Small Business and Franchise Success Stories

Former UCLA French Major and Mother of Three Says Au Revoir to the Corporate Rat Race and Make The Lifestyle Change She Needed to Stay Closer to Home.

Some people say new entrepreneur Sarah Naccarato gets too wrapped up in her work. Why shouldn’t she? After all, that’s her small business!

Sarah and her husband own and operate Iconography, a full service sign and design studio located in southern California. They specialize in designing, producing and applying colorful vehicle wraps and other auto graphics for a variety of clients.

That’s a far cry from where she started. Armed with a B.A. in French, Sarah began her career working in financial services for Sun America. She went on to climb the corporate ladder at a Fortune 500 executive search firm. With the increased responsibility, she accrued nearly 300,000 flight miles annually as a direct result of traveling to India once a month at the height of her successful career.

For a mother of two with a third on the way, extensive travel was taking its toll. “I loved it while I did it, but I have three small children. My youngest went with me to India six times – before he was ever born, “ she jokes.

But she and her young family were starting to feel the stress. So although she enjoyed her global travel experiences, once the India project was completed, she decided it was time not just for a career change, but an entire lifestyle change.

In addition to wanting to spend more time with her family, both she and her husband wanted to call the shots in their careers and establish a business that ideally matched their individual skills, talents, and strengths. Iconography was that perfect solution. Sarah manages the operations, including sales, marketing and networking in the community. Her husband is an artist by trade and handles all design, technology, and production details.

“I was tired of working other people,” she says. “I wanted to do it for myself. I wanted to be completely in charge of making decisions that would eventually be a reflection of me,” she adds.

Partly based on a franchise model, the Naccarato’s business, Iconography, is part of a larger parent group called Signworld. To Sarah, the major appeal of SignWorld’s unique business model was the freedom and flexibility to establish their own name and brand reputation in order to differentiate themselves in the crowded landscape of ubiquitous franchise sign stores.

“Signworld provides an incredible support system as far as training and access to a network of 250 other sign companies…but you’re not branded with someone else’s brand name,” she states.

This was also important because they couldn’t take the risk of suffering “guilt by association” should another business owner with the same franchise name deliver bad service or a sub-par product.

Sarah and her husband wanted to ensure that their investment in a small business was successful. Like every prospective entrepreneur, they looked at traditional small business financing options. In that search they were introduced to Guidant Financial Group. Through Guidant, they learned they could invest their retirement funds into a small business or franchise without taking a taxable distribution. It was a perfect match. They wanted to invest the 401K funds Sarah had accumulated during her long tenure in corporate America. They knew the smartest investment they could ever make was in themselves. “I spent fifteen years pouring money into that (401K). I will grow it, hopefully, ten-fold myself over the next ten years. That’s my plan.”

How has it been working out so far? Sarah proudly reports that Iconography employs two full-time people and business is booming since its launch 18 months ago. Unlike many new business owners, Sarah actually enjoys preparing her quarterly reports because her sales have been steadily rising -- up over 85% just recently. She’s expecting between 75% and 100% total year-end revenue growth over 2008.

Mobile advertising tools, such as vehicle wraps and custom car graphics, have become increasingly popular and affordable, so Sarah’s worked hard to leverage her excellent sense of timing into this emerging industry. To promote her business, Sarah spends a considerable amount of time personally networking with business owners and politicians in her surrounding communities. Her efforts have been extraordinarily rewarding, with nearly 80% of her revenue coming from customers within a 10-minute drive of Iconography’s retail location.

Leveraging Internet marketing to drive traffic to their website has been tremendously successful for Iconography as well. In fact, Sarah advises new entrepreneurs to develop a website as soon as possible and start Internet marketing campaigns immediately, since it helps capture prospects that are “absolutely ready to buy now”. She also participates in popular social networking sites such as Facebook and Linkedin.

“The economy has been good for us because we had to be really aggressive with our marketing.” she says.

The only regret Sarah has is that she waited so long to start her business. If she had to do it again, she’d probably take the plunge much sooner and encourages would-be business owners to just jump in with both feet.

Now, instead of sitting for hours on a plane flying half way across the world, missing birthdays and soccer games, she’s operating a successful and growing neighborhood business that she loves and enjoys more quality time with her children, ages eight, four, and two-and-a-half.

If fact you could say that these days, life for Sarah and her family has become quite simply “très bien”.


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