Matthew Busey leveraged his experience advising entrepreneurs and small business owners into small business ownership. In March 2019, he became President/Owner of Signarama Vernon, CT. MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price spoke with Matt about his entrepreneurial evolution.
NAN PRICE: Give us a little background. Have you always wanted to own a company?
MATT BUSEY: I grew up with examples of entrepreneurism—my father was an entrepreneur, so there’s a family history. Growing up, I always wanted to be an entrepreneur. Through the years, I’ve done a lot of different things to lead me to where I am now.
One of the things that had the most impact on me in that regard was working as a business advisor for the Connecticut Small Business Development Center (CTSBDC), where I advised small business owners with their business plans and helped them get their project plans and financials in order so they could apply for loan packages. It was eye-opening for me to work with diverse businesses in all sorts of sectors and sizes and help them maintain and grow their businesses.
NAN: You’ve been able to apply a lot of that knowledge with the work you’re doing now.
MATT: Correct. Actually, Signarama is one of the businesses I met with while I was working at the CTSBDC. Through that experience, I got to know a little about the sign industry. I also helped the former owner get a grant to buy some new machinery through the Small Business Express Program, which helped expand his workforce.
NAN: Let’s talk about your transition to becoming a business owner.
MATT: This is my first time owning. It’s not my first time working with a startup, though. I’ve worked with a couple—I wasn’t part of the ownership team, but I was part of the startup team more focused on sales and marketing. It’s different when it’s your own business because you’re responsible for everything.
The advantage with Signarama is, it wasn’t necessarily a startup where I was starting from ground zero; it was an established business with an established clientele and employees here who knew the business and helped keep things going while I was learning. I can’t tell you what a difference that made. It was enormous.
So, I was fortunate and grateful to step into a business that was profitable. That takes some of the pressure off as an entrepreneur—most of whom are stepping in and starting from scratch. I have so much respect for people who do that.
NAN: What spurred that transition from working in a company to wanting to own one?
MATT: I’ve helped people start businesses and I’ve seen them prosper, which is great to experience from the outside. I realized it was time to step in and take ownership of a business. I’ve seen other business owners reap the financial rewards and I wanted to do that for myself and my family. I’m not getting any younger! Things just presented themselves at the right time.
I think, with any entrepreneur there’s always a little doubt. I was confident in my abilities, but at the same time I was taking a big financial risk, which I was willing to do. And, so far, so good.
NAN: What types of challenges have you encountered?
MATT: The sign business can be tricky. Sometimes there are thin lines of profitability and, as an entrepreneur, you always need to be cognizant of cashflow. Certain times of the year we’re busy and certain times we’re not. That takes awareness and planning. Those are things I had to learn on-the-fly.
Not only was I owning a business for the first time, I was also learning an industry. And, with every industry, there are a lot of pitfalls you can fall into. I did fall into a couple.
It helped having the previous owner as a mentor. He’s been a tremendous resource and really helped me work through those challenges. He comes in almost weekly to help with some projects we’re working on.
Another challenge is, because Signarama is a franchise, there are royalties. When you’re paying that percentage of gross revenue, you’re putting yourself in a position where you have to pay out some of that profit. But, on the flip side, you have processes, procedures, programs, and the ability to buy as a group. So, there are some scales of economics there.
And then there’s marketing and branding. People who purchase signs on a regular basis are going to know the Signarama name.
NAN: Tell us about some successes.
MATT: It’s been a great opportunity to work with small business owners who are entrepreneurs just starting their businesses. One of the things they have to do is brand their business and part of that branding, especially if you’re a retail operation or a restaurant, is signage. It’s got to be a big part of your branding.
For example, with Thomas’ Smokey Pit Stop, I had met Founder Darryl Thomas through the Connecticut Valley Business Network International (BNI). Frankly, working with other BNI businesses and getting referrals helped mentor me through the COVID-19 world.
Thomas’ Smokey Pit Stop was one of those referrals. As a group, we helped him launch his business. Signarama did some signage for him, which Darryl said had an immediate impact on his business. People stopped who didn’t know his new restaurant was there until they saw the new sign. Signage is really important. It’s like a resume. You need to put your best foot forward and signage is your resume in a retail business.