In the Trenches: And the Pursuit of…

Rick Williams

Rick Williams owns Rick’s Sign Company, a commercial sign shop in Longview, Texas. He has been in the sign industry since 1973 and has been a contributing editor to Sign Business since 1986. Contact Rick via e-mail at ricksignco@aol.com.

Little grandson Cole, having just turned 4, found himself pleasantly alone at our house a few evenings ago while his two older brothers were away at ball practice. When bath time came, he had the large tub in the master bathroom all to himself, along with quite an array of toys.

I let him soak and play for a while, checking on him regularly, and then stepped in and informed him that he had five more minutes to stay in the tub.

But he was comfortable there, quite happy there, and he looked up and said, “No, not five minutes, Pop. Not five minutes. I want… all the minutes.”

“All the minutes?” I asked. He nodded, and I smiled and left the room for a while. A short time later I returned and said, “Your time is up, Cole, we’ve got to get you out of the tub.”

“No, Pop. Not yet, Pop, not just five minutes. I want all the minutes,” he repeated.

So, I allowed the little guy enjoy himself a little longer, then scrubbed him gently, rinsed and dried him, and helped him into his pajamas. But he wasn’t thrilled with me, for there in that comfortable place, in the simple pleasure of a warm bath on a cold night, in the quiet company of his own toys, he must have really felt happy. And whenever that happens, there never are enough minutes.

It seems there have been considerable periods in my life when it didn’t take much to make me happy either. When I was barely 20, recently married and having found that I could make a good living making hand-lettered signs, I looked for a place to work that was better than the one room I rented at the rear of an old lumberyard.

To my surprise, I stumbled on a 1,200 sq. ft. wooden shop building across from my old junior high that I could rent cheap, not a mile from where we were living. It was a bit hot in the summertime but dry and warm in the winter, and I was happy.

For 10 full years, I stayed lettering trucks under the shade of a huge oak tree, working snug and comfortably inside during the cold weather, and allowing the place to become home sweet home. And all was fine until, quite unexpectedly it was bought out from under me, and I was thrown out.

About that time my dad was opening a new business, and we found a location to share until he built his own building. Then, myself and my small crew had the use of a 5,000 sq. ft shop up on the main highway, very reasonable rent in half of an old lumberyard storefront and warehouse, and for more than 15 years we had plenty of room, and my crew and myself were very comfortable, and I was happy.

Until it too was bought out from under me, and I was thrown out. I had enjoyed all the years, and all the minutes, and suddenly and without warning my time was up.

Looking back, now I know I had actually been happy, no doubt about it, too happy with my well-suited, simple and inexpensive business locations. Twice I stayed too long, and twice I was at the mercy of someone else who cared nothing about me, my crew or my sign business. And then, way too late, I was forced to grow up…which was exactly what I should have done years sooner.

I know I have shared much of this story before, but for those who may need to hear it, being in control of where your business is located, buying your own home sweet home, is quite likely the smartest thing you can do. And the sooner you can swing it, the smarter that decision usually is. Your own real estate can serve as your IRA, help secure your business future, and most importantly keep you from becoming a victim like I have been. Of course, a good lease can help, but leases always end, all the years and all the minutes, no matter how happy they were.

Well, that’s just a reminder, from here “In the Trenches,” where learning is generally done the hard way, and a few years later than would have been ideal. But all in all, I can’t say that I haven’t had a good time, and I know I’ve enjoyed the work I’ve done and the experiences I’ve had, except for that thrown out part.

But still, it was those abrupt and negative experiences that helped me make some of the better decisions of my business career. So, who’s complaining? Have a great month.