Pilot Signs and Designs was launched in Brunswick in 2010. Merging with FASTSIGNS Medina in 2018, owner Ed Gonzales sat down with Made in Medina County to explain the breadth and depth of services and how sticking to your purpose keeps a business on the right track.
Q: Thank you so much for joining us Ed! Could you please share with us some of your company’s history?
After a full 30 year career with Alcoa, I was ready for a change. I had been fortunate in that I had the opportunity to work with finance, manufacturing, business development, and lean / quality at the Fortune 100 Alcoa. I wanted a start a business that would bring all those elements together in supporting local companies to meet their business challenges with long term purpose and value creation. My business broker recommended signage.
Q: Moving around like that isn’t typical in a manufacturing company. How did that come about?
I started in finance. I really enjoyed that work but I was always intrigued by how it fit into the bigger picture. I had a boss who saw that and helped me branch out. Because I had broad interests, I was able to bring my experience to different parts of the business and help make connections to stay focused on our purpose.
Q:That sounds like one of those important statements. What do you mean focus on the purpose?
I have found throughout my career that keeping your eye on your purpose is important. At FASTSIGNS, I regularly step back, and ask my team to step back, and refocus on our purpose. Questions such as what do we do, how do we do it, and why do we do it are basic questions that should be clarified and understood. We are a visuals ideas company that will create solutions for a wide array of communications challenges. We do it to help our clients increase business visibility and reach more customers. We do it with a high level of integrity with a mindset to build long term relationships with our clients, to invest in our people, and to invest in our community.
Q:So you left Alcoa and decided to start a business to make signs. How did you end up in Medina County?
I reviewed a number of locations. Geographically, Medina County allowed us to reach the largest number of businesses in the shortest drive time. And then it was by far the most supportive from a city and county standpoint with respect to economic development and business advocacy. The support that I received in Medina County during the exploratory and start-up phase was second to none.
Q: After eight years of being in business, you merged with FASTSIGNS. How did that come about?
The sign business is a very tight-knit industry. We all help each other. And the owner of FASTSIGNS at the time, Tob Coss, was a classmate in the well-known Leadership Medina County (LMC) signature program. As we worked more closely together, it became clear he was ready to move on in his career and my business was taking off. Tob went on to work at Tempur Sealy International where he is doing great things and I merged the businesses as the managing partner. I now own 100% of the business and have the support of a franchise system behind me with the brand power and processes, while still getting to cater to my customers and provide the level of service vital to me. I now have more tools to achieve the purpose.
Q: That sounds great! What services do you provide, specifically?
The first step is consulting. 65% of our business is custom-designed products. We work with the client to understand their branding and communication goals. Visual communication is so vital in today’s markets so we know how big an impact our work can have.
After the consultation, we can do the design in-house. We help with permitting and working with cities and townships to meet the criteria they have for signage. Most governments have a lot of rules regarding signage and we pride ourselves on knowing how to work through those issues. And here’s another area where Medina County comes through. We find the regulations here to be the most straight forward. If you call a city or township, you can get straight answers detailing what needs to be done.
Next, we can do our own digital printing and fabricating. We added a CNC machine to be able to do the more difficult tasks in-house as well. This is unusual but it means we aren’t at another entities’ mercy to meet deadlines. We also control the quality this way.
Once everything is designed and fabricated, we do the installation and maintenance. We stand behind our products. Our industry isn’t necessarily known for that. We will not sacrifice quality and use alternative materials that will not meet the customer’s specs to arrive at lower selling prices to obtain the initial order.
The other 35% of our business is commodity items – banners, flyers, programs, yard signs, etc. Those are important also and someone who has a good experience with us for the small things will come back for the big ones. We always want the repeat customer.
Q: You mentioned great support in Medina County. Could you elaborate on that?
Happily! In any place where you start a business, having those people you can call when you need help is vital. In Medina County, everyone is so connected I don’t need to know what everyone does. I can call one or two people and they will connect me. The collaboration is terrific.
Our Medina County Career Center is amazing and turns out students with real skills. Here in the county, I am the chair of the Northern Medina County Chamber board and a member of Medina County Economic Development Corporation. Both organizations do great work to support companies.
In the region I participate in the Hispanic Business Chamber and work with various Ministries and church organizations in serving the Homeless and families in need. The number of people who want to help others and lift everyone up is extremely heartwarming and I know we are making a difference.
Q: Not sure when you would have time, but what are you thinking about for the future?
I do spend time planning our future! It is important to have a five-year plan and to update it regularly. Technology is a big factor in our growth. Technology enables you to expand your thinking. When you see what can be done, it causes you to start thinking in new directions.
And I do anticipate strong growth. We moved into our larger new space in March of 2020, which actually worked out well for us timing-wise with regards to the pandemic challenge. The pandemic challenge simply reinforced our purpose…..we will continue to do things the “right ways for the right reasons”. It is not about signs; it is about achieving results that generate great fulfillment and peace of mind for all of our stakeholders with regards to quality of life. We are ready to move forward. All “signs” point to a bright future with a purpose in mind!
For more information, please visit https://www.fastsigns.com/2022-medina-oh