Makers of Tomorrow: BJ Barlow
Title: Owner of 18 Oaks Sign Co. (McMinnville, OR)
After work: He likes to stay active. These days he accomplishes that with regular pre-dawn swimming sessions, but he’s also completed a 700-mile bike ride from Astoria, OR to the Idaho border.
Quote to know: “If you can pair up with other entrepreneurs who are passionate about something, support them and develop a long-term relationship. That’s what business is about.”
With one eye on how to craft the best possible relationship with his clients and another on how technology will shape the sign industry’s future, BJ Barlow is pushing 18 Oaks Sign Co. past the confines of a normal signshop. Barlow’s business philosophy borrows from the traditional (he started working in a print shop his freshman year of high school) and the nontraditional (he earned an undergraduate degree in pre-medicine and applied to medical school during a hiatus from the sign industry), and his perspective goes beyond the typical design, fabrication and installation of a sign.
Inspired by an article in Harvard Business Review, Barlow boosted publicity for 18 Oaks by taking up video promotion. “What we have initially done is create a short that we can provide to a customer upon completing a job, usually around two minutes,” Barlow said, noting that 18 Oaks does not charge customers for production of, or access to the videos. “They can put the video on their website and social media. It has significant value for us because they’re sharing our work and providing an endorsement on a network that we historically have no connection with.”
18 Oaks is also pursuing the incorporation of artificial intelligence (AI) and sensory data collection devices into its manufacturing process and products, with a concentration on combining concepts rather than original technical developments. “The world is changing how signs function. Are signs of the future going to be more interactive? Are they going to serve a greater purpose for setting the atmosphere? Are they going to have the ability to connect with a user prior to being on-site?” Barlow asked. “If you are in an autonomous vehicle and you’re reading a book in the sign’s path, what’s the purpose of the sign down the road? It’s going to be different than today.”
Barlow hopes to use AI to both accommodate staff members of varying statures as well as to minimize the bodily toll signmaking can take so his employees can “be people and share ideas and concepts, and let the equipment support the nasty end of manufacturing and production.”
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