Profile: Roger Sammel
Essex Junction, Vermont
By SignCraft Magazine
Posted on Sunday, January 1st, 2017
Sammel Sign Company
3200 sq. ft.
Multicam 3000 CNC router
Roland VS540 digital printer
Roland 30-inch CAMM 1 cutter
Two iMacs and several PCs
My background is in furniture building and manufacturing, but I landed in the sign industry because there’s not a lot of money to be made in custom furniture and cabinets. For the most part, the benchmarks that people use for that work are massproduced products. A custom cabinet maker can’t compete with that in Vermont.
Beyond that, though, is the opportunity for creativity in signs. We may use similar processes and techniques on a sign, but every sign is somewhat unique. And signs are essential advertising and identification that every business needs.
I opened Sammel Sign Company in 2002 after working in a sign shop for four years. It’s been an adventure. We do all types of signs, including vehicles, windows and flat signs, but prefer 3D work. Because of my woodworking and manufacturing background, we get into a lot more display work than most sign shops.
I have three awesome people working with me full-time now. Ted has been with me almost 2 years, Austin just finished his first year, and Lissy started here last June. They’re all relatively young in the industry, and very energetic and invested in the work. A lot of good ideas get tossed around and there’s a lot of collaboration.
Our shop is 3200 sq. ft. About one-third of that is clean space for design and printing. The remaining space is shop space including a separate room for painting. We recently switched to the Matthews paint system [www. matthewspaint.com], which is giving us great results. We like the ease of application and finish options.
While there is a need for signs, you still have to deal with the same sales challenges on most projects. Most customers don’t buy signs very often, so if they have a price in mind, it may not be based on what signs really cost to produce. Besides coming up with a design that works, you have to explain to them the value of the project, too.
After you’ve been in the business for a while and you have the experience, it gets easier to speak with confidence. I know customers pick up on this. If you’re tentative and unsure of yourself, don’t expect it to build confidence in the customer’s mind.
The best sales tool is getting them to come to the shop. We have plenty of examples of different projects, techniques and methods for them to look at. Show-and-tell is a huge part of the sales process for me. They see the hundreds of different ways to make signs from digital prints on aluminum composite material to complex 3D signs and displays.
Once they’ve seen a lot of examples of what can be done, I usually explain that almost anything is possible, but it does come down to a matter of budget. As they look at the examples, I often throw out a few sales price ranges for the work they’re looking at and watch for their reaction.
If it’s obvious that someone really likes a certain type of work, yet they cringe when they hear what it would cost, then you know where they’re at. Sometimes it means you have to “value engineer” a way to get some of that same look and feel at a lower cost, and other times it’s just not possible.
All of our clients comes via word-of-mouth and referrals. I haven’t done any advertising for years. I don’t do any SEO on our site, yet we still come up very high on the list on many searches. We get inquiries from all over the world. It’s led to work that we shipped all over the country as well as to Japan, Germany and Australia.
Over the years I’ve also developed strong relationships with several graphic designers and interior designers. We do a lot of the production for them. We go the extra mile with proofing and communication to make sure their projects go smoothly for them.
Even for our other customers, we do a very complete proposal in writing for most jobs. We send PDF files of the layouts and a written contract that clearly states the terms. We like to give all that information up front so that we don’t have any surprises on either side. It makes the work go more smoothly, too.
Sometimes customers ask you if you can change this typeface or switch these colors or change the size of this graphic. They’re trying to design it themselves, and they don’t know how to do that. To me, that usually means that we haven’t helped that client develop as much trust in us as we should have. Sometimes I just have to say, “Trust us—this is what you need….” You have to choose your battles.
I’ve been in business long enough that I can stand up for what I know is right. It wasn’t always that way.
To build that trust in the customer, we try to be very good listeners. In some cases I produce two drawings: one that’s exactly what they asked for and the other that is what I believe they need. Usually they understand that better than a lot of explanation.
Plenty to keep track of
We do thousands of projects each year. It really surprises me to look back at this year’s folder on the server and see the files for all the projects. It’s amazing how much work we put through the shop, yet that’s what it takes to pay the bills.
We’ve recently started using Quotewerks quoting software to create and manage quotes and estimates. It also lets us provide a link that takes the customer to their quote and drawing. From there they can ask questions and clarify things, and ultimately accept the quote and provide a deposit. It’s easy for customers and they like that.
We’re also starting to use Fusion360, which is Autodesk’s new 3D design software. You can design it, create a model that you save online and then share with the customer via a link. They can view it in 3D, and rotate and zoom. You can produce the shop drawings, and the file can ultimately go to the router for production.
I’ve always looked for ways to improve our tools, techniques, knowledge and processes. The staff sees it the same way. We’re doing some planning and forward thinking now. The four of us are thinking about where we want Sammel Signs to be five years from now. My hope is ultimately to pass the business along to one or all of them.
For a lot of small independent sign shops, the owner and his or her skills provide the bulk of the value of the business. Once their talent is retired, there’s nothing there. But by building a team and developing systems and processes, you’re adding value to the business that makes it more sustainable. The cumulative talents of the team become the value of the company. That’s our big picture, but now we need to work out the specifics.