had service industry jobs, and my dad was in the service industry, too. I’m just used to always being there for a client. It’s natural to me and something that I enjoy.
What types of signage do you do day-to-day?
I do interior packages, a lot of murals, dimensional signage, privacy film, things like that. I also contract out with other sign companies that hire me to do design packages or interior ADA and wayfinding.
Are you Goforth’s sole full-time employee? If so, do you have plans to expand?
I am. I’m in a place where I can handle all the commitments from my clients, but I might be forced to expand, which is something I don’t want to do. There’s going to be a point where I’m going to need help [laughs]. I always said, when I got past a certain [sales] mark, I would look into getting help, and I think that’ll be next year.
What does being the sole proprietor of a woman-owned business mean to you?
The financial independence I’ve gained through having my own company is something that I don’t think a lot of women are told that you can have. Now, I think that message is changing. We’re telling girls, ‘You can do what you want, and you don’t have to get married to have it all.’ I wasn’t told that when I was kid. I was told I could do anything that I wanted, with the heavy expectation that you’re going to get married and he’s going to be the one to take care of you. I want every single woman out there to know that you can start your own company; you can run your own life. You can still have a partner, get married and do what you want to do – but still take care of you. That’s something that’s been eye-opening to me with this company.
Are you trying to recruit others to the sign industry, or to practice a trade?
My friends will come to me for advice because they see what I’ve done with my company; they see how I’ve grown so quickly. They’ll say, ‘I want a new career. What should I do?’ And I always say go to a trade school. When you’re plumber, a machinist, a graphic designer, an electrician – you’re working with your hands and providing a service that a robot can’t. No one can take that skill away from you. Trades are so important, and trades need employees. I went to an 18-month school, and look where I am less than 10 years later. I know a lot of people who went to college for four, five, six, seven years. And maybe they’re in a comparable spot, maybe they’re not – I know I don’t have the student loans they do.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.