What is your full name, title, and business name?
Tim McCord, President/ Owner, DāNite Sign Company
Give us a summary of your business in 200 words or less.
DāNiters make signage for Positive People doing Positive Things and we’ve been doing it since 1954! Anyone that needs a sign is doing something good, something positive. Often, they are starting a new business, rebranding their organization, expanding, or in any event they are investing in their business. The signs we design, build, install and service are tangible 3d representations of the branding of the organization. As visual people, we like to index emotions to visual impressions. That is why signage is so important and why it works for our clients as they seek to build a franchise, bring in new customers and keep existing customers. After a good experience, customers index the image of the signage in their minds and when they see the sign again, back comes the positive feelings of attraction toward the business. Yes, we make signs, but what we seek to do is help our clients grow through signage that is worthy of their mission!
How did the idea for your business come about?
DāNite Sign Company has been designing, building, installing and servicing signage since it’s inception in 1954. Although it is not clear as to how the idea for the business came about, there were many businesses being started in the years after WWII. At that time the demand for electronic signage was big as the economy was expanding and every business owner was looking for an advantage in promoting their brands and products.
What was the turning point for your business? Was there a moment you knew you had something special?
It was in 2007 that I stepped in as owner of DāNite Sign Company. At that time, the business was in decline and it was a bit of a gamble to get involved. In fact, the owner had not taken a salary in over a year. Even with that I felt that the potential impact a business like DāNite could make was just too big to pass up. Then, about 18 months later in the fall of 2008, the economy took a sharp turn as capital markets began to freeze. This hit a client, that owed DāNite a significant amount, hard and the client’s business was shut down without warning. My concerns went to cash flow and ability to service debt and make payroll. I knew that my suppliers and lender needed to know the situation. After reaching out to them, I was relieved. I found that there was great support for our mission and belief that, even in a setback, we would pull it off. And with their support, we have.
What does it mean to you to be an entrepreneur and business owner?
When I was in High School I would work nights helping out a small food distribution business. There were maybe 8 employees total. The owner, Gene, was optimistic, always red faced busy and just carried an energy that was different. After High School, I worked for him full time a for a couple of years, saving up money before heading from Dayton to Columbus to attend OSU. As I headed off to college, I decided I’d study Accounting. If I wanted to run a business, like Gene, I really needed to learn how to keep score. While in college, I added Computer Science to my major and then my career took off. It wasn’t until some 20 years later that I took a pause and pursued my plan by acquiring DāNite Sign Co. Soon, I realized that God had been preparing me all along for DāNite. It has been a lot of fun to apply the things I’ve learned along the way to DāNite. Many times since, I have found myself red faced busy and full of energy, just like Gene. It is awesome!
What does the city of Columbus mean to your business?
Columbus is a really good city. There have been some terrific Mayors like Buck Rinehart and Michael Coleman that have really moved the city in a positive direction. I left Columbus in 1998 to take my family to Minnesota for a career move. In 2005 we moved back to the area. The welcome I received as I networked around Columbus was nothing short of amazing. It seemed everyone was living what Woody Hayes said “You can never really pay back. You can only pay forward”. Many people helped me and my family as we settled back in the area. It was through the openness of business owners, bankers, attorneys and the like that I discovered that DāNite Sign Co. was to be my next step.
Are you from Columbus? If not, please explain what brought you to here and ultimately what made you stay.
I am from Beavercreek Ohio, which is near Dayton. I grew up there as one of 10 kids having 4 brothers and 5 sisters. It was one of my sisters, Carrie, that got me to come to Columbus. You see, Carrie wanted to come to OSU to pursue her MRS degree. She was in love with her future husband Drew who was attending OSU. My mother told her that she could not go to Columbus unless she took me along. I had been saving money for college during the two years since graduating High School but I didn’t have any plans beyond that. Carrie, who is just a year older than me, and I brought up a bunk bed and rented a one bedroom apartment off campus. Carrie didn’t finish school but she and Drew have had a great life including 5 kids together. When I finished school, I began working in public accounting in Columbus and other than the time in Minnesota, have called this area home.
What’s the number one piece of advice you’d give to anyone wanting to start a business?
Understand your WHY first.
What do you wish you knew about entrepreneurship before starting your business?
I wish I knew everything that I think I know today. Hire the person, not the skill set. Make sure systems and processes are continually adapting and improving. The gold is in the process. If you screw up deal with it immediately – make it right.
What’s the most challenging part of your business (i.e, what keeps you up at night)?
The day to day, week to week, month to month and so forth does not keep me up at night. I get energy from working with Positive People doing Positive Things. I really do. The part that makes me ponder is just trying to see around the corner. I ask myself, am I doing enough to prepare for what’s around the corner.
Every business owner has a flaw. What’s yours?
That is really not a fair question. Who wants to talk about their flaws? I quit hiring consultants since they seemed to always come back to tell me it was my fault. Whatever was or was not happening was due to my flaws. The end of the day, the consultants were right and were really telling me that things are the way they are because I tolerate it. The point is that if I don’t tolerate something, then it will not happen. If I complain about it but tolerate it, then that’s on me.
Why do you think most business owners fail? What has made you different?
The truth is that we all fail. Each of us makes potentially bad decisions every day. The key to being successful is to learn from the last failure and to be willing to make the next decision, take the next risk. For me, my faith is a key element of my decision making, not on every decision, but hopefully at least on the bigger ones. My faith provides me a confidence to make a decision and move forward with no regret and no second guessing. If a decision seems to be a bad one in hindsight, then hopefully my gain is from taking the time to learn from it.
What was your biggest mistake and what did it cost you?
My wife was excited when we acquired DāNite Sign Co., in 2007 and she, although a registered nurse, wanted to join me in running the company. It turns out that She was not well suited for an ownership role. She took things quite personally and didn’t like that she was treated different because she was an owner. Everything about this was handled poorly by me. The result was, after nearly 20 years of a good marriage, we split up. The cost cannot be expressed in terms of money.
What tool has helped you the most for your business (invoicing, accounting, shipping, plugin for website, etc.)?
Over the years, we’ve developed systems to track and hold ourselves accountable to key drivers for the business. My background in Computer Science has helped design a Sequel Database system that my team has been able to use to develop process flows that are focused and adaptable.
When did you know it was time to expand your business, make your first hire, etc.?
Each hire has been a part of a focus on helping us to achieve our mission. Early on, the focus was simply on promise dates. The industry was not good at setting or meeting promise dates for clients. The second key part of our mission has to do with communications. People have been hired and processes developed that support our mission to always have a client know when we will next communicate with them. Early on we would get many calls a day of clients wanting to know the status of their project. Today, that is rare since we’ve focused on promise dates and communication.
What is something that you did that was a game changer for your business?
Of all the things we’ve done, the most impactful has been hiring the person rather than a set of experiences. The character of the person matters.
What was an idea that you spent a lot of time on or thought would make a big difference in your business that didn’t pan out?
Our team has had many ideas that fizzle out sometimes even after much energy, time and some money invested. Usually, out of the dust of the failure, some kind of positive change does take place. I’m convinced that it is okay to try and fail because of what the trying does. The trying helps others within the company be courageous to try new things. It keeps the organization growing and changing and improving.
What is something that your business spends a lot of money on that’s worth it?
Good people. People that find and see the problems before they materialize. People who think about and act on possibilities.
What is something you’re working on now that you’re very excited about?
Actually it is rare that we’d be working on something big to impact the business. We focus on incremental continuous change – Kaizen.
As for projects we seem to have something interesting going on most of the time. We recently brought in some large vintage FIRESTONE signage that we are restoring for their headquarters in Akron. It’s fun to be able to connect with history and help keep it alive.
What form of marketing is the most valuable for you?
We are fortunate to have an awesome sign out on I-71 south of I-70 and within 270. This sign has been a positive marketing tool for us. The LED electronic message boards allow us to connect with anyone coming into or out of Columbus on South I-71. In addition, we work with our friends at The Media Captain to help clients find us on the internet. Having the sign in place and having a memorable phone number of 614.444.3333 help us get a steady flow of business owners, churches and other organizations looking to open a new location or upgrade their existing branding.
Who is your best Columbus resource (accountant, lawyer, marketer, etc.)? Please provide name and business name so we can give them credit!
I’ve had some good ones. Bill Comisford at Maloney Novotny CPA’s, Rich Lundy and Jeff Waldeck at GBQ CPA’s. Scott McComb, Marc Ridgway & Mark Klettlinger at Heartland Bank, Jason Parks at The Media Captain, Tom Trainer at Assured Partners and Kristen Young and the whole team at Group Management services, our PEO.
Who do you vent to when you have a business problem?
Whoever will listen. Sometimes it one of my sons or my daugher. Sometimes it other sign company owners and sometimes it’s just me taking a walk and listening. I am fortunate to have a small network of smart people that will instantly know what I’m talking about. That includes a group of 7-8 sign company owners spread across the USA that meet virtually every 4-6 weeks and talk through pressing matters. We also take time to future think.
Where do you see your business in the next 10 years?
DāNite Sign Co. has been helping Positive People do Positive Things through Design, Build, Installation and Servicing of Signage for over 65 years. The demand for emotionally compelling signage is strong. With that I expect that DāNite Sign Co., will be continuing to innovate in this space and still supporting Positive People.
What is your revenue range?
What was the single worst decision you made regarding your business and how’d you recover?
I’d say early on, in 2007 and 2008, I didn’t pay much attention to the mechanics of the business. Specifically, I didn’t have anyone focused on collections. This bit us hard in late 2008 and early 2009 when the economy came to a halt. It was a wake up call. After suffering some significant write-offs which wiped out the profit from 2008, my mindset was changed. We got through that period with vendor and banking support. We got better from that point as my team and I began a long-term focus on continuous improvement that has impacted all aspects of the business. This was when we began our form of Kaizen. That difficult time actually propelled us to become a much better company.
When you’re stressed or overwhelmed, what do you do to overcome this feeling?
When I’m needing to make a decision or organize my thoughts, I go for a nature walk. Usually my Chocolate Labs come along and entertain me. Many days I also journal which helps me organize my thoughts and that along with prayer will lead me in a direction to pursue.
What’s one component of entrepreneurship that’s much different than what most people think?
I don’t know if most understand that decision making around running a business is more an art than a science. Both are needed but setting the tone and orchestrating are a big part. If you seek your strength by others opinions, it is probably not the best route for you to follow.
What’s your end goal with the business? Is this something you want to pass down to your kids or would you like to eventually sell?
My goal is to position DāNite Sign Company to be impactful well into the future.
What other entrepreneur do you look up to most?
There are many but a few examples: Kenny Sipes, who founded The Roosevelt coffee shops with a social agenda. Valter Veliu who founded and runs Valters on South High street. Pastor John Hayes who started Jersey Baptist Church in a field some 40 years ago and grew it into an impactful mega Church. Darla King with King Business interiors.
If you had to tell a visitor one thing to do/see/eat in Columbus, what would it be?
Go to Valters on South High Street and get a bite to eat.