Sign-A-Rama owner Ed Schmidt attacks the sign market

Posted by on Sep 15, 2010 in Featured, Print Article | 0 comments

In March 14, 2011 ex-Army Lieutenant Colonel Ed Schmidt went on the attack: focused, committed and determined. He opened the doors of Sign-A-Rama in Avon, the town he has called home for the last 10 years.

Schmidt retired from the Army in October 2010. “Being retired really isn’t all that and a bag of chips,” he said with a chuckle. “I started looking in corporate America and it dawned on me I wasn’t looking for a career. I was looking for a lifestyle.”

That lifestyle involved providing for and enjoying his family and being happy. He said he realized he wouldn’t find that in corporate America.

Schmidt said, “The alternative was to start my own business. When I started doing the metrics of what was out there, I started looking at franchises and Sign-A-Rama was great. I met with their leadership and I saw they had the same drive and culture that I had. Like the Army.”

In keeping with his 29-year military career and training, Schmidt has approached being a small business owner with precision and plans. He says that you have to know what you want in the end so you know where to start and what benchmarks to set along the timeline. And he has a definite timeline.

He said, “Everything was set out to afford my family the lifestyle we want to live and where we want to be in 11 years. My exit strategy was in place before my business plan. It drives my business plan.”

“I only know one way to do things,” says Schmidt, “and that’s to do it right; to do it and go on to the next project. It’s Army-simple: keep it simple and make it happen. Stay focused. Everything’s a mission. Take care of it and move on.”

His young company is certainly on the move. He employs three full-time people, another part-time person who will soon move into a full-time position and one contracted worker.

“People work for you and you take care of them,” Schmidt said to explain the military-culture feeling of responsibility he feels each night when he lays his head down to sleep. “That’s a huge responsibility. At the end of the day, if I make bad decisions, their children won’t eat. It will put families in harm’s way and it scares me to death.”

He wants to grow his business and the people he employs. “Part of being military is to mentor and I take that very seriously,” Schmidt says. He says military teaches you that the success of the people you mentor is your success. Likewise, if they fail, you share in that as well.

He says being a hands-on business owner is like being an eagle circling over a forest. You need a macro view and a micro understanding, but not micro managing. He says he tells his employees, “If I have to do your job, I don’t need you. Do your job well and let’s all move forward.”

It’s not just his military attitude that is illustrated in how he runs his business, but also the discipline and management skills he has learned. Decision-making and prioritizing are two skills honed as a commissioned officer that Schmidt applies daily at Sign-a-rama.

“Applying metrics to an operation is critical.” Schmidt said. “I prioritize so (employees) are not pinging around and being ineffective. The military has helped me, obviously, to discipline myself and look at priorities and be aggressive to get problems solved or tasks completed.”

He knows we’re in a recession, but says it’s probably the best time to grow a new business. He says that anyone who can raise kids can start a business. “It’s kind of the same thing,” he suggests. “At the end of the day, I have to look in the mirror and be OK with the guy I’m looking at. I have a 6-year-old and a 10-year-old that look to me as dad. It’s an evaluation.

“Just like an after-action review in the military,” he says.

Published in the Hendricks County Business Leader

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