FASTSIGNS OF WINDSOR
It all started with two friends who wanted to fulfil a dream of owning and running a business together. In 2000, Donna Bilodeau and Jackie Raymond realized that vision by taking over the existing FASTSIGNS business in Windsor, Ontario. FASTSIGNS is an international franchise providing sign solutions at each of its 675 locations across nine different countries. With their shared backgrounds in customer service, management, graphic design, and printing, the two friends were excited about the challenges and rewards of business ownership. Yet they quickly recognized that this experience would certainly put their skills to the test.
The FASTSIGNS franchise model allows the franchisee and its small business owners to benefit from the branding, supplier relationships, research and development, training, legal, and accounting strengths of the parent company. This streamlined model enables owners like Bilodeau and Raymond to dedicate more time and energy to driving growth while maintaining the focus of their business.
Many multinational corporations, like Apple Inc., are known for their streamlined and minimal product lines. FASTSIGNS of Windsor takes the opposite approach, offering a wide range of products and services to provide custom solutions to clients. The company's niche is in full-colour graphics—particularly donor recognition displays—but its accessibility product lines (e.g., braille and tactile signs) are growing rapidly. Additionally, customers can enlist the team at FASTSIGNS of Windsor to help with interior décor, promotional products, print and mail, and signs and graphics. All graphics are done in-house, which aligns with the company’s focus on serving as a one-stop shop for top-quality holistic marketing solutions.
For years, with just two other employees, Bilodeau and Raymond poured all of their time and energy into growing FASTSIGNS of Windsor. Bilodeau focused on the production side of the business while Raymond split her time between managing sales during the day and designing in the evenings. The reward for their hard work was achieving $189,000 in sales during their first year. Customers appreciated that Bilodeau and Raymond took the time to understand and address their business challenges, helping them become more profitable via a customized marketing approach.
After eight years of steadily growing sales, the 2008 recession presented a unique learning opportunity for FASTSIGNS of Windsor. As Bilodeau and Raymond watched crowds at the local shopping malls thin out and their own sales decline, they elected to focus on running an extremely lean and efficient operation. Their relentless pursuit of learning, improvement, and steadfast faith in one another soon brought them out of the recession and helped them reach almost $1,000,000 in sales for 2017. Throughout this process, these co-owners learned to thrive under pressure and serve as each other’s foundation and support.
Quality service is the major differentiating factor for FASTSIGNS of Windsor. The firm's customers value high customization when it comes to their signage, as well as consultative expertise regarding incorporation of these products into their marketing strategies. As the company continues to grow, Bilodeau and Raymond are always looking for ways to increase sales volume while maintaining the brand's high standards and reputation. Thus, the partners have been researching methods that would improve operational efficiency, such as leveraging centralized resources provided by the FASTSIGNS parent company, learning from shared institutional knowledge, and implementing a paperless system. These solutions help break down information silos and facilitate better sharing of best practices and learning among employees.
Yet quality service is only effective if it truly meets customers’ needs. Over the years, FASTSIGNS of Windsor has continued to pay close attention to the problems its customers are trying to solve, and strives to provide the right solutions at the right time. The company's primary market has always been the large manufacturing plants of companies such as the Plasman Group of Companies and FCA Canada Inc., which require graphics for the signs on their plant floors. At the same time, the recession taught FASTSIGNS of Windsor the importance of constant evolution, leading the company to diversify into the education and healthcare markets. For example, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act provided a new market opportunity for the firm to create braille signage for various businesses and institutions.
Although they strongly believe in understanding customers’ needs, Bilodeau and Raymond place an equal emphasis on their employees. Every morning at FASTSIGNS of Windsor begins with a touchpoint meeting to ensure everyone is on the same page and ready to tackle the day’s challenges together. All employees are cross-trained to provide added-value services and build strong relationships with clients, and to understand the entire production process, which enables them to deliver the best on-budget solutions to meet clients’ needs. The co-owners have created an employee-centric culture that supports employees and the work they do, based on the belief that “employees are [the firm's] best assets.”
New trainees are required to complete a full suite of training from the University of FASTSIGNS before starting their roles. The company takes employees from all backgrounds (provided they have a graduate diploma from an accredited college) and teaches them the skills they need. Out-of-town vendor training is another part of the training regimen for FASTSIGNS employees. FASTSIGNS of Windsor also partners with local colleges to offer internships for interested students. Government subsidies and grants dedicated to employee training have contributed to the growth of FASTSIGNS of Windsor. These funds have helped provide employees with training in vital skills, including bookkeeping and other competencies.
With two community-minded owners, FASTSIGNS of Windsor is heavily invested in supporting and giving back to the community that has made its success possible. The company has participated in Chamber of Commerce events, provided feedback to the City of Windsor regarding signage bylaws, supported the annual CIBC Run for the Cure, sponsored local baseball teams, collected toys for Sparky’s Toy Drive, and donated to The Hospice of Windsor and Essex County Inc., The Downtown Mission, and the Windsor Veterans Memorial Services Committee.
Looking to the future, customer satisfaction and sustainable, long-term growth continue to be FASTSIGNS of Windsor's top priorities. One change that the firm hopes to implement is to be more proactive with market research, understanding industry cycles, and increasing pre-call planning in order to improve client acquisition and retention. In addition, FASTSIGNS of Windsor is doubling its efforts into diversifying its product mix by adding more digital and static signage options.
However, after investing nearly two decades into their business, Bilodeau and Raymond would like to keep building their team so that they can share more of their responsibilities; this will allow them to spend more time with their families, travel, and develop even stronger relationships in the community so that they can continue to offer quality services and solutions to the clients who have relied on them all these years.
FASTSIGNS of Windsor offers full-service solutions in graphic design, signs, promotional products and custom solutions to fit every clients’ marketing needs.
Office and Manufacturing Location:
2591 Howard Avenue
- Co-owner, Jackie Raymond
- Co-owner, Donna Bilodeau
Year established: 2000
Line of business
NAICS: 339950 – Sign Manufacturing
Provider and manufacturer of:
- Full-colour graphics
- Donor recognition displays
- Accessibility signs (i.e. braille and tactile signs)
- Interior Décor
- Exhibits and Displays
- Promotional products
- Print and mail
- Custom marketing solutions
Automotive manufacturing, manufacturing plants in across industries, healthcare, education,
construction, property management, tourism, business to business, retail, accessibility signage (braille, tactile)
R&D, Skills and Educational Needs
Skills: Graphic design, customer service, production, installation, management, bookkeeping, printing
R&D: Designing and manufacturing custom solutions for customers;
Bought by the current co-owners in 2000, FASTSIGNS of Windsor provides custom solutions in print, graphic design, signs, and promotional products. Donna and Jackie grew sales by 429% from $189,000 CAD in 2000 to approximately $1,000,000 CAD by 2017.
Web – www.fastsigns.com/658
Twitter – @FASTSIGNS658
Facebook – fastsigns658
Instagram – fastsigns658
- Jackie (McGraw) Raymond
- Donna (Bissonnette) Bilodeau