BiggerPockets Business Podcast

BiggerPockets Business Podcast 74: Using a Real Estate Business to Grow a Real Estate Portfolio With Steve Strauss

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Are you looking for an awesome business opportunity in the real estate space and need some motivation to find it? Have you wondered how you can use your interest in real estate to generate additional income that you can then use to buy real estate? Or are you just looking for some motivation to start and grow a business that can generate millions of dollars per year?

Whatever your motivation, this episode is for you!

Steve Strauss — founder of Sign Central — figured out how he could build a 7-figure business helping real estate developers, agents and investors market their products.  And at the same time, start building his own real estate portfolio.  With nothing more than determination, dedication and LOTS of hard work, Steve was able to take a part-time side-hustle working for someone else, and grow a multi-faceted business that now serves some of the largest real estate developers in the country.

In this episode, Steve tells us how it took him a decade to go out on his own, but then how he went from side-hustle to big business over the course of just a few years.  He tells us how building relationships has propelled his business success, and has helped him nab some of his largest clients.  And how effective networking can be the difference between a stagnant business and one that starts to grow — and keeps growing — quickly!

Steve then talks about how he was able to take his company from 2 employees to 12 employees, virtually overnight.  While it may seem like a daunting task, Steve provides the single biggest key to achieving this growth with minimal headache and minimum financial risk.

And make sure you listen to the end, where Steve talks about how he helped his community during Covid, but did so in a way that has brought him additional business and is likely to benefit him long into the future.

Check him out, and subscribe to the BiggerPockets Business Podcast so you won’t miss our next show!

Click here to listen on Apple Podcast.

Listen to the Podcast Here

Read the Transcript Here

J:
Welcome to the BiggerPockets Business Podcast show number 74.

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Steve:
… Just walk in, show that you’re a good person, don’t necessarily ask for the business, they may not be able to give it to you. So just go in and be polite and be nice. And as long as you’re persistent and do the same thing and do what you say you’re going to do, at some point in time, the business will come to you.

J:
Welcome to a real world MBA from the school of hard knocks where entrepreneurs reveal what it really takes to make it. Whether you’re already in business or you’re on your way there. This show is for you. This is BiggerPockets Business.
How’s it going, everybody? I am J. Scott. I’m your cohost for the BiggerPockets Business Podcast. And I am here with the one, the only, the amazing, the lovely Mrs. Carol Scott, how are you doing today Carol Scott?

Carol:
Doing really well. And so incredibly over the top grateful that we are finally recording an episode from our new house. It’s been a summer of absolutely crazy, and I know we all, all our listeners, all over the country, we’re dealing with a year of crazy. We have moved from one house to another.
Gladly J was a complete Rockstar in selling our old house for top dollar, in finding a bargain on a new house with a heck of a lot more space. So we can spread out while the kids are doing their remote learning from home. We’re recording from two little closet offices and making it all work out. So thank you, honey for working out this situation for us. It’s nice to finally be settled.

J:
Yes, I agree. Nice to be in the new office with the same background behind me pretty much. We have a great episode today. Our guest is Steve Straus, he is the founder of a company called Sign Central. And it’s a business that’s geared towards helping real estate developers market their properties, you know this type of business.
Anytime you drive down the street, and you see a directional sign that says, open house here, or units coming soon or model home. Basically all of those signs and marketing collateral that real estate developers put out, new home developers put out, real estate agents put out. There are companies out there that actually put those signs out.
And Steve’s company is one of those companies. But not only does he put out the signs, but he also creates the signs and does all the marketing and everything. Basically, it’s a soup to nuts marketing business for real estate developers and new home builders. So Steve has used this business, essentially as a springboard for his own real estate investing business. I like to call this a real estate adjacent business because it has to do with real estate.
And he’s taken much of the profits and much of the cash flow that’s come from this business and put it into real estate himself. He now owns over a dozen residential properties, half dozen commercial properties. So Steve is really involved in real estate from all sides of the coin.
So on this episode, Steve talks us about a whole bunch of really cool things. One, he talks to us about the single biggest key to quick growth and hiring lots of employees at once. In his business, he went from basically two employees to 12 employees overnight, and had to figure out how to get those employees paid. And he gives an amazing tip for how you hire quickly but still are able to pay your employees.
Steve talks about the great benefits of building relationships. We hear about that from a lot of our guests. But he has this one amazing tip for building relationships and the value of building relationships that I’ve never heard before and might be the absolute best tip out there for why building relationships is a way to springboard your business.
Steve talks about scaling his business, he talks about how scaling his business has allowed him to start a second business related to his hobby and his passion and focus on his hobby and his passion, and how he’s using his main business to finance and springboard that.
And then finally, make sure you listen for some amazing strategic insights for real estate investors who are investing in this crazy COVID time. As somebody who works with real estate developers and new home builders. Steve has some great insights into what’s going on in the market today.
This is a great episode. And I think it’ll be especially appealing to any of our listeners out there who are interested in real estate, who are in real estate investing or who have a real estate adjacent business.
So if you want to learn more about Steve, if you want to learn more about Sign Central, his business, or anything else we talk about on the show, check out our show notes at biggerpockets.com/bizshow74. Again, that’s biggerpockets.com/bizshow74. Now without any further ado let’s welcome Steve Straus to the show.

Carol:
Steve, welcome to our show. We are so looking forward to chatting with you today.

Steve:
Thank you so much for having me.

J:
Hey, we’re really excited about this. Okay, so you’re the sign guy. This is cool, because we have… A lot of our listeners are real estate investors. So this is going to be an episode that I think is going to intrigue a lot of people. And I know that what you do is situated very closely with real estate. So I have a feeling that we’re going to talk some real estate on this episode, and we’re going to talk some business on this episode. Really excited. So your company is Sign Central. Take us back. Let’s hear your backstory. What led you to start Sign Central? And what is Sign Central?

Steve:
Well, Sign Central is a compromise of several different things. I wanted to name the company Circus Signs, so that I could say we’re putting a tent over that circus, but nobody liked that idea. So we went with Sign Central because everything was centralized.
Going back, it's funny how things come back around. Because ironically, when I started in the sign business, I was actually a settlement officer for a title company in Maryland. And we move title companies, my sister was the attorney and I was with her and we move title companies. And she partnered up with another attorney.
Ironically enough, that attorney owned a service company over signs. And they would go out on the weekends and put signs up for builders or apartment complexes, that said model home turn right, model home turn left, and I got to talk to him about it.
And then that turned into me working weekends to make extra money to put up signs, I would start at 5PM on Friday afternoon, finish up at 9AM on Saturday morning, and then we’d have to start picking the signs up again on Sunday night after 6PM. And I’d be done by 6AM Monday morning.
And it kind of snowballed from there where builders would ask me for can you get a banner because I’m having trouble with my sign company. So I’d go to one of the guys that I knew and I talked to him and get the sign or the banner, and then I’d go out and dig the holes or hang the banner off the side of the model or anything like that.
Well, one day, I was in the middle of this. And I emailed over to one of the companies I was using, because at that point in time I had expanded so big that I was using two different production companies for the signs. I asked them for a price quote. I went out for the day and worked. And when I came back, the price quote was on my email. When I looked at it, he actually sent me the material cost list and not the final price.
So I did some quick math based off of what I was being charged and what he was buying things from. And I spent all night investigating what supplies I needed for the shop, what printer I needed, what computer software, everything that I needed.
And my brother came in the next day and said, “You’re still in the same clothes you were in yesterday. What are you doing?” I said, “I haven’t gone home. Look.” And I showed him. And within about six months, we bought a property. We bought the equipment. I stole two designers from that sign company. And we opened up Sign Central and May we celebrated 13 years.

J:
Wow. Okay, so this is awesome. So basically, you went from, “Hey, I found this little side gig of I’m going to put signs in on Friday and pick them up on Sunday and just side hustle, make a little extra money,” to I’m going to become a company that’s doing sign production and presumably kept doing the sign installation.
Yeah Sign Central is the right name. You’re now doing soup to nuts. You’re doing the creating of the signs. You’re doing the installation of the signs, you’re doing the marketing, you’re doing everything. I still want to go back a little bit though. And I want to hear how that all evolved. But I want to hear it… One day you heard about people put out signs on Friday, they pick them up on Sunday.
How did you get your first client? How did you get the first company that said, “Steve, I want you to be my sign guide. To go out and put signs up on Friday and pick them up on Sunday.” And how did you decide where to put the signs? And what was just this… Take us back. Pretend somebody wants to go do this tomorrow. What do they do?

Steve:
The funniest thing was is I bought into the business on Monday. And on Tuesday my mentors, it was Bob and Larry at the time that had got me into the position I needed to be. They said, “Hey look, you have to go meet George Bailey for Flagship Builders down in Annapolis. Here’s the address.”
So I went down and I had everything I could think of, every piece of marketing material, everything I could possibly think of to go into this meeting so that I was fully prepared. He’s actually still a close friend of mine. He was like, “Listen, stop, you’re overselling this. It’s simple. Here’s the signs. Here’s the address that I want you to run the signs to. You tell me how many you’re running, and then bill me.”
I said okay. I walked out of the office, I got the car, I went to the address. And then I started… At that time I had ABC maps. Remember those paper ABC maps we used to buy, I had a ABC map. And I drove to the property, left the property and I went to different intersections, and I marked on the paper and was like, “Okay, well, this is a major intersection. This is a major intersection. I need to get them from point A to point B. So I’ll add a couple straights in there.” And that’s how I’ve backed into drawing up the maps.

Carol:
I love how you’re just building your processes out of necessity. And I also love how George Bailey was like, “Don’t over complicate this, I need signs. I know you can make them. Make it happen. Send me a bill.” So I’m curious to see way back in the beginning 13 years ago, so that’s 2000… I’m so bad at math. What? 2007-ish.

Steve:
2007.

Carol:
2007. It sounds like you and maybe I think you said your brother started investigating how to make this happen. But it also sounded like in the very beginning, you were just putting signs up? And then you decided to go into sign production. So how did you go about figuring out what types of equipment you needed, where you would source that equipment, just all of the different nuts and bolts of physically making that product happen?

Steve:
I decided, after I got the material costs from the other sign company, which he shouldn’t have sent me and I did some investigating and stuff. Ironically, there was a sign show in Atlantic City, New Jersey about three weeks later.
And we went up there and I talked to a ton of different distributors. And it was sold on HP because I figured HP isn’t going anywhere, they’re going to stand behind their equipment. I made the purchase for the first HP there. And then I knew I needed a plotter. So that cuts the vinyl. The guy from HP recommended what I should buy for the plotter. And it just snowballed down that way.
So it was more of everything kind of blew up at one time. And we made mistakes. I bought some equipment that we didn’t need, I bought some equipment that was too expensive. But we just kept moving and we’ve adjusted and changed our path from there.

J:
So at what point did you realize that, I’ve gone from doing the side hustle on the weekends of installing signs to I’m now in the sign business and decided to pursue this full-time.

Steve:
Let me take it back. August 1st 1996. It was my first, when I bought into the company, ironically enough, the first weekend I started doing directional signs was the weekend of the Atlantic Olympic bombing. And I only know that because I woke up Saturday morning at three o’clock in the morning. And that was all plastered on TV. And so that sticks in my mind.
So I was doing the side hustle for about a year. And then August 1st of 1997 is when I started owning the business and installing the signs on the weekend. Then over that year or so I would have builders say I’m having trouble getting a banner from XYZ company, “Hey, I really need a sign that says do not smoke here. Can you work on that?” And I would just take that to the sign company and say here call this person. Call Barry, he needs a banner on the side or call this person, he needs this.
And the one sign company said to me, “You know what Steve, why don’t you get in the middle of this, I’ll do all the artwork, I’ll do all the production. You just tell me what I need to do.” At that time we did it in fax. He said, “Write it down, fax it to me, I’ll do the artwork, I’ll send it to you. And then you could send it to the client. I’ll also send you the pricing and you can mark it up 20%, 25%, whatever you want. You can make the difference in the profit. And then you can go out and install it and make some extra money.”
So like Barry would say, “Hey, I needed a banner on the side of a model.” So I would fax that to Paul and say, “Hey, I want a three by 10 banner that says model open.” Paul would fax it back. I’d send it to Barry. Barry would sign off on it. Paul would charge me $100, I would charge Barry $120 for the production. And then I charge $50 to go up on the ladder and drill into the side of the model and put the banner up.
And I just kept doing that more and more and I got more customers that would use me so I was the middleman for two different sign companies and I can I remember there were times that I would finish working in St. Mary’s County, which is two and a half hours away from my house. And then I would have to drive to Bel Air at that night to pick up the stuff for the installs tomorrow. I was on the road a lot and it was very crazy.

J:
And this is still… We’re talking 1997, 1998.

Steve:
Yes, yes, late 90s, early 2000s.

J:
And then what was the year that you got that email that basically gave away the sign company’s proprietary information about the cost, and you decide to do that yourself.

Steve:
It was at the end of 2006, because it was right around Christmas time. And January was when I decided we’re doing this on our own, we’re going to do everything. And I had signed the contract to buy the building that we’re in today late January. And he said it was going to take three to four months to build everything out to make sure to do everything that we wanted to do. So I ordered all the equipment to have it delivered. And we opened up Memorial Day of 2007.

Carol:
I love it. So you spent a full decade learning the business essentially being affiliated with these other two sign companies where you’re almost the broker in between?

Steve:
Correct.

Carol:
You’re going out to both in servicing all of these. I love it. So then 10 years later, when it was time to fully go out on your own. It sounds like who were all of your partners, and how did you fund it?

Steve:
Well, at the time, when we were doing the directional signs, that was the only thing we were doing was the installation side of it, I brought in the production side and the installation of the side stuff where we were the middleman. They had sectioned it off, there was two partners, Bob and Larry. And they had sectioned it off to region one and region two.
I would get paid off a profit for region two. When I decided to do Sign Central, I just went out on my own. At that time, I had started saving some money and bought all the equipment, bought the building, and just moved on from there. I kind of cut everybody else out. Now, my brother has been with me for, it's probably close to 20 years. I gave him some equity in the business, based on sweat equity that he's helped me.

J:
So basically, for the first 10 years, you were an employee.

Steve:
Correct.

J:
You had somebody else going out and getting you the leads and taking care of the marketing and you were just going out and doing the work. And then 2006, seven-ish is when it was like, this is now becoming my business.

Steve:
Actually, no, because I had to get the leads myself, no matter… I was a basic employee with compensation of profit. But what I did was is I had to get my own business. And at that time we were 100%, builder focused, we were only doing new home communities, new home rebuilds, and apartment complexes.
So what I would do is I would go out on Friday nights, put up the directional signs, I’d sleep in a parking lot somewhere in the truck, like at Walmart, or down south, there was a brand new wine auto parts I would stay, because they were safe areas.
And then I would get up in the morning, and I would go to the different builders that we didn’t do, and just knock on the door, walk into the model and be like, “Hi, my name is Steve. I’m with Builders Directional Signs. We do signs for US home or we do signs for Curtis homes. I’m in the area if you ever need any help, if you have any problems, please reach out, give me a call.”
And I would just cold call like that over and over and over again until people got to know who I was. And we did good work. And then if they had a problem on the weekend, the first person they called would be me. I’d go out fix their problem, and then we’d get the contract from there.

J:
I’m a little confused. Are you saying that you’ve been successful because of hard work?

Steve:
I tell people, I’m not the smartest person in the room. But I will outwork you, if you tell me what I need to do to be successful, I will work my butt off to get back to that point. I don’t know what I’m going to do. But if you tell me what I’m doing, I’ll go and do it.

J:
Literally you just said you go work until the middle of the night, you sleep in your car, in a parking lot. You get up the next morning, you start knocking on doors of people who aren’t your customers so that the next week you can do it even more.

Steve:
Yes.

J:
I love it.

Carol:
I love that. And I think that is one of those things that we talk about a lot on this show. I also think that based on the timeline of when this all started when you were doing it, that is when you really had no other option but to really just start going to knock on people’s doors and make those introductions, start forming those relationships. It sounds like those are back in the early days when, did we even have a cellphone at that point realistically?

Steve:
I did. I had a cell phone. But at the same token, when you called the model, you only got the salesperson. In order for the builders to change sign companies, you had to get to the salespersons boss, the VP of sales, the VP of marketing, whatever it was. Nobody was going to give you their number. You weren’t allowed to talk to them.
They had to call you. What I would do is just go make friends with the salespeople. Because there was one guy, I remember Ron Hubbard, he used to work for US Homes. I would go bring him coffee every morning. US Home was such a big builder at that time, now their Lenore. I used to go see Ron, every Saturday, I’d bring him a cup of coffee every once in a while, we’d sit, chat, discuss.
He’d say to me, “You’re a good guy. I’m sorry I can’t get the signs over to you.” And then this one time, Ron called me and said, “Listen, one of my sales persons over in the community Jay, Jay does not have any signs. I have here some in my closet, can you come get them and put them up? Our sign company screwed up?” I said no problem.
I went down there, grabbed the signs from his closet, went and put them up. Checked up with Jay. Jay was happy. That Monday after their Monday meeting. The VP of Sales called me and gave me the account for Jays community. And he said if you do good, we’ll expand. Within six months, I had all of US Homes. I was doing everything for them.

Carol:
What? That’s a huge account, that is a really crazy, huge account. And that was all because you were persistent and just took him coffee over and over without expectation of necessarily anything in return right away.

Steve:
That’s right. That’s right. One of my good friends who I always say is a great marketer, he always says people do business with the people they know, like and trust. So my thought is with marketing is just to get to know people, just walk in, show that you’re a good person, don’t necessarily ask for the business, they may not be able to give it to you. So just go in and be polite and be nice. And as long as you’re persistent, and do the same thing and do what you say you’re going to do. At some point in time, the business will come to you.

Carol:
That is such an awesome gold nugget right there. And I think it’s absolutely worth repeating Steve. You said people do business with those they know, like, and trust. And would you almost say that… I’m interested, we’re going to get to the evolution of your company and how it’s evolved and changed over the past several years.
But would you almost say that, over the past many years, we’ve kind of gotten away from that a little bit. I wonder if technology’s almost gotten in the way of just building those strong solid relationships in the good old days used to happen?

Steve:
Yeah. And that’s absolutely true. Nowadays, it’s easy just to shoot off an email, “Hey, I’ll just send an email to that person.” You never get in front of that person and now with COVID these days, we can’t get in front of anybody.
But the thing that I’m going back to with the way COVID is, is I’m picking up the phone and calling people because they might get 50, 60 emails a day. My email’s just logged into 16% of whatever they’re doing. However, if I pick up the phone and call them, that might mean a little bit more to them, they hear somebody’s voice, there’s more interaction, they get to talk to somebody that’s not their family, or their workmates. So it’s just another outreach for them or outlay for them, and then you get to be in front of them, even by phone.

J:
It’s funny, they’re probably a lot of people that tune into the show that they listen every week, and they’re thinking, “I’m waiting for the secret, I’m waiting to find out… Just tell me the secret that nobody knows on how to be successful.” And what we hear week after week is it’s hard work and it’s relationships.
And week after week we hear, “Don’t send an email, pick up the phone, go in and talk to somebody in person.” And it’s so consistently true that those who are successful are those who don’t give up, who work hard, and who really work at building relationships with other people.
And I know Carol just repeated it, but I’ll say it again. People do business with those they know, like and trust. I mean, that is just an absolute amazing quote. Here we are. We’re at 2007. And you’re off on your own. Sign Central is now incorporated. And you and your brother are basically starting a new business but in a business that you’ve been doing for a decade.

Steve:
Correct. It’s funny because people say, when you opened up the business, you started the business. But we had a tremendous amount of sales going in. So we knew we were going to be successful, but we just needed to add to what we were doing. We needed to change… We needed to get people to know that we were doing other things than whether or not it was the small signs or model setups or anything like that.
So we had to talk to our existing customers and educate them on, “Hey, we also do flags, we also do banners, hey, we also do pens, we can do business cards, we can do anything you need to make your business successful.” And my whole goal was to make… All I wanted them to do is make one phone call, one email, and, “Hey, just call Steve. He’ll take care of it. Whatever you need, just call Steve, he’ll figure it out.” And that’s what my goal was. I don’t want them to call different people or search online to find out who’s doing what or what’s the best prices. I want them to know, “Hey, I’m confident in what Steve says will get done. So just call Steve, he’ll take care of it.”
And it’s funny because lots of people even to this day. Everybody had my cell phone number. So they would call me and I’d answer the phone, Steve Straus. To this day, people call and they’ll say, Sign Central. And some of them say is this Steve’s office? Because they’re confused, they usually hear me answering Steve Straus.

Carol:
I love that. That is so cool. I want to know more about first of all, absolutely love this concept of your phone number is the only number that they need to call to get everything they need to be successful. I’m curious from a market research standpoint, how you were able to define all of those different products that you should be offering to make your customers and potential customers successful? Was it just from talking to them? Was it seeing what other people were doing? Where did all those ideas even come from?

Steve:
Most of it was actually just driving around, I spent probably every weekend driving certain County’s, certain roads, in and out of communities all the time. And I would take pictures. At that time, I had a disposable camera that I would take a picture that you had to take the card out and insert it in your card reader to bring up the picture.
But I would go around and take pictures of hey, that’s a cool flag, or, hey they got streamers. I don’t like that. But you know what, somebody may need that at some point in time, and just writing stuff down. And then I would go to, there was a local flag company that I would go to. It’s a mom and pop shop and I really liked them.
I would say, “Hey, give me some information. What can I do? I’ll sell and bring you the business. But you got to help me. Give me the tools that I need.” And that was flagpoles, that was flags, that was state flags, that was custom flags, whatever it was, they gave me the information that I could basically, I would slide it in a binder and I’d have to look around the office. I think I still have that binder. But I slid it in the plastic coverings that it looked like it was mine. So if I went and saw somebody and be like, “We could do flags, or we could do polls, and then flip it over.” And all they were was just the marketing materials from somebody else.

J:
I love that. I absolutely love that. So at the beginning, now you’re doing more stuff, you’re still putting signs in, you’re still getting new customers, but now you’re making signs and a junior Brother, how long did it stay just you and your brother? And who was doing what? And at what point did you have to grow?

Steve:
Well, at the time in 2007, when we opened up the shop, we grew two weeks prior to Memorial Day. So I had already made a deal with two designers that were at another sign company that they were going to come on board and I forget what the dates but like May 14th.
And I stole my sister’s secretary from her title company to come work for me. And I stole two other people from a different sign company that knew how to paint post and build some of the crown molding and some of the brochure boxes.
So basically, overnight, we grew from two people to I think it was 12. I had all these people and I was just praying that I could outwork everybody else to get more business. And they were great. I have to say. Not many times can you say I opened up a business on Memorial Day, and the guys were in here all that weekend, all Memorial Day, building tables, adding shelves, putting things into places they need to be, testing equipment. Everything needed to be done. So that Tuesday morning, the day after Memorial Day, we were a sign shop, open up and running.

Carol:
You hired some great people. And I think that’s an awesome tip for our listeners as well. You had been in the business for quite a while. It sounds like clearly you’re a master at building relationships, nurturing these relationships, so that when there were people who could potentially be a great fit for your company, you knew exactly who to go after, and how to get them to come and help you out. That’s great. And it sounds like you had them working over the weekend because obviously right after Memorial Day, you’re in high season for real estate.

Steve:
Absolutely. Yes. And I had gotten files and orders for that week prior to memorial day that I was holding, I didn’t send it to anybody because I knew we were opening the doors. And it just kind of rolled into where we needed to be. One tip that I would say is, if you are using another company? So the sign companies, I feel bad for them, and I actually went and talked to them face to face and told them what I was doing after the fact so that there weren’t real failings.
But I didn’t just talk to the owner, I went and talked to designers, I was friends with the person that met you at the door. I was friends with the accounts receivables, I made friends with everybody so that I knew what type of person they were.
And that’s when I was like, “Hey, you might be a good fit. Can I talk to you later, I have an idea coming down the pike.” And they weren’t happy with who they were with because it was more of a regular run business where there’s the boss and everybody else are the underlings.
Here, it’s funny. Sometimes it’s frustrating and sometimes I’m really happy. I have no idea what these guys do out there with the design, with the production, they tell me, “Hey, I can have that done on Tuesday.” “Hey, we’re going to get this.” “Hey, we need that.” Because they’re the pros at that. Let them do that. I can build relationships and market and get sales. I don’t need… The only time I ever tried to use a machine, it cost us 1500 dollars to repair it. So I’m banned from using the machines?

J:
Some people might say it’s on ethical, I think it’s actually smart business sense. But finding employees from your own vendors. Obviously, they’re not going to leave if they’re happy. It’s kind of a win-win. And if they’re not being treated well by their current employer. Well, so be it.

Steve:
That’s right.

J:
And so I love that. And I want to go back to something you said earlier, because I often get asked the question, “How do you grow?” Are you supposed to basically as you get more business, you hire a person, you get more business, you hire person, you get more business, you hire a person? Or do you hire a whole bunch of people, and use all those people to grow your business?
And I always tell people, there’s no right answer. There’s pros and cons to both and you essentially overnight went from two people to 12 people. Obviously, the big con for that, the big downside of hiring 10 people basically overnight is that suddenly you have all this payroll, but you don’t have the customers.
But here’s the thing, you’ve already demonstrated that you work harder than anybody else. And so that provided a lot of benefits. And you were able to offset that downside of the extra payroll by just working your butt off to find more customers to keep those people busy.

Steve:
Yes. And I had come in with some business. But what I had done though is when we came in, when we came on board and open the doors, I knew those guys could run the shop. I immediately went out to the customers that I had and said, “Need some more business, need some more things, please let me know which direction do you need anything. Is your kid running soccer, stuff they need signs, or if there’s a banner.”
I was beg borrow and pleading whatever to get more business to keep things up. Now I tell you, if you have two employees and you overnight it to 12. It’s a huge learning curve on payroll taxes and payroll and who gets what, and health insurance and 401(k)s. I had to learn all that in like two weeks before the payroll was due.

J:
And that’s a great tip right there. Because a lot of people ask, “How do you go from two to 12 employees.” I have trouble managing one employee or two employees or three employees. Now you have an extra 10 to manage. But you answered that question in your response, which was, you didn’t hire employees that you had to train, you didn’t hire employees that basically had to learn on the job.
You hired employees who knew what they were doing. These are like you said a lot of work for other companies that you worked with, they were self sufficient from day one which allowed you to go out and focus on getting more business while they stayed behind and did what they were already really good at.
And that’s something to keep in mind. If you’re going to hire multiple people, if you’re going to grow your business quickly. It’s hard to grow your business quickly when you have to train those employees, you can’t train 10 new employees all at once by yourself. But if there’s already self sufficient, they can basically run the business. And you can focus on making enough money to get them paid by you going out and focusing on marketing and sales.

Steve:
And that’s it. Like you said, they were self sufficient from day one. And it was also good because prior to that, the sign companies we got into email at that time, they would email me the artwork, and I would send it to the customer and the customer would respond back to me and then I respond back with change the S to an R and then I’d get the artwork back, send it.
I cut out myself from that scenario when we open the doors here and had the designer send directly to the customer. So it opened up more free time for me to build the business and go after things and do more. And what I had also done was I at that point in time, I joined about four or five networking groups. A couple local, a couple further in different areas.
I think one was 45 minutes for me to drive. But that exposed me to other people. And you got to see the same people one hour a week, every week. And they get to know you, they get to understand you, learn you, trust you, and then they would send referrals that way.
So when I first opened up, we were about 100%. We were all hundred percent builders, developers, apartment complexes, and we were working to make that change, we’re still at about 75, 25. Just because this is what I know. So in the COVID era, I’m going back to what I know, to try to get more business or keep business coming in. I’ve kind of stopped the virtual meetings for networking groups and stuff like that, which I got to get back to doing that, hopefully a little bit in the winter.

Carol:
So Steve, what came next? What was the next in your evolution? You mentioned how a good bit of your business was particularly builders. But there were some other industries you were serving. So where did you go next in building Sign Central?

Steve:
It's still real estate. But what they had done, several people had said to me, you have to really work on commercial real estate, because they're no different than the builders. They need to rent their places out or sell their places. So you need to try to get into those industries, so that you kind of have the residential side, you have the commercial side, and then go from there.
So at that time, I had no idea who to talk to, where to go. So I just started dropping off flyers and business cards to different places, different commercial real estate offices. And I know I did that for about three months. I wasn’t doing it 100% of the time, but if I was in the area, I knew, “Hey, Hill management was over here. Mackenzie manager was over there,” so I’d swing in and be like, “Hi, I’m Steve. I’m just dropping off a card. Let me know if you need anything.” And I’d walk out.
Ironically, walked in the door, lady was sitting at the door and said, “Hi, I’m Steve, Sign Central just want to drop off my card and see if there’s anything I can help you with.” She was, “What do you charge for signs?” Turns out, she was the decision maker for the signs. The girl that was supposed to answer the phone had called off that day.
So I just showed up, it was the right place, the right time, the right situation. And they’re one of my top clients. Today they have since turned me on to a few other commercial real estate companies that, hey, it’s a small real estate company, but they need help. So they’ve kind of moved me in the direction where I needed to be.

J:
I think the key there is it goes back to something you said earlier, you have to make friends with everybody in the office and you treat everybody the same and everybody respectfully, because you never know who the decision maker might be or if the decision maker might change for a day. And that day that the decision maker changes, they decide I need a new vendor.
And you’re the only vendor that’s in there bringing coffee to the secretary. And suddenly when the secretary is the one making the decision, who’s she going to call. The one guy that’s bringing her coffee.

Steve:
And you guys know this, most of the time in real estate, whether it’s the title company, realtors, they just change companies, they don’t go and do anything else, they don’t go into different industries. So if you’re nice to Joe, Joe may switch and get a better promotion somewhere else. And if he likes you, and he’s comfortable with you, you’re going to get the business from the new customer. So you’ve maintained the old customer, but now you’ve just expanded your market and you haven’t done anything. You were just friendly.

Carol:
That’s so sure. And it totally reiterates what you said earlier that, that gem of a quote that people do business with those they know, like and trust. Why would they necessarily start with somebody else? If they go to another company, they’re just going to go with you, Steve, because they know that they’re going to get the service and product that they’re accustomed to?

Steve:
Yes.

Carol:
[crosstalk 00:39:23]

J:
That’s basically the best reason I’ve heard to build long term relationships right there. It’s so obvious, but I don’t think we’ve heard that tip on this show. The best reason to build long term relationships is because people often don’t leave the industry, but they’re going to switch jobs every year two or three. And if they know you, and they trust you, they go to this new job, and suddenly somebody says, “Hey, who were you getting signs from over at your old job? We need a new sign vendor.” And they’re going to think of you first.

Steve:
And it’s funny. I’ll tell you a little story. I was having a horrible, horrible, horrible day. And the office called and said, “Hey, Can you call Sharon back? She’s really calling. She wants to talk to you. She needs an open flag.” I wrote the number down, I hung up the phone, I’m driving to a meeting. And I was like, “I don’t want to call this person back. I really don’t want to call. It’s a $20 flag. I’m going to call this person talk on her phone for half an hour that I don’t have. I just don’t want to do it.”
So I got parked, went into my meeting, had a fantastic meeting, it was incredible. Came out, better mood, pick up the phone, called Sharon. Sharon and I talked about 35, 40 minutes for about a $20 flag. It turns out… That was in 2006. They were my second biggest customer in 2008. They helped move my business up at Sign Central.
Since then, they’ve also introduced me to other developers, they’ve moved me into Northern Virginia, because of the contacts that they had only because I had a conversation with Sharon about a $20 open flag.
So you never know where business is going to come from. You never know how business is going to get to you. And you never know what small income you’re going to get today that could lead to something bigger later.

J:
Absolutely love that. So tell us a little bit about the size of your company right now, how many employees do you have? And how many customers do you have? And from a geographic standpoint, how wide of an area are you serving?

Steve:
Well, we started with 12 employees and 4000 square feet. Within six months, we had grown out of that space. I rented the place next to me, I bought the first suite. Where we’re at, it’s like a retail condo association. I rented the place next to me. And we were outgrowing that.
I bought that one. So fast forward, we have 18 employees now, I have 12,000 square feet under roof here, I have another 2000 square feet in a different location. We run all of Maryland, Delaware, Northern Virginia, down to Richmond, East and West Virginia, Pennsylvania up till Harrisburg, and some builders have drugged me into Southern New Jersey. Some of the builders that I deal with are national builders, and they’ll say, “We have a new community over here. Can you meet it?” “Yes, yes, yes, I can get there.”

Carol:
And know how to make it happen And I guess I can do that for you. It’ll be a stretch, but just for you.

J:
And I assume knowing the business, it’s pretty much still a… The bulk of the work. I mean, obviously, all the sign printing stuff is going to happen all week. But the bulk of the work is still Friday night to Sunday night or maybe it’s not. I saw your face when I said that.

Steve:
We changed a lot, we actually changed a lot. Majority of our work used to be Friday night to Sunday night. But now with the sign production and installation and moving into commercial real estate, residential real estate. We’ve also got realtors on board, where I have one truck every day, one guy, one truck every day that goes out and puts up or takes down for sale signs, ads under contract writer, stuff like that.
So we’ve kind of morphed the business to be a wheat business. And then I should say, I have 18 full-time guys and then I have 16 part-time guys that go out and put the signs up on the weekend. So the guys that work here full-time, really, I’d say maybe three of them do signs on the weekends. But besides that majority of the work is done Monday through Friday.

J:
I was going to ask you what percentage of those 18 employees are actually installing signs but sounds like for the most part, those 18 employees are focused on everything else. Some of them also do signs. But then you have another 16 that do signs so can you give me a breakdown of those 18 employees? What do they do? How do the responsibilities breakdown?

Steve:
There’s three main designers, one of which is basically the office manager, he kind of dictates who does what work, builders and what the production schedule is going to be. One of those designers is, he runs the printer. So he has two printers, two large format printers on each side of them. Ones loaded with banner material, ones loaded with vinyl material to print out, there are two guys that work inside the shop that are just on the table, they’ll do whatever needs to be done. Whether or not it’s painting the brochure box or lettering or vinyl or add laminating something.
Then my brother, he basically is the fix at all, do whatever guy, he will paint, he will mask, he will work on the table, he will route posts, he also runs the flatbed printer, it’s a large format printer that prints on any material two inches thick.
And he does four by eight sheets and runs that through pretty much daily. Then I have one install manager who goes out and coordinates where signs are going to be placed, when they’re going to be placed. Sets those schedules and then dictates to the installers which there are six installers, we usually have about four or five trucks on the road every day, doing whatever else we need to do to do installs, it could be one doing real estate posts, one putting up vinyl graphics, two of them might be in Virginia, putting up a model or setting up a model. Two of them might be in Delaware, putting up signs for flags for an apartment complex. It kind of varies from there.
Then I have my bookkeeper who’s actually also my accountant is an employee, he pretty much helps… There’s several different things that works with the sign company that she helps me do. And then I have a personal assistant.

J:
Wow, can you give us an idea? And I’ll let you go into as little or as much detail as you want. Because people are always curious, but I know it’s for small businesses. A lot of this is proprietary information. But can you give us an idea of how much money you guys are making? Is your revenue in the six figures or the seven figures of the eight figures?

Steve:
PreCOVID or post COVID?

J:
Actually, this is a great transition topic. So let’s talk about both. What has COVID done?

Steve:
COVID has really affected our business. We’re still busy. So prior last year, the sign company between the installation and the production side, we were doing close to $4 million in sales. Now, year to date, we’re down about a half a million dollars in sales, that has to do with our builders, already they’ve sold or they met their goals for 2020.
They’re already selling into 2021, they’re out selling their land position. They don’t want to buy any more land because prices are escalated and the sellers don’t want to part with it, unless they’re going to get the top dollar. Our apartment complexes can’t evict anybody. So they don’t have any vacancy. So they can’t market or advertise their community because they don’t have any room.
That’s affected our business on that side. It’s increased our business on different things too, because a lot of the retail, a lot of the sub shops, pizza shop, stuff like that has asked for stickers for the doors or… When this COVID first started. Here’s another tip actually, when COVID first started, at the end of March, when everything started to shut down, I had the guys print up signs that said, we’re open. Carry out delivery with arrows.
And I dropped off two or three of those signs to every restaurant, small business in the area that I could think of around Pasadena where I live to try to keep those mom and pop shops afloat. And that has turned into business. So people, “You gave me that sign, I need a sticker that says you must wear a face covering or you must wear masks.”
So that’s kind of worked out. I donated those signs free of charge because you didn’t want to hurt the restaurants. And they have turned back and said, “Hey, we need business? Can you help us out?”

J:
I absolutely love that. And just a perfect example of adding value being there for your community and having it pay back. Literally, you gave out signs to help these businesses. And it’s coming back to you and it’s just something we all need to remember that we get when we give. Now you said something and I thought it was interesting, because, again, this is a business podcast, we have a lot of real estate listeners. And I thought it was interesting how you were giving us some insights on the real estate market, at least in Maryland, where a lot of builders have hit their 2020 quotas, they’re starting to slow down on buying land. So they’re not necessarily starting breaking ground on new builds and that’s hurting your business.
It’s interesting that even though your a sign company, you’re basically, all your customers are real estate customers. And to a large extent you’re deep in the heart of the real estate business. So I want to talk a little bit about that. Because I know we talked before the show, and you are also a real estate investor. And you’ve kind of I assume, you’ve used the income and the profits from the sign business as well as whatever else to kind of jumpstart your real estate investing career.
I’d love to hear two things. One, it sounds like you bought your business. You said you have about 12,000 square feet of your main building. Can you talk about buying versus renting for your main business and whether that’s an investment or whether that was strategic for your business, and maybe a little bit about how you’ve branched out into real estate investing, to diversify and to turn your your profits into cash flow.

Steve:
It’s funny, where it all started with the real estate thing was years and years and years ago, my second year of college, I was going to University of Maryland, I was living at home with mom and dad. I was working at the gas station from 5AM till 9AM. And then I would drive to college and go to college. And then when I would come home, get something eat. And then I’d work at a liquor store from 6P< till 10 or 11 or whenever the close was.
Well we didn’t sell coffee at the gas station. We just sold cold sodas and some knick knacks, it was wasn’t a very big area. But there was a gentleman that used to come in and his nickname was Alabama, they used to call him Bama. So he would come in, in the morning and turn the lights on and guard the door because at that time I had to go out and I’d had to read the pumps, I had to write down all the numbers from the end of the night shift to make sure they match, there’s no leak and stuff.
Well, he would bring me a cup of coffee. And he would talk to me from 5AM until eight, until the mechanics cut in. We talked about everything. Family, friends, business. And he used to always say to me, “Steven, buy real estate, buy real estate, buy real estate.” And I’d say to him why? And he’d say, “They’re not making any more of it. Buy real estate.” So that kind of stuck with me.
He was doing that for maybe six, eight months. And then I didn’t see him for a while. Three months later, the mechanic came in and said, “I forgot to tell you, your buddy died.” I said, “Who?” He said, “Bama. Bama passed away two weeks ago.” I said, “That poor old man.” The mechanic said, “Poor, poor.” He said, “Look behind you.”
So I look back, and it’s a huge shopping center. “He owned all that.” He said, “Over at route two and junction, he owned all four corners. He owned everything.” That’s where he was telling me. That’s why he was telling me he did whatever he wanted to do. And that’s because he started buying in real estate.
So he was mentoring me without me even knowing what he was doing. I kept thinking, buy real estate, buy real estate, buy real estate from him, I started reading some books, the Millionaire Next Door, I got into Rich Dad, Poor Dad. And that's where I wanted to be. When I started to make some extra money in the sign business, is I would save money.
And then I bought my first house in Baltimore City. Ironically, I strategically bought my house two blocks away from my favorite bar, so that I could walk and I didn’t have to drive and get DUI or anything like that. So I could park and then walk to the bar and back. But in the bar talking to people, guy said, “Hey, I’m in a situation, I got a guy trying to sell a property, but I can’t afford to buy it. Do you want it?” So we went down and looked at it. I made my first real estate investment in that bar that night.

Carol:
Sitting at that bar. I love it.

Steve:
Yes. When they say nothing good happens at the bar, first real estate deal and I met my wife. So I think we’re good.

Carol:
There you go. You just turn that myth right on its head.

J:
So tell us, do you own a lot of… How much real estate you own these days, how many properties or units or whatever metric you want to use.

Steve:
I have 16 residential rental properties and five commercial buildings, plus another investment that that we have.

J:
That is awesome. Yes, you just happen to be and this is purely coincidence, you happen to be an investor in a syndication that we just put together a couple weeks ago. Wow, I love the fact that you’re taking your business profits, you’re putting into cash flowing real estate, and like you said, you don’t have to be that… Even if everybody thinks you’re that poor old man, you’re the guy that knows the shopping center behind you, even if nobody knows it.

Steve:
And my goal is and I’m hoping, I have two boys six and seven. And my goal is, is to get to the point in a couple years to be able to step out of the working the 60, 70 hours a week, and basically live off of the rental income so that I can spend more time with them and do things whether or not it’s sports, or chess club, or whatever it is. So I can spend more time with the family. That’s hope. If all works out.

J:
So you’re still working 60 to 70 hours a week, which again, is just so confusing, because now it’s starting to sound like hard work is this-

Carol:
Hardworking, between that and your college gig where you are working at the gas station, and then go into college, and then a liquor store and basically working 18 hours a day, seven days a week. Yeah, this whole hard work thing. I’m seeing a big old theme here.

Steve:
About six years ago now, I started another business that kind of runs hand in hand with the side company. And my wife always says you turned your hobby into a business. So now it’s a problem.

J:
What’s the other business?

Steve:
It’s called Infiniti Pins, production of lapel pins, challenge coins, metals, trophy, stuff like that. But it’s good because one of the designers, I was close friends with his father, and his father called me about 13 years ago and said, “Can you give my son a job?” So I said, “Well, yes, but what’s he want to do?” So I talked to Jason a little bit and he came down, and he started being a designer for the sign company. I’ll backup a little bit. So this will be my 31st year trading Little League pins. And I did that-

J:
Little League baseball.

Steve:
Yes. I traded pins. And that was my dad and my thing. That’s what we love to do. We traveled, we traded, we laughed. We had a good time. He passed away in 13 and in 14, the prices started skyrocketing. Nobody was giving back. Nobody was creating an atmosphere of community. Nobody was helping the young traders out. People were going by the wayside. It was a dying hobby.
So I said to Jason, “Hey, can you design a pin? Because we’re ordering flags from overseas? Why can’t we just order pins from overseas. They’re doing it.” So he designed a pin. I emailed the flag factory and said, “Hey, do you know any metal manufacturers that you can hook me up with?” They hooked me up with a metal manufacturer, emailed them design. They sent the pin. It came in. I was like, “Well, I could do this too.”
So if I’m doing the science, I might as well just do pins too. So I opened up Infiniti Pins and we used to hit the ground running with that. So that’s part of the 60 to 70 hours a week because I get up at 4AM to get into work by 4:30 because the factory sales people are still there. They’re on 12 hours other side of us so they’re still there till eight o’clock at night which is 8AM. I want a good three to four hours worth of communication with them before they go home to go to bed.

J:
That’s great. A lot of synergy between those two businesses too, which allows you to have a second business without having a whole separate set of operations, a whole separate set of employees, etc.

Carol:
Also pull front and center where this other business grew from. It’s just another sense of doing something for the community of helping carry on this tradition, this cool hobby that was kind of going by the wayside, and you wanted to bring that front and center again. I love that. So another recurring theme among everything that you’re doing. It’s really good stuff.

Steve:
Thank you. Thank you.

J:
So tell us, before you retire and start living off your rental income, what do you have in store for the sign business? What are your plans over the next couple years to continue to grow and expand and develop?

Steve:
I think that there is a niche that I’ve been trying to for about five years now. We’re going into hard times with COVID. And there’s going to be a lot of small businesses going belly up. A lot of restaurant chains, and it’s sad. But out of that, it’s going to grow new business, new services, whatever it is, my thought for a niche is basically like a small business package.
So for the bronze package, you get a street sign, a sidewalk sign, a banner of something, business cards, pens, flyers, and just add on to it from there and try to create those packages. And make it easy, make it easier for those businesses because they don't want to have to go to Vistaprint and get things shipped in and then they get to put it on their credit card, you can do termined payment plans, because small businesses that's the number one thing is they don't have the cash to do it. They've already signed their lease, they've already built out where they needed to build out. They're cash strapped.
They got employees, they got merchandise, so make it easy for them, let them market their wares, pay it off, make a monthly payment, or whatever it is. So that it’s one payment. So if it’s $1,000, and you get all these things in package A, maybe it’s 1200 bucks, you get package B, maybe it’s $2500 and it’s the premium package and you get everything under the sun, all your marketing materials, all your flyers, everything. So that it’s easy for them to know, hey it’s one thing, one payment, I’ll make that every month and it’s good for them. They get everything and it’s good for us because we get reoccurring revenue every month.

J:
Yeah, put those machines to work and serve the local community.

Steve:
Yes.

J:
We are about an hour into this interview. And unless Carol Scott, you have anything else you want to discuss, I think it might be time to move on to the four more.

Carol:
Well, I have about 12 million things I still want to discuss, but at some point we’ve got to move on unfortunately. Let’s go to the fourth one.

Steve:
Is that episode two?

J:
Yes.

Carol:
Absolutely part two, we’re going to do a mini series. I love that.

J:
Let’s move on to the four more and this is where Steve, we’re going to ask you the same four questions that we ask all of our guests and then we’ll go into the more which is you telling us more about where our listeners can connect with you and learn more about your businesses? Sound good?

Steve:
Perfect.

J:
Excellent. I’m going to take the first question. So Steve, what was your very first or your very worst job? I’ll let you decide which one and what lessons did you take from it that you still use today? Besides, I know what the best lesson is. Buy real estate but what what other lessons? What was your first or worst? And what other lessons did you take from it?

Steve:
I would say the worst job I ever had, it really wasn’t the job. I worked there for about 10 days. It was a business where they sold, it was basically a landscape shop, mulch flowers, trees. I went to work and worked there, learned, trained for about a week. Everything was great. And then that weekend, we got pummeled by snow. I mean, it was a blizzard. I forget two feet, three feet worth of snow, everything.
So the next day I called and they were, yes, you got to come to work. I got in the car and I drove down Damon’s Ville. Usually it’s a half an hour drive. It took me like an hour and a half so I had left early. So me and Mike. Mike, he was training with me. And we were we were new employees. And we’re outside working, they’re telling us move this, move that, move this.
So Mike and I are talking and moving things and stuff. Mike goes, “Look at that in there.” So I turn around and I look inside and it’s all the higher ups, we’re the only two employees. All the major higher ups in there and they’re drinking coffee. I just shook it off and just kept working.
We’re walking over and Mike goes around the corner, grabs something, brings it back to me. And we got to move the tree. We moved mulch and then we were moving trees and the smaller trees. And one of the girls comes out and she says, “Hey guys, really appreciate you guys showing up today. But we’re sitting in there watching. You guys got to start working harder. You guys aren’t working hard enough.” And Mike said, “Are you kidding me? Is this a joke. Are you guys…”
And they were like, “No, we’re serious. You guys aren’t moving fast enough, you guys aren’t work…” Mike said, “Okay, I quit.” And he just left. I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t want to burn any bridges. I waited. And the next day I gave my two weeks notice. So it was just the lack of respect that people have for employees.
And again, it goes back to what you were saying earlier, you treat everybody the same, whether or not it’s a janitor or a CEO, just be nice to people, you never know what people are dealing with at home, you never know what they’re dealing with financially or relationship-wise mentally. So just be nice, be nice, be friendly, be a smiling face that they can talk to.

Carol:
Absolutely love that. And you can tell that, that has held true in your businesses that you have now. And that has contributed so much to your growth. It’s fantastic. Here is my second question of the four more Steve, what is the best piece of advice that you have for small business owners or young entrepreneurs that you haven’t yet mentioned today?

Steve:
Well, I know we’ve mentioned this many, many times. But hard work is number one, just outwork somebody. The only thing you have is your will. So work harder than anybody else. But I would say that a small business is if you’ve done your research, and you know it’s a viable business, don’t let anybody else change your mind for that. Stick to your guns, stick to your thoughts, stay strong, and do what you know is best.
And I only say that because years and years and years ago, I had an idea of a drive by a coffee shop. And all my… I was going to set it up in a parking lot of an old, rundown, empty building that used to be a bowling alley and every one of my friends and family made fun of me. I asked for it about 10 years later, doing the signs. I heard on the radio, local drive by coffee shop got bought out by Krispy Kreme. So I learned my lesson there.

J:
I love that. That’s so important that so many of us, we listen to other people before we listen to our gut. And a lot of times other people know what they’re talking about. But don’t, don’t listen to family and friends that are just saying no, because-

Carol:
Just because.

J:
Just because. There are a lot of people out there that don’t want to see us get hurt. And they would rather us not try than have to watch us fail and we deal with that with our kids all the time. Sometimes it’s easier, just to say yeah, don’t do that, because we don’t want to see them fail. But it’s so important to let people fail because sometimes they’re going to surprise us and sometimes they’ll sell the business to Krispy Kreme.

Steve:
It’s funny because this has been sticking in my head for the last two years. They asked Jamie Dimon, they were like, “Do you have sleepless nights? Do you stay up all night worrying about the deals and what’s going on with the bank and all that stuff?” He said, “No, I don’t. It’s a business. I don’t worry about that.” He said, “I sleep soundly about that.” He said, “The things that keep me up at night is the decisions I make with my children. What am I doing to them? Did I make the right decision with that? These are business, will work itself out. But when you’re raising kids when you’re making those decisions that could stick with you at lifetime.”

Carol:
That is so, so true. And so relevant for everything we’re all dealing with right now. That is so in all of our faces every single day right now.

J:
Love that. And if that philosophy is good enough for the CEO of JP Chase Morgan, it’s good enough for us. Okay, question number three. What’s your favorite book?

Steve:
I would have to say, The Millionaire Next Door. That would have to be my favorite book, the quote in that is I drink two beers free and a Budweiser and free. That’s stuck with me.

Carol:
And here is the fourth in my very favorite question. What is something Steve in either your work life or your home life or just wherever that you’ve splurged on, that has been totally worth it?

Steve:
Can I have two?

J:
Of course.

Carol:
Absolutely.

Steve:
The first one is growing up we would go to a local beach, Ocean City, Maryland. And we’d stay… My father owned a mobile home down there that we would stay and we work with, cut the grass, rake the leaves, stuff like that. And then once during that week of vacation, my mom would take us to the beach. And then one night during that week, we would go down on to the boardwalk and we were able to get Ponseti Pizza, we were able to get soft served ice cream and we could buy a T-shirt. That was it. That was what we could do.
And I used to always think to myself, I wanted a place to be on the boardwalk. I didn’t want to have to drive, I didn’t want to have to… I wanted to park my car, go into a place, whether it was a condo or townhouse, whatever it was, and be right on the boardwalk, so that if I wanted to go to the beach all I had to do is just walk down, go right on to the beach. If I wanted to go down and have pizza and ice cream, I could just go on to the boardwalk and walk now. So, six years ago, we bought a condo down Ocean City, and it’s right on the boardwalk. So we bought it for us, but it’s turned into a good rental. So that’s a problem.

Carol:
That is so cool. And what good timing with your kids and everything. So they will have those memories forever, just like you have now.

Steve:
And then-

J:
Only part of that story I dispute is that you mentioned pizza and ice cream but you didn’t mention if you were going to talk about Ocean City, Maryland, Thrasher’s French Fries.

Steve:
The boys love Thrasher’s French Fries. I loved Ponseti Pizza.

J:
Fair enough. You said you had a second one.

Carol:
I love it. Wait there’s a second splurge. That’s right I’m so curious.

Steve:
So the second one is I was lucky enough when I was younger, my father and mother took us to Disney World. I think it was twice, it might have been three times but I know for two for a fact. And again, it was a fabulous experience, wouldn’t trade it for the world. It was so much fun. But I always wanted to stay at a hotel where I could get on the monorail and go around to go to Disney World.
When my wife said to me back in 2017, “Hey I think it’s a good time for us to take the boys to Disney World. I’m going to plan it out.” I said, “You can do whatever you want. But I want to stay at either the contemporary or the Polynesian.” I said, “That’s my only line. That’s the only thing I will not budge from.” At the end of 2017 we stayed at the Polynesian so we got up, we got on the monorail went over to Magic Kingdom.

Carol:
You got me crying over here. Stop, please stop I can’t stand it. I’m so emotional how this kid love it.

J:
That’s awesome. That was the four part of the four more. Now I want to do the more part of the four more. For our listeners out there who want to connect with you. Who want to learn more about Sign Central or Infiniti Pins or anything else you have going on. How can they get in touch with you? How can they learn more about what you’re doing?

Steve:
They can go to our website, Sign Central is signcent.com so it’s S-I-G-N C-E-N-T dot com or Infiniti Pins is infinitipins.com. It’s an I at the end not a Y. They can give me a call. My office number’s (410) 360-3777 or they can shoot me an email, [email protected] That’s S-T-E-V-E @signcent.com. I’m always available.

J:
You might be the first guest that’s ever just given out their phone number.

Steve:
Call me. Talk.

Carol:
Call him. Love it. And it’s got 777 at the end of his phone number. We can’t beat that.

J:
Steve, this was absolutely awesome. Thank you so much for sharing your story, for talking about both Sign Central, Infiniti Pins, and all the amazing tips. I appreciate, I know our listeners appreciate. Thank you so much.

Steve:
Thank you so much for having me.

Carol:
Thanks, Steve. See you soon.

Steve:
Thank you all right. Bye-bye.

Carol:
Wow, J seriously, how awesome was everything that Steve had to say? I’ve got to tell you I especially loved how he just drove home over and over the value and importance of good old fashioned hard work. I mean, even when he was a kid, he’s talking about, in every facet of everything he’s done, he talks about mowing lawns alongside his grandfather. He talks about the before college classes and after college classes workload schedule that he had, he works so hard every single day. Builds those relationships every single day. And it’s great to be reminded of how that is really what’s necessary for our businesses.

J:
Yeah, he really drove home the value of building relationships from the story of taking coffee to the secretary, who one day just happened to have hiring authority. And so it got him business, to building relationships with your vendors so that when people move to a new job, they take your business with them, they recommend you to their new company.
Bringing coffee to the sales people and just showing up, don’t just make a phone call or send an email. Actually show up and build a real relationship. So absolutely amazing. I also love this tip about in this post COVID or during COVID world basically doing good stuff for your community. He basically printed up free signs for businesses in his community that said we’re open for carry out and delivery restaurants in his community.
And just doing those free things and those nice things for local businesses is leading to more sales. So it’s just a great reiteration of the fact that if you give value, value is going to come back to you. Anyway, amazing episode. I hope everybody enjoyed it. I think we’re done here. We done here?

Carol:
Let’s wrap it up.

J:
Okay, everybody, thank you for tuning in. Have an amazing week. Stay happy, stay healthy. And we will see you next week. She’s Carol, I’m J.

Carol:
Be kind to everyone. You never know what someone’s going through today.

J:
Love it.

Carol:
Have a really great week, everybody. Thank you for tuning in and we’ll see you next time.

J:
Thanks, everybody.

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