In the Trenches: Signs, Scissors & Boney Fingers

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

About a week ago, Colton – who is one of our young guys at the powder coating shop, and my nephew -- pulled me aside to ask a favor.

He explained that before long wife, mother of his three small kids, would be going back to work, and she wanted to start her training to be a hair stylist. Then Colton said he was going to have to come up with $1,000 pretty soon to get this started. Since he does some part-time work at the sign shop, he asked if I might advance him the money and he would work for me for free until we were all squared up.

Colton is a hard worker, a really hard worker, as in the job he had before us was laying roofing in the hot Texas summertime, and that, folks, is about as tough as it gets. He works very hard for us too, and I figured he was due a bonus anyway, so I made sure that his next paycheck included an extra thousand dollars for him to take home to his bride.

But when I instructed Amy, my daughter-in-law and office manager to prepare the check, and told her what it was for, she said she sure hated to hear it was going for cosmetology classes. “I have two good friends who are hair stylists, and they tell me the hours are long, they’re on their feet all day, and the clients aren’t always that nice, either. Perhaps she should try something else.”

Of course, Amy made the check anyway, and I consoled her by saying that the hair person that has cut my hair for 15 years or so seems to do well, has a great attitude, and appears to like what she does. “Can’t be all bad,” I told her. “Every job has its ups and downs.”

It wasn’t but a day or two later I was actually getting my hair cut, and I thought I might just go to the horse’s mouth, while sitting in the horse’s chair. “Misty,” I said, “a young lady I know is thinking of training to be a hair stylist, and I wondered if you’d recommend this line of work.”

“Well, I’m not really sure,” she answered, “but I don’t think so. It’s is a lot of work and the money isn’t really all that great either.”

I was somewhat surprised by her answer, but then reminded her that all jobs have their good and bad, and there are a lot of bad jobs out there if you don’t have an education or a trade.

I continued, “This is a really nice place to work in, and I’ll bet hair cutting and styling sure beats flipping burgers or running a cash register at Walmart all day.”

“Well, you’ve got that right,” she agreed.

“As for me, you know I’m a sign maker and I work my rear end off. But, I don’t think I’d rather be a plumber, or operate a septic service, or be out pouring concrete somewhere. In fact, there a quite a few jobs I think I’d get tired of mighty quick.”

“Come to think of it, there a quite a few I would rather not do as well,” she admitted.

“Misty, I have noticed one good thing about your job, which is different from mine, and that is that all the time your fingers are moving you’re making money.”

“Yes, I suppose that’s so,” she said.

“Not so for me. Why, there are days I won’t ever get paid for half the hours I work, and every single day at the sign shop there is unavoidable work for which we’ll get paid nothing at all.

“Really? That’s terrible. How come?”

“All the time I spent bidding on jobs we’ll never get is free, dealing with the city over sign permits is free, fixing countless pieces of our clients’ lousy artwork is often free, and a lot of the work we do for charities is practically free. All of these are types of work we regularly do at the sign shop, but don’t make any money on… and our boney fingers are moving a lot!”

Misty considered what I said, smiled, and kept hers doing what she is really good at, as proved by the image of the guy in the mirror straight across from me. When she finished, I stepped up out of her chair and happily paid Misty her fee… plus a tip.

“Well, I will give some thought to what to tell my young friend,” I said. “But I think if I ever had a career where I was paid for each minute I was working it’d be hard to wipe the smile off my face, and I’ve always noticed that you smile quite a bit.”

And she did, and I did, and we both went back to doing what we’re good at, making our living the best way we know how, and counting our blessings that we actually know how.

I hope you’re having a great month doing what you do, counting your blessings, and when your fingers are moving… well, you know what I mean.