Augusta Sign Company: Leaving a Lasting Impression on the Local Economy
Augusta Sign Company is a full-service design-build sign company, constructing wooden, electric, stucco and vinyl signs that grace the entries of businesses and residential neighborhoods across the Shenandoah Valley. Mark Hackley, its owner, may be an artist, brand-designer, and licensed Virginia Contractor – but don’t let his slick signage confuse you into believing he is a large, impersonal business. We caught up with him in his backyard workshop in the Waynesboro Tree Streets, where he told us how local entrepreneurship is helping him build the community and lifestyle of his choosing.
Inspiration to Begin
The experience and expertise now embedded in Augusta Sign Company began in 1990 when Mark founded Tree Street Signs, which he owned and operated for ten years. He managed as many as six employees before selling the business in 2000, and he remembers his time there as being highly focused on sales, growth, and building the project pipeline. We watch him remember those years and customers fondly, but it doesn’t take long for him to share what most excites him about his most recent entrepreneurial venture:
“Last time, it was all about sales. This time, I really enjoy what I do. Hopefully, my business can help people. Certainly, I want to pay my bills, but this time it isn’t all about growing, growing, growing. I love working for myself, and I love having the flexibility to be with my family during health challenges and to work with my customers to design the best products. I love driving by signs I installed 25 years ago and thinking, hey, that still looks great.”
When Mark decided to open Augusta Sign Company, his wife bought him the workshop building that now anchors their backyard, giving him creative design and construction space. His commitment to balancing family and work is obvious, as he gives a tour of his workshop while rearranging appointments to make time to visit his mother, who is recovering from a recent health scare. His goal is not to compete for all projects at all times, but to carve out lasting relationships, to offer custom products like wooden and large-scale signs, and to combine quality products with customer satisfaction.
Mark’s entrepreneurial journey to Waynesboro began in 1988 when his family relocated to Waynesboro for a job at the local hospital then located in the Tree Streets, one block away from where his new home and workshop now reside. We ask him what he loves best about his long-time chosen home, and he rattles off the usual answers –within a 90 minute drive to Richmond, Roanoke, Winchester, Charlottesville and more. But he quickly adds “Really, I always wanted to live in the mountains. It’s just so beautiful here.”
Mark is open and shares freely about the challenges of entering a market where there is lots of competition and price pressures. In his own experience, he says, an important strategy has been to ensure that customers are comparing apples to apples – just because another business is offering a cheaper product doesn’t mean that it is offering an equivalent product, and identifying and understanding those differences has been key to his success. He also advises fellow start-up entrepreneurs to ensure that they’ve built a cushion of start-up capital to draw upon in times of growth, unexpected expenses, and to support the upfront cost of large jobs.
Grounded more in the practical than the technical, he quickly adds, “Go slow if you can. Think things through. Don’t be afraid to start small.”
As he talks through lessons learned and the rewards of small business ownership, Mark drops many names of local residents and businesses who have helped him along the way. Some are former customers from many years ago who have provided him with support, referrals, and a warm welcome back to the market when they learned he had opened a new business. Others include a retired friend who still helps him with equipment, installs, trailer hookups, and more. Having a network of support clearly counts as one of Mark’s biggest rewards of entrepreneurship.
His secret to meshing business and community sits right on his website, where his company’s four core values define both his creative engagement and community-minded enthusiasm:
Take on Challenges * Let Creativity Flourish * Be Honorable * Do Whatever It Takes
And of course, check back often at growwaynesboro.com/entrepreneurs to see the stories and faces of the many entrepreneurs building Waynesboro’s local economy.