Robin Wojtanik of Richland didn’t expect to become an expert on Tri-City area soil density when she launched her new business, Sign Gypsies, this summer.
But putting up signs with custom messages at homes, schools and businesses has turned her into one.
“North Richland is the best. The soil settled there a long time ago, so my signs go in more easily,” she said. “West Richland, with all of the new construction, can be the toughest because of all of the rocks. You need to use the largest screwdriver you have to drive a deep hole in the ground to place a stake.”
Wojtanik will travel anywhere in the Mid-Columbia to display signs to celebrate any occasion—from birthdays and graduations, to welcoming a new baby or advertising business events.
Signs usually stay on the property for 24 hours before Wojtanik returns to pick them up.
“So a customer pays for the rental of them essentially,” she said.
Two mothers of young children started the company in 2014 in McKinney, Texas. Stacey Hess is the co-founder and CEO.
It’s been growing fast since then. Within two years since its founding, Sign Gypsies grew to 70 locations and has expanded its headquarters twice in the last three years.
Currently, there are more than 400 Sign Gypsies businesses around the country.
Wojtanik first stumbled upon the company last spring while visiting her sister in Florida.
“She ordered a sign for her daughter’s high school graduation. I have always held an entrepreneur’s heart. My parents wanted to open an ice cream shop when I was little. So the seed was always there,” she said.
She was excited to add small business owner to her résumé.
Wojtanik, a mother of three, also works as a substitute teacher, freelance reporter for the Tri-Cities Area Journal of Business and for a nonprofit.
“I had never seen something like this in the Tri-Cities,” she said. “As far as the demographics here, I thought why not try it? So I researched it over the summer. This one seems to be the biggest company around, and I like their graphics.”
So she became a Sign Gypsies owner in August.
“I’m an affiliate of Sign Gypsies. They don’t call them franchisees,” she said.
According to the company’s website, they are not franchises.
“Each location owner owns the business and keeps 100 percent of the sales,” according to the website. “Sign Gypsies does not collect royalties.”
Wojtanik’s region includes the Tri-Cities and the area from Paterson to Prosser to Connell.
“We’re the only one in Eastern Washington right now,” she said. “There are a few in western Washington. I talked to a lady in Seattle who opened her business three years ago and was the first on the West Coast to do so. They are big in the South and Texas.”
Business has been pretty good for Wojtanik.
“It’s more than what I thought it would be,” she said. “I’ve used Facebook, friends and word of mouth to advertise.”
She’s offered complimentary signs to all of the Richland elementary schools when the school year began in August with messages such as “Welcome back,” “First day of school” and “Mustangs 2019.”
Wojtanik also ran a special during October to deliver “boo” signs featuring a “boo” message along with a few Halloween accents.
“The idea was to ‘boo’ a friend and they would pass it along,” she said. “I am donating $5 from every boo to the Warrior Sisterhood, which is a cancer support group. I plan to do something similar in December with the word ‘joy’ and ‘spread joy’ to those who need a little.”
Wojtanik says the uses for signs are endless.
“The main business is happy birthday,” she said. “I’ve heard graduation is also popular. I’ll find out in June.”
Other ideas, she says, can be engagements, homecomings or to celebrate the last day of chemotherapy.
“I can also do Spanish signs,” she said. “I have the Spanish tilde sign.”
Customers have been pleased with the results.
“Sign Gypsies is a think-outside-of-the-box concept when it comes to showing someone their value,” said Willie Stafford, area sales director of the TownePlace Suites in Richland. “With the hustle and bustle of life and technology, Sign Gypsies allows you to bring a personal touch back into welcomes.”
Stafford said he’s used Wojtanik’s company on numerous occasions.
“I have used them to welcome teams and groups that I have had at my hotels and employees’ birthdays,” he said. “In the future, we will be using them for VIP guest arrivals, guest birthdays and any major event at our hotel.”
Stafford says the feedback he’s gotten has been positive.
“We have received a lot of positive feedback for the softball tournaments we have done it for,” Stafford said. “It is a great way to personalize welcomes. Guests, just as most people, see this and are amazed because it is something new and they have not seen anything like it before.”
Wojtanik cannot include logos with her signs.
“I order the graphics directly from the company,” Wojtanik said. “We can’t use personal logos on them, such as city of Richland, which wanted some signs with the city logo. I couldn’t do a WSU logo for WSU Tri-Cities, either.”
There have been other challenges, such as storing all the signs at her family home, or carrying them to and from her car on her nightly distribution missions.
And, of course, there is the quality of the soil to contend with.
“And there are challenges with the wind,” she said. “But these signs, they honestly stay up in these Tri-City windstorms pretty well. They’re heavy-duty signs.”
Customers can order a sign for $75 plus tax.
“That’s the rate of most signs,” she said. “I just need 24 hours advance notice.”
Schools and real estate agents usually pay $50 because of the volume they do with Wojtanik.
Real estate agents have been using the signs when families close on a home, with a sign such as “Welcome home Smith family,” or when they’re trying to sell a home with signs like, “Open house this Sunday.”
“If there is grass outside the business or house, I can put it out there,” she said.
It’s only been a few months but it’s been a great adventure for Wojtanik, who also used to work as a journalist at a local television station.
“This is my first business. It’s really fun,” she said. “As a journalist who has had to report on bad things, it’s a fun thing to be on the other side, to bring joy to the lives of people. The joy that it brings to people is what I love the most.”
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