Independents’ Day with George Blake of AG Signs

George Blake at AG Signs. Ref edr 18 18TI 2084. Picture: Terry Ife

George Blake at AG Signs. Ref edr 18 18TI 2084. Picture: Terry Ife - Credit: Archant

George Blake, of AG Signs, in Honiton

AG Signs. Ref edr 18 18TI 2082. Picture: Terry Ife

AG Signs. Ref edr 18 18TI 2082. Picture: Terry Ife - Credit: Archant

Please introduce yourself...

Hi to everyone who reads this. My name is George Blake, Magic George to thousands of children and adults whom I have had the privilege to entertain over the years but today I am wearing my business hat. I have been the face of AG Signs for the past 30 years, 15 years working from my home in Dowell Street. Most of you would have seen and liked the advent calendars we put on the garage door at Christmas and other occasions throughout the year, including the football World Cup.

I started life at a very young age and liked children, so went to school with them. Well, in fact it was children’s homes with my brother Peter but hey, that’s a book in itself. Joining Peter in the army as a bandsman in Honiton I had 12 years travelling around the world in the Devon and Dorset band – great times.

I left the army and trained to get my City and Guilds in plumbing at Gloucester Training Centre. Long story short, working for Hansford’s of Honiton and Skinner’s of Sidmouth, at this point it was not a conscious decision to give up plumbing but circumstances in the building trade at that time. I tried several jobs including: insurance salesman, milkman, working in an abattoir and then I had a bit of luck and applied to work for BT, where I continued for 13 years as an engineer fitter, this and plumbing gave me the fitting skills I would need in my next roll as a sign installer.

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Here, I met a good friend Eddie and his partner Sylvia, who were about to sell their business ‘Autographics Signs Galore’ owing to health reasons. I decided that my life should take yet another turn so I bought the business. Somewhere at the beginning of this journey I met and fell in love with a local girl, Celia Loving, who I later married in 1967. I had two fabulous children and they gave us seven gorgeous granddaughters. They have all been the wind in my sails, keeping me going through the good and bad times.

What made you decide to become and independent trader in Honiton?

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Having gone to work with Eddie and Sylvia for a year, they showed me all they knew within the sign trade. I had a purpose-built room in my garden, set up with new equipment. With the help of Celia and the children, I started out on my own. I have employed several people over the years and in the process employed a young man from college – Martin Baily, who was a breath of fresh air with very similar ideas and ethics in business to myself.

Between us we moved to our current location on the Heathpark Industrial Estate and bought bigger and better printing equipment. We employed more staff (Stacey, Richard and Dan) who are the strength of our firm, moving us even further down the road. It was about this time that Martin came on as a director of AG Signs and Print Ltd. As retirement was looming, we agreed that Martin would buy me out over a 10-year period. I am so pleased that AG Signs will be left in such good hands. We now have a total of 11 people, all brilliant workers that are moving AG. Signs forward to the future.

What advice would you give anyone else setting up independently?

If you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you have always got. I know it’s a cliché but it is true. Solid foundations such as: health and safety; investing in your employees; knowing your sales market and competition and keeping up with technology and demands in the industry all add up to building strong foundations. For any business, if you start your business and don’t put in place a sound business plan, then your foundations will be too weak to hold you up. If you do hit hard times, like any other business, it will be more challenging for you. So solid roots are a must! But get it right and you’re in for a good ride. Enjoy yourselves and have fun, I’m off to start on those books, thanks for your time.

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