Welcome to our blog suitably titled Made in Minnesota where we explore different Minnesota-based businesses and learn some helpful tips along the way! The blog format is a Q&A, conversational style that allows you as the listener to lean in and get to know some great Minnesota business owners on a personal level. You will hear stories of big dreams turned reality, obstacles encountered and how they were overcome, things business owners would love to go back in time and change and fun little tidbits you wouldn’t otherwise be privy to! Sound like fun? Pull up a chair and get ready to meet John!
Today’s featured Burnsville, Minnesota business owner is John Swaney, founder of Precision Signs & Imaging.
Welcome, John! It’s great to have you with us today!
It’s my pleasure to be here.
Q. Why don’t you tell us how and why you got started in this business?
A. I was an international hotelier. I managed 5-star hotels all over the world. I was in Manila working on a hotel project when my father passed away. I decided at that point it would be best for me to come back to the U.S. and help my mother. The company I was with didn’t have any opportunities in Minnesota at the time so I sought out some consulting projects and worked for various hotels and establishments in the Twin Cities. Then the recession hit and my position was eliminated. I took a new position with a mentorship program for vets while I tried to figure out my next steps. During that time, I heard a presentation from a business coach and was so intrigued I became her client. One of the options she presented to me was starting a signage company.
Q. What are some of the services you offer at Precision Signs & Imaging?
A. We are a full-service signs and graphics designer, fabricator and installer with five-star service worldwide. We create custom vehicle graphics, outdoor signs, indoor signs, trade show displays, custom wall coverings and graphics, digital displays, fine art reproduction and banners.
Q. How long have you been in Burnsville?
A. My parents moved to Burnsville in 1964. I graduated from Burnsville High School and left for several years to work overseas. I came back to care for my mother when my dad passed away and I’ve been here ever since.
Q. What do you like about having a Burnsville-based business?
A. First and foremost, when I was looking for locations, it was important to me to be in Burnsville in order to be close to my mother. I also had a lot of connections here from my growing-up years so that made it easier. Precision Signs & Imaging has been in Burnsville for over 7 years and I have to say that this city is a great place to do business!
Q. Looking back, do you think you were destined to be in this business?
A. I don’t think I was destined to be in this business. I was just destined to come back to the Twin Cities area and be here to help my family.
Q. What do you find most challenging about the business you’re in?
A. The fact that clients do not understand that everything we do is custom. We don’t simply pull things off the shelf. If they’ve never gone through the sign development process they don’t know all of the intricacies involved in the production cycle, etc.
Q. What is the biggest obstacle you’ve overcome in your business so far?
A. One of the biggest obstacles is understanding where you want your area of focus to be. When you’re first getting started you take every project no matter how big or small. I started off with a 3-year business plan but didn’t hone down on my niche markets as they emerged.
Q. What did you learn from that realization?
A. In hindsight, I would try to hone down on my niche markets earlier on in the business development process.
Q. If you could start your business all over again what is the number one thing you would do differently?
A. I’d be more focused on the types of markets I go after and understand what capital I’d need to achieve that particular focus. I think I could have saved myself time and money if I had identified a key focus right away instead of servicing everyone.
Q. Being an entrepreneur requires a lot of juggling…how do you stay focused or get refocused when necessary?
A. That’s the million dollar question right there. It’s definitely a difficult thing to do. When you start a business you don’t know what you don’t know. One thing I’ve found helpful is to evaluate all of the tasks I do and see which tasks are worth doing and which ones I should outsource.
Q. If you only had $500 to spend on growing your business, where would you spend your money and why?
A. I would donate the money to DECA students in exchange for doing my social media marketing. I think it would be a great opportunity for them to leverage their skills, especially since they are very social media-savvy and it would help set them up for future success.
Q. What three words would you use to describe your organization?
A. Service. Response. Integrity.
Q. Something fun..if you could start any business today, what would you open?
A. I’d open a restaurant/lounge because it ties in nicely with my background experience and it’s pretty recession-proof.
Q. What’s one piece of advice you’d give to a business owner just starting out?
A. Hands down the best piece of advice would be to make sure they are well-capitalized. It’s not enough to have money to start your business. You also need money to grow and sustain it.