Today we’d like to introduce you to Tony Suzio.
Hi Tony, so excited to have you with us today. What can you tell us about your story?
I got into sign painting after leaving a job that didn’t stimulate me very much, and was looking for change to get into more hands-on work that fed my creative personality better. I had always been an artistic person and a very hand on one as well; I just struggled to find a way to monetize it efficiently.
After quitting my previous job and going back to bartending to pay bills for a couple years, I started seeing hints on social media about other people in the sign painting trade. It grabbed my attention quick and with quite a bit of magnetism. I had spent a lot of my youth drawing graffiti and letters on my homework and folders, so it only made sense that learning the proper rules and principles for creating letterforms interested me so much.
I started to buy books, watch YouTube videos, follow other painters, and sign up for workshops in 2018, and that really got the ball rolling. By 2019 I had attended a couple 3-day workshops that were a major game changer for me, giving me confidence to go home and start taking on commissions of my own. In addition to that, I was fortunate enough to work a 2-year apprenticeship with a local sign painter who needed the help for his business – Detroit Sign Painters. There I learned more than I can say about how to install commercial-size exterior wall signs mostly and the occasional oddball job. This catapulted me into the next tier of job-ready experience I needed to grow.
From there forward, it was just a slow accumulation of momentum, painting fun little signs for friends and family to now marketing myself to local and not-so-local business owners. Over the last 4 years, it’s been a steady increase in business, a constantly challenging set of things on the horizon, whether it’s learning more facets of the painting industry, learning more about good communication and client-relationship strategy, or the not so fun for the artist brain type, business side of everything. It’s been an incredible journey so far, and I’m barely getting started it feels like.
These current days, things are feeling more and more steady; I finally have a shop space at home, a bit more of a streamlined process, and a lot of people willing to help out when I’m lost. Whether it’s family, friends, other business owners, Facebook support groups (majorly underrated resource if you’ve never used it), or a veteran sign painter from the community.
I’ve found a lot of comradery in this work and community; it seems most people who stick with it are also quite passionate about their work. My experience so far has been nothing shy of the same; working for myself has been a huge perk but also a huge burden. Writing your own schedule is great, but you also inversely never seem to get to clock out. I sometimes envy my friends who quit at 3;30 on Friday and don’t stress about work again until Monday morning, but these extra responsibilities are what comes with the territory. If I weren’t so passionate about it, this aspect of the job would probably drive me insane, but it’s a labor of love, and I hope to continue with this for a very long time.
Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way? Looking back, would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
This has been a lot of things, but smooth is not always one of them. I struggle a lot with forcing myself to be business-oriented, organized, and attentive to all the small details from job to job. Selfishly I always just want to get to the fun part – painting, but that’s a bit of a pipe dream most business owners will let you know. I’ve struggled with the logistics of keeping up with technology like taking payments and sending proposals electronically; using up-to-date softwares and apps has been a learning curve since my Mac book is an archaic artifact these days.
The biggest struggle the whole time and still remains to be is pricing. Without a lot of business experience, it is almost impossible to account for all the challenges a job will throw at you and what it costs to overcome them. Underbidding a job is an all too easy mistake for beginners, and finding the sweet spot of what people are willing to pay and what keeps your business afloat is no walk in the park either. Other than that, most struggles are just frustrating, but necessary lessons learned the hard way, which brings up another very real struggle, your internal monologue. Try to be forgiving to yourself; the lessons learned will be beneficial in the long run, but it’s easy to beat yourself up when you make them feeling stupid or naive, it’s part of growing, and no one is exempt.
Appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?
I do mostly commercial and creative-oriented sign work. I install business logos and information on storefronts, windows, work trucks, vans, walls, and more. My job is to help attract the consumers’ eye with good taste and send a message clearly and effectively all at the same time. I’m known for a handful of local projects among my friends in the Livonia area, but mostly I’d say the trash cans I painted like ice cream cones at the staple ice cream spot, the Han-D-Dip Dairy Barn. I spent a while working there when I was young, and my old boss proposed the idea; they were a hit to say the least; who doesn’t love ice cream?
I’m most proud of probably my recent client and set of work over at Smith & Co in Detroit. It’s been a small series of large installs on their storefront and their neighbors at Nain Rouge Brewery that have all challenged me in different ways; I’m learning a lot and leaving a very noticeable mark on that side of the block.
What sets me apart from others, I suppose, maybe my background coming into this makes me unique in that my personality is already drawn to old school stuff, old motorcycles and cars, vintage color palettes and letterforms, things that remind you of the era when this trade was booming. I’ve been told by a few people they like how my stuff looks like it has a vintage taste to it, and I’m sure it does, but really if you’re following the instructions from all those old books and old painters, that’s how it’s gonna end up lookin anyways!
Before we go, is there anything else you can share with us?
If you’re trying to find a direction to push yourself to try to do something on your own, try to play off if what strengths and talents you may have naturally accumulated already. It’s likely you’re good at these things because you like them, and this increases the odds you’ll end up liking what you do, and that is quite important since I can perhaps speak for fellow entrepreneurs when I say that retirement is not a guaranteed light at the end of this tunnel. So, if you’re gonna work this hard, it may as well be something you enjoy.