Focusing on local clients
The company’s client base, too, has remained relatively stable over the long term.
“We’ve been able to retain some of the same customers I started with 38 years ago,” says Mattatall. “Mechanization has helped us meet their needs while they’ve grown from small to much larger organizations themselves.”
At the same time, the company has set up a special division called Signworld that focuses on smaller, everyday sign jobs, allowing it to cater to new clients that do not yet have large budgets.
“We tend to get attention for the bigger projects we do, but we’re not really a big company by sign industry standards,” says Mattatall, “and while we’ve handled national accounts, most of our focus remains local.”
His own role is now primarily as an advisor to the company’s senior executive team with regard to day-to-day operational and management issues. He also administers a few of the firm’s key accounts.
“My term with ISA ends this year and I’m looking forward to being more involved with my business again,” he says. “With my association involvement, it feels like I’ve been spending more time with people from across Canada, the U.S. and Europe than from my own local area, which has been both good and bad. I’m certainly looking forward to less travel!”
His legacy will continue this year as his son-in-law Justin Boudreau, director of finance and administration for Mattatall Signs, takes on the role of SAC president.
“He and my son Rob—who is one of our account executives and in charge of our membership within the World Sign Associates (WSA)—have been involved in the associations for a while and are well-positioned to bring actionable items back here,” says Mattatall.
Looking to the future
After growing rapidly in its early years, Mattatall Signs relies more today on partnerships with other local firms, rather than seeking to own all of the resources needed to complete its projects.
“Sign companies used to put everything under one roof, but were less profitable as a result,” says Mattatall. “We tried that, too, before realizing it was better to focus on our areas of specialization. We even hung onto our neon department for as long as we could. Now, though, we’ve become more efficient, faster and more profitable. I’ve realized our marketplace does not demand I grow my business much more than where it already is.”
He credits his active involvement with SAC and ISA, which he says have advocated for partnerships between knowledgeable professionals, for showing him this path to business success.
“The associations introduced us to other companies and helped build our ongoing relationships with them,” he says. “We’ve embraced some opportunities and not others. It’s a question of where can best spend our efforts. It’s certainly a challenge—and it’s why we continue to attend trade shows, read industry publications and work with the associations.”
Another challenge is keeping up with ongoing technological developments.
“There haven’t been as many changes at a grand scale in the last few years,” Mattatall says, “but the definition of a sign is constantly changing and it’s still a very exciting industry to be in.”
The growing emphasis on digitization and automation has been a double-edged sword, however, as it has made signmaking easier to accomplish with fewer hands.
“Signmakers have embraced what technology can do for them, but it has also allowed them to become lax at hiring, so now we have a greying workforce,” Mattatall says. “Younger people are much more comfortable with computerization and other technological changes, but they lack the skill sets in terms of craftsmanship.”
The solution he proposes—and implements at his company—is for young hires to ‘shadow’ experienced signmakers, much like how he began his own career in an apprenticeship.
“We’ve make a major effort in the past two years to find young, eager employees and train them under the watchful eye of our older staff, to ensure we keep a knowledge base in our facility as time passes,” Mattatall explains. “The young and the old work well together. Mentoring has to take place, so valuable experience can be transferred on to the next generation.”
With files from Mattatall Signs. For more information, visit www.mattatall.com.