October '22

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G R A P H I C S - P R O. C O M O C T O B E R 2 0 2 2 • G R A P H I C S P R O 6 7 for millennials) to our vendors financial support, some over many generations of involvement. We owe them a lot. When we bought our sign company in 2006, we had great tim- ing, and the country went into a recession the next month. Who knew? I can tell you horror stories of defunct 401Ks and other per- sonal investments. Remember the financial planning three-legged stool? Ours was balsa wood. I've not yet drawn Social Security so I will let you know how that works out. If it's there when I start. My initial thoughts were to buy the items we needed to produce signs, banners, window/vehicle graphics, ADA plaques, imprinted promo items, decorated apparel, and screen-printing equipment/ supplies from the cheapest source. After all, they were the same brands at various suppliers so why not pay the least amount? More profit, right? Wrong. Cheapest is not always the best value. at should be in today's school curriculum. at is still my biggest challenge in educating customers and new salespeople. ey always want it fast, with great quality and the cheapest price. Sorry, Mr. Customer, pick two of three. Wrong. ey want all three. After the "lovely" financially challenged years of 2008-2010, we learned that cheap could also mean late shipments, wrong mate- rial delivered (even if you had it correct and in writing) and my favorite, "We showed it was in stock when you ordered it but the actual in the warehouse didn't match my computer." So, you're late on the order and you must sell it all over again to keep your best customer — and work overtime to get it done. It seemed like we were not-for-profit. We also learned the lesson of 'lost opportunity.' ere is a finan- cial and associated time cost when you must remake a job twice or can't produce it in time when the materials are late. Or you mess up the installation by rushing instead of thinking it through. It eats at your margin like a cancer. And let me interject an axiom that changed how we made financial decisions after these chal- lenges. is was an epiphany given to us by a CPA in Wichita Falls, Texas, who was a valued confidant, mentor, and friend. He had an uncanny way of explaining complex financial theory and tax code so us mortals got it easily. It was his superpower. He said, "Make every major decision in the context of what it will do (or if it will impact in a positive way) the day you sell your company." at makes you live in the future. You will think totally different about the "here and now" afterward. But I digress. We began to talk to other vendors. We found some that used sophisticated means to track their inventory. Other suppliers had different cultures that we wanted to emulate. ey actually under- stood branding. And isn't that the business we're all in? eir order accuracy was way better. And their pricing was higher than what we paid previously. But guess what happened? As we made a leap of faith and changed vendors, the cancer went into remission. In some areas, it disappeared faster than our 401K. And even if these suppliers had more aggressive payment terms, we started to thrive. e relationships strengthened, espe- cially when our salesperson would drive two hours to bring us one small sheet of polycarbonate. ey were not just talk; they were different. And the 5% increase we paid changed to a 15% increase to our bottom line. As years flew by, these relationships with key vendors became stronger. We interviewed vendors like potential employees. We asked a lot of questions. We went on many tours of their facilities. But our business grew and so did theirs. ey helped us in stra- tegic ways that changed the trajectory of our company's growth. ey mentored us. One even put into motion events that ulti- mately led to our sale in 2017 to our current employer. And that was very good for all parties. at transaction helped propel us forward with big resources to grow in a way we could not. And we'll always be grateful we aligned ourselves with like-minded vendors and changed the way we viewed purchasing forever. So, get working on the vendor leg of your three-legged stool. You will one day look back and realize how important that block of wood became. Your stool is one of the many decisions that will positively impact the day you sell your company. en you will have enough money to buy a recliner. GP Paul Ingle started selling signs in 1985, having worked with local, national, and global accounts with custom, architectural, and production manufacturing firms. Since 1973, he's held roles in sales, sales management, and marketing. From 2006-17, he and his wife Nita owned Design Center Signs in Tyler, Texas (now a Comet Signs company). DCS provided various branding solutions. Paul is a past president of the Texas Sign Associ- ation and its regional chapter the Greater DFW Sign Association. Contact him at paul. CUSTOMERS EMPLOYEES VENDORS

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