Owner of Sign Island Kweku Symonette swiveled in his chair as he scanned the inside of his recently opened storefront on Madeira Street yesterday. He recounted where his business started three years ago. The short history of his small business is filled with tales of worry, learning experiences and being in the trenches of government services.
As Symonette sat with Guardian Business yesterday inside his sign-making company, Bahamas Power and Light (BPL) services failed.
“This is the second time today, you know,” Symonette lamented.
Symonette counts himself lucky to have made it to three years and for being able to grow to a staff complement of eight permanent and four part-time employees.
He counts his luck because, as he puts it, big corporations don’t care for small businesses and government services and banks “don’t make it easy”.
Symonette explained that he began the business after feeling stifled on his previous job with another sign company.
“My ideas were being stifled, my freedom was being stifled and I was becoming depressed,” he said.
But even after his wife purchased the first printer for the business and large corporate clients began to give him a chance, it was their payment practices that almost caused the business to go bankrupt in its first months.
“Going after the big boys would have killed me,” Symonette said.
“They want to pay six months after the job is done, yet order hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of items. I lost a lot of money.
“It’s still very hard to leave a guaranteed something and start nowhere. It literally started from two or three clients.”
However, he said thanks to a silent investor and smaller clients, he was able to hold the business together, working out of his home until he could locate an office and make his first hire.
He said the business began to grow from that point on.
Symonette said while the sign printing market is saturated on New Providence, the secret to his success is treating all of his customers like family.
“It’s not like our products can beat other products on the market in terms of pricing,” he said.
“I believe in customer satisfaction and looking at our customers as a family.”
He said he also believes in encouraging his staff to pursue their own dreams as they help to push Sign Island forward.
“I encourage my staff to do their own thing on the side as well, because one job is never going to get you where you want to be,” Symonette said.
The business started out as a website in a house and has now grown to a Palmdale storefront.
Symonette has outfitted his storefront to fit his demeanor. The interior is comfortable and inviting, utilizing couches and coffee tables to make clients feel at home, should they have to visit the office. He insists that he wants to continue the convenient service of having his clients order online and have their products delivered to them and installed in two to three days.
“We are going to change the culture of what a storefront can look like,” said Symonette.
“Now that we have a storefront, we’re going to try to maximize it. For now the storefront will help us to attract clientele we wouldn’t have gotten.
“But online is still a huge focus. We are going to focus on making an impact online.”
Symonette explained that he will continue to give his clients not only what they want, but what they need.
“I’m not out to try to take advantage,” he said. “I would look for the most feasible way for them to get what they need.”
Small businesses can also look to Sign Island for support, said Symonette, who understands the obstacles faced by businesses in The Bahamas.
“I know how hard it is starting your own business in The Bahamas,” he said.
“I support the small businesses because I know they will have my back. I think we are lucky to be where we are at.
“God is good. We had a lot of support, so we were able to make it happen.”