After working as a project manager for the same company for about 12 years, Ann Young was one of 2,500 people who was told one day, “This is the end”. She got a year of severance pay and an outplacement package that included résumé help, networking and “a lot of Webinars,” she said.
One of the Webinar topics was entrepreneurship, an option Young had never considered during her corporate life. But as she listened to the webcast and learned what skills were required to run a business, she realized, “I can do that. I can do that. I can do that.” She was introduced to Mike Welch, owner of FranNet Minnesota, which connects prospective business owners with franchise opportunities.
“Mike did a personal assessment that covered strengths and weaknesses, beliefs and core values,” Young said. “One of my strongest values was security. For someone who is security-based, starting a business is a pretty big risk. I said, ‘I’m willing to pursue this one step further. The more information I have, the better I can make decisions.’”
Of the wide variety of options available, SignWorld appealed to Young. “I’m creative and artistic, but I have a lot of organizational experience that I want to use, too,” Young said. In addition, she appreciated the fact that “a sign company is eight-to-five Monday through Friday. Not that I only work eight to five, but my client isn’t somebody who’s going to have an emergency fire on Thanksgiving. This is just a regular job. That’s what I came from.”
What she bought from SignWorld was a business model, not a franchise. “It’s my own company name, my own direction. They give you a guide, but you don’t have to follow anything you don’t want to. I can pursue my own vendors or work with the national group. We have Mastermind meetings where I can connect with peers. There’s a forum where we can go ask questions,” she said.
Signsational is now in its fifth year and, Young said, “I can’t imagine any other way.”
What part of the job is most fun?
I always prefer customer interaction. Being able to brainstorm with somebody involves the artistic, creative side. Customers look to me for guidance.
What’s the biggest challenge?
The hardest thing for me is having my hands in all the pies. It’s more difficult for me to give up that responsibility and knowledge about all the details. It costs a lot of money to get to where I am. To offer that responsibility to somebody and say, “I’m not going to be involved in that any more” — it’s that risk thing.
Have you had any problems in the traditionally male sign industry?
I joined an association of women contractors. There are a lot — you’d be surprised. That made it easier for me to understand other people could do it. I’m on the sixth floor of a professional building. No other company in the business would do that. They thought I was crazy. In a lot of sign companies — I’ve seen many now — it’s messy. Their walls are covered with samples. There are different materials and textures. I had that at first because I was trying to mimic other people. Nobody could feel calm looking at that. Now I have really contemporary looking steel cords with clamps that hold samples in acrylic panels. A woman wants to make their office their home, too. □