Looking to the Past and Celebrating the Future:
seg systems turns 5 years old
Five years of what-ifs, five years of giving it a shot, five years of hell yeahs… five years of SEG Systems. Oh, how those years have flown by and given us more than we could have ever hoped for.
At this point in time we are so grateful for how far we’ve come, that it’s a perfect time to look back at where we started. Take a few minutes and embark on a journey with us as we see how our fearless leaders, Luis, Dori, and Reid, took on challenges in the frames and displays industry and built one of the leading companies in the industry today.
MEET THE ONES WHO STARTED IT ALL…
UNOFFICIALLY OFFICIAL JOB TITLE:
MAKING CUBAN SANDWICHES
THEME SONG TO HIS LIFE:
OFFICIAL JOB TITLE:
“BEING CRAZY ISN’T ENOUGH.”
– DR. SEUSS
UNOFFICIALLY OFFICIAL JOB TITLE:
CFO – AKA, CHIEF FUN OFFICER
THEME SONG TO HIS LIFE:
– RICK ROSS
“dON’T GIVE UP, DON’T EVER GIVE UP.”
– JIM VALVANO
TEN YEARS AGO, WHAT WAS YOUR TEN-YEAR PLAN, WHERE WERE YOU, AND HOW DOES IT DIFFER FROM WHAT YOU DO TODAY?
Ten years ago I was living in Minnesota and my main objective was honestly, “How can I get back to being my own boss?” How was I going to make that happen… not a clue!
One potential solution was to go back in to designing and producing custom furniture that incorporated wood, metal, leather, and blown glass.
Another thought was to open up an Artisan style bakery and coffee shop that somehow also incorporated my custom furniture… not sure how that was going to work out but I thought that it was fun to think about.
Ten years ago I was pregnant with my third child and in the midst of the building/construction world crisis with no positive outlook on the horizon for that industry. I was in a sales role that was paid on a commission basis in a down economy and knew something had to and needed to change.
I did not have a ten-year plan at that time, (kind of just trying to keep my head above water; pregnancy makes you narrow your global vision a bit. Sort of the body’s way of saying “Hello!? You have one job right now!”) but was on the hunt for the next big thing. I had no idea what that was or if the industry I was in/company I worked for was going to survive. Changing industries and the loss of a job while pregnant was super stressful!
Ten years ago I was building in general construction and living in Charleston, South Carolina. I loved it! I mean I LOVED IT! I expected to be in the construction industry all my life. Who would have thought I would find even more fulfillment in our industry?
What I do today is still as creative and solution oriented. The big difference is the people I get to work with. While there were many skilled craftsmen in construction, there was not the same type of creative thinking there is in the world of frames and displays.
The SEG Systems team still supports the hometown team, even after an excruciating loss to the Broncos at Super Bowl 50.
FIVE YEARS AGO, WHAT WAS YOUR FIVE-YEAR PLAN, WHAT WERE YOUR EXCITEMENTS AND FEARS, AND HOW DOES IT DIFFER FROM
WHAT YOU DO TODAY?
Five years ago my plan was a mixed bag of goodies. I was still living in Minnesota while arranging (on the fast track, I might add) with Reid and Dori how to start SEG Systems, how to move my wife and two daughters to North Carolina, and how to prepare to hit the ground running with virtually no support system except my partners – and at that point, I only knew them from a professional standpoint.
I felt lots of crazy emotions, some fears, gratitude, and of course: excitement. From the beginning, I knew that SEG Systems was destined to be successful – not just because we as a team were great, but because the market was ready for a more fortified SEG product offering. I don’t know that much has changed or transpired any differently than I thought it would!
When we embarked on this crazy new journey we call SEG five years ago, little did I know that by today we would blow the doors off my five-year plan. At the inception of SEG Systems, I was thinking we would be a ten million dollar company over the course of five years. I didn’t think that was too lofty a goal and honestly thought that would be something… if we could just do that!
I have never been one to be bullish with goals. I’m the super practical and tempered one in the family. I can’t say that I really had fears at that time or ever since then. I was so wound up with excitement of being part of the birth of this entity and knew that we would be successful. I think being raised in a home by parents that owned their own business helped me to never have a fear of failure. At this point, I still feel like we’ve made it – and everything from here on out is just the cherry on the sundae!
This is a tough one. Five years ago we started SEG Systems. I was terrified that hard work and having fun may not be enough to make a business survive the start-up phase. Little did I know that it was actually the key to thriving.
Five years ago I thought that we may have about 20 people and get to see a few cool projects. I fully expected the start-up to be more of a grind. To have 75 people working under the SEG umbrella and looked at as an industry leader is beyond anything I could have ever dreamed.
Just this year at GlobalShop we had multiple competitors in our industry come by the booth and tell us how awesome they hear SEG is and that they wished their companies were more like SEG Systems. What! Okay, that was super flattering and my head totally swole up, but the reality is: all companies have warts (and we have plenty), but we really do work hard to create a fun and loving culture that carries over into every interaction with our partners and customers.
Fun Fact: Krispy Kreme was born in North Carolina, just like SEG Systems!
WHEN YOU FIRST TOOK THE LEAP OF FAITH TO START THIS COMPANY, WHAT WERE YOUR THOUGHTS OR YOUR FAMILY’S THOUGHTS?
I didn’t really consider starting SEG Systems as much of a leap of faith because I knew with our work ethics alone, SEG at the least would be a highly productive, solutions-based company that would be focused on partnering with our customers. It was bound to be a great recipe for happy customers.
My family had already seen me as an entrepreneur through starting my own sign company and a custom furniture business, so they weren’t surprised at all to hear about this new endeavor.
Uprooting your family and moving across the country for a new career, though? That’s a different story.
I was all in! I knew this was right and the time was right – things don’t line up when they are not!
My family was fine with things, but concerned about the time commitment that it meant and what that would mean to them. Giving up time at home when you have three small kids is tough, but they are extremely supportive and proud.
My husband and I were high school sweethearts, so as an honorary member of the Johnson clan, he knew that ownership and business was a part of my plan and goal.
As for my parents, they probably felt like it was about damn time. They didn’t really expect me to do anything but own a business, so what was I waiting for?! They are the reason I jumped in without and real trepidation.
Despite having a one-year-old at home, my wife was excited. I think she knew it was time for me to make a change before I did.
My father has been my mentor in business. He will tell you that he has made plenty of mistakes in business but he always shared them so I would not make the same ones myself. Knowing that I could always tap into his business acumen at any time brought a comfort level to starting SEG Systems.
I was terrified and super stoked all at the same time when it came time to take the leap. We had a solid plan: work hard, listen to the needs of customers, never say no to a job, and enjoy going to work everyday.
I do have to admit that my sister (Dori) thought I was an idiot at first. She totally thought I was off my rocker. But after I showed her the plan and explained why the market needed someone like SEG Systems, she was hooked. Working with your sister everyday is awesome! Sorry, Luis. Working with you everyday is cool, too!
SEG Systems hit a growth spurt. This is us celebrating our 4th birthday! Stay tuned for our 5th birthday celebration. It’s gonna be a big one!
HOW HAS YOUR PROFESSIONAL LIFE CHANGED FOR YOU SINCE YOU TOOK ON THIS NEW ROLE? NEW ATTITUDE? NEW HABIT? COULD
YOU EVER GO BACK? ETC.
My professional life has changed quite a bit. I have never shared ownership in a business, so learning how to share that responsibility is a completely new thing for me.
To a certain extent, it’s like a fish out of water.
Luckily, both of my partners are amazing. Now that we’re here, I don’t think that I could ever go back.
Hell, no. I could never go back now. I think I knew that this was for me from a young age (the owning a business part – not the SEG part). I just didn’t know the timing of when it was going to happen.
I can’t say that my professional life has changed that much, as I am in a different industry now than where I started my professional career. My peer group has changed, but I have always been driven and a leader wherever I have been.
I am still the same goofy dude I have been for almost 40 years. I will always work hard and never look back!
One day I may not do what I do now, but you can bet I am going to be having fun with whatever I am doing.
Teamwork makes the dream work, right?Fred gives a serious pep talk on howthe GlobalShop 2019 setup is going down. He is the captain, now!
WHAT DOES THE NEXT FIVE YEARS LOOK LIKE AT SEG SYSTEMS TO YOU, EITHER BASED ON THE PACE YOU GREW AT OR WHERE YOU’RE
That is a great question. Although we have experienced incredible growth and have been blessed in so many ways, I have a hard time predicting the future, so flexibility is the real key.
I think that our mentality is to be amazing at whatever we do, to grow hand in hand with our partners, and to continue to be highly creative, solutions-based, and forward thinking, but in the retail and event industry, that could mean one thing today and a completely different thing tomorrow. Today fabric frame solutions are a hot item but as the industry changes, SEG Systems will always be at the forefront trying to make our mark and lead the pack.
Because my skillset is in the grind, in five years I hope to improve the internal process in order to make SEG Systems scalable.
I think that all time prepares you for the next thing. I have a saying, “there is no such thing as luck, it is simply the point at which preparedness meets opportunity” So all things prepare you for tomorrow.
To beat the last five years at SEG Systems is a tall order. I want to focus on keeping the “connected tribe vibe” that we have here. I think our team is amazing and I am proud of the culture of “work hard play hard” that exists. I don’t ever want to lose that feeling.
With our growth strategies in place, we plan to be helping to support over 500 families in our area and producing over ¼ of a billion dollars worth of displays for retail and trade show. WOW! That would be amazing.
Scalability sounds cool for sure, but only if we keep the same culture brewing that we have today.
Our goal in the next five years is to impact our industry in a big way. We want SEG to be the brand that others want to be like. We want SEG to treat every project no matter how big or how little like it is our most important project. We want to impact our community here in Charlotte in a positive way so people want to be a part some thing unique.
Most of all we just want to love what we do every day.
SO WHAT’S NEXT?
In the coming weeks, we’ll celebrate SEG Systems as a team. Stay tuned for our 5th birthday celebration – it’s going to be a fun one!
In the coming years, though? That’s still to be determined. With an ever-changing industry, you never know what tomorrow might bring, but at SEG Systems, we’re up for the challenge. There is no fear of the unknown, only excitement.
Cheers to many more years!
UPDATE: WE CELEBRATED!
To celebrate our fifth birthday, we did just what a five-year-old would want to do: we had a field day. Relay races, cupcake eating competitions, and trivia were a nice break frrom the day-to-day hustle our team is used to. Check out the video below to see all the fun that was had!