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The stories of Women in Business

Dan McGee

Julie’s Sign Shoppe,”Home of the Sign Chicks,” is an electrical-sign contractor and sign shop owned by two women who credit their success to hard work, service and a personal touch.

It’s also a true family business that involves the husbands and children of Julie Wilson and Chris Salisbury.

Born in Utah,Wilson grew up in the industry.

“My dad had a master’s degree in fine art and a sign shop,” she said.”He used to race motocross, and silk screened numbers for the bikes.

I’d help him by putting them out to dry.”

Because the family was poor,Wilson learned about barter.

“If my father needed brushes and we needed shoes, he got the brushes,” she said.”He used to trade banners and signs for food and clothing.”

After working for her father,Wilson joined Young Electric Sign Co. YESCO in Salt Lake City.

She worked as an “old school” billboard painter.

A design was projected on a billboard usually at night and the design was painted onto it.

“And I’ve fallen off several and have the scars to show for it,” she said.

She left YESCO and moved here when her husband was transferred to the area.

“First I worked for City Electric in Carson City, then when we moved to Reno,my husband converted the third bay of our garage into a home office for me,” she said.

She also was working at a day job for a sign company.

Salisbury,who’d worked as a silk screener at IGT,was working alongside her.

A phone book ad, however, ended Wilson’s day job.

“I didn’t tell my boss about the ad and it sealed my fate,”Wilson said.

Salisbury followed her out the door.

“When Julie quit, I had a huge job,” Salisbury said.”I took a chance on her, like not getting paid, and went to a little job.”

Salisbury’s experience allowed her get a contractor’s license.

“Not many women take both the legal and trade portions of the license, but I did,” she said.

To help the business get going,Wilson, a member of Barter Exchange International, used her childhood bartering experience to trade signs and banners for products and services.

Starting from scratch,Wilson had a simple method of measuring her success.

“I didn’t take out a loan, had bills and no real job when I started,” she said.”I knew that if I could fill one garbage can a day, I was making progress.We went to 20 cans a day, but now, thanks to digital,we’re back to one and working more efficiently.”

Once the shop opened in 2001, the women bought a large printer that is still used.”We did a lot of banners and vehicles,”Wilson said.

Another sign of progress is the shop’s need for space.

From a small office it moved first to 1,000 square feet, then to a 3,700-square-foot facility.

Last month, the business was in a new building with 5,000 square feet of space developed by Riberio Co., which also provides many referrals to the company.

One early challenge was working in a maledominated industry.

“It’s a difficult field to be in as there’s a lot of competition,”Wilson said.”It’s more difficult as an electrical contractor due to the physical work and I don’t think a lot of women are into that.”

Added Salisbury,”I don’t think we were taken seriously until they saw us putting signs up.”

Despite the long hours, sometimes 80 a week, both are enjoying working for themselves.

“We have long hours as opposed to working 9 to 5 for the man,” Salisbury said.”But we’re a bit like GEICO as we’ve got a 97 percent customer satisfaction.”

Family members make up most of the small staff.

In fact Wilson’s son Travis was working with his mother before Salisbury joined.

“He’s working on a degree in graphic communication at TMCC,”Wilson said.”He and his friends have a web design company and he’s a true artist.”

Wilson’s daughter Maryann Landes designs, is the bill collector and the receptionist.

The youngest daughter, 17-year-old Janell, helps when she has a break from high school.

Brandy, the oldest daughter, can’t help as she lives in England waiting for her husband, who is in Iraq with the Air Force.

“My son Trevor,who’s 12, also helps out or torments Julie on his skate board,” Salisbury said with a laugh.

Their husbands,meanwhile, provide support for Wilson and Salisbury.

In the shop the women split the work according to their talents and strengths.

Wilson, for instance, is painting and buying the furniture for the new building and handles a lot of the paperwork.

Salisbury loves the nuts and bolts of the business.

“We’re really hard workers, although I’m not into installing,”Wilson said.”I just don’t want to be doing that stuff.”

“But she still wants to know how it works,” Salisbury said.”She likes to do the custom stuff, but I like working out in the sun.”

Both women shared a laugh after Wilson said of her partner,”She’s a good post hole digger.” Keenly aware of her humble roots,Wilson takes care of the employees.

“We buy them lunch every day,” she said.”I can remember when I didn’t have enough money for that.”


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