A Green Beret Finds Gold in Signarama

Serving with passion. That’s what motivated Fayetteville N.C. entrepreneur Robert “Buzz Saw” DeGroff during his 28 years in the elite Special Forces. Now, he says, he’s doing it again—this time, as a Signarama franchisee.

After retiring in 2010 as a Command Sergeant Major, the Army’s highest non-commissioned officer rank, DeGroff was on the hunt for a franchise opportunity, something that would be a perfect fit for a top leader in the Green Berets.

“I didn’t want to reinvent the wheel,” says DeGroff. “I wanted something with a system in place. Soldiers know systems and how to execute a plan.”

After speaking with a Signarama sales rep, he noticed something that hadn’t previously caught his attention: There were signs on businesses everywhere.

“Signs have a life cycle, just like computers. They don’t last forever, so they will need replacing,” he observed. More important, he felt that Signarama offered a “tried and true” system.

And that did it. DeGroff bought the existing Signarama store near Fort Bragg, California. Within ten months, he had tripled the monthly sales volume of the location, catapulting his store to one of the franchise’s leading performers in the Southeastern United States.

“I trained my whole military career to run my own business. As a Green beret, above all else, I learned how to lead,” says DeGroff. “Management is a vital part of leadership: managing personnel, resources and time.”

Military Times has ranked Signarama, the world’s largest full-service sign company with nearly 900 locations in more than 50 countries, as one of the best franchises for vets. The company recently launched its VetFran program to give returning veterans greater access to franchise opportunities and support them with training and financial assistance.

“As tens of thousands of service men and women return from deployment in Afghanistan and Southwest Asia, we need more opportunities to ensure that veterans and their families can transition into the civilian economy,” says company president “JT” Jim Tatem. “At Signarama, we’re committed to helping our veterans own their own businesses and succeed.

The Signarama program discounts veterans’ franchisee fee, based on their years of service: The fee is discounted 10 percent for those with less than 11 years of service, 25 percent for 11 to 20 years and 50 percent for veterans such as DeGroff, who have served more than 20 years. According to the company, 55 vets have taken advantage of the program, to date.

Since launching its program, Signarama has partnered with the International Franchise Association’s (IFA) VetFran initiative, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) to host workshops and job fairs for veterans in Detroit and Washington, DC. The program’s goal is to offer opportunities to purchase franchise businesses and reduce the unemployment rate for vets, which is hovering at 18 percent.

DeGroff opened his store prior to the launch of the VetFran program, but he is actively helping the company to promote the program at various events. DeGroff says he is proud to support Signarama’s effort to help fellow veterans.

“I love Signarama corporate,” he says. “I have received 100 percent support from Signarama at every level, but especially from my operations advisor, Nick Mayo, a former Marine. Nick has done everything that I have asked, when I asked.”

DeGroff says coaching and mentoring have been a phone call away. He has received assistance with staff training and sign installations, as well as help with learning a variety of products and applications necessary to create signage. Signarama uses cutting-edge industry software programs to deliver a full range of sign creation and graphic services to local businesses.

DeGroff’s top sellers are banners, vehicle and fleet graphics and wraps, window graphics, building signs, electrical and lighted sign, Americans with Disabilities Act and engraved signs and neon and LED message displays. He also prints T-shirts, business cards and flyers.

As part of the $30 billion-plus worldwide sign market, Signarama has been at the forefront of the sign industry for more than 20 years, providing cost-effective advertising and branding solutions for companies of all sizes. The franchise giant is a part of The United Franchise Group, a global leader consisting of award-winning business-to-business brands and franchise development services.

It has been ranked 53rd on Franchise Direct’s Top 100 Global Franchises. This is the company’s third consecutive year on the list, which is a definitive and exclusive detailing of franchises that are performing best internationally.

For DeGroff, Signarama has been a win-win for his customers, and he highly recommends the franchise opportunity to vets. “Every business needs a sign or two. Signarama offers a system that works. All you have to do is execute. And I can say with great confidence that if you execute their plan, you will be profitable and make a whole lot of people happy.”

“It gets better every day.” But, he adds, “Be prepared financially before you go in. Don’t expect to be profitable from the start. It’s hard work. But it’s worth it.”

Signarama currently has 15 locations in North Carolina and expects further expansion in the area, with plans to open approximately 10 additional franchised units in the state within five years. The company is targeting cities along the coast for growth. Nationwide, the company plans to open 50 more locations by the end of 2013. By December 2016, the company projects to have more than 1,200 locations.

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