Saturday, June 27, 2009

Continued Sign Shop Saga

Am trying to condense the 26 years in my life ( 1975- 2001 ) to just a few paragraphs or a few days of blogs. All the time I was engaged in the Sign Shop Experience I continued to market my cartoons with sporatic sales all the way back actually from 1953, never a major market, mostly minor and a few middle magazines like the old SAGA, FOR MEN ONLY and once I got a hold from ARGOSY. It was just enough to keep me going and to keep the flame alive.

The sign business seemed to catch on very quickly. It was simply the right person being at the right place, with the right skills, meeting the right people and a whole lot of luck that I grew it to a 32-man organization in my own 18,000 sq. ft. building that I built and bought. The little one-man shop that painted cheap paper signs grew into a multi-million dollar electric sign business with Fortune 500 clientle.

My second customer was a restaurant in Alexandria that wanted a cardboard poster announcing new salad bar. I delivered it on the way home . . ( $18.00 sale ).
Next week he ordered two more posters . . . Hey, I got a repeat customer, I'll be rich !

The third week, I got a call from the restaurant ( MORE SIGNS ! ? ). The customer had had a heart attack and died. The waitress had called me to ask how much for a sign to place on the door saying because of the sudden and tragic death of the elderly owner, the restaurant will be closed for the funeral. The restaurant staff would pitch in and pay for the sign and they wanted to know how much.

I told them no problem, I'll design and paint a tasteful sign with a black border and I wrote the copy, made the sign and delivered it in a couple hours and I told her no charge, don't worry about it. And I soon forgot about it.

The son had taken over the restaurant and we went on to have a great relationship. The restaurant prospered, he enlarged the place, and opened another restaurant where I made thousands of dollars worth of all types of signs. He introduced me to many other restaurant owners and in the process we got bigger and bigger.

Then one day he gave me a lead of a construction company that was doing a build-out for a new coffee shop and part of his construction bid included the signage ( in Washington. D.C. ) . This job was secured and awarded right a couple three weeks before the blizzard of ' it is called. The plans were for a new concept coffee shop called " STARBUCKS ", I pledged to keep it secret, tell no one and submit the bid.

By this time we were a full-fledged sign company designing, manufacturing and erecting electric neon sign programs for Fuddrucker's, McDonald's, Pizza Hut and many others. With an in-house neon plant, sheet metal and welding shop and a 100 ft. crane and a 50 ft. rig we could do almost anything the big boys could do. The installation for this first store was a two-three day job with 3 men on the job. This included outdoor internally illuminated self-contained letters. We were scheduled to come in on a Thur, Fri. and finish up on Sat. . . The store was scheduled to open on Monday.
The whole job was to be done in a short time frame but I had come highly-recommended and I got the job. I thought, " STARBUCKS" ? Funny, catchy name. Never heard of them. This was to be the first store on the entire east coast and they told me they planned to open about 30 in this area.

By Tuesday the metropolitan area was notified that the worse snow and blizzard in 15 years was headed to go and dump right through Washington D.C. . . the blizzrd of '93 as it was later called hit on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday . . . I had the right men on this job for sure, the man in charge was my journeyman foreman who happened to be a 6 ft. 2 in. Ex-Marine Russian Embassy Guard, his assistant was a stocky, muscular 5 ft. 10 in. Ex-Special Forces Staff Sergeant. I told my foreman that this job MUST be completed by Saturday or you have to, go back on Sunday and finish it.
The third guy I don't remember and didn't matter.

All of the signs were loaded on Wednesday and they began the job on Thursday as scheduled . . . it started to snow, and snow and wind and more heavy snow which continued through Friday and Saturday . . The construction people on the job, the painters, the carpenters, the electricians, Janitor, Starbuck employees, etc all began on Thursday to jump ship and began fleeing the premises . . soon my men were the only ones left . . they completed the job on Saturday late.

On the following Tuesday I get a call from the top guy at Starbucks who was overseeing the opening of the first STARBUCKS on the east coast, in the nation's capital in a neighborhood called McLean Gardens on Wisconsin Avenue.

The call came in over the intercom: " Roy, pick up line three, it's Starbucks. "

I said, " Hello, this is Roy. " A voice came over the line telling me he came all the way from Seattle to inspect the first of many stores they planned to open in the east. He told me that he's inspected many signs for quality and mine looked good, and he was happy with them. Then he asked me: " Roy, you were the only sub-contractor that didn't quit and go home, because of the blizzard . . . everyone else split.
Then, he asked me " How did you do it ? " I told him that I'd sent my 'A' team out on this one which was comprised of Ex-Marines and Special Forces personnel I simply told my foreman it HAD to be done and that is all I had to say. The Starbucks Executive said, " Maybe that's what I ought to do ! "

The first thirteen employees I hired stayed with me as the company grew and grew and amazingly nobody quit ! I once fired an employee and he would not leave, he told me " What are you nuts ? " . . " I aint leavin! " He stayed on and became a trusted and a good employee.

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