We had the good fortune of connecting with Greg Lilly and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Greg, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
Wow, now we’re going way back. I had been working for a couple local sign shops. After leaving Sign-A-Rama, and starting at another small privately owned/run shop, I quickly showed my skills and was given a satellite location to run. It wasn’t long before it clicked, “I could be doing this”. I actually bought my boss’s old plotter and software, started up at home in my study and installed in the garage. It wasn’t long before he let me go, as my own work took over and I was quickly on my way of starting Underground Graphics.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
Career: Vinyl graphics, wraps, stripes, …it’s evolved over the last, …well, almost 20 years. When I started, I was 27 years old, really enjoying life, cars, early marriage. I wasn’t exactly focused or goal oriented, but I was good at what I did. My wife ran her family’s business, so my work was really subsidiary, I actually worked out of a 1200 sq. ft. end cap of their family owned building. While I paid some dues, it was mostly rent free sort of speak. I had no urgency to grow, and it showed. I was very slow process, as I did almost all the work myself, literally, everything. A one man show. In a few years I finally hired, usually friends, which keep the laid back style of work, but still I slowly built a brand name. Underground Graphics was well know for quality and customer service, something that has never changed, nor will ever. I look back on the history now and wonder how the hell I got here, as I spent so many years just enjoying the fruits of my labor, not really putting back in to the business, really just living off it and not looking ahead. There was a handful of years, where it really got out of hand, I was lucky and by the grace of God changed my ways. That was 7 years ago, 2013 to be exact. That building I was working out of was being sold, and my space along with it. I had to learn real quick what “real life business” was like. I was fortunate to work with Display Graphics for a short time, as they opened their doors to me in hopes we could work together and me eventually take over. I learned a lot in that pseudo-partner ship, my wife also joined the business at this time, and I hired my first “real” employee (someone that wasn’t a friend) and took that with me when I finally opened up my own 2500 sq. ft. location about a year later. This is where I re-branded and hit stride. Gone was the young, small minded, easy work mentality. This was the time to look ahead. I focused on what mattered, what would grow the business. Larger jobs, larger projects, more risk taking, new equipment, and yes, it was scary, but also very exciting. About 3 years into this new location, I had 5 employees and had outgrown my space. In 2017 we moved in to a 7000sq. ft. slot and I put everything I had into it. I’ve been in this location now for going on 3 years. There are days, we’re slow and I wonder, what the heck? Then there are days the phone rings off the wall, and the garage is full of vehicle. It seems the stress never ends, but I do believe that comes with running a small business. I try and focus on just keep doing what I know, and that’s doing the best work I can and giving the best customer service. I try and look at every job with the thought, “what would I do if this was mine”. I am totally honest with my customers. One of my hardest challenges, and still today is letting go of control. This has gotten much better, but I still find myself wanting to do it all. Fortunately, my team is fantastic and I know each does their job very well. Additionally, and really most importantly is finding the balance between work and life, …and by life I mean family, friends and personal time. This is truly the hardest part, and always a struggle. Again, i’m blessed to have such understanding family and friends, …many whom also own small businesses. It’s so important to share what’s going on with them, they always give the feedback that gets me back grounded. Lessons along the way? Hiring friends, don’t do it. Keep money in the bank, there will be slow times. Never give up. And again, make time to enjoy life! What sets me apart? I’d like to think my personalization to the customer. I want them to know the process, understand what we do, how we do it and know we will do everything we can to make it the best we can. We’ve built a great reputation over the last 20 years, not many small graphics shops have that kind of tenure. Have we made mistakes, sure, and we learn from them, we do the best we can to right them, and make actions to move forward and be even better. Customer service and a commitment to quality is key.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Well, I recently moved to the suburbs of Houston, Katy in particular, but of course my heart is still in H-Town. I actually still love to take a drive in my Vanderhall, or ride my motorcycle all the way down Memorial into Downtown, into EaDo, check out the new murals, then head south to med center and Museum District. There’s so much beauty, and so much to see that’s constantly changing as well. Rice Village, Heights, Allen Parkway, to River Oaks. As you can tell I love the drives. And then there’s the restaurants! I’m a huge fan of The Rice Box, that’s gotta be the top for a guest. Guadalajara for Mexican, Del Frisco’s or Perry’s for steaks/fine dining, and of course you can’t leave out the BBQ! Goode Co, Rudy’s, and a Fulshear favorite, Dozier’s, Again, for the visiting guest, there’s also all the sites of Downtown, the great sports venues to catch a game, Kemah Boardwalk and Pleasure Pier aren’t too far away and always leave a smile.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I’d be crazy if I didn’t first think of my wife, Michelle. From the very beginning, she supported my decision and while at the time had her own business to run, she was by my side regardless. At the early events helping hock these crazy car decals, to just sticking with me while I went through some challenging years, …and now working with me, together, the business is firing on all cylinders.