“When I first came to Miami, I did not know what a check was, and the concept of a credit card was out of this world,” said Ariel Pedrosa, founder and president of Advanced Multi Sign in Hialeah.
“To me, everything was done in cash,” said Pedrosa, who arrived in 1996 from Cuba with his wife Milena. “So I had to learn how the system worked here.”
He was a quick study.
The immigrant, who graduated from acting school in Cuba and came here when he was 24, wanted to be an entrepreneur. “I was eager to start a business, but I didn’t know what to do and I had no business skills,” he said. An artist friend made commercial signs and Pedrosa helped him with a sale. “I realized the importance of signage for businesses and saw that it would allow me to earn a living.” He tried to find work at a sign company to learn the trade, but no one would hire him.
Pedrosa then went to a sign company and told the owner he would work for free. The owner agreed.
To put food on the table, Pedrosa worked nights at an insurance company that provided assistance to travelers.
In 1999, he used his newly acquired business knowledge and set up Advance Multi Sign at his home in Miami. His first sale was to the Florida Lottery, which needed 150 banners to promote a new scratch-off product. Using savings and small loans, he was able to acquire sign-building equipment and a truck, and used contacts from his previous (unpaid) job to find customers.
Today his business has 14 employees, a plant for designing and manufacturing signs, installs more than 150 signs annually from the Keys to West Palm Beach and expects sales of about $1.5 million in 2017. Fortune magazine and the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City, a nonprofit that supports urban businesses, ranked the company as one of the country’s 100 fastest-growing inner city businesses for 2017.
“We make custom signs of all types, and our goal is to provide you with a unique and durable sign,” Pedrosa said. “Most of our signs are electric, using LED lights. Advance designs, builds and installs large and small signs, and all the work is done at our headquarters in Hialeah.”
The company also paves the way for each customer by learning the sometimes complex sign regulations set by different municipalities, submitting designs prior to production and obtaining all necessary permits so there will be no delays in installation. Some sign companies fail to properly complete permitting, he said, which can cause delays, fines or the need to redo a sign to meet local regulations and the state building code.
Pedrosa also sees the opportunity to grow by offering franchises to many small sign companies operating in Florida and other states. “Our franchisees will be trained in selling and installing the signs, and we will support them with technical knowledge, process and manufacturing. They will sell, install and collect revenues while we do the heavy work. And we’ll start with a low franchise fee. It’s a true business opportunity.”
Advanced Multi Sign Corp.
President and founder: Ariel Pedrosa.
Owners: Ariel Pedrosa and his wife, Milena
Headquarters: 750 West 26th St., Hialeah.
Clients: New businesses as well as existing restaurants, architects, general contractors and other professional firms from the Keys to West Palm Beach.
Financials: Revenues reached $1.2 million in 2016. The company expects 2017 revenues to be about $1.5 million, and projects much stronger growth in coming years from franchise fees.
Competitors: Other sign companies, including Saul Signs and Forever Signs.
The difference: “We focus on making our customers’ signs unique and ensure that they are always satisfied,” Pedrosa said. “We engineer our products to be very attractive, durable and reasonably priced.”
Client view: “We have been working with Advanced since 2006, and they build all our exterior signage and specialized interior signs,” said Miami-based Maria M. Garcia, vice president and corporate facility manager for FirstBank Florida. “They have helped us with replacing old signs, damaged/repaired signs and new signs and have always done a great job.”
Most of the signs Advanced designs for the bank are exterior LED signs with the bank logo, but they have also done small signs for interiors of branch offices. They also created custom ATM surround-signs that met strict municipal requirements and produced “effective and aesthetically pleasing” effects, Garcia said. “Their quality is exceptional. We have huge signs at Brickell with letters seven feet high on the north and east elevations. Hurricane Irma damaged only a couple of the letter fonts.”
Garcia said Advance stands out from competitors. “The pricing is fair and they look for options that will work for us, within our budget.” The owner gets personally involved in the structural components of all their larger projects to ensure a quality product and avoid problems that can develop in some exterior signs, Garcia said. “They have always worked with us to make sure we are satisfied with the outcome of their product. This is hard to find these days.”
Business lesson: Buying a piece of expensive machinery that never worked properly. “You always make missteps when you’re an entrepreneur,” Pedrosa said. “You can learn to mitigate risks like that and implement proper processes in the future.”
Best business decisions: Learning the language of business, the skills needed to manage and grow the company and learning how to be an entrepreneur, thanks in large part to participating in the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business Program in Miami. Also, moving his company to Hialeah, where there are abundant suppliers and eager employees, Pedrosa said.
Challenges: Advanced’s biggest challenge is unfair competition from unlicensed sign companies that offer low prices, violate building codes, fail to obtain proper permits and do shoddy work. “Even though we are highly regulated, the authorities don’t enforce the rules for unlicensed companies,” Pedrosa said. “I receive at least one call a week from someone who got a sign from an unlicensed contractor and found out it that it doesn’t work or that it violates the building code.”
Strategy and outlook: Pedrosa sees a continued expansion in his South Florida clientele, as well as more growth from his franchising business. “With our franchise strategy, we want to be nationwide,” he said.
Joseph A. Mann Jr. can be reached at email@example.com.