Being in school has certainly been different for this year’s graduating class than when I went to school. During 8th grade in Cuba in 1980, all I had to worry about was whether I had the GPA to move forward into “pre-universitario.” Fortunately, I did.
As a senior at Alhambra High School in Southern California in 1984, my focus was principally on learning English. My goal was to get high-enough SAT scores to be admitted to the University of California-Los Angeles, and the University of Southern California. Both institutions accepted me.
In 1988, I navigated my last year at USC to complete my degree in electrical engineering and find a job that would enable me to start paying off my student loans. After graduation, I became a civil servant when I started my professional career at the California Public Utilities Commission in San Francisco.
I met challenges leading to each of those milestones, but they seem quaint compared to those faced by today’s graduates. I admire their resilience tremendously. They have had to pivot and adjust to get to the end of 8th grade, 12th grade or university while the facilities they had attended, their teachers and professors, and their fellow students struggled with the impact of the pandemic.
There are very hopeful signs that the situation in our country is improving, but the graduates’ time is now. So, I want to make it a little easier for families to celebrate the tremendous accomplishments of the graduating class. If you have a Grad In Your Fam, reach out to us and ask about the Grad In Your Fam Package. The package discounts announcement cards and yard signs 20%, which you can use to spread the word of your pride in them among your family, friends and neighbors!
I do not have kids. My husband and I tried many years ago to adopt but were not successful. So, we dote on our nieces and nephews. We do understand the awesome responsibility that parenting represents. We also appreciate the difficult choices parents are facing as this fall given the continuing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Schools public and private are struggling with whether and how to reopen safely for the students, teachers and administrators. We are far from being done with this virus, after all. We know that COVID-19 represents a serious health risk to elder adults and even to some children and young adults.
To minimize those risks, every individual in a school that chooses to open for the fall sessions must be reminded of some of the basic actions to take to minimize the spread of coronavirus, such as:
• Wearing a mask properly and consistently
• Maintaining distance in indoor classrooms set up with stations appropriately apart
• Washing hands thoroughly in the bathroom
We at AlphaGraphics Tri-Cities – Atlanta Airport can help a school or school district with these and other measures. We are making masks from soft vinyl that can be personalized with the school’s mascot to encourage the school spirit and hopefully encourage mask-wearing. We can produce floor stickers using pre-designed floor graphics in the school’s colors to remind students to stay six feet apart. We can print table tents and mirror stickers that can be placed in the student cafeterias and teachers’ lounges with reminders of steps persons can take to prevent the spread of infection.
As schools take tentative steps to resume onsite operations during these difficult times, we have solutions that can help them stop the spread of this illness.
I spent this past Saturday evening at a restaurant in Alpharetta, Georgia, close to my AlphaGraphics Center in Sandy Springs. As recommended public-health experts, we dined on the patio. We were the only ones to do so despite the pretty evening. We also wore our masks to the restaurant but removed them once seated. We noticed that mask-wearing among the members of the staff was inconsistent. You might think this is a column then about COVID-19 sins, but nope. It is about this restaurant’s wasted opportunities to spread its brand.
My husband, most of our friends, and I are what you might call “foodies.” We enjoy cooking, and we certainly love eating at good restaurants. We are worried, therefore, about the impact rh pandemic is having on this industry and on our favorite eateries. The Alpharetta restaurant is new to us, but the food was good. So, we would like to return. But in a touch environment, making sure your current and future customers remember you and know you are open is crucial to survival.
I wonder how distinctive and memorable it would be for the restaurant’s patrons to see the Staff wearing beautifully designed and branded face masks made from soft banner material like the ones we make at our Tri-Cities – Atlanta Airport Center. Or for the most regular customers or the ones that schedule a small celebration like a birthday to get those masks as promotions. The stickers with QR codes for the menus on the outdoor tables were plain. I told our friends we had printed QR stickers for a Sandy Springs restaurant with the establishment’s logo in the center. For the Alpharetta restaurant, I would have used their logo to frame the QR code. Either way, it was another wasted opportunity to promote the brand. The tent over some of the outdoor tables was a nice touch to protect diners from the weather, but it was beige. As pandemic may make outdoor sitting may become obligatory for restaurants, this is another way in which we can help. There are more ways, but you get the idea.
Yes, these are challenging times, and restaurants are already straining to survive under difficult economic constraints often imposed by government authorities. Some of the visual communications above are less expensive (QR stickers), some are moderate (yard signs or banners telling people a restaurant is (re)open), some are more expensive (branded patio covers). Deciding what to do is not easy, but I love to work with Clients to figure out the best visual communications solutions for their goals and financial means.
Recently, while sitting on the old couch in my office at my Tri-Cities – Atlanta Airport Center, the former owner of the shop I bought to convert to AlphaGraphics shook his head at a thought. Chris and I have become friends, though we are an unlikely pair. He is a Southern born and raised, having grown up in the environs around the Center in East Point. His politics lean right, his business approach is a bit old school. I am from Cuba, grew up on the island, in Spain, and California. My politics lean left, and my approach to business is different. He shook at his while he marveled the stuff with which I have had to deal during my first year as a business owner
I have tackled two very different business paths (my choice in starting a new Center and converting another Center at the same time), challenges with employees, and the COVID-19 pandemic. He then chuckled and wondered if I regretted making the decision to go into business by myself. The short, simple answer is “no.”
Don’t get me wrong, there have been scary and stressful times since I signed the franchise agreement with AlphaGraphics. It is humbling also to think that the livelihoods of six wonderful people plus my husband’s and mine depend on decisions small and large I make every day. Regardless, I would not have made a different decision had I know, though I would have approached a couple of business challenges differently.
Living in the “what could have been,” though is generally a waste of time and emotional resources. As I often tell my teams, we will make mistakes. The measure of a human being is not whether she or he will err. It’s how she or he recovers from the error and learn from it. Further, living in the false lane of what could have been invites regrets about things we have no power to change. Rather, look ahead and far to see where you might be able to go, and find your best way there.
- For the government agency that needed signs telling the residents of the community that parks were closed
- For the T-shirt company that wanted all to know that they could get masks from its store after modifying its operations to make protective equipment for people looking to safeguard others from coronavirus
- For a family and a high school looking to spread the word in celebration that a graduating son’s achievement as a valedictorian in the absence
- For the local restaurant chain that needed to tell its loyal customers that they remained open for takeout service
- For the bakery that is still engaging its customers with promotional items despite its shuttered storefront
- For the law firm that sought to ensure that clients took needed measures of physical distancing when coming to their offices
- For the local business owner looking for masks made of sturdy, impermeable material that people providing custodial services can wear when going into homes for the elderly
- For a fellow AlphaGraphics Center that needed help printing and installing a door sign for one of its Clients
- For the local hotel planning for the future by researching marketing and printing solutions when business travelers return
Those are all real Clients we have served over the last three weeks. I am humbled by the spirit of our communities. I am also in awe of my teams at AlphaGraphics Tri-Cities – Atlanta Airport and Dunwoody – Sandy Springs that choose to come in every day to be help other essential businesses in our community reach and serve their customers safely. I know we will overcome the terrible impact of the COVID-19 pandemic together, and it is the courage shown by each of us that will make it happen. Indeed, We Are Open!
I have not added material to this blog in several days. The principal reason has been our attempts to deal with the effects of the coronavirus. My teams at the Dunwoody – Sandy Springs and Tri-Cities – Atlanta Airport AlphaGraphics Centers have been hunkering down while still fulfilling Clients’ orders. Our sales may have slowed, but we are still open for business. We have several Clients, including local restaurants and other small businesses, that require signage to reflect their new reality. I am in awe and feel full of gratitude for their decision to continue to show up. However, there is a sense of “Now What?” as our region prepares for the bigger hit from the pandemic.
Last week, we came up with an idea to help with the potential issues local hospitals may face with availability of protective gear for nurses and doctors. We have all heard the challenges other parts of the country have faced with this issue. While production may be ramping up, we thought about what we could do with the materials and sewing capabilities we have.
The easy answer was that we could certainly make protective smocks or aprons, and dividers for makeshift hospitals, from our banner material. We normally produce a ton of banners, blank and printed, for other signs shops as well as distributors. But could we make masks?
This afternoon, Maria, our Production Coordinator in Tri-Cities, worked up a protocol mask made from fabric left over from an old job and string. They looked so good and practical that I alerted members of my network, and in turn they alerted several Atlanta hospital. We have more fabric, but the masks will work better with elastic, so this evening Maria pushed to get going on getting that material. Of course, I said yes.
Obviously, our hope is that our hospitals will be able to equip their nurses and doctors with gear from traditional manufacturers. Yet, we at AlphaGraphics Tri-Cities – Atlanta Airport and Dunwoody – Sandy Springs are ready to do our part to ensure those in the front line in the fight against COVID-19 are protected from the dangerous virus. I suppose that is our answer to “Now What?”
When I led Diversity and Inclusion work for my former employer, we made a collective, pretty big deal of Women’s History Month. Much planning went into an event featuring women leaders within the corporation. Messaging to employees spread the word about the company’s support for women. It was a commendable effort, and I was thrilled to drive it, albeit for a short time. I wondered, though, whether these symbolic gestures translated into the business depending on the stewardship of women at the highest levels of management. I’ll let you be the judge.
I now own two AlphaGraphics Centers, Dunwoody – Sandy Springs and Tri-Cities – Atlanta Airport. These are small businesses trying our collective hardest to bring quality marketing and visual communications services to our Clients. Our success depend in very significant measure to the work and dedication of four outstanding women.
Ella is our Production Coordinator in Sandy Springs. In June 2019, she decided to put her faith in my effort to open a brand new AlphaGraphics Center in Sandy Springs. She grew into AlphaGraphics with me, and has patiently guided others through that journey since. Maria joined ATW-Advertising That Works two years ago. She embraced the transition toward AlphaGraphics when I acquired ATW in August 2019, and recently agreed to take the reins of Production in East Point. These two women lead all production for the Centers and are directly responsible for the products what our Clients get every day.
Simonique is technically my longest-tenured employee, having joined ATW over 20 years ago. She is the heart and soul of our Blank Banners product line, fulfilling Clients’ orders seamlessly, including some large distributors. Finally, Sieglinde is the wife of the former owner. She kept his books, and has been just as dedicated to the financial health of my Center in East Point.
Yes, let’s celebrate Women’s History Month. I just do it every day because I am thankful these women’s tenacity, know-how, leadership and care make our Centers better every day.
I speak to my teams in the Dunwoody – Sandy Springs and Tri-Cities – Atlanta Airport Centers with some frequency about what we will do when we make a mistake in fulfilling a Client’s order. I would like to think we would be perfect every time, but we are human beings. Perfection will elude us. As I see it, it’s not the mistake itself that will define us in the eyes of our Clients and Prospects, it’s what we do to make it right. The corollary to this perspective is that we need to learn from such mistakes tpoavoid them in the future.
We recently had a fairly simple order for four training manuals. There were several modules and different numbers of copies and binding choices for each manual. Overall, however, this level of complexity should not have tested our systems, but it did. Our production team printed too many of one production manual, and none of another. Our Quality Control process should have caught this error, but we miss it there, too.
The Client picked up the Order the afternoon before the training sessions for which the materials were intended. He immediately raised the alarm after reviewing the printed items. He added that his sessions would start the following morning at 8 AM. I understood the challenge we faced, and we had to make it right.
Ella, our Production Coordinator in Sandy Springs stayed past the end of her day to print the missing item, which was the biggest one (90 pages) with the most copies (25). I picked up the finished product after dinner that evening around 8:30 PM. My husband agreed to deliver the materials to our Client’s training location the next morning, then drove and met the Client at 7 AM. We made it right for the Client.
When I started down the road to opening our Dunwoody-Sandy Springs Center, we were building something completely new. That meant generally following the script laid out by the franchiser, from the products and services we would sell to the equipment and processes we would purchase and adopt, even to the recommended staffing levels. When I decided to purchase ATW/Advertising That Works, I, along with my colleagues in AlphaGraphics’ corporate offices, faced the challenge of something different.
Of course, AlphaGraphics has a history of incorporating independent sign and print shops into their extensive network of franchises. The had faced the task of supporting the decisions of those shops to offer products and services that did not quite align with the network’s suite of offerings. Regardless, the surprise and confusion that the sale of blank banners has posed for the experts at AlphaGraphics speaks to the unique nature of these products.
ATW, over the last few years, built a growing business from the sale of blank banners principally to distributors and other sign shops. The former owner of ATW had toyed with this product for years, and decisions by former competitors to exit the market had increased his commitment to it. Developing a supply chain, specialized equipment, dedicated staff, and pricing, he successfully built a burgeoning line. Nevertheless, it puzzled AlphaGraphics.
Now, we are going full steam ahead to rebrand ATW into AlphaGraphics Tri-Cities – Atlanta Airport. My team faces a challenge to “fit” something so different into the AlphaGraphics systems and processes so we can continue to run blank banners and grow the line into a profitable business. Fortunately, the corporate AlphaGraphics team has been supportive of this journey. While they have admitted confusion on the product, they have nevertheless devoted resources to help us bring the product into the franchiser’s umbrella.
Much work remains to get to the point where we are selling blank banners as an AlphaGraphics Center as efficiently or even more so, than ATW did. I am confident we will get there with the support of my team and the great folks at AlphaGraphics in Denver.
I have several ongoing discussions with my teams at both my Tri-Cities – Atlanta Airport and Dunwoody – Sandy Springs Centers. I will cover those in this space from time to time. Today, I want to share the debate around a transactional vs. a consultative business. And how one model leads to point a misspelling on a sign, and the other doesn’t.
There are many successful transactional businesses out there. They provide their customers with the products or services they seek. Rarely do they need to engage in a dialogue with those customers. Frankly, many customers do not want the dialogue. I know that when I am at a big-box store looking for the item I want, I am disinclined to welcome a salesperson’s intrusion.
Since we are all consumers in one form or another, we probably have a shared set of expectations around our decisions to buy something. We may want help available, should we need it, though finding that expert in the right-color jacket responsible for the area of the big-box store can be a challenge.
Consultative businesses are different. They welcome interactions with their customers, knowing that their principal value lies in listening to the customers’ needs and coming up with the best solution based on their expertise. In fact, they count on these connections to drive the value of their products or services.
AlphaGraphics is part of an industry that straddles both of these types of businesses. Yes, we offer execution to our Clients who know what they want. And we consult with those looking for ways to reach their intended audience using visual communications. Our internal debate is about which of these two models is more like us.
Our tendency is to gravitate to the transactional model, since we live in that space as individual consumers just about every day. My push with the teams is that for many small and medium-sized businesses, it is in the consultation that we prove our worth. There is risk, yes, but it is a great feeling when our Clients adopt our recommended solution, and it works. Also, our Clients will appreciate when we catch and point our an obvious misspelling in their signs, instead of wasting time and money on a bad solution they designed.