Ep089: Kirby Virden

Joining the conversation your customers are having, before they start having it with all your competitors, is a great way to ‘be there for them’, before they even know they need you…

Today on the More Cheese Less Whiskers Podcast we're talking with Kirby Virden who owns a sign company that helps businesses with their outdoor signage.

We had a really great conversation, talking about the mistakes people make with their signs, what works, what doesn't, and really looking at what’s the purpose of signage. When you think about it, if you're focused on the outcome, the job of work you want that sign to do, it's a different kind of thinking than just putting your logo and your company name up there.

He has a great knowledge of the business and hatched some great plans, talking about how to find people who are thinking about getting signs, earlier in their thinking… before they ever get to the point of submitting requests for proposals from every sign company in town. How can we find those people earlier?

There’s a lot of opportunity if you head further upstream than others are fishing…

You're going to enjoy this episode.


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Transcript - More Cheese Less Whiskers 089

Dean: Kirby Virden.

Kirby: Hey, Mr. Dean Jackson, how are you?

Dean: I am good. This is a long time in the making right here.

Kirby: Yes sir. Yes sir. I've got to tell you a story about that, Dean. I submitted the request to be on the show I think it was October 2016 or so. I've been a fan of yours since I Love Marketing for sure. I got introduced to you there. But you've already had a very positive impact on my business and I've already learned a ton from you, but didn't know if I was ever going to have the opportunity to speak with you directly like this.

I can say at the beginning of the year one of the strange things was that, you know, this year I really want to meet Dean Jackson. It's just-

Dean: This is the year.

Kirby: It's something I've always wanted to do. This is the year. The morning I heard from Lillian ... I was out taking care of some business and drove past a guy walking down the road, very bitter cold morning, winter morning. It was probably seven degrees or less outside and wind was blowing, and this guy really grimaced as I walked past him just from the cold wind. So I kept driving and I kept driving, but I couldn't get this image out of my head of him walking in this weather. So I'm like I've got to turn around.

I was maybe two miles down the road. I turned around. I go back and get the guy. I pick him up and he's trying to make it back to his car. He's living in his car and he's out of gas and all of this. So I helped get him squared away and get back on my way, and I would say 30 minutes later Lillian emails me and says, "Hey, are you still available to jump on a call with Dean?" I'm like you know-

Dean: Oh boy.

Kirby: The universe works in strange ways, right?

Dean: That's really something. That's amazing.

Kirby: Yeah. Yeah. It was.

Dean: And here we are.

Kirby: And here we are. Outstanding Dean.

Dean: Tell me what's the Kirby story?

Kirby: The Kirby story? I worked in the corporate world for about 17 years in finance, but I've been passionate about business really my whole adult life. It was something that very much interested me, whether it's ... Nonfiction books is principally what I read all the time. I watch business programs. I always wanted to be in business for myself, but couldn't find the passionate thing that I wanted to go after.

In the meantime, I'm spending all my free time reading these books and watching shows like The Profit and all of that, and it occurred to me one day that my passion is really business.

Dean: Yes.

Kirby: Right? And so then I could worry less about what business would I find the most engaging. I started thinking about things like who do I want to be a hero to and what do I want my lifestyle to be like and how can I fulfill those aspects of it while being engaged in business, which is something I really enjoy?

I ended up buying this sign company and have for the last three years, almost getting ready to begin year number four ... I've been able to serve other business owners, which to me are just ... They're consistently fantastic people. Hardworking, good values, really are trying to make a difference for themselves and their community. They're just people I really enjoy engaging with. So it's been-

Dean: Yeah, business owners. Me to. Yeah.

Kirby: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So it's been a fantastic journey, Dean. It was a long time getting here and it’s got its own set of challenges. You lose all the support structure you're used to when you work in a bigger company and you got to kind of figure these things out on your own, but it's been absolutely engaging and just a wonderful experience so far.

Dean: What did you know about the sign business going into it? You decide you're going to buy a sign business. What made you think yeah, this is the one?

Kirby: Yeah. Yeah. Nothing. I mean nothing. Just ... Yeah. I think maybe you and Dan had talked about to be an entrepreneur you have to be courageous and insane or something like that. My confidence level way exceeded my knowledge level. The margins looked good to me in the business and I thought it was something that ... I bought a one man operation. There was no real rhyme or reason to the types of products he was offering to the market. I was already familiar with your concepts of picking that single target market.

So when I got into the business I spent that first six or nine months just kind of learning what he was doing, and really it was similar to what everybody in the space was doing, which is we'll take the shotgun approach and we'll just offer everything and if you want to buy it from us we'll sell it to you.

Dean: Right.

Kirby: Right and so, you know, it was nearly impossible to deliver any of that well because small operation, you just don't have the resources to offer the broad product range and build expertise in every area. So somewhere in there you guys started talking about the largest check clients and using that as a way to think about where you might want to initially focus.

I stepped back after that first six months or so and I said okay, 80% of our revenue is coming from this little area over here that's only taking about 15 or 20% of our time. We're spending the rest of our time with all the rest of this stuff that isn't making us any money. It's time to focus.

Dean: That's great.

Kirby: Yeah. That was the real initial game changer for me. That first year, Dean, of owning the business, it was up 65% kind of after I got focused and my life got a lot better. My time was a little better spent. I was able to bring in the right type of help to free me to focus on the real critical things. We were able to develop the expertise in that area that made our sales process more efficient, because now we can talk about that as experts and point out things that anybody else was maybe focusing on, trying to sell a hundred different things, there were subtleties that they would lose that are really important at the end of the day and make a big difference to the customer.

The signs that we sell at this point are signs that go on storefront buildings, buildings and retail spaces like restaurants or automotive repair. I've seen a lot of those as I've become more familiar with the space that I know those people spent good money on, but they didn't get the result that I'm sure they hoped because there were things done with the colors and there were things done with the layout that just didn't translate into being ... Sometimes it's as simple as being nice and legible. I mean these are seen from the road they're seen as you're driving by.

They have to be clearly visible to your prospective customers. You've got to have a message that's really succinct. You don't have time to throw a lot of words up there. They've got a split second to glance at the words. You've got to say the right thing as people are looking at your-

Dean: Now are you talking about their ... I'll call it their identity sign? Like the main identifier sign? Or are you talking about using signs as a marketing piece, like secondary to the identifier of their business kind of thing.

Kirby: Yeah. You know I maybe struggle with the distinction there, but I would address it the way you've labeled it. I'm talking about their identifier sign.

Dean: Okay.

Kirby: What I mean by using it effectively as a marketing tool, we put together a guide of the four fatal flaws of exterior sign design, and one of the images we have in there, it's side-by-side signs. One of them is really small letters, hard to read, bad color choice, but it says like A Day at the Beach. Right next to that sign is a large, red letters, you can see it from a mile away, Law Office, right?

So I have no idea if I go to like A Day At The Beach what I'm going to experience. I don't know what the store is. I don't know when I might need to go. I clearly understand what to expect if I go to a law office, right?

Dean: Right.

Kirby: So it's identification, but to me it's also clear marketing, if that makes sense. It's a clear message. You guys talk about the difference between branding and direct response marketing, and to me that is maybe an illustration of that. Like A Day At The Beach? That might be a great brand if you've got the money to put behind it and educate the market on what to expect if they come to your store.

Dean: But is that a tanning salon? Is it a spa? Is it ... Yeah, what is it? Is it a thrift shop? Is it ... That could be anything? But Law Office can't be many more things than a law office. That makes a lot of sense. That's maybe an interesting distinction for people, that they somehow think that they've got to have a sign that is their logo and the business name. That's interesting, right? That's kind of what maybe people think, and it's really not doing them any good and they would be better to have a more useful set of words.

Kirby: You know the way I think about it and the way I've even talked about it with some of my prospects, Dean, is you can talk about who you are or what you do and I think about your real estate seminar example, like I'll give everybody in here 30 seconds to come up to the stage and tell us who you are. But maybe what would be most effective is I just ... In that example you're telling people I'll just give you 50 people in the room who's going to buy a house.

I guess how I would phrase that for my business is the people driving by need to know what you do if you're not in a ... If you don't have the branding capacity to teach them who you are, the what you do is going to be more important, because I'm not driving down the road thinking about like A Day At The Beach. I may be driving down the road thinking about I need a tanning salon or whatever, you know what I mean?

Dean: Yeah.

Kirby: I still have no idea what that business does, by the way, so I can't tell you, clearly if I'm in a situation where I'm thinking about I need an attorney and I glanced over and I see a law office, they might get me to walk through the door.

Dean: Right. I think that's amazing. That's a cool thing. One of the most effective signs that I've ever seen was just a sign on a residential yard that is on a fairly busy street, like a cross street that you end up going through a neighborhood, and the sign just said Tupperware Sold Here. You think about what that is doing, that's why if ... You know what Tupperware is. If you're interested in that, there it is.

Kirby: That's it. That's it.

Dean: It's kind of an interesting thing, right? Being overt, especially when you have such limited attention, makes a big difference. Someone once said the best way to sell a horse is with a sign that says Horse for Sale rather than trying to talk about freedom and all these ancillary things that come with it, but just sometimes the minimum thing, what you say overtly if it was ... You know, you have one chance to let somebody know what that is.

What are some of the best examples of signs that you've seen or used to display or share with people the effective sign usage?

Kirby: I mean great examples ... like when you said that about the yard sign, I was going to tell you about one that's right around the corner from me at the moment. Similarly, it's a yard sign and it says Book Fair. It's Scholastic, which everyone knows who Scholastic is. The branding is not a problem. And it's on there. I've stopped and looked at the sign. It's on there. It's one inch tall letters down on the bottom right corner of the sign, it's Scholastic. But the three or four inch letters that everybody can read as they drive by says Book Fair, so you know exactly what you're going to get.

The sign I'm proudest of that we've done, Dean, are where we've walked into a new business who is excited about their branding and their logo and they've done a great job on it, but it doesn't communicate an effective message. We've been able to work them to turn that into a sign that still incorporates whether it's colors or font style or whatever of their brands. There's some consistency there, but the message it communicates is much, much clearer.

Dean: Yes. What is the cost for a sign? What's your typical customer spending?

Kirby: Sure. What we're talking about as far as the typical sign that we sell... These individually lighted letters that you would see on a storefront are called channel letters, and our average price for those is around $4,500 to $5,000.

Dean: About $4,500?

Kirby: Yeah.

Dean: And how long does that last?

Kirby: You know, eight to 10 years without a problem.

Dean: Yeah. Okay. Got it. Are people looking at ... So you're not doing like the back lit storefront, you know, like you see in strip plazas or whatever? It's the individual letters?

Kirby: Right. It can be back lit, Dean. We'll incorporate like a logo potentially. We did one where it's two dogs and a cat. It's dog daycare place, so we have their cat and dog logo up there beside their lighted letters, but their letters say Two Dogs And A Cat. Law Office, those individually lighted letters ... If you're thinking what signs do I typically see in the strip mall that identify the businesses through there, that's the signs to have in mind when you talk about what business I'm in. I mean that's what we do.

Dean: Yeah. Okay. That's an interesting opportunity. I had a client, who got a new real estate office in Toronto, but it was on a nice corner and it was an older building, so it had kind of a nice angled corner sign. Rather than put the name of the company and the logo and that kind of thing, we put the website. We named the place ... This was in kind of the late '90s, early 2000s, when everything was ... Being able to search homes online was a new thing and a great appeal.

We put up realestateviewingcenter.com, encouraging people that either way ... If they came in they could search homes online and do all that stuff there, or they could do it at home, because we had the .com on there. But to encourage people to come in, we added the words on the sign Free Popsicles. It was something that was like this little pattern interrupts, right, and everybody would kind of see it and then they'd kind of laugh and you'd poke your head in, right? We had this little freezer with popsicles. That was to let people know yeah, you can come in, you know, kind of in a jesting sense.

Kirby: Yeah. Absolutely. Yeah.

Dean: I think in a lot of cases that ... Do you encourage people to put their .com on the sign?

Kirby: We haven't. We haven't done that. I mean I would say ... That's an interesting idea, Dean. How I've viewed it for my customers is they're generally trying to attract people into their physical location, right? So for most of my customers, ultimately what they want is the customer to cross that threshold and come inside.

So for me that first piece is they need to know what you offer. In that span, the environment role overwhelmed, you've got to cut through that noise and ... So what ... That resonates well with my customers generally because they're paying for expensive retail space. Part of the reason they're paying for that is they believe in the traffic count and they believe that their contingency of customers is going to be in that area and all those things, and so that's a real effective way for me to engage with them.

What I find for most of my customers that is important for them as far as engaging online is in their social media marketing. You can imagine a new bar opening up, that's probably a big platform for them. We have done some things like on the windows, putting some of their social media icons in that. We've never incorporated those into the identification signs though necessarily.

Dean: Interesting. It's a pretty cool potential thing. When you think about it, if it's $4,500 that's going to last for eight years, one of the problems with it is the permanence of it that it's not something that you can change. Do you do anything with digital signs, with the ... Like where do you think just long-term the future of signs is going?

Kirby: Yeah, and I thought about that, because you talk about it a lot as well in terms of what you think may happen in the real estate market, but you talk about that kind of ... Maybe you called it the last dance or the last mile, I don't remember.

Dean: The last hundred feet. Yeah.

Kirby: Okay, the last hundred feet. Regardless of what's happening as far as market efficiency, you've still got to kind of close the deal at the end. I think as far as how that translates to signs, I don't think physical retail space is going away. I think continuing to advertise what you're offering in that physical space is going to continue to be a very important thing to do. Digital signage has had some impact, but the technology is not great and a lot of municipalities won't allow it. They don't want flashy scrolling signs.

Dean: Got you. Yeah.

Kirby: You know and that. So I've thought a lot about the technological impacts to the business potentially and whether it turns into incorporating 3D printing at some point ... I feel like the manufacturing technologies could be effected but I think in the end of the day you're still going to need that sign on your storefront that's large enough to be read, and the spacings right, the colors right, its gotta convey that message at night, you're lit up where you can do that. That's my thoughts as of now. I don't see anything kind of disrupting that in the near future.

Dean: Yeah, and that's fair enough. When you look at it there are certain things that there is still gonna be that desire to go in to a physical location to see stuff or to get stuff especially in nitches or services types of things. So what's your marketing challenge right now? What's the thing that you're trying to figure out?

Kirby: Sure. I mean if I look at profit activator score card and rate myself on those things I feel like the target market was a good one to select and focus on. So I feel like that's gone well. There are opportunities to thou to further refine the message to that market and even the rebranding of the company that I did after that first year it was Santa Fe Signs, which was kind of generic and named after the street where the business was located for a period of time and I renamed it to Maximum Outdoor Signs. I at least try to get that focus on outdoor signs, so Let's get focused there.

Dean: Yeah.

Kirby: But I've thought about, do I need to go further? Because that's good but it’s not quite, We Shot Bottles, you know?

Dean: Right, right.

Kirby: Right. So there are still all kinds of outdoor signs that could be done and we don't necessarily cover all of those, and so that's definitely an aspect. Improving my ability to make my invisible prospects visible is an aspect of it. Differentiating on the offer is something I've had a hard time with. I mean the focus and the expertise, there's some of that that we can kind of convey that has sort of the engaged and the self process, it does help with some differentiation. It's not usually the deciding factors for somebody though, it’s interesting but it's not compelling enough, right?

Dean: Right.

Kirby: Well we're not going to buy from you just because of that, it’s interesting that you do that, you maybe said something that was insightful but we all know the impact of that conversation, you know, with everything going on if you can imagine with somebody who's trying to open a business, it’s probably a pretty short lived impact and when they come back to it four or five days later they're going to be looking at three sign proposals and they’re going to be like, "I don't even remember who told me that but it isn’t important but this guy is cheaper, so I'm going to go with him."

Dean: Yeah.

Kirby: And so there is an offer aspect where I feel there is a lot of opportunity for us as well.

Dean: Uh-huh (affirmative). So I think that part of the ... Are you mostly doing new business signs or replacing signs that for an existing business, like they're saying, "You know what we really need to redo our sign or we want to get a new sign." Or are you doing it for new businesses that are just getting started?

Kirby: It's principally new businesses.

Dean: Okay. Once somebody gets locked in their not really thinking about like, "We need to change up our sign."

Kirby: That's right. That's right. You know and we have a fair amount, even given that, it’s kind of surprising to me that we still have a fair amount of repeat referral business. That comes from either somebody who is successful and expanding opening up another location or it comes from, you know, "I told a friend that you guys did a great job for us." Kind of a thing.

Dean: Right. Uh-huh (affirmative).

Kirby: So that's still a big piece but I feel like it is similar to selling a house to somebody. They’re going to buy that house and they're going to be there for a while.

Dean: Yeah.

Kirby: And so you're not going to be selling them another house next week and that's the same thing I kind of face here. The signs lasting as long as they do and that its just not where I can rely on that customer based fund building other than that sort of that return on ... I want to call it return on referral but I know that not quite the right name.

Dean: Yeah return on relationships. Yeah. Mm-hmm.

Kirby: Return on relationship, yeah.

Dean: Okay so how many of these new businesses are there in the market where you ... Are you geographically like constrained to a certain area, or do you do all over, or how do you target the market?

Kirby: Yeah. Realistically it's the Metropolitan area that I'm in and fortunately its large enough and healthy enough economy that there's plenty of opportunity. My best guess for market size is somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 million dollars spread across the companies doing sign work in this area. That is a mix being of I would say dollar wise it’s probably most specifically leaning towards the national brands that are either coming into the area or expanding in the area. So you know McDonalds is probably not the best example, but you know any of those fast food chains that come in and they'll do business generally with a different tier of company than I am its more of a wholesale transaction and its just different.

Dean: Oh yeah they've already got the design-

Kirby: Right. Right.

Dean: Wholesale.

Kirby: Right. So you know when you take that pieces off, which is a signification piece, how much is left of the individual business owner opening up a space. You know it’s not a huge market but my business has been growing at a healthy pace and I know I don't have the large percentage of that market, so I feel like there's plenty of market opportunity within this Metropolitan area.

Dean: And so how do you find those new businesses right now? Do you have access? Or do you hope that they find you? Or what's your strategy to reach them?

Kirby: My most effective on that front has been paid advertising, online paid advertising Google AdWords. I tried Facebook advertising I tried to do some direct postcard marketing, referring to a free recorded message. What I found on that, and the general challenge I had, Dean, is there's not a great list of who's getting ready to open a store.

Dean: Right.

Kirby: You know, you can find the new business that recently opened fairly easily, but by then it’s obviously too late. To find that list ahead of time has really been a challenge. So I really have to get them on the website, give them enough information that they feel compelled to either submit a form there or pick up the phone.

Dean: Right. So who else would know about these people? Like I'm thinking initially, this is kind of how I think through a process like this, is that okay their going to go into commercial space like I look for where are the things that are going to happen here, right? So it would definitely be driven by the precursor of somebody moving into a new commercial space, or relocating their business into that space. So I would look at that as kind of the new thing and then what would be the chain of events there that would be available for you to reach those people up stream. Like by the time they get their sign decision, where, what else is in that decision chain that comes before or after they make the sign decision?

Kirby: you know-

Dean: ... First of all, first thing is they're going to, let’s just pick it up from they find the location. So that's where they're going to be, now they've got to do their build out and their getting everything prepared for their business. What's along that line?

Kirby: Sure and so if we pick it up from that starting point I mean I feel like if there's a precursor to that starting point, it’s that they are working with a property manager or their engaged in discussions with a property manager. I mean and that might be the very first thing. I've also thought that there could have been conversations with commercial lenders ahead of that. That some point along the line there's going to be conversations with commercial insurance agents. There certainly, as you said on the build out, there's contractors who their going to engage with.

If I look at sort of those players, I have some property management customers who are very good customers and very good referral sources for me. That particular set of people I think would be high value for me to if I could figure out a way to make it rewarding for them to refer their new or prospective tenets to me, that would be-

Dean: What about the commercial real estate agents?

Kirby: Yeah, right. Another good one.

Dean: Mm-hmm (affirmative). So I look at it that you're, you know ... I keep reminding myself as your talking and about how sort of this kind of, it's not a sort of decision. It seems like to me that people are not really thinking about their sign as a strategic thing per say as a, "We got to budget this, how much do we need for signage?" Just like, we got to do it, but they’re not thinking about it that way but they're mostly thinking about budgeting for it and setting that up and in a lot of cases are the commercial developers paying for that as part of the build out for them? That included signage? Or are you dealing with the end user, you know?

Kirby: Yeah it comes down to the end user who's the decision maker.

Dean: All right. So they get it. I think about this, I did some work with a party rental, I don't know whether I've told this story but, there in Taranto, a party rental company meaning a company that does for events, they'll rent tables and chairs and linens and dishes and all that stuff, right everything portable parties, if you're going to do an event and that is where you get all the stuff. I asked them what the most, what their largest check was, right, what's the biggest thing? And the jackpot for a party rental company is an outdoor wedding because they get the tent and the table and the chairs and possibly two tents because they have another area for the ceremony and then one for the reception and it's a big ticket item.

But a party rental company is not one of the sexy things or exciting things about planning a wedding. So nobody gets excited and puts like a pictures of party rental ads in their hope chest, right, that's not the thing that you think about. But when you think about the decision process here of where this starts, it starts when someone says, "Will you marry me?" And they say, "I will." Now they are on this path that the very first thing that they do is pick the date and the location, right, where and when. That's the most important thing, "We've got to get it on the calendar. We've got to reserve our spot."

Now if they want to have an outdoor wedding their question is, "Well, where are we going to do it?" This guy had been ... You know they're a family business they've been in business for 30 plus years and they've seen all kinds of different places, places that you wouldn't even know that you could have an outdoor wedding. So I had him put together a directory to a 100 great places to have an outdoor wedding in Taranto and start advertising that guide as a lead generator. Not even mentioning that they're a party rental company but just advertising the directory because now that gets them an audience or gets them an invisible prospect of somebody who is planning an outdoor wedding. And they were able to turn that into a profit setter.

They were able to turn the guide. They were able to get money from the venues, to be included in the guide. They were able to get money from other people who are also interested in finding brides. DJs, band bookers, bridal companies, caterers all of those things, who also want to try to find a bride and they were able to get their leads now for free or at a profit.

I look at it the way anytime you can think upstream like that, how you can help, how you can identify somebody at the earliest opportunity that you have. So when you look at it when I think about somebody opening a new business, they're going to be looking for commercial space, so I look at it that the realtors are really going to be the ... They're looking for that person too and most of them are not doing it very well. Most of the real estate agents don't have a real direct response approach to finding people, you know.

Kirby: Yep.

Dean: Like if you had ... If I were thinking this through I might start advertising ... Because before they're looking for a sign they're looking for a space, right? They're looking for-

Kirby: That's right. Yeah.

Dean: Yep. So that's got to come first and it’s not until they find the space that they're ready to get the sign. But it can all happen quickly. Commercial things always sort of happen probably a little faster than residential in terms of people could look for a long long time before they find the right house or think about it but mostly commercial it happens pretty quickly. So when you look at it, I might look at doing something like that, of having the March 2018 report on retail commercial space prices. To see kind of where you can even maybe partner with a realtor to get that kind of information to help them identify people that they can help find space but then you also get introduced to those people as well.

Kirby: True. Yeah, absolutely. I think that's a great idea. Dean, let me ... If we drill down into that a little bit help me think through a couple of aspects of it. You said specifically as you threw out a tablet idea on retail space, do you envision this as being you have one for retail space and one for restaurant space and kind of do I look at my markets from that perspective and segment along those lines?

Dean: Yeah I think so cause that would be like ... I think it would be like We Shot Bottles and We Shot Cans. Because you could do that same thing.

Kirby: Absolutely, yep absolutely.

Dean: Yeah. I mean we were running ... Yeah that kind of thing were you're looking at the specifics, I mean retail, those are your two big one right? Retail and restaurant?

Kirby: Yeah, well yes, I would say so.

Dean: I think that the ... I think that would be a really good thing for somebody who's in the market of looking for space. That's gonna jump out and so there are some could opportunities there. When I look at it, what would come first? When you look upstream or the chain of events, when would somebody register their new business license? Would it be prior to or after they're already found their space? What would be ... Most of them are registered locally, right? You have to register your business license. So that's an available list of new licenses, new business licenses?

Kirby: Yeah. Yeah.

Dean: I'm wondering when that comes. Whether it’s after the location ... It's been so long since I've registered mine I don't remember when.

Kirby: Sure.

Dean: Do you know?

Kirby: I don't know Dean. I'm kind of thinking, I've talked to enough people at this point, it wouldn't surprise me greatly that they kind of do it after the fact, because I think what's compelling people to open this first store is their dream of delivering whatever result they hope to and they just, you know, I'm opening a lady's boutique fashion and accessories. So I'm saying, "I'm all excited about well what products am I gonna get to offer and how and I gonna, you know, how's the environment gonna be." Maybe exactly all of those things and then they find a space and, "Oh, you're probably right I need to put that into a business and so, you know, I'm gonna have to register and maybe I don't want it in my personal name and now I gotta go do those things.”

Dean: Right.

Kirby: Right and so then it's the same type of thing and then sometime along the way with all of those other things you're going to have to decide about you're going to have to decide about a sign as well. It wouldn't surprise me Dean, if that's an almost after the fact kind of thing. But I don't, you know it's not something that I know.

One of the municipals here had a great online resource for some of the business registrations new ones and that and they're very specific about not using that as a marketing tool and they've since changed the access to that so it’s not as easy to get to the list as it used to be. It's something I looked into in the past but it was another mixed bag, and I'm not saying it couldn't be explored further and leveraged in some way, but that one was ... that's not as clear to me as what you're talking about as far as the commercial agents and kind of thinking about that space as far as the stream of events and what's upstream from what I'm doing.

Dean: Right. And that might be a good thing. Thinking outside of the box there. Have you ever heard of the company Deluxe? They're one of these huge under the radar kind of companies. They do business forms and check and letter heads and business cards and all those kinds of things, all the printed things for businesses. One of the things that they do, as kind of a lost leader, is they do logo design. If you think about the kind of brilliants of that, is that what better way to get an established a brand new customer than to be the one that helps them design the logo that they're now going to need for letter head and checks and business cards and all that stuff.

Kirby: Sure.

Dean: It's like, they're not trying to advertise about trying to sell all the paper goods and stuff that they sell, they're meeting people where they are at the genesis of it, which is truly the genesis, the logo. I'm thinking about perhaps the designers or the people, the local graphic designers might be a great opportunity for you as well.

Kirby: Yes absolutely, absolutely.

Dean: Especially for local businesses because they may be thinking, "I'm going to need to go up town here and look for a, get somebody to help with a logo."

Kirby: Sure. Yeah.

Dean: Because that's one of those kinds of dream things, but that's when people are starting the business that's what kind of makes it real. When they get name of their business, they start floating it around and they get that pride now of birthing this thing that's separate from them. They've got this business now that they're playing around with the name of it. Like, a Day at the Beach, they were really excited about that, when they came up with that name because they thought that that was really cleaver.

Kirby: Right.

Dean: Somebody had to then help them with the logo for it and now it because real, then right?

Kirby: Absolutely, that's when you start seeing it come to life. It's a very exciting moment for sure.

Dean: Yeah and then so it’s kind of an interesting thing that if there was a way then to kind of educate people about what you know and what you've learned about signs, like I think there's some ... Like do you really good examples of great signs versus bad signs illustrating the things and the ways that people go wrong? The things that are disappointing and the things that would maybe be a check list for making sure that your sign does these things? You know do the 100 feet test or whatever? The drive by? How big do the letter have to be and all those kind of things that are going to make your sign more successful?

Kirby: Yeah, yeah we definitely have that and I pulled some of that together when I did the Four Fatal Flaws of Sign Design because it was really important to, here's good here's bad side by side and that picture is really what you need to see and then you can throw some types in there to explain the concept but you see that picture and it tells you, you know it gets the message across.

Even today if I see a poorly done sign, usually I'll take a picture of it because there's some sort of aspect of that I not only think I could communicate to prospects but I want to be sure that we're learning from it too. There was something about that sign that wasn't quite right and I don't want to do that to somebody so let’s take a look at this and what could have made this better? We definitely have examples of here's something that's well done and here's something that could have been done a little bit better.

Dean: Yeah. Are there certain this that give people an option for, I'll call them, have you ever seen a book called Eat This, Not That where they'll show you something but that's the high calorie version but then here's the low calorie version of that, kind of thing? Or get the look for less, kind of thing? Like there is dress that somebody is wearing on the red carpet and here is the same look, get the look for less. Are there things that you can do that are tying into sign trends that you can get that look or get that effectiveness for less money? Are there ways to save money on a sign or to get more for your money?

Kirby: You know I think a lot of that can come into, I don't want to harp too much on one aspect, but the message can be an aspect of that because the thing that's really going to drive eyes to the sign is how big you make it and how much you say essentially. So the more you feel like you need to say a whole phrase it's going to be hard to save you money on that, but if what's critical is some sort of smaller condensed aspect of that phrase or we can design the sign in a way that we can still have a fairly long phrase up there but it’s not the prominent piece of the sign so it’s not the biggest piece. Those types of things can definitely be done to not only save the customer some money but also help them have a much more effective advertising piece in their identification signage.

Dean: Yeah and so I wonder if there's examples like it might be a really great thing for you to research and compile an idea guide that has really great examples of winning signs. Are there other companies that you think that, you know of that, are really based on or aided by their sign?

Kirby: You know-

Dean: I think when you think about it like same day dry cleaning or words that would be a great thing if you're a dry cleaner, that you convey that message. Are there examples of really great messaging that could be an opportunity here to get somebody thinking strategically thinking about their signs?

Kirby: There are and I think the most compelling one that I've personally found, because you know you can find industry stuff but of course the industry stuff you got to take with a little bit of a grain of salt, so you can find things from sign associations they'll talk about customer traffic and the effective signs on that. A university did a study on it as well and part of what they identified through that study what, what are people looking for when they go to buy a sign? What are their top three or four things that they're interested in? But then they also took a look at new customer sort of acquisition for the physical retail space by simply doing this across say 400 businesses ask for the first six months every new customer who comes in, "How did you hear about our store?" And what they found out by doing that was that about 47% of new customers heard about the store because of the sign.

To me that was a big, important and compelling piece in terms of starting to think about your sign strategically. The sort of gap that I have to bridge Dean, is from you know, I got the call today because they're calling three companies looking for pricing and they need a sign in three weeks and their budgets already pretty well spent because they've been doing all this build out and it cost more than they expected and now they just need to get the sign up and get their doors open. So I am operating with someone in that mindset who's probably understands what I'm trying to say but the stress levels at ten and time frame is short and to move them from that mindset to think about the strategic value of this sign and the fact that this is a critical piece potentially of your advertising, that's a big gap to jump by the time I'm usually talk them.

So again you know, maybe coming back to these upstream ideas, can I get in that conversation earlier? And how can I get to somebody to start thinking about, you know, not as, I don't want your tent going into your hope chest but earlier than you may be considered it, you need to think about what you're going to do with your sign. And it really needs to be part of the space you decide to lease as well. If there are things you think you need to do, that's generally, that can be controlled by the development itself and the landlord may not permit certain things. I would love to be in a conversation early I just haven't found the right way, the right hook to grab people at that time.

Dean: I got it. So I think the real estate side maybe ... that makes the closest sense then rather than getting into the strategic decision but if you could identify who the people are who are moving into a new space, that's going to be as good as it could get for you I guess, right?

Kirby: Yeah I mean ... That's really great. So then it’s just a matter of that's the right place to look for the starving crowd than what is the right message to get delivered to that crowd and so I like the idea book. Part of what we've done with the Fatal Flaws is here are the things you definitely want to avoid. What I am still not as sure about is, what trigger can I use to get them to start to think about design, to consider maybe they do want to look at how you make mistakes and be sure to avoid that. Maybe they do want to look at an idea book to start contrasting good verses bad. Are they going to do that avowedly or are they going to do that ... potentially it’s enough to have that prospective pull of customers and to have the advertising going to them and the guide to retail space prior to-

Dean: What if there was ... Yeah that's a great thing, but what if you started thinking of it in terms of the positive and bake it right in. I have a company called moneymakingwebsites.com.

Kirby: Right, okay.

Dean: Yeah and that's pretty clear what that's about. I mean it’s not, yours saying ... I wonder if you get people thinking about that, that its money making signs it’s kind of a good way to think about this. One of the things I'm thinking about is…

Kirby: You're breaking up there a little bit Dean.

Dean: Yeah sorry I got all excited and undid my headset. As far as thinking about this idea of the money making signs, I wonder if there's, in addition, I think we're pretty confident that if you could find people ahead of time and you're just the sign company that's there and you can get them the same day quote and give them the idea guide and answer their questions, cause their mostly worried about budgeting questions more than anything.  Do you also do additional signage? Do you do other kinds of signs then just those? I'm thinking about like outside of the box here is there an opportunity for you to create a category that you're not competing with anybody but there are more maybe temporary type of things or adjustable or sign they could use as promotional signs or window signs or things that are going to ... they could use strategically?

Kirby: Yeah you know I had an idea at one point but I didn't follow through on that and you're reminding me of it and it’s a great question to raise. When I thought about it in terms of how to both separate myself and to continue to increase the lifetime value of the customer overtime would be something like there is maybe four times a year when a retail space wants to do that additional promotional advertising or whatever the number of times is. There are certain holidays where everybody is going to promote and could we package at the beginning maybe along with identification signs some aspect of that first year of promotional marketing activity. We're going to deliver the window poster and maybe some point of sale and maybe some outdoor temporary signage, flags or something to help promote during those seasonal periods when you want to run a sale.

Dean: And even some outdoor things for after hours when they're not there or people walking by can pick stuff out of an info box. You start to think about that as an opportunity for some additional strategic street level thinking about signs.

Kirby: Yeah, absolutely.

Dean: Yeah. Well that opens up a whole world of opportunities there. What do you see so far? Time flew by here but what's your take away from what we've talked about so far? What do you think the action items are here?

Kirby: Yeah I mean there's a whole bunch. I mean that last one alone would be a great one to pursue. I think the one I am excited about is the upstream idea that we kind of came out of the gate with when we started to about identifying these invisible prospects. It brings both things to the table. One developing a relationship with commercial real estate agents who can be a great referral source and two getting something more relevant into the right people’s hands at the right time that I can then piggyback on and advertise my business. I think tying in on that, maybe the advertising happening there is the idea book and that piece.

And then this final idea of some way to differentiate at the end and set myself apart where there isn't competition. I think this last idea of maybe bringing in those promotional aspects, some street level info box kind of ideas I think that covers quite a range of the sales cycle and maybe helps me identify those invisible prospects and then make that other offer at the end.

Dean: Right. Show people how to make a return, how to get a return on their signage, right.

Kirby: Right. Right. So that theme through there and there’s multiplying aspects of that and that's great. Those, some really great ideas to look towards implementing here in the next few months for sure.

Dean: That's awesome. Cool well I enjoyed our conversation I think you've got a great opportunity here.

Kirby: Well thank you Dean. Yes I very much enjoy, I enjoy everything you do, I mean it's really, I've learned a lot from you. I thoroughly enjoy your conversations with Dan Sullivan. Love the marketing show with Joe as well. This is really engaging, to me to be on this phone conversation with you to an ongoing extent.  To have you riding along in the car with me as I'm trying to build a business.

Dean: I love it.

Kirby: Yeah, Yeah, Yeah. Well fantastic Dean. Thank you very much for your time.

Dean: Awesome, keep me posted let me know what you end up doing too.

Kirby: Okay I will do. Thanks Dean.

Dean: Thanks Kirby. Bye.

Kirby: All right, bye, bye.

Dean: And there we have it. That was a fun episode. I think that the idea we kind of hit on there at the end of the call thinking about maybe creating an opportunity that doesn't already exist might be a nice way to kind of expand Kirby's after unit with the clients that he already has, "Now that we got your main sign let’s talk about what we can do on the ground here, strategically to start using signs to use it as a really marketing tool." So I am excited to hear how that maybe plays out. I think he's pretty confident in his ability to be able to build some relationships with the realtors who are finding the people who are going to be his future customer and maybe collaborating or helping out the realtors to find those people as well.

So lots of great stuff. I really enjoyed that episode. If you wanna be a guest on the show and hatch some evil schemes for your business just go to morecheeselesswhiskers.com. You can download a copy of the More Cheese Less Whiskers book and just click on the be a guest link, tell me a little bit about your business and maybe we can talk about it right here. If you want to see where the opportunities are in your business as far as applying the eight profit activators that we talk about you can go to profitactivatorscore.com and you can do our online profit activator score card and it will let you know where the big opportunities are, which of the eight profit activators is where the big breakthrough is for you right now and I think you'll really enjoy that.

That's it for this week, have a great week and I will talk to you next time.