Maggie and Brian Harlow were two of our earliest Signarama franchisees. Opening their Louisville location in the summer of 2003, the Harlows have built their Signarama franchise into more than just a successful business – they’ve built it into a pillar of their community.
From their volunteer work to the formation of their own grant program, the Harlows have used their business ownership to help those around them.
Entrepreneurs at heart, Maggie and Brian left their jobs at a car dealership and construction company, respectively, to pursue a franchise with a business model as strong as Signarama’s.
“There’s a sense of freedom to be an entrepreneur,” Maggie said. “Signarama’s business model lets us decide who our clients are and which products we want to sell. We didn’t want to be handed a product – we wanted to be in charge of what we were selling. We also enjoy the B2B aspect and normal working hours. We felt this was the best fit for what we wanted to do.”
Making a Difference in Communities
Around twelve years ago, Maggie and Brian founded Signs of Support, a program which gives $10,000 to $20,000 in grants to nonprofits in need of signage. Nonprofit businesses fill out paperwork to apply for the program, and a group of Signarama franchisees decide who receives the grants.
”We’re giving in a way that’s really helpful to nonprofits,” Maggie said. “I can give more in signage than I can in cash.”
The Signs of Support concept has caught on among other Signarama franchisees. Maggie has shown a number of franchisees how to implement her give-back initiative, and they have taken the idea and run with it.
If there’s anything the Harlows enjoy more than using their business to help their community, it’s when their clients present exciting, unique and challenging problems for them to solve.
“It’s an extraordinary experience when we are challenged with something technically or creatively difficult,” Maggie said. “We’ve done a lot of neat things for local businesses when we’ve really had to engage our brains and figure something out.”
When those difficult jobs are a success and the client is happy, that quickly builds a service business’ reputation within a community. Maggie and Brian know if they can be the perfect solution for a customer’s problem once, they will likely have gained a loyal source of business.
“It’s important to work hard at the customer relationship to really understand what they need and what they’re trying to solve, rather than just selling them a product,” Maggie said. “That mentality has helped us sustain long-term relationships with customers.”
Living the Signarama Lifestyle as Husband and Wife
As a married couple, Maggie and Brian knew all the stereotypical warnings about entering business with a spouse. While some of those proved to be true, there’s been so many benefits they would have never gotten from any other business partner.
“Of course there’s challenges – problems at work often come home,” Maggie said. “It may exacerbate any issues you are having in your marriage, but I wouldn’t want to own a business any other way. It’s the best way to know someone you trust implicitly will watch the business if you need to step away at any time.”
Maggie and Brian have learned to appreciate each other’s strengths. Since Maggie loves engaging with people, she takes a more hands-on, sales-focused role in the business. Because Brian is the more black-and-white of the two, he handles the financial side behind-the-scenes.
Most importantly, Maggie and Brian understand there’s more to their business than selling signage. Being a Signarama franchisee gives you an opportunity to meet other like-minded entrepreneurs and truly feel like part of a family.
“A Signarama franchise is more than just owning a business,” Maggie said. “It’s a part of your life, and the network of franchisees make it a part of your personal life. You build friendships and go on vacation with these people. It’s a lifestyle business.”