There’s more to succeeding in the sign business and creating a stable, growing business than just hanging out a sign and creating a website. And any savvy sign shop owner knows that it makes a lot of sense to build on the success of other shop owners than it does to just go it alone.
Mark Agnew is a great resource for shop owners like that. For 27 years, Agnew Graphics has served the small town of Owosso and the neighboring small towns in central Michigan. He’s built a stable, successful business, and has worked hard at it.
He’s done all the common-sense marketing, from direct mail to his website. His support of local schools is important to him. (See It pays to give your work away.) But when you talk with Mark you soon realize there’s more to his success that that. It’s the result of many seemingly-small things that combine into one very solid marketing approach. Take a look:
Let them know they’re at the right place. Make sure your own signage looks great. Make sure your building and showroom look professional. Give them plenty of examples of effective, attractive signs to look at. The first impression really matters. It establishes your credibility. Before you’ve even said a word, your shop’s appearance lets them know that they are dealing with professionals who know what they’re doing.
Answer the phone. “I try to answer the phone when they call,” says Mark, “and I see people when they want to be seen.” That sort of personal contact is missing in business these days, and clients really respond to it. It gains their confidence.
Tell them what you do--often. “You have to have the postcards, brochures and business cards,” says Mark, “and you need a good website. We make sure our customers see them, as well as every new business that we hear of. We make it clear that we can handle all their marketing needs. We show them what we do. We don’t want them to think we just do truck lettering or flat signs or whatever.”
Deliver the goods.
Be on time, and deliver a quality product at the price agreed upon. If you miss the mark on any of those, you send a powerful negative message to the customer.
Exceed their expectations. Whenever possible, give them a little more than they expect. Have the sign done ahead of time, do something to punch up the design a bit, add a gold leaf border. Do something that will be a little surprise. (Rich Dombey gives them some small stickers of their logo--see Give 'em a sticker and sell more signs.)
Follow up with them. Stay in touch with your past clients. Don’t be surprised if they’re glad you called because they were thinking about another sign they need.
Watch for potential customers. Mark likes to do fleet work, so whenever he’s on the road and sees a company that has a fleet of trucks, he stops in. If he doesn’t have time to stop, he calls and talks to the person in charge of the fleet graphics. “I find out if and when they’re getting new trucks,” says Mark. “I send postcards showing what we do. I stress that I can save them money and add value to their trucks. I’m relentless, because I know we should be doing their work.”
Use quality products. Trying to save a little money by using low-quality products in your work is a proven marketing disaster. “When the product fails,” says Mark, “it will cost you. You’ll be the one they tell other business people about: ‘He made me a sign, but it didn’t last…’.”
Don’t try to be the cheapest. That only insures that you’ll stay busy making the cheapest signs for the customers who only care about price. “Someone who comes in looking for the cheapest price is not my customer,” says Mark. “It used to scare me to think like that, but it doesn’t anymore.”
Look for trends. If car dealers are calling you for signs, or there’s a new historic district in downtown, this may mean there is an opportunity in this market—especially if it is the type of work you can do profitably. Contact other businesses and let them know you want to handle their signage.
Don’t wait for clients to come to you. Make every effort to reach the clients who use the type of work you want to do. Identify who you want to work for—the businesses who use the work you do most profitably. Then make contact with them, in person and via direct mail. “I go after them,” says Mark. “I don’t wait for them to walk in the door.”
Keep learning. “I went to school for graphic design,” says Mark, “so that I could learn those fundamental principles of design. I wanted the tools to create effective design. I went to school at Watchfire Signs to learn how to install and maintain LED message boards. You’ve got to keep learning.”
Remember: The customer is not an inconvenience. “We all get the occasional customer that you want to tell to leave and never come back. What’s the reason you went into business? What’s the reason you hung out that Open sign? To make money making signs—and that takes customers. They’re the reason you’re in business.
“I tell the folks who work with me that every time someone walks in that door, they’ve taken time out of their day to come to see about buying what we do. They chose us. They have money in their pocket and a problem they want to solve. If they walk out without a solution, they will find someone else to give that money to. It’s that simple. I’m glad to see my customers. I love to answer their questions, swap ideas with them, help to solve their sign problem.”