20 Questions with Brent Smith of Speedy Signs Newton
The Newton branch started off in 2000, as the Grafton branch. It was Speedy’s first store in the Auckland CBD, occupying a retail space located in the block of shops in part of the Sheraton Hotel complex at the Grafton end of Karangahape Road. Back then you could park right outside on K-Rd, with the vehicle graphic installations being undertaken around the corner in Symonds St on the car park roof! The first owners were originally from South Africa and ran it for 4 years, and another couple of ownerships later a new and much bigger location was opened on the corner of Newton Rd and France St South.
Before buying the franchise in 2013, Brent’s career had spanned a wide variety of industries, but there came a time in his life when he decided he wanted to be his own boss and have his weekends free.
#1: Brent, how did you come to own Speedy Signs Newton?
Well, I’d been working in lots of different industries over the years – a tannery, a tiling company, electronics and software. One was as NZ manager of a company called RS Components in Penrose. The original Speedy Signs store opened in the same business park, and we got our signage from them. I watched their business grow and thought I’d eventually like to own one. I went through the process of trying to buy a franchise several times before I was successful in acquiring the Newton one –where I’ve been for 7 years. I still have a customer from back in the K Road days, the owner of Family Bar and a few other bars.
#2: What was the appeal of a signage company?
Well firstly, I wanted a B2B business because it would only be five days a week. When you’re a general manager, working for someone else, there’s only a lifespan of about 4-5 years before things change – restructures, buying, selling. So, I always had a plan to do this. And I liked the design component of signage. A bit like the tannery business which was part fashion, art and design.
#3: So, you obviously like to be in charge then.
Yes. When I was 17 and working as a sales assistant at South Auckland Motors and I looked at all the people working around me, the parts guys, the service guys, the valet crew - the only job I wanted was the guy who was sitting up in the high office calling all the shots.
#4: Have you ever wanted to quit, and how did you deal with it?
Oh, many times (laughs) - I’ve been working for 50 years. And I look back on all the things I’ve done and think, if I knew then what I know now, I could have done so much more.
#5: What do you like about being part of a franchise network?
Speedy Signs is a unique network – I have worked in franchises before, and Speedy is a very well organised, well run franchise system with good logistics and procedures in place, which helps set you up for success. It really does give you the potential to do really well.
#6: What are two words you’d use to describe yourself?
Enthusiastic and competitive.
#7: Looking back on the last 3-5 years, what’s been the highlight for you?
We made a very unusual plinth sign for a development company who were refurbishing a shopping centre. I went on to Pinterest for inspiration and chose a challenging one and shared it with the client. They loved it and we made a similar sign.
#8: What do you look for in staff?
Intelligence. Anything else can be taught.
#9: What do you struggle with most?
Getting staff. It’s a specialist trade with not many apprentices coming through so it’s really hard to get trained staff.
#10: How has business grown?
Being a franchise is fantastic because you get leads through head office’s group marketing, but also if you can work with clients that have growth potential your business grows because of that.
#11: If you think what a customer is asking for isn’t going to work, what do you tell them?
Customers often have a great vision of what they want, but they aren’t always able to see or understand the process of doing it. Our job is to talk them through it and usually they’ll see why it can’t be done – and we talk about other options and everyone’s happy.
#12: You’ve experienced difficult times before in business, do you have any advice on how to pull through?
It’s yet to be confirmed we are in a recession; the NZ economy had never been as strong as it was at the beginning of this year. We have bounced back well at level 1 and I’m optimistic that it will continue to improve.
#13: To what do you attribute your success?
My work ethic and enthusiasm. I’ve had such a long career and it’s not over yet. I’m a continuous learner, so I’ve improved, and changed.
#14: How do you know you have chosen the right type of business?
Well, I’m working 5 days a week which is something that was important to me, and I’ve been doing it now for nearly nine years and still get something out of it.
#15: If you had one piece of advice to someone just starting out in their new business, what would it be?
Always buy or start a new business in a rising economic environment, unless you have a product or service that everyone needs. When you’re buying a franchise business, the less you pay the higher the risk. With most businesses, it’s your ability that will dictate whether you’re a success.
#16: What would you say your top 3 best qualities are?
Resilience, the ability to multi- task, and management skills – staff and customers.
#17: When you’re not working in the business, what can you be found doing?
I play hockey – I was selected this year to play for NZ. Last year, too. I’ve been selected twice but never played. Coached to a high level as well. And I didn’t start playing until I was 40. I have two daughters, the older one was playing and the younger one wanted to, but they didn’t have a coach, so I had to.
#18: What’s the most courageous thing you’ve ever done?
I left NZ when I was quite young, went to Australia then England, spent some time there before travelling to Israel, lived on a Kibbutz and then returned to England via Europe.
I was away about 4 years having worked in various places and many different businesses. These experiences allowed me to see the broader picture and have enabled me offer a different view point.
#19: If you could retire tomorrow, what would you do?
We’re building a retirement house in Mangawhai. The plan was to build that, then travel the world. But that’s a wee way off. Once retired I’d quite like to work as a business coach/mentor for small businesses.
#20: What’s something you’ve learned in the last month?
That if you don’t apply application tape correctly to cut vinyl you end up with pieces stuck all over the place!