Master’s Touch Designs
2800 sq. ft.
Roland VersaCAMM SP-300v 30 in. cutter
EnduraLam 2 laminator
Draws and paints on a Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2
When I was 16 I bought an airbrush and taught myself how to use it. I started doing airbrushed T-shirts for my friends. Before long I was the only kid in my high school who was running his own business. From there I got into sign painting, and that’s where it all started.
My dad was a car salesman and auto body guy. I was more into books and art while growing up, so when I told him I wanted to go to college for art, it was a shock. I knew I had to prove to him that I could make a living with art and design. Signs were just a natural way to do that, and I was already headed in that direction.
I’m really grateful that I was able to have a foot in both the traditional sign painting world and the world of computers. I learned graphic design in college, and later worked as a graphic artist in a sign shop. After a year or so Melissa, my wife,
encouraged me to go out on my own. In 1994, we moved back to Clinton and started working out of the house. It’s a small town in a county of about 16,000.
Eventually we got a storefront location and later a 7000-sq.-ft. shop. We had our shop there for about 18 years. The recession changed all that.
2005 and 2006 were our best years, then things began to taper off. Our local economy took several hits. A tornado caused a lot of damage and what little industry we had was shutting down. The fracking industry helped a bit, but it wasn’t the same.
It took me a little while to read the writing on the wall. Things weren’t going to be the same for a while. We gave up the storefront, worked out of the shop at home and went mobile in an effort to cover a wider area.
Things have slowly turned around. About two years ago we opened a shop about an hour away here in Conway, which is a town of about 60,000.
We’re building our business and our brand on offering good design. It’s more of
an old-school approach. I can pick up a pencil and draw, and do a quick sketch for someone. We’re working on our display area so that when someone stops in they’ll see that we do more than just cutting out letters or printing signs.
We get our share of price shoppers and people who are focused on the price of the job. I tell them that we’re not going to be the cheapest because our concern is getting them the best value for what they spend. We don’t want to give them something generic at a low price just to make the sale—we want to do something that’s exceptional for them at a fair price. When you show some enthusiasm and interest in their graphics, it gets them excited about their brand and marketing—even if they haven’t given it much thought before. Otherwise, you’re just taking the order and there’s nothing for them to get excited about.
Nine times out of 10 most customers haven’t considered their brand at all. I try to do a little education so that they understand what a critical factor it is in the success of their business. Big companies and chains don’t spend a lot of money on developing their image just for fun. They know you need that to succeed.
We all know the story of the trucker who buys a $150,000 truck then goes to Walmart to get some stick-on letters for the door. People don’t always think about the image their graphics create. When you help them get some attractive, effective signage, they’ll be your customer forever. And they tell their friends who are in business about you, too.
We’re doing a lot of vehicle wraps. We do it all, though, from banners to billboards and illuminated signs. We outsource the things that we can’t do in-house, like channel letters. I have a 30-in. digital printer, so any of the larger work I send to someone like Signs365.com. We get our business cards printed by Printograph. com, which is a wholesale printing source.
You can find customers who want unique design and are willing to invest in that. They want to build a brand for their business. They want good signage. They’re willing to buy welldesigned business cards from you rather than get the low-cost stock designs they can get from someone like Vistaprint.
Wearing so many hats
For me, the most challenging part of the business is juggling all the projects and still doing all the grind-it-out design work that has to get done. Not long ago I added one part-time person so that’s helping, but you still have the supervision thing to
manage. In a small shop you have to do so much yourself and switch between different tasks constantly.
You may be working away on a design and making progress, then a customer comes in or calls. You have to forget completely about that other project and focus on what they need. When you return to that design you were working on it takes time to get back on track.
Several years ago, we offered print-ready flame graphics for vehicles as DigitalFlames. net. That website is on hold, because I am revamping the whole line of graphics. I’m looking forward to getting that up again soon.
In between all this I had some health issues, including a fall from a ladder that tore several tendons in my ankle. I still need some additional surgery on that. Those sorts of things derail your business for a while.
Ideally, what I want to do over the next few years is to grow the business into a more full-service design shop. SignCraft has been a big influence on me to branch out and try new things. The ideal scenario would be to have a web developer, a salesperson and a full-time production person on staff. Then I could focus on design and the marketing and administration. Till then, it’s mostly a matter of getting the work done and growing our customer base.