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Last Update: Thursday July 29, 2021

Key Idea: Create a New Breed of Owners

This former banker and now FastSigns franchise owner is the type of person Gary goes after.  Gary  had the idea that seasoned executives who are highly trained and bright people might love to take a stab at owning their own business.

Key Question:


Go after people your competitors ignore.

The fact that entrepreneurship is enjoying great PR today works in Gary's favor. This country was founded by entrepreneurs but most of this past century has been dominated by the "organization man." The rise of the professional manager has been documented by every business writer everywhere. Hundreds of books have been written about how to be a manager and the managers at big companies study the newest methods.

Q: Where does Gary go to find franchisees?

A: Inside big business. He looks for the highly trained managers such as the banker you saw on the tape. These men and women have years of leadership training and experience working for big companies and they're perfect for Gary.

Why are they perfect as owners of their own FASTSIGNS?

A: Big business runs best when people follow the systems put in place, ususally by someone else. A "pure" entrepreneur is the man or woman who thinks of an idea and starts a busines form scratch not knowing if it will turn into a profitable business. A franchise owner is a hybrid of an entrepreneur and a manager. When a person buys a franchise, the idea has already been proven. Remember the banker said he has looked at the financials of many businesses through the years and when he looked at the financials of some of the FASTSIGNS operations, he could see that FASTSIGNS is a good idea. There is no risk involved in evaluating the basic idea.

The professional manager then does have to put down his or her own money to buy into the business and there is some risk that the location or the leadership will fail. But, there is great comfort for the "organization man" in systems.

Gary has worked hard from day one to put the systems in place that will insure success. He's a systems man himself. You can tell when you hear him talk about opening the first store that it was very frustrating for him trying to get things done for customers before the systems were streamlined.

Today it's cool to be able to say you own a business. Tapping into that trend and giving the professional managers a business that looks more like big business than small busienss, Gary has grown quickly. Because, once you have the product and the processes in place, all you need to grow a business is people.

Think about it

With the fight for the best employees in full swing, what non-traditional places can you go to find great people for your organization?

Clip from: FastSigns: A study of Franchisor & Franchisee

Carrollton, Texas: This business began on the back of a paper napkin around a discussion over breakfast. That was 1985 .  Gary Salomon saw how a computer could make high-quality signs in hours instead of days. He jumped at the opportunity to build a business offering this service internationally. Today his company, FastSigns, is America’s leading sign company with over 500 locations worldwide.

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Gary Salomon, Founder, CEO

2550 Midway Road
Carrollton, TX 75006

Visit our web site:

Office: 9724470777

Business Classification:

Year Founded: 1985

Create a New Breed of Owners

HATTIE: GARY, tell me about the first time you put the FASTSIGNs plan in writing.

GARY: Well, it was over breakfast on a napkin, and Steve Mailman and Bob Schanbaum and I sat down and talked about exactly what we were going to do and how we were going to do it, and that if it worked out, we'd franchise. So, you know, that napkin was filled up.

We never really sold a franchise to someone that had been in the sign business before. We were selling franchises to people that had been professional managers and marketers and salespeople, and said, `Now this technology will help you compete in an industry that you probably didn't know anything about before.' We operated a very lean, mean, effective franchise machine. We didn't have the money to lose, so we made darn sure that we didn't, and there was quite a number of years where I didn't take any money out of the business, which was fine, because I had a previous business that I sold off that I was able to live off of.

HATTIE: Did the two of you--the two partners, just scrape together some cash to lease your first retail space and buy equipment? I mean, how did you get the cash together?

GARY: We used our personal funds and also got a loan from a bank, not a big loan, but got a loan from a bank in order to set up the first store, and that's pretty much how we did it. It wasn't a lot of money. I mean, we put together, I think, about $40,000.

HATTIE: And you got the first store up and running for that, but did you also keep your other job going? Is that what you said, in that first 10 months?

GARY: Yes, I did.

HATTIE: All right. So again, when people start businesses, it's not magic. I mean, it's not like, instant. It's not like...

GARY: No, there's no silver bullet, there's no question about that. I mean, you're a jack of all trades, you're juggling. It's like herding cats. I mean, you are--when you don't have systems, when you don't have a franchise program to get into where all the job descriptions and all the definitions of what you're supposed to be doing are nailed down, you're learning on the go, and it's very inefficient, and it's very frustrating, but it also gives you the opportunity to truly learn hands-on.

One of the best experiences I can tell you about is we had a store that I was a partner in. This was after we started franchising. The store was not getting off the properly and I went up to allow the owner to get out of the store and I did all the telemarketing appointments. An individual walked in at the time and wanted to know where to get some gold medallions for the back of an envelope. He obviously wasn't interested in a sign. Anyway in the process he said, "I own an ad agency and last year we lost a large account because the sign company couldn't deliver on time and that was a tennis tournament."

Obviously I was sorry he lost the account and I showed him which direction he needed to go to get those gold medallions. And I went back to the telephone and started calling every single country club and tennis club in town to find out when is its tennis tournament that this guy obviously lost last year. I came to find out it was the Virginia Slims Legends and we nailed that account.

HATTIE: New franchisees attend extensive training programs. I asked some of them, `Why FASTSIGNS?'

Unidentified Woman #1: We chose FASTSIGNS because it was business to business, so it suited our lifestyle, and it was one of the best performing sign companies in the world. And we came over to America to observe the sign industry as you do it in America, and decided that that was a good sort of business for us to go into.

Unidentified Man #3: Well, I decided it was time to take control of my own destiny, and I have a friend that's had a FASTSIGNS business for about seven years. He's done extremely well. And he's been working on me for a long time, so here I am.

HATTIE: What were you doing just before you decided to buy the business?

Unidentified Man #4: Before getting into this business, I was a commercial banker for about 20 years.


Man #4: And...

HATTIE: So you saw a lot of good business numbers and bad business numbers.

Man #4: That's exactly right. We saw the companies that succeeded, the ones that failed. We looked at the reasons why they succeeded and failed, and when I compared that background, when I developed into the FASTSIGNS operation and the people, I clearly saw a winner.

GARY: Sometimes we have had situations where franchisees who were interested in buying the business had more enthusiasm for it than they had probably the background or the capability to do it and we've had to turn them down.

We had an individual who came to us a number of years ago that was an engineer and engineers are typically not great sales and marketers. They're usually very wonderful at detail work and they're very good at follow through and they're good at following a system. But our business also requires someone who is good at sales and marketing. But this was an engineer that was frustrated with being an engineer and he had a wonderful personality. You could tell he was stuck in this engineer box and he was screaming to get out. He turned out to have a very successful business. We've also had some CPAs come on board that also fit the same characteristics. They didn't like being a CPA and they wanted to go out and have a business of their own and they had the willingness to go out and do some stuff that quite frankly they hadn't done before. But they had the energy and they had the commitment.

HATTIE: You even have a new franchisee in your training right now who was a banker.

GARY: I know. I don't know how we managed that. He must have slipped through the cracks.

HATTIE: A banker!

GARY: I hope he had a real easy time getting his loan.

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