Sign startup upgrades real estate go-to

Austin McDaniel, along with Burkhart, have started up a new service for real estate agents. Photo by Jonathan Spiers.

Austin McDaniel, along with Brett Burkhart, have started up a new service for real estate agents. Photo by Jonathan Spiers.

A pair of local entrepreneurs is seeing signs of opportunity in the most visible part of the real estate business.

Austin McDaniel and Brett Burkhart are five months into their startup, The Sign Managers, which provides installation, removal and storage of real estate signs for agents and brokerages.

Less than half a year in operation, the company has picked up a number of local clients, represented last week by the number of signs they have posted around Richmond: 160 or so of their current inventory of 200, McDaniel said. It has serviced properties for Re/Max, Joyner Fine Properties, One South Realty and others.

While the company is not alone in providing sign work locally, McDaniel and Burkhart said they are adding accountability, transparency and a level of quality – and a dash of technology – to a service they described as lacking in those areas.

“The solution before us was moms-and-pops that did it on the side for agents. We decided to start more of a professional business,” McDaniel said.

For McDaniel and Burkhart, who previously worked together at McDaniel’s father’s mining-related company, Midlothian-based Nano Drying Technologies, that solution comes in the form of an interactive website that agents can use to request a sign placement and track its status online, complete with a confirmation photo of each sign placed.

McDaniel, a recent MBA recipient from the University of Richmond’s Robins School of Business, and Burkhart, a VCU graduate, said they were inspired to start the business after seeing a friend of Burkhart’s find success with a similar concept in upstate New York.

“We reached out to some agents, and they said, ‘Oh, I hate my (sign) guy,’” McDaniel said.

Added Burkhart: “There was definitely a need in the market.”

Among those who responded was The Millie Green Team with Re/Max Commonwealth. Amanda Lopez, the team’s listing and closing manager, said The Sign Managers has brought a new level of customer service and professionalism to placing signs.

“Usually when we do a listing it’s kind of last-minute, and these guys have been great because they have installed pretty much as soon as they get the OK from Miss Utility,” Lopez said.

Miss Utility of Virginia, the common name for the Virginia Utility Protection Service, requires approval before each sign can be placed – a process that Lopez said takes about 48 hours.

While the company will pick up and place an agent’s or brokerage’s own signs, it also offers an inventory of signs, including 200 posts or “yard arm” signs – each made in-house at the company’s warehouse space in Scott’s Addition.

Burkhart said he handles the woodwork and other back-office tasks, while McDaniel, who he called the face of the company, handles the front-office side of the business.

Counting lumber purchased from hardware stores, Burkhart said they have spent between $10,000 and $15,000 on the business so far.

Prices range from $15 for a wire-frame sign placement within 24 hours to $50 for a standard installation and removal within a 20-mile straight-line radius of their warehouse.

McDaniel and Burkhart said they plan to see the business grow to a point where they can expand to other markets. They said they have their sights set on Virginia Beach, specifically.

McDaniel said they recently added a part-time employee to help with delivery and placement.

Austin McDaniel, along with Burkhart, have started up a new service for real estate agents. Photo by Jonathan Spiers.

Austin McDaniel, along with Brett Burkhart, have started up a new service for real estate agents. Photo by Jonathan Spiers.

A pair of local entrepreneurs is seeing signs of opportunity in the most visible part of the real estate business.

Austin McDaniel and Brett Burkhart are five months into their startup, The Sign Managers, which provides installation, removal and storage of real estate signs for agents and brokerages.

Less than half a year in operation, the company has picked up a number of local clients, represented last week by the number of signs they have posted around Richmond: 160 or so of their current inventory of 200, McDaniel said. It has serviced properties for Re/Max, Joyner Fine Properties, One South Realty and others.

While the company is not alone in providing sign work locally, McDaniel and Burkhart said they are adding accountability, transparency and a level of quality – and a dash of technology – to a service they described as lacking in those areas.

“The solution before us was moms-and-pops that did it on the side for agents. We decided to start more of a professional business,” McDaniel said.

For McDaniel and Burkhart, who previously worked together at McDaniel’s father’s mining-related company, Midlothian-based Nano Drying Technologies, that solution comes in the form of an interactive website that agents can use to request a sign placement and track its status online, complete with a confirmation photo of each sign placed.

McDaniel, a recent MBA recipient from the University of Richmond’s Robins School of Business, and Burkhart, a VCU graduate, said they were inspired to start the business after seeing a friend of Burkhart’s find success with a similar concept in upstate New York.

“We reached out to some agents, and they said, ‘Oh, I hate my (sign) guy,’” McDaniel said.

Added Burkhart: “There was definitely a need in the market.”

Among those who responded was The Millie Green Team with Re/Max Commonwealth. Amanda Lopez, the team’s listing and closing manager, said The Sign Managers has brought a new level of customer service and professionalism to placing signs.

“Usually when we do a listing it’s kind of last-minute, and these guys have been great because they have installed pretty much as soon as they get the OK from Miss Utility,” Lopez said.

Miss Utility of Virginia, the common name for the Virginia Utility Protection Service, requires approval before each sign can be placed – a process that Lopez said takes about 48 hours.

While the company will pick up and place an agent’s or brokerage’s own signs, it also offers an inventory of signs, including 200 posts or “yard arm” signs – each made in-house at the company’s warehouse space in Scott’s Addition.

Burkhart said he handles the woodwork and other back-office tasks, while McDaniel, who he called the face of the company, handles the front-office side of the business.

Counting lumber purchased from hardware stores, Burkhart said they have spent between $10,000 and $15,000 on the business so far.

Prices range from $15 for a wire-frame sign placement within 24 hours to $50 for a standard installation and removal within a 20-mile straight-line radius of their warehouse.

McDaniel and Burkhart said they plan to see the business grow to a point where they can expand to other markets. They said they have their sights set on Virginia Beach, specifically.

McDaniel said they recently added a part-time employee to help with delivery and placement.

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