September '21

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IN THE TRENCHES R I C K W I L L I A M S 1 0 G R A P H I C S P R O S E P T E M B E R 2 0 2 1 G R A P H I C S - P R O. C O M T he woman from Overton, Texas, pop- ulation 1,200, came in the shop two or three weeks before Christmas sev- eral years ago. The petite 20-year-old blonde was polite and spoke with a soft Texas drawl as she ordered a sign for the gate of their family farm as a present for her dad. I had done a few jobs for him and the company he ran previously, but could hardly picture who he was at the time. I asked my young client about herself and her family, and in the process found out that she was a student at Stephen F. Austin University down in Nacog- doches, which was also where my son, Slade, was getting his business degree at the time. I inquired if she had by chance met Slade Williams during her time on the campus down there. Beth Ann Wedgeworth replied, "I'm not sure that I have, but then there are thousands of young men who go to school at SFA." "Well, when you get back to college after the holidays, you might look him up," I responded, then finished by saying, "And, you won't have a hard time finding him, be- cause he's the smartest, best-looking young man there." She smiled, almost giggled, but my expression was a bit more serious as I pretty much meant what I said. She would come to believe it later. In fact, her dad Steve is still a customer and told me just the other day that Beth Ann describes Slade, who she knows quite well today, as probably the smartest person she's ever met. And I imagine she finds him pretty attractive too, after seven years of marriage and two beautiful kiddos … who are also mighty smart and beautiful if you ask either one of their granddads. Slade and his older brother, Sloan, grew up around the sign shop, and worked there on and off until they left for college. Sloan was gone for only a year or so, then worked at several different jobs before coming to work full-time at the sign shop. He never determined what he should study at col- lege, and I had only done a bit better having finished a local two-year college. Barely 20 years old and already buried with sign work, I decided to stay home, get married, rent a tiny shop building, and go full-time in the sign and graphics business. I have experienced a lot of things in the commercial sign business, both good and bad, but I have never been bored. Not so for Sloan, the older brother. He knew soon after being full-time at the sign shop that there were other things he wanted to do. And, without the business degree his brother earned, talked me into going into another business, attracted his brother into the fray as well, and Sloan's idea of a new venture will soon be 10 times bigger than the sign shop. So, my growing family has changed my life, changed everything, and I definitely can't be bored now. Not that things are easy, or ever have been, except maybe steering my daughter-in-law in the right direction. I have to admit, that was fairly easy. Running a family business is never easy, as even two good boys, two brothers with talent, are not going to get along every day, and might, just might not get along any day if dad was not also involved. These two boys are so different it is amazing. For example, the last business trip we took together just before COVID was to an in- dustrial trade show in Atlanta. We drove to Dallas together to catch the plane and had time to eat a pleasant lunch before the flight. Sloan's lunch involved three spiked iced teas, maybe four, just to get him relaxed enough to get on the plane. He rarely even drinks but hates to fly, and that's what it took to get him in the air. By contrast, his little brother Slade is a pilot himself. And so is his old geezer dad, and we barely kept from laughing at Sloan's obvious discomfort, but all was fine after Sloan fell asleep on the plane. The trade show, like others, was our continued education, better than college for the guys without degrees, and also for the one who has one. The equipment we decided to buy at the Atlanta show would put me further in debt than ever before. But the two guys I flew with that trip have made every payment and will continue to do so. Thankful. That's what I am, and that's what I should be. Life's an adventure, and to experience it with the most important people in the world who are making more most impor- tant people (Sloan and Amy have four kid- dos, solidly ahead of Slade and Beth's two) would be at the top of just about anyone's list, and certainly is at the top of mine. I hope your shop, your business, and your story are interesting and rewarding ones, and you are having a great month. If my story was over tomorrow, I'd have no room to complain. Rick Williams owns Rick's Sign Company, a commercial sign shop in Longview, Texas. He has been in the sign industry since 1973 and has been a contributing editor to Sign Business and Sign & Digital Graphics since 1986. Contact Rick via email at LIFE AND CONTINUED EDUCATION Left to right: Rick, Sloan, and Slade Williams.

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