The new president
Business View Magazine interviews AJ Titus, President of Signarama, as part of our focus on best practices of franchise companies.
Signarama is an international sign and advertising franchise company, founded by Ray and Roy Titus in 1986, in Farmingdale, New York, with a second location opening in North Palm Beach, Florida, less than a year later. The company began franchising in 1987, and today, Signarama is the world’s largest sign franchise with approximately 800 locations in 62 countries. Signarama is also part of the United Franchise Group, a collection of business-to-business brands and franchise development services.
AJ Titus is the new President of Signarama, succeeding his grandfather Roy, his father Ray, and Jim “JT” Tatem, who most recently ran the company. “I was born and raised into this,” says AJ, “and I’ve worked with the company pretty much my whole life. I’ve worked for local franchise owners in West Palm Beach; I’ve worked for Jim Tatem for many years as Operations Manager, as Sales Manager, as Executive Vice President, and now, President.”
AJ says his main job is “to look at the horizon to see what’s coming and what could be the disruptors in the marketplace.” Some years ago, Ray Titus looked at that horizon and saw digital printing. “When we first started the business 32 years ago, there was a vinyl plotter and a cutter; there was a person on staff that hand painted signs; and then, there was a darkroom for developing film to use in signage,” AJ recounts. “So, as the business evolved, my dad wanted to add a digital printer and a lot of people said, ‘You’re crazy; it’s too expensive; there’s no way it’s going to work.’ And now, you wouldn’t dream about owning a sign company without a digital printer.”
Today’s disruptors are manifold. “We have a 3-D printer that prints Braille,” AJ continues. “We have UV-resistant, latex ink with vibrant colors that dries immediately. Back when digital printing came out, there was a cure period; it was all oil-based and you had to let a sign sit overnight. Now, you can print something and apply it within seconds. There’s flatbed printing, where you’re printing directly to a material, instead of printing on a piece of vinyl, peeling it, and then placing it onto something. So, you can take a door off of the hinges and print on the door directly, as crazy as that sounds. The technology is there; it’s been growing and evolving just like the world around us, and I’m looking forward to where the next ten years takes us.”
Once a new technology does prove itself, Signarama offers it to its franchisees. “There’ll be a press release or news article that we’ll post internally to our franchise owners, giving them the pros and the cons, and at the end of the day, they may not want that piece of equipment; they may not need it in their mix of business,” AJ says. “It’s not a requirement to have certain pieces of updated equipment; it’s really up to them. But, we keep them up-to-date in terms of information and in showing them what we see on the horizon, and what we’ve tested. And the advancement is not always in a piece of equipment – it’s with POS software, moving our franchise owners over to our new point of sale system; it’s with design software; it could be just in market trends – what’s going on in the world.”
AJ believes that Signarama continues to lead the competition because it’s truly a full-service operation. “We do everything from small interior graphics to vehicle wraps, to large outdoor electrical signs, and everything in between. Most of our competitors don’t do that – you have someone who does vinyl; you have someone who does car wraps; you have someone who manufactures signs. But, if you’re a business, you don’t want to deal with five different people – you want to deal with one person. And you want to deal with someone who knows what they’re doing. And that’s what we strive to be. So, customer service is a big thing for us. And you’re going to come back to a franchise owner to get the service that you need.”
Another part of the competitive sign environment includes websites where an end user can order a sign online, but AJ says that Signarama doesn’t participate in that arena. “At the end of the day, someone who is branding their business doesn’t want to deal with someone on the computer to type in the right measurements, then hope and pray that they get the colors right,” he asserts. “Your sign is your business. The first impression of your business is what people see. So from the sign on the road, to the channel letters above your store, to the vinyl graphics, to your lobby display, it’s the first impression. On top of that, a lot of the business that went online wasn’t the business that our owners really wanted – the low cost, low profit, political signs, Happy Birthday Mom and Dad banner jobs. They can still do those and they can still produce them in house, but at the end of the day, those aren’t the big money makers.”
Going forward, one of AJ’s goals is to have a hundred new franchise owners by the end of this year, because he believes the demand is there. “So, we’re looking at some big growth,” he notes. “The economy is doing well, and when the economy does well, people see buildings, and when people see buildings, people see signs.” Will the future of the sign business be all digital? “A big part of the industry is going that way, but you’re also seeing a big movement in vintage signs,” he avers. “So, you’re going to get the digital message centers – the menu boards that you can change and customize; that’s here to stay. But we’ve also seen wood signs increase; we’ve seen big foam signs increase; those segments have grown. And even the typical vinyl graphics on a car or window aren’t going away any time soon, either.”
As a third generation leader of Signarama, AJ vows to continue in his forebears’ footsteps. “Rarely does a family-run business make it to the third generation and I’m the third generation,” he states. “My grandfather ran the company and was the first president; then my dad ran the company; JT ran the company for a long time, and now I’m here. So, I couldn’t be happier working with my brothers and my dad and the other people in our business and, on top of that, to have the opportunity to be President, this young. I’m enjoying the opportunity and just want to keep growing the brand, and do what JT was doing, and what my dad was doing, and what my grandfather was doing.”
“No one really wakes up and says, ‘Man, I can’t wait to open up a sign business. That’s not something that most people do,” AJ admits. “But the sign industry is vibrant; it’s creative; it’s fun; you’re helping business owners with a need. It’s not a luxury product. If you’re in business, you need a sign, you need graphics, you need marketing, you need all of this stuff. So, we’ve become the marketing business experts. Our tagline went from ‘The World Leader in Signs’ to ‘The Way to Grow your Business.’ It’s an extremely fulfilling industry because you’re helping people grow and, as corny as it sounds, you’re helping people achieve the American Dream. You really are.”
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AT A GLANCE
WHAT: An international sign and advertising franchise company
WHERE: Headquarters in West Palm Beach, Florida
WEBSITE: Click Here To Visit
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