Can't Break Her
Teresa Walker is the CEO/owner of Image360 Tucker (Tucker, GA).
In a previous life, you were an underwriter/mortgage loan processor. How did you become the head of a sign company?
Earl [Walker, senior vice president of Image360 Tucker and Teresa’s husband] is the one with the design ability. You don’t want me to design anything for you – it would be frightening. He went to school for design and art. We started as Indigo Arts in our basement in a 10 x 10-ft. room. So many people had told him, ‘What are you doing? This is what you love. Just jump out there and do it.’ We started the company. He was working from home and I was working in the mortgage industry. I had always been involved with the business from the very beginning. But when the mortgage industry fell apart in 2007, I decided I needed to get out because it was going to crash. When I exited the mortgage industry, I told him, ‘Hey, let me do this with you full-time.’ And he was looking at me like I was crazy, [and said] ‘No, I don’t think that’s a good idea.’ So, I twisted his arm and talked him into letting me help him run this full-time.
I like the idea that we solve people’s problems visually. When we do a project – there are libraries that we’ve done, there are government buildings that we’ve done, or just signs – it makes me smile to say that I had a hand in creating, selling or helping produce this. It’s a sense of pride. That’s what gets me up every day, to see what the new challenge is – and it’s never quite the same, which makes the job fun.
A good career change, then?
Oh, completely. It’s funny; people say, ‘Oh, you’re your own boss. You’ve got all this time to yourself.’ That part is a lie. [Laughs.] But I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It gives us the opportunity to do things I know that if I still punched a clock for somebody else, I wouldn’t be able to do. That I don’t regret for a moment.
As the head of the company, your tasks surely have changed since the basement days. What’s your main focus these days?
I’m very proud that we are a certified woman-owned business. Right now, I am trying to expand into more of a government arena. A lot of our main clients are our counties and cities; that’s who I work mostly with. I want to do more of that. I really enjoy that and have made some great contacts. When you’re working for the government, what is your business producing for them? With the lovely COVID that is going on right now, we switched how we were doing business. We started producing shield barriers, COVID informational signs and social distancing decals. We’ve customized (decals) for businesses, put them in their colors in some size, shape or form.
What has 2020 taught you about yourself and your team in terms of your capabilities and ability to adjust on the fly?
I’m very proud of my team and how we were able to adapt. We did go through a shutdown. We are refocusing in case there is another one. Again, I’m an optimist, but planning for the worst and hoping for the best. Being a signshop, there are certain things we can’t do remotely. If someone places an order for signage, someone has to come into the building and produce it. Earl and I did that. We let our team stay away, and we came in to produce the work. We found that we are very resilient. If you get your feet held to the fire, it either breaks you or makes you. And fortunately, it showed me that I’ve got some really strong people here.
So, it was you and Earl that were operating the printers and fabricating things during the lockdown?
Correct. When they did the initial shutdown, we were desperately trying to not lay anyone off, so we went to a part-time schedule. Our customer service rep and designer worked part-time. They came in the morning, and then would leave. If there was something to produce, we would stay a little later so it would be ready to go out the door.
Do you still do Tae Bo?
Oh, absolutely. It keeps me from being crazy. [Laughs.] You’ve got to find that healthy stress relief, and I figure the Tae Bo or the treadmill beats the heck out of the carton of Häagen-Dazs. And 2020 has pushed all of us past our limits – not just to them.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.