In February of 2004, my wife and I bought Super Cheap Signs after finding it with a business broker. There were two employees and I made three; wife did the books part time. Three years later we have 18 employees and we’re still growing! Since then we haven’t put a bunch of money into forcing growth, so why did we grow 400%?
I’ve enjoyed recent luck with friends and good hires who have recommended books, ideas, and other people to help. Occasionally, I can even blend my liberal art degree with an emphasis in psychology with some IT & Telecom recruiting & sales with everything else and make it work. Looking back, all the first year improvements were customer service oriented.
I remember the previous owner, Alfred, would answer the phone, “sign shop” so fast it took me a while to figure out what he was saying. Our first big change was to answer, “Thank you for calling Super-Cheap-Signs, how may I help you?” (Zig Ziglar said call 10 businesses without knowing who, and you’ll be lucky to understand 2 without asking them to repeat themselves). Now maybe a few customers would associate us with a name.
Next was the computer situation. Alfred had one computer attached to the internet, and two for designing in the back. If someone sent him a file for their order, he’d have to save it to a disk, and then walk it back to the designer’s computer. We got the computers in the store to share information by adding a small business server environment (thanks to my buddy Larry at Univista.com). We could see previous orders from any computer. That was huge.
My favorite story was the phones. There were three lines. And there were three phones – one for each line! Imagine trying to talk to three different customers at the same time. Keep in mind the phones weren’t even in the same room! Alfred must have got them from a second hand store- they barely worked. No voice mail or old machine. So we found a simple multi-line phone system with voice mail. Working IT & Telecom really helped with my understanding here, and I my buddy Dave Frumkin was key in setting it up. Now Alfred already had a dedicated fax line – got to give kudos for that!
So some phone manners, a new phone system, and a computer network. Now we could put a customer on hold, find their previous artwork without having to go to the back and ask the designer to get it, or customers could leave a message if we weren’t around or all the lines were busy. We took our time implementing the phones and computer network. After 6 months, we had done it with cash flow and not credit cards. Yeah!
Two months after acquiring the shop, my friend Gary left his job at Dell and wasn’t doing anything. He said he could help for a while until he found a ‘real’ job. I was very grateful to have his help. It was getting pretty busy. When he did find another job it turned out he was having too much fun at the shop! So we talked and now he’s in charge of operations and keeping me on my toes! What a great asset.