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October 3, 2013 (Louisville, Ky.)– When Maggie Harlow opened her Signarama store at 909 E. Market St. in Louisville in 2003, she did it to create a new future for her family. Initially she saw significant and near-instantaneous success, breaking records for a new store and requiring immediate expansion to keep up. But when the recession hit in 2009, Harlow said she was slow to react and found herself struggling to maintain the business she had grown. Thanks to some difficult decisions and hard business savvy, though, Harlow has been able to turn her company around and is seeing big growth and profits once again.
“It was a challenging position to be in as a business owner,” said Harlow. “But we’ve turned a corner, and we feel like the sky is the limit again.”
Signarama provides comprehensive sign and graphic services to both the private and commercial segments of the community. The company offers impactful marketing solutions from digital signs to vehicle wraps, banners, monument, neon, LED and pylon signs.
Harlow chose to open a Signarama franchise when her father retired and sold his automotive retail business that he had opened in 1980. She worked for her father for almost 15 years, and wanted to continue to maintain a family business. Signarama resonated with her. “I liked the core concepts,” she explained. “I fabricate what I sell, and I sell what I want, when I want, to whom I want. I work with a really creative staff and creative customers, and we produce no hazardous waste. Signarama was exactly what I was looking for in a business.” After opening her store, Harlow’s husband, Brian, joined the business team and their children came to work for them during their summer vacations. The family’s initial runaway success prompted Harlow to move quickly to expand her staff and clients and, in turn, expand her space. Her father bought a large commercial property and they put together a plan for her to acquire the building. They continued to grow until the recession hit in 2009.
“I was way too slow to react and unsure of what to do,” she said. “It started to create problems not just financially but personally and after three years I realized I had to do something drastic.”
Harlow’s solution was to cut all the excess from her business. They turned the building back over to her father, relocated to a smaller space, cut their rent, cut out wasteful expenses and reduced their staff. They also began to turn away new clients. “I decided to focus on taking care of my current clients. I knew it was a risky move and I wasn’t sure how things would turn out. In reality, it was just what we needed.”
Harlow says the smaller space put her in better contact with employees and customers, and energized the whole staff. While she lost a few clients, the closer relationships she was able to form by scaling back have enabled her business to grow and profit again. Currently
her Signarama location is looking at 50 percent growth this year over last year, and profit as a percentage has quadrupled.
“My husband and I both have liberal arts degrees; we went to the business school of hard knocks and came out the other side,” Harlow said. “Now my biggest question is ‘What do I want to be? Bigger? Or just better?’ I think just better.”
Approaching 900 locations worldwide, Signarama was founded in 1986 by Ray Titus and his father, franchising pioneer, Roy Titus. The company expects further expansion in Kentucky, with plans to open 15 locations in the state within five years. In the greater Louisville area, Signarama plans to open five additional locations, targeting Bowling Green, Owensboro and other surrounding cities for growth. Signarama plans to open 50 locations through the end of 2013 and have more than 1,200 units worldwide by the end of 2016.
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