SIGN OF THE TIMES
$60 million a year for booming sign franchise.
Exceptional timing plays a role in almost every great tale of entrepreneurism and the story that Joe McGuinness tells is no exception.
McGuinness is the founder, president and CEO of Columbia, Md.-based Signs By Tomorrow, one of the franchised pioneers of the one-day sign and graphics industry. A self-described Type A personality, McGuinness was in the midst of a successful 15-year career in field operations and headquarters management with Sears when he made a decision for himself in July 1977.
“I decided I was going to become an entrepreneur in July 1986,” McGuinness recalled. “I had started working in July 1966 and that was going to be the halfway point of my working career of 40 years. I just didn’t know what I was going to do.”
Incredibly, McGuinness missed his target by only five weeks when he made the decision to enter the custom sign-making industry in 1986, where the computer was making revolutionary advancements possible. High quality, competitive pricing and 24-hour service was introduced to an industry that was once the province only of large electric-sign manufacturers and smaller businesses generally run by artists who could take weeks to produce expensive, hand-painted signs and banners.
Since opening its first store in Beltsville, Md., and launching franchising in 1988, Signs By Tomorrow has grown to 176 locations in 34 states. Because of its embracing of technology and the endless possibilities now afforded by wide-format digital printing, Signs by Tomorrow has evolved into a visual communications consultant with clients ranging from Fortune 500 companies and professional sports teams to the local plumber.
Already an industry pacesetter, Signs By Tomorrow is not content. In fall 2005, what McGuinness calls the “future of Signs By Tomorrow” will be introduced, featuring a new store design and signage, the latest advancements in technology, improved marketing packages for franchisees, a new national accounts program and additional improvements in areas such as internal communications and web advertising.
“It’s where we’re heading in the future and it will encompass every single aspect of our business,” McGuinness said. “This business today is more exciting than it ever has been. What we are doing right now is just short of revolutionary.”
Numbers illustrate the breadth of Signs By Tomorrow’s success. Systemwide sales were $53 million in 2004 and are expected to reach $60 million in 2005. Same-store sales in 2004 increased 20 percent over the previous year with the trend expected to continue through 2005. Signs By Tomorrow has plans to open 20 to 22 stores in 2006 with projections for 300 stores within five years.
“Every one of our franchisees should wake up in the morning, look in the mirror and say, ‘There’s a whole new world out there today. How am I going to adjust to it? That is what it takes to be successful not only in this business but in any business,” McGuinness said.
When Signs By Tomorrow was founded, McGuinness had a simple premise: Growth would come through smart and aggressive entrepreneurs who hired computer graphics professionals to handle production while the franchisees focused on sales and marketing.
“I’m not an artist and can’t draw,” said McGuinness. “The key was computers and getting our people trained in those areas. There wasn’t an industry when we started, so everything was a clean piece of paper. It was just a matter of showing up every morning and figuring out what was next.”
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