The Sign Center on Iyanough Road in Hyannis, Massachusetts, is a flourishing small business operated by Bob and Sally Bruce. Facing numerous direct and indirect competitors, what are the critical factors producing this success story?
While this may sound presumptuous for a very small business, the first factor is technological acumen. Like so many other businesses, the computer has revolutionized sign making. The artistic skills to produce handpainted signs are no longer relevant or competitive. At least three excellent computer programs are now available to design all kinds of signs and banners, produce paper proofs for customer approval, and then either print-out or cut-out vinyl transfer letters and graphics with a dedicated plotter for the finished product. Even company logos and special graphics can be scanned into the computer file.
Formerly a real estate broker (buyer's agent), Bob Bruce had developed basic computer skills. With diligent study and a willingness to experiment, Bob has now become a computer virtuoso able to produce a wide variety of innovative designs for signs and banners. Perhaps he was fortunate in not having to re-learn the demanding skills upon which this industry had been based for centuries. Today, both the technology and the economics of sign making have been recast, and The Sign Center has quickly taken full advantage of this powerful new design and production tool.
A second factor is marketing acumen. The company astutely avoids producing large stand-alone signs, pedestal signs or lighted signs because of the substantial investments required for special equipment and working capital (including insurance). However, it can manufacture a full line of interior and exterior signage, truck and boat lettering, site signs for contractors and real estate brokers, and magnetic signs. It produces banners for trade shows, parades, open houses, sales promotions, community events and sport rallies.
Having focused its product line, The Sign Center methodically maintains communication with its large array of current and potential customers: hospitals, banks, contractors and real estate brokers, schools, and all businesses with truck delivery and service fleets. The largest segment of sales are now derived from repeat customers and referral business. However, consistent direct mail campaigns are an important sales tool. The company has even established a Web site [ http://www.capecod.net/Signs/bob.html] that is now becoming a secondary source of inquiries.
Energy and enthusiasm constitute the third factor producing this success story. Bob and Sally Bruce strive to maintain an individual relationship with each customer. They insist upon answering the telephone themselves, and relish working with their customers on design proposals. Lacking drawing and painting skills, Bob's computer proficiency enables him to quickly generate custom designs that obviously delight their loyal customers. They are adamant about meeting (or beating) delivery commitments, and most orders -- if necessary -- can be fulfilled in a matter of days rather than weeks.
While walk-in business would not generally be considered significant for a sign company, Bob and Sally Bruce believe their location adjacent to the traffic light at the busy intersection of Yarmouth Road and Route 28 to be most advantageous. The company's visibility presents a powerful advertisement to thousands of potential customers every day simply "waiting for the light to change." And a sound business practice is requiring a 50 percent deposit upon the placement of an order until a customer relationship becomes well established.
The success of the smaller business is dependent upon the right combination of many factors. However, The Sign Center demonstrates the three factors most responsible for its prosperity. It has swiftly adapted and mastered the new technology that has revolutionized a very old business. It has identified its market with precision and has sought to develop this market assiduously. And Bob and Sally Bruce radiate energy and enthusiasm as they pursue their work striving to maintain individual relationships with almost all of their customers. Perceptively, they understand this to be a "people" business, not a "product" business. The Sign Center offers an easy-to-read primer on what it takes to assure the success of the smaller business.
The Sign Center
192 Iyanough Road
Hyannis, MA 02601
Telephone: (508) 771-9149
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