Talking Shop with Veronica McCormick, co-owner of Sign Master, 360 S. Kingshighway in Cape Girardeau

Monday, November 2, 2009
Veronica McCormick shows an example of a vehicle wrap made by Sign Master. She and her husband, Ed, own the Cape Girardeau company. (Fred Lynch)

The scenery of a drive just about anywhere in the United States will include signs advertising businesses or causes. From the mom-and-pop store down the street to a plea to visit a church on a particular Sunday, signs remain a vital part of reaching the consumer. Among those playing a part is Sign Master, a Cape Girardeau company celebrating its 20th year of making signs for its customers. Business reporter Brian Blackwell recently sat down with co-owner Veronica McCormick to learn the ins and outs of the sign business that serves customers as far away as Illinois and California.

Before we get into your business story, tell us about your family and what you do in your free time.

I was born in St. Louis and grew up with a sister -- who passed away last year -- and a brother. We moved to Jackson when I was in the sixth grade, and I've stayed in this area ever since. I hold degrees from Jackson High School and Southeast Missouri State University, where I majored in biology. I met my husband, Ed, through working at Roth's in the Town Plaza Shopping Center, and we've been married 37 years. Our daughter, Kim, and one of our sons, Mike, live in Chicago while our other son, Ryan, lives in St. Louis. Between spending time with the store and family, I don't have much time for anything else, though I do love to go bicycling and golfing when I can. I'm also one that loves to do yardwork. As a small-business owner you're so busy and it's hard to fit in time for other things.

Your sister died last December. How difficult has that been for you?

It's been hard. You just don't realize the impact it has on you until it happens. She meant so much to me, and it's just a sad thing that happened.

If you could trade places with anyone for one day, who would that be and why?

I'd like to be somebody who's retired. But when you have a job and family you enjoy, it's hard to see myself wanting something else.

Staying with something for 20 years says to me that you are enjoying it. Is this the case and, if so, what aspects of your job make it so enjoyable?

As far as work goes, I enjoy the creative aspects of the job. We get to create logos and signs for a wide variety of customers. I get to see the same customers and build relationships with them year after year while meeting new ones all the time. It's so rewarding to be able to offer them help with a sign or project they need assistance with at the time. And it's always something different and new each and every day, which makes things interesting. Also, this is a creative business. I drive around town and see the finished product. When you have people who ask for advice, it makes you feel good. We're more than designers. We also consultants and marketers.

So what is the story of Sign Master?

Ed [McCormick] has been in retail since 1967. He'd always seen a need for retail in-store signs and one day saw an ad in the Wall Street Journal for a sign business in Minnesota. The business began at Broadway, where we stayed the first six years until we moved to this current location [at 360 S. Kingshighway].

What have been the biggest changes in the sign business?

Technology has been the most significant change. At first we were cutting vinyl, then later we started doing digital printing. We've grown with the times. As a new idea crops up, we try it and give it a shot. People are now looking for full-color ads and want more hands-on involvement in their ad design. In the past, customers would hand off the idea and let us go with us almost entirely without any other intervention. Now they want to be involved more. We're also seeing customers promote their business with avenues others than just a sign, like having their logo and information on shirts, caps and business cards, which we produce here as well.

You and your husband get to work together each day. Most people don't get to do that. What's it been like for both of you?

We don't always agree. But I don't think we wouldn't have been married for 37 years if at times we didn't have a disagreement. But overall it's been a great experience. One key to a successful marriage is that we like to do a lot of the same things and eat the same food.

The economy has caused a downturn in many sectors. What's the situation been like for Sign Master?

Some customers have pulled back, but we've had new ones come in. People now are being forward-thinking and taking advantage of the bad economic times. Those are the ones who will come out on top in the end.

You're a local, small business competing against the big, national companies. How do you continue to operate a successful business in a competitive environment?

We do very well. The niche market we have is that we're able to turn around our product fairly quickly whereas the bigger companies may take a little longer to do so. We can sometimes produce something in as little as one day.

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