30 Years Later: Old School to New School and Beyond

July 23, 2018

In celebration of our 30th birthday, we’d like to share an interview with our President, Albert Oberst.
 
This is the story of 30 years of commitment to excellence and a look toward the future of the industry.

Tell us how and why you started ISG and when?

I started in the sign business in 1978. In 1988, I decided that I should start my own company. I was dissatisfied with the way the company I worked for did business on many fronts. I committed to the goal of building a company that would provide customers with a superior product at a reasonable price and provide an environment that would allow employees to be challenged, rewarded fairly and treated like family.

After borrowing some money and using my home as collateral, I started soliciting business, buying equipment, and talking to a couple of people I hoped to recruit. Through very hard work and lots of hours and sacrifice, things started to happen and the business started to take off.

How many employees did you have back then?

At first it was me. I wore all the hats. I sold small projects, purchased materials, built the product and installed it. I couldn’t afford any help. As the reputation grew, so did the employee count.

Why did you focus on quality over off shore manufacturing?

First of all, quality is the trump card we must always strive to maintain. If you expect to build and keep a business, your product quality is the foundation of all success. I put quality of product at the forefront of everything we do. Controlling every aspect of our customers projects through high attention to detail is critical. That only happens when you create an environment where everyone understands the high standards and expectations.

Were the tools then the same as they are today?

Not even close. Back when I started in the business everything was cut and fabricated by hand. We didn’t even have computers. Drawings were done by hand and materials were cut and bent by hand. Today we have computer designing and drawing tools, computer controlled cutters, benders, and fabrication processes, computer controlled printing processes and even computer controlled signs.

Did you expect to be where you are now?

I knew hard work would pay off. I didn’t see exactly where I would be 30 years down the road. I did know that if I stayed committed to my mission, worked hard, and surrounded myself with good people I would be successful.

What’s your most surprising client — maybe it was a success story or an unexpected result?

Really, it would be hard to point to one particular client. We are very proud to serve all our customers and are committed to making sure our process yields results they are happy with. I will say that our client list never ceases to amaze me, and I believe that we have those clients because of our philosophy. It becomes clear that if you do the right thing, are fair to people, and refuse to accept mediocrity, success will follow.

What’s happening now with your industry?

Our industry, like most, is always evolving. The digital revolution continues to push change. Although many aspects of our products involve tried and true processes, there are many other areas that have become digital and continue to advance technologically. Due to that, prices have come down on higher tech items while the core technology has expanded exponentially. I find all of that great for our industry.

Are there big changes you’ve seen or has demand shifted in any discernible way?

I would say that the most significant change in the industry has been the electronic and digital age. Look at a 30 or 40 year old picture of Times Square and then look at a picture of it today. It pretty much sums up the influence electronics have had (and will continue to have) on the industry.

How have the challenges of running a sign company changed in the last 30 years?

Yes, but I try to keep in mind that while the nature of the challenges may change, the fact remains that they will always exist. We just have to maintain a singular focus on overcoming them through doing the right things, always being in pursuit of quality talent, and staying committed to our goals. The players are changing, the products are morphing, but the core philosopy of quality, honesty, and fairness withstand the test of time.

What are your plans for the future?

My plans are to continue to find quality people for our team. My son-in-law, Aaron Anderkin (Executive VP), and my daughter, Christine (Director of Business Development), have picked up the proverbial torch and are doing a great job leading the company into the future. I want to continue to stay involved and help prepare the company for the third generation to carry it on. However, my beautiful and talented wife who has managed the company’s finances and put up with me for 30 years probably has some other ideas of how to spend retirement.

Where do you think the company will be in 10 years?

Who really knows? I plan to do everything I can to see that we continue on a successful path. I will say that we are always exploring a multitude of options for growth. And through hard work and a customer-first driven philosophy, I expect the company will continue to grow in both capabilities and market share.

Are there trends you can see coming that will affect your business overall? What about aesthetic trends … are there things you notice as you design and create for clients? Do you follow them or do you advise on timelessness or stylistic longevity?

Just like hair styles and clothes, trends come and go. What does change is technology and manufacturing processes. We have to change with both. From a design and aesthetic point, we need to be in the front of the pack. To me, the key to that is not getting caught up in trends, but in recognizing that every customer’s need is unique and finding the right solution for their situation is imperative to the overall success of their project. On the technological front, we just have to arm ourselves with what is new and available so that we are using technological change to our advantage instead of as a hindrance.