How to Start Your Own Business
Well, I wish I had an exciting story to tell about a night of uninhibited passion with Lupita—but all I did was point out that we both had to be at work in a few hours and that we'd better say goodnight. So we did and I walked her to her door, where she smiled and said "Thank you for a lovely evening." Then she gave me a kiss on the cheek and went inside.
Beyond that, the thought of losing my job and/or being pursued by a jealous husband was not too appealing, so I was glad the evening was over. As for going dancing again—well, it would have been a moot point, anyway, because I wasn't at the store for very much longer.
Here's what happened: Since I'd been sent to a city where the only people I knew were the sales-ladies I worked with, I spent my evenings painting signs for the store. I did large paper banners for the front windows and all kinds of counter cards and posters to display with the merchandise.
Well, one day Joe Cornet Jr. walked in and introduced himself. Then he looked around, and asked, "Where did all these signs come from?"
When I explained that I did them in the evening after the store closed, he said, "These signs are great! You know, we could use them in the other stores, too. How would you like to work out of our main office in Pasadena and go around to all the stores making signs?"
"That would be wonderful!" I replied enthusiastically. Besides doing work I enjoy, I would also be back near my friends in Hollywood. What a deal! I could hardly wait to get started.
Less than a week later I was living in Pasadena and going all over Southern California to decorate Cornet's stores with signs.
It was a fun job, and I have a number of very funny "Cornet" stories .
But to hit just the main points of the time I spent with Cornet, let me explain that after I had worked there for a while I heard that some of the supervisors would soon be quitting to go to work for a new mall being built in Las Vegas. They said they would be needing someone to do the sign work for the new mall, and asked if I'd be interested.
Well, I had no desire to move to Las Vegas, but they offered me a substantial raise in salary, so I said I'd take the job. Well, this was all supposed to be a closely held secret among those of us who planned on making the move—but somehow Joe Cornet Jr. got wind of our plans and fired us all.
So we all moved to Las Vegas about three weeks sooner than we had planned. Fortunately, our new employer was gracious enough to put us on the payroll right away.
Well, I'd only been in Las Vegas for about two weeks, when who should walk in one day but Joe Cornet Jr.? I could scarcely believe my ears when he asked me if I'd like my job back, with better pay and some added benefits.
Wow! Of course I'd rather be living in Southern California—and Mr. Cornet had made me an offer I basically couldn't refuse. He also said that he'd been hearing about something called "silk screen printing"—a process for producing signs in quantities—and asked if I knew how to do it.
"Yes, sir!" I replied, "No problem."
So he gave me a blank check and told me to go buy what I needed to set up a silk screen printing shop in one corner of their main warehouse. The first thing I bought was a book on how to do silk screen printing. I hadn't a clue as to how it was done.
Self-Taught Silk Screen Printing
But somehow I managed to bluff my way through, and soon had a shop set up and was producing signs for the approximately 100 stores in their chain. Mr. Cornet couldn't have been more pleased. He particularly liked the way I didn't necessarily wait for instructions on what signs to make—how I would anticipate traditional sales events like "Back to School, Mother's Day, Graduation Days," etc., and have layouts and designs ready well ahead of the dates they would be needed.
So Mr. Cornet was happy and I was happy—but the job was only to last about a year. No, I didn't get fired this time—I quit. Why?
Well, Joe Cornet Sr., who had retired after turning the business over to his two sons, Joe Jr. and Bob, had begun showing up in the executive offices pretty regularly lately—and there were rumors that he wasn't too pleased with the way the company was being run—and that he was threatening to take control of the business again.
Well, I didn't know if or how such a move would affect my job, but I decided to start looking around, just in case. So I went to see the head people at Rasco Stores.
In those days, Rasco was Cornet's chief competitor in the mostly small towns that had been overlooked by Woolworth and the other larger variety store chains.
Anyway, I had checked out a few of their stores and could see that they might benefit from having their own silk screen printing operation. So I walked in and asked if they'd be interested in hiring me and letting me set it up for them.
Naturally, I had to give them my job history and explain why I was looking to leave Cornet at this time. Well, they seemed quite impressed with the idea—and said they'd give me a call, which they did a couple of days later—and asked me to come in the following Monday morning to go to work.
Quit Cornet, But Created a Job with a Competitor
I was elated—to think that I had walked in out of the blue and created a job for myself. And they seemed like very nice people for whom I would enjoy working.
Now Comes The Part You're Not Going to Believe
Monday morning I went in to the Rasco offices and thanked them for the offer—but told them I had changed my mind.
In the meantime, I had quit Cornet—and was now out of a job and had no prospects.
Why had I done this? Well, there is no logical or rational explanation—but here's what was on my mind: I had decided I wanted to go to Puerto Rico and see about setting up my own sign shop.
If you've read any of the other stories on this site you may have noticed that I've always been enamored of things Latin American, and had decided my high-school Spanish was good enough to get me by in Puerto Rico, where English and Spanish are used pretty much equally.
Well, I was only there for two weeks. I met a girl who quickly decided I was "hers" and who said she'd kill me if I ever looked at another woman. That was enough for me—I sneaked out one morning while she was sleeping, and never looked back.
When I got back to California I didn't even have enough money to rent an apartment—but a buddy from junior high school said I could come and stay with him in the new home his dad had recently bought in Van Nuys.
So now I was job-hunting in the San Fernando Valley—and ended up working for Signs by George in Sherman Oaks, and eventually began dating George's housekeeper.
George Schecter was a divorced father with two small children (about 4 and 5 years old) and Elaine was a divorced mother of two who had answered his ad for a live-in housekeeper. Well, George had expected a single nanny to apply, but Elaine convinced him she could handle his two kids and hers as well.
So Elaine and I began dating—and eventually got married, and I left Signs by George to go to Mexico City.
Well, I had decided that I wanted to become a free-lance cartoonist and had read that a successful cartoonist could live just about anywhere (since he could mail his drawings to the various magazines and trade journals who buy cartoons). And I had also read that one could live in Mexico City for a lot less than living in the States.
What a deal, I thought. Get paid for your work at American rates, but live in Mexico, where everything is cheaper.
Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time, but suffice it to say I was back stateside in a couple of months again looking for a job. And now I had a wife and two step-kids to support.
We decided to look for work in Orange County because Elaine had a married sister living in Fullerton who could help with baby-sitting while Elaine went back to work as an RN. However, Elaine's sister wasn't too interested in baby-sitting, so making a living would be entirely up to me.
Well, here I was in a strange town with no job prospects and very little acquaintance with Orange County in general. Nonetheless, I started job hunting and ended up finding part-time work at three different shops; Union Sign Co. in Santa Ana, Nuart Neon in Fullerton, and Anaheim Signs in—well, guess where.
In addition to that, Elaine was trying to help me pick up free-lance jobs wherever she could find them.
My approach was to look for a business with an old, faded sign—or to see if I could spot someone opening a new business. Elaine's approach was to go door to door and hand a business card to anyone willing to take one.
But when she said she was going to stop by Longs Drug Store (the town's largest) I said, "Why bother? They've got posters and banners all over the place. It's obvious they already have somebody doing their work."
Well, guess what they told her... Elaine walked right into Longs and asked to see the Manager. He came out of his office with a smile and asked what he could do for her.
"My husband is a sign-painter," she said, "and would like to give you a price on making signs for your store."
"Well," replied the manager, "I'm glad you came in. The fellow that's been doing our work lives in another town, and has been getting more and more unreliable about getting the work to us in time for our weekly promotions. Have your husband stop by and we'll see what we can do."
So that's basically how our business got started. I was a fair-to-middlin' sign-painter, but a lousy salesman. Elaine didn't know anything about signs—but had the tenacity to keep calling on businesses and bringing in the orders.
I set up a drawing board in the kitchen of the upstairs apartment we were renting, and later rented a little shop down the street which was near one of Fullerton's main thoroughfares. Later we found a shop on that main street (then Spadra Ave., now Harbor Blvd.) and eventually rented a larger shop in Anaheim.
We added new employees each time we moved, and always seemed to have about the same number of male and female employees. The picture seen above just happened to be taken of me and some of the ladies.
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