In the Trenches: The Bread Part

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.

Amy, my daughter-in-law and the office manager of both our small companies, brought it to my attention a couple of months ago that we were paying two “yellow page” bills each month, and she wasn’t sure why. 

I was surprised and dismayed because I knew I had only kept up one “yellow page” account with one local area book, mostly because that same company provides and services one of our business webpages as well.

For years we did advertise in two local books, but a couple of years ago I decided that was silly when it dawned on me that I had not personally used a paper version phone book, in white, yellow or any other color, as far back as I can remember, which admittedly is getting shorter all the time, but I think there was still a Texan in the White House the last time I let my fingers do the walking.

But, the invoices kept coming, and foolishly were paid, until I insisted to Amy that I knew for certain I had signed only one contract and had not even heard from the other company. When another bill came demanding payment for another month and past due months as well, I gave them a call to protest.

Of course, once I talked to a real person, the real person representing this mega-company, insisted the bill was owed and had better be paid. Why? Because somewhere in the fine print of the last contract I did sign, two years before, there was a clause that said the contract would be “automatically renewed,” unless a certain form, which I have never seen, was returned to them showing we had cancelled our ad in advance of the renewal.

I had not knowingly agreed to any of this, and I assume when many of their customers began to balk when their salesperson came around, refusing to sign new contracts for paper ads that are used less and less every day, some smart lawyer said the renewal could be done that way until the suckers out there catch on. And some of the suckers, like the one I see in the mirror shaving each morning, are pretty slow to catch anything.

Stupid annoyances like this are representative of some of the things I don’t like about being in business. In fact, sometimes I think my love for being in business is like my daughter Lacey’s love for cake back when she was about three years old. When the conversation one day fell to the subject of dessert, in her wee little voice she explained, “Daddy, I really love cake, but I’m not that crazy about the bread part.” Which meant, of course, what she really loved was icing.

And for me, the icing part of being in the sign business is the work itself. It isn’t being the boss, or making a payroll, or creating multitudes of bids and proposals, mostly free and on many jobs that will never be done, and it’s sure not paying the taxes. Oh, the taxes, my word and honor, those dad-blamed taxes. 

No, for me the icing on the cake, which I suppose this shows my blue collar roots more than anything, is the actual sign making work itself. That is the part I enjoy, and have always enjoyed. Whether hard work, or easy, a cakewalk or dangerous, the work of a sign man is OK by me.

Well, maybe any kind of work is OK by me, it’s the managing part that isn’t much fun. That’s the pesky “bread part.” In fact, as time goes on I look more and more forward to the day that, with little regards to the money involved, I can do only the work I like: sign work, honey-do work, grandpa work, church work, and then a little of the work of flying a small plane through the friendly skies. Which, of course, isn’t work at all, but then everybody needs at least one vice I would think.

But I’m actually not bad at it, as I may be the only one around who has bought a $6,000 two-seat Piper, flew it for 25 years, and then sold it for $15,000. Hey, I’m no where nearly as good in business as that most of the time. Must have missed my calling somehow, but maybe, just maybe, there is still time to find it, or at least have fun trying.

I hope you’re having a great month, your mail is more fun than mine, and the work you’re doing the most of is the kind you really, truly enjoy.