(Ambrosio’s note: Jim Tatem is one of the most engaging subjects I’ve had the pleasure of featuring on Franchise Chatter. His passion for the company, his franchisees, and their customers is very evident from the interview. I really enjoyed learning more about SIGNARAMA from Jim, and now have a greater appreciation for the sign business and its appeal. Thanks, Jim!)
Jim Tatem (“JT”) majored in Commercial Art at the Art Institute in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and has a graphic design background, including experience in hand painting, illustrating, and screen printing. He’s been with SIGNARAMA since its inception in 1986, at the ripe old age of 21.
I joined SIGNARAMA in 1986 as a result of answering an ad in Long Island’s News Day, the local newspaper. The ad read, “Trainee position. No experience necessary. Full company training and benefits.” I remember reading that ad and saying to myself “that’s me” and after four interviews in my cousin Kevin’s borrowed suit and tie and competing with other candidates in three-piece suits with portfolios, I was hired.
I knew I liked art, and with a limited amount of experience in my college education, I was really excited to be able to work in an environment that allowed me to use my creativity, interact with other people, and most importantly, drive around on the weekends and see my finished work.
I’d have to say that for many people that have joined the SIGNARAMA franchise, the satisfaction that they get from seeing their impact on their local business community and being able to show off their work certainly carries a personal reward.
2. Why should someone interested in owning his or her own business consider a sign franchise?
I’d say it’s because we are “in the business of helping other businesses increase their business.” Now that might sound a little complicated, but the truth is that every SIGNARAMA franchisee helps businesses in their community get more customers, sell more services, and make more money.
It also gives them the ability to have a great quality of life because we serve businesses. Their store will typically be open normal business hours Monday through Friday and possibly half a day on Saturday. Unlike the food businesses, there is a relatively low inventory, no spoilage of product, you don’t have to worry about your employees eating your profits or giving away free product to their friends.
Signs are obviously a custom business so most projects and most customers are very rarely the same. It certainly makes each customer interaction and each sign project unique and rewarding in their own ways.
SIGNARAMA was the first franchise brand to embrace the full-service concept. We teach new and existing franchisees to always say “yes we can” to all customer requests and then to call on the resources of our network to make sure we fulfill our promise to the sign buyer. With a network of over 400 suppliers and a dozen exclusive supplier partners, we’re confident we can offer a great quality product on time to our customers — at a fair value every time.
We’re the first franchise brand to go international and with more and more business being done on a global level today than ever before, we’ve always believed that was the right strategy.
We’re the first company to introduce online ordering as part of our franchise model, the first company to embrace a direct marketing program on a local level, the first brand to embrace and promote latex printing through our exclusive worldwide partnership with HP — which also gives us the opportunity to offer a recyclable product line that satisfies our environmentally-conscious customers.
SIGNARAMA is the first company to create our own internal “BNI/networking” group by sharing customers with our sister companies EmbroidMe, Billboard Connection, and Plan Ahead Events. Through this unique program called Starpoint Services, we’re able to ensure that our customers not only get the best quality signs, but also promotional products, embroidered garments, business and event planning, or outdoor advertising solutions.
SIGNARAMA’s cloud computing POS technology allows franchise operators to log in remotely from anywhere in the world with Internet access, place, track, and complete customers’ orders online 24/7.
What it really comes down to for us is continually innovating and creating profitable solutions for our customers and our franchise operators.
4. What qualities do you look for in a prospective franchisee?
We’ve got great franchisees from all walks of life, varying career experience, and different seasons of life. We believe in giving our franchisees an equal and legitimate shot at becoming highly successful at running their own business by providing them with the opportunity, the support, and the network to make that happen.
When you see a couple like Joel and Mary in Carmel, IN who took a sign business running out of their garage and 13 years later have a highly successful franchise operation serving thousands of clients and continually growing year after year, it’s because they took the system and put it into place. Lino was a produce delivery driver and his wife, Maria, a school teacher in the NYC public school system. 19 years later their store is consistently in the Top 10 performers of our network.
They may not all have the same backgrounds, business experience, or life experience, but what they do have is determination, an entrepreneurial spirit, a willingness to adapt and implement the franchise model, the willingness to be team players who consistently give back to the franchise system. Those are the real qualities that we look for.
SIGNARAMA, being a business-to-business concept, really thrives in any community where businesses abound. We’ll do a complete demographic study of an area including traffic counts, business counts, and traffic flow, looking for the growth areas. We’ll also drive an area and help a franchisee find the best location with a good mix of different types of businesses.
We’re not as interested in the overall population as we are in the number of businesses located in those areas. Then, using a very unique active marketing approach, we’ll help the franchisee implement the program and make contact with the businesses in his or her area. After all, people want to do business with people they know and people they trust and the way to make that happen is to build relationships.
6. Based on your observations, what concrete steps do your most successful franchisees take in order to build and grow their businesses?
As in any franchise model, success depends on the ability of franchisees to implement the franchise model in their day-to-day operation. Successful franchisees actively market and promote their business in the local business community. They spend time everyday meeting with and gaining new customers through prospecting, community involvement, and daily sales meetings. Some of our top franchisees also employ outside sales staff.
Additionally, more and more franchise operators are embracing lead generation and sales generation through the Internet. Working with our Ad Fund as well as on a local basis, we’re implementing strategies for SEO, social media, and pay per click advertising, which all increase the number of incoming leads and inquiries which then results in increased sales.
Our new franchisee training program is 5 weeks long — comprised of 2 weeks at our corporate headquarters in West Palm Beach, FL and 3 weeks of on the job and in-location training. Those 3 weeks are conducted with the help of local franchise operators as well as local field support people based in cities around the world.
Those local back up and support staff provide the initial training and assistance with hiring staff, developing vendor relationships, regional meetings, and franchisee and staff training over the course of the year.
We also hold our “World Expo” Franchisee Convention every 18 months. In between, we do Super Regional Meetings where we spend 2 days learning from suppliers, conducting break out and training sessions, and rolling out new technology and advances for our franchisees.
Our Business Development program allows us to do specific benchmarking and strategic planning with our franchisees to help them continually grow by identifying strong areas of operation and areas needing improvement. Our Technical Communication Center provides franchisees access through email and toll-free numbers to get on-going technical support. Our Marketing Department continually creates marketing collateral, monthly marketing specials, email marketing templates, and more.
8. What would you tell a prospective franchisee who wants to know about the profit potential of a SIGNARAMA franchise?
One of the most unique parts of our process is having prospective franchisees meet with one of our regional representatives who can take them out and show them SIGNARAMA businesses in action — see the equipment, see the sign making process, but most importantly, give them the opportunity to speak to the owners of the business. We’ve always found that the best way to learn about any business is to speak to someone who does it everyday for a living.
I would say that I don’t have too many typical days. Each day is exciting and brings new challenges and opportunities.
I’ve grown up in this industry and I love being close enough to touch new products and services, to explore new opportunities with our suppliers, to help our Marketing and Research and Development Teams continually look forward to the future, and then to be able to visit franchise operators — sit across from them in their store, review their business performance, and help them create solid paths for going forward.
10. Is there anything else that you’d like to share with us about SIGNARAMA?
SIGNARAMA to me is a big company, but we still run it like a small company. I report directly to our CEO, Ray, who’s not only my boss, but after 25 years is also a good friend. The average tenure of the people reporting directly to him is over 20 years.
We’re a privately held company. We don’t answer to a board of directors or shareholders and that allows us to make quick decisions, continually look to move our company forward, and work closely with our franchisees.
One of the things we take a lot of pride in is that we’re from the industry. We have spent the last quarter of a century growing and developing — as the industry has grown and developed itself — and we feel that brings a very viable and credible resource to our franchise operators.
For those interested in running a business on their own, but not completely by themselves, to be involved in an industry that continues to grow and helps other businesses build their businesses, with a network of franchise partners that are all interested in doing one thing and doing it better than anyone else, SIGNARAMA could be a great opportunity for them.