Five years ago, Ed Gonzales started Pilot Signs, a Brunswick, Ohio-based business that designs, fabricates, and installs custom signs, graphics, and three-dimension lettering. Ed admits the company is still growing, saying “We’re still small, but I’ve seen about a 30% average growth rate, year over year.” How has he achieved this growth? With the help of the Akron chapter of SCORE, a local organization that offers free business counselling, and his SCORE counselor, Al Morrison.
Over the past five years, Al has guided Ed, helping him focus on the priorities of the business, including finding the right type of clients. “He kept hammering that in to me, what type of client are you really looking for. Because in this business, you can spend a lot of time going after the wrong client.” Ed now focuses on high-end custom work, saying “Anybody can make banners; anybody can make yard signs. We tend to focus on custom signs that really do involve some custom work that gives us an opportunity to add value.” This strategy seems to be paying off as 65% of Ed’s business is from referrals from his clients.
With the help of SCORE, Ed has been able to expand his business into new territory. Having recently acquired a CNC router, Pilot Signs is able to shrink the time needed to create custom 3D lettering for clients, something Ed sees as an incredible competitive advantage.
Ed says, “I really appreciate the fact that [Al] can come in here and really make me step back and think about where I am, where I’m trying to get to, and more importantly, what I need to do to get there.”
SCORE has not only helped Ed grow a business, but has also helped plan for his eventual retirement. “We talked about an exit strategy. That’s very important, you have to talk about it early in the life of the business.” Ed’s plans are to eventually bring on a general manager, which will allow Ed to be a part of Pilot Signs while still enjoying the retirement life. “There’s still some more work to do around that, but at least there’s, I’ll call it a framework…in terms of where I want to go with this thing.”
Has creating this business been easy? No, Ed says. “It’s a small business, you have to do what you have to do get that order…So the business continues to move in the right direction. I’m excited. Do we have challenges? You bet.” However, SCORE has helped Ed overcome these challenges and grow the business. One thing Ed says SCORE has helped with the most is giving him, “A clearer understanding of my customers, my products, and my process.”