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Inside Track: FASTSIGNS Brum managing director Tom Gilpin

Gilpin discusses the signage industry, joining a franchise and working with family

Whereabouts do you hail from and where are you based?
I am a West-Midlander, born and raised in Solihull. Just up the road from where I live is our new stomping ground, FASTSIGNS Birmingham, where I am currently the centre’s managing director.

Being in Birmingham, the UK’s second largest city and leading business destination, we’ve got access to  a diverse high-street; one that is home to some of the biggest and most well-known brands in the UK. Not to mention our proximity to some of the largest and most successful national and international businesses in the UK. Our team, made up of four members, has ample opportunity to demonstrate the capabilities of visual signage solutions across a range of disciplines.

At what age did you start your first business, and what inspired you to become a young entrepreneur?
I started my first business venture at 14 by managing my own band’s gigs and venue bookings. When I was 15, I offered music lessons to locals in the area; I even got named the best music teacher in Solihull by Yell, a hugely rewarding accolade at such a young age. At 16, I started landscaping and litter-picking in the area, and I guess my passion for taking pride in my work and providing great customer service started from there.

Initially, as I got older, I wanted to go into accounting, but after doing some work experience I found that office life just wasn’t for me. Instead, I decided to pool all of my efforts back into the landscaping and maintenance business – a field I showed flair in. By 17, the business had taken off and I was hiring my first few employees; it’s been operating and growing ever since.

What made you enter the signage business, and what was it about the franchise model that appealed to you?
For me, it was about combining my creative and tactile skills from being a musician and litter picker with seeing a project develop from start-to-finish. The most rewarding part is seeing the impact that it has on both the business and consumers.

My dad, and now business partner at FASTSIGNS Birmingham, was always intrigued by the various benefits that come with joining a franchise; the support you get under an established and reputable brand name, for one – it’s a proven model. 

What plans do you have in the pipeline at FASTSIGNS Birmingham?
We’ve not settled on any big future plans at the moment, but we’re talking about how we might expand our services.

Although in its early stages, something we’ve been weighing up is the potential of moving the office to a space out of the centre and using our existing space as a production zone only, so we can continue to grow our portfolio of exciting clients and take on even bigger projects.

What tips would you give to someone starting out in a family business?
As an MD, there’s a requirement to consider the full ecosystem of the business – its people, operations and key decisions. It’s crucial to know where your strengths lie but, equally, where your teams’ strengths lie.

Knowing when to call in the help of others is the most important role of any MD. For example, my dad manages the finances and my brother’s got the marketing covered, and I look after operations and our team members. It works really well, alongside our team of talented designers, production and installation experts, because we share one vision – to produce the very best quality signage and deliver outstanding service to our customers.

What are your hobbies outside of work?
I like to keep myself busy, and that often leads me to something fitness-related – I dabble in golf, boxing and running.

Last month, I finished a London to Paris cycling challenge and raised nearly £7k for charity, and I’m considering signing up for a half-marathon soon. A busy schedule can be extremely exhausting, but I find fitness really helps with my focus when it comes to work.

What’s the best piece of business advice someone’s ever given you?
I think some of the best advice anyone could receive would be to throw yourself in the deep end, see if you find your feet and then capitalise on that.