While I have a solid background in graphics, I’m not a signmaker. Fortunately, I have a general manager (GM), Bob Severs, and a production manager, Dindo Rieta, who are excellent at getting our work done right and on time, while I’ve been focusing on ways to run the business better.
We were good early on at using e-mail, for example. We were obsessive about responding quickly, back when it was still a new tool.
We were also the first sign company in our market to buy pay-per-click online ads with Google. As soon as I could, I switched over our entire traditional printed directory advertising budget and bought Google Ads all across British Columbia. That was a big part of our growth.
Given my background with Where, I was familiar with the tourism industry, so I joined networking organizations in that field, which met frequently at different locations across Vancouver. I became a board member and then president of one of these organizations.
We also sponsored the annual Vancouver Tourism Awards event. I was the master of ceremonies (MC) for the most recent gala, in November 2013, where we had 1,000 people take part, including astronaut Chris Hadfield as a special guest speaker, which was particularly thrilling for me after giving up my early astronaut dreams.
As a result of these networking efforts, a lot of our work has come from the tourism industry, including vehicle wraps, signs announcing upcoming events, window graphics and trade show booths.
Our largest market segment is the condominium development industry. These days, developers like to sell as many units as possible before their buildings are complete. We produce a lot of their presentation centre graphics, then outdoor banners and eventually construction hoardings.
When I started with FastSigns, I had a 1,800-square-foot location on Marine Drive. It was a busy street and we were there for 12 years, until the space eventually became inadequate as the business grew.
We moved in 2008 to a 5,400-square-foot location. It’s less than a kilometre away from the first shop, but in a more hidden area. This is fine, as we go see our clients; most of them don’t come in to see us. Being visible isn’t so important to us.
That was the worst time to willingly increase our rent, though. We moved just as the global recession was hitting. We saw sales drop by 20 per cent in 2008 and 2009, but we made it through okay.
With that in mind, I don’t want our sales to be concentrated too much in any one industry. After condos and tourism, we have a really broad variety of clients in retail, as well as in service industries, like plumbers and electricians. Everyone needs a sign for their business, after all.
The 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver and Whistler, B.C., were terrific for us. They ended our recession struggle, giving us two or three of our best months for sales.
We had a wide range of clients who all wanted to kick their branding up a notch. We ran flat-out for those few months and even had to turn down some sign installation jobs, because we just couldn’t handle them.