Larry Cavalluzzi was burned out at 24. He had worked at a Sarasota sign company since graduating from Southeast High School and had learned the business top to bottom. Ready for a change, he quit his job, married his girlfriend and moved to Colorado. He was about to invest in a sign franchise company when a high school friend, Todd Stuart, came to visit. “Todd said to me, ‘Don’t buy into that franchise. Let’s start our own business. Let’s be bigger and better than the franchises. Let’s have our name on the building instead of theirs.’” In June 2000, the two men and their wives opened SignZoo in a rented condo in Sarasota’s Northgate complex. The company wraps clients’ vehicles in a vinyl material printed with vivid graphics. Cavalluzi, now 35, has 19 employees, and 50 to 60 subcontracted installers around the country with annual revenues of more than $3.5 million.
Explain the name SignZoo. At the time we started, one of our concerns was domain availability. My little brother, Matt, 11 at the time, shouted out, “Why don’t you call it SignZoo?” Todd and I looked at each other and thought, why not? When we found that was available as a domain name, we locked it down.
What is SignZoo? We are an outdoor advertising company. Clients use their existing vehicles to promote their business. Say you are in Dallas. You call us up and we have a 10-minute design consultation. We figure out your need and budget. Then we exchange artwork through the Internet. Once that is approved, we print out a miniature wrap on the actual vinyl material and send it to the client. Our installer goes to their facility and applies the wrap. If you’re in the Sarasota area, we install the wrap here, where we have a 6,500-square-foot production facility, a 2,500-square-foot design center and administration building.
Your market? The home service industry—air conditioning contractors, plumbing, electrical and roofing contractors.
Ever make a mistake? I would say that everyone pays for their education. We just pay differently. So while some people pay $50,000 a year to get an MBA, we paid in mistakes and learned.
What you have learned about being a boss? You have to give people a pat on the back more than you need to let them know what they are doing wrong.
Your role? When we started, I was more sales and Todd was more production. And then in late 2009, we were both ready to sell the company because we were bored. So we switched. He took sales and I took production. That change took effect in January 2010, and we had our most successful year ever.
Titles? We don’t have titles. I am a managing partner and president because somebody had to be president. Todd and I have a guy above us—the chief operating officer—who tells us what to do. We own the company, and the beauty of that is if we want to tell the COO to take a hike, we can. But we need that driving force. We both probably have mild to severe cases of ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) and a tendency to not follow through. Our COO makes sure that execution happens.
Hardest part of the job? The mental toll. You can never really put it to bed.
Easiest part of the job? Coming here every day and seeing things come together so quickly. A van shows up in the morning with nothing on it and leaves in the afternoon with graphics. Not just good-looking graphics, but an effective message that works.