By Angela M. Jacquez, Marketing and Recruiting Specialist
At ADKF, we pride ourselves on the relationships we develop with our clients. We grow with them and are proud of our clients, their accomplishments, and being their trusted advisors. Because of how important our clients are to us, we want to share their stories.
Comet Signs became an ADKF tax and audit client in 2013 when Mikal Harn joined Comet Signs as President. It was his job to reevaluate all operations of the company. They were getting ready to expand from a San Antonio based company to achieve their goal of becoming a statewide entity. At that time, they decided to make a change to a new accounting firm. The owner, Arthur S. “Pete” Sitterle III knew Howard Klein, a founding partner of ADKF, and a new business relationship was born. It has been a great experience for both parties ever since. In addition to the tax and audit services, Comet Signs and ADKF have worked to complete a profit improvement study, a CFO search, helped with due diligence on purchases of multiple companies, a R&D study, and most recently representing them in a sales tax audit.
In 1958, Arthur S. Sitterle, Jr. founded Comet Neon Advertising Co. in San Antonio, Texas with a vision of building a sign company that could serve the entire state of Texas. The company quickly established a strong reputation for quality products, on time performance and personal service with national and regional accounts including Church’s Fried Chicken, Stop ‘N Go and Jim Dandy Chicken. Leadership passed to son, Arthur S. “Pete” Sitterle III in the 90’s who continued to build the organization by focusing on technology coupled with unequaled customer service. Along the way Comet Signs has been recognized as a trusted strategic supplier for companies including H-E-B Grocery Company, Valero, Whataburger, and many South Texas businesses. The company has grown exponentially since its inception, with mergers and acquisitions of sign companies in Houston, Dallas, Tyler, and Austin. In March 2019, Comet moved into an 180,000 square foot San Antonio headquarters and manufacturing facility. The company is poised for another 60 years of growth and superior customer service. Comet Signs has three manufacturing plants with 250,000 square feet of manufacturing capacity to provide program and custom sign fabrication service to customers of all sizes.
Comet Signs and ADKF have formed a strong relationship over the past seven years. ADKF has helped the company with tax and audit work. According to CFO, Craig Howard, they continue to rely on ADKF to navigate through things like applying for PPP Loan Forgiveness and sales tax audit representation. They remain in close contact with ADKF, whether asking questions of Senior Tax Manager Dylan Boss, CPA and Tax Manager Austin Lee, CPA, who hosted one of our PPP Loan Forgiveness Webinars, or having conversations with Audit Manager, Steven Guerra, CPA, about different types of accounting transactions. Craig stated,
“I use Joe Hernandez (Audit Partner) as my phone a friend. If a transaction happens that I want to talk about ahead of time, he’ll get back with me very quickly and we’ll have a conversation about it. You guys have done a really great job from a relationship standpoint with us. You’ve touched a lot of pieces of our business.”
Mikal furthers Craig’s thoughts,
“It’s not just a transaction. It’s a trusted advisor format. You can choose anybody to get an audit. I’ve been here since we started using you guys. At first, if you’ve never had audited financials before, it’s hard. There are processes you must have in place as a company and you guys have grown with us and advised and that has been valuable to us.”
Having been in the signage business since 1958, Comet Signs has seen many technological advancements. But even with those progressions, Mikal shares that the business has always been about people. “It’s a labor-intensive industry. But what has truly changed over the years is the amount of machinery that is available to help us. Here at the new location, we have pictures of how we used to show customers our original drawings. We had people who hand drew everything. There’s one in my office of Joske’s, back in the day. Today, all that is done via Corel. Digital printing is a huge change. We have large format digital printers, that will print sign faces with three layers of ink, so the same color that you see at night coming through the sign when it’s backlit is the color that you see printed on the front during the day. In the not too distant past, people were hand painting signs. The other big change I’d say is lighting, especially from an energy savings standpoint. Neon was the most common type of lighting for years and years. Every piece of neon starts as a straight piece of glass and must be hand blown and hand bent and then filled with the gas that’s going to produce that type of light. LED’s now use 90% less energy than neon. LED modules and LED’s on sticks that go inside of signs really help this be a much greener endeavor to help businesses attract customers.”
The Coronavirus pandemic has made 2020 a year like no other and has changed how everyone does business. Comet Signs is no different. When asked how the pandemic has changed the way they do business, Mikal shared, “We have been talking about it a lot internally, and I would call it “Business Unusual.” Once we got past the shock of it, we had to ask ourselves, what is the impact on the business and as a leadership team, how do we operate? We first had to find out whether we were allowed to operate. We quickly determined we were …essential because of the work we do for our clients like H-E-B and Valero. …We added a lot of customers that have alternate signage needs. So, we launched a couple of new product lines. One line is safety signage and the other is separation barriers. …Our normal process is tedious and takes six to twelve weeks. People didn’t have six to twelve weeks to wait on this. Now, we are turning custom orders around in five days. …Part of our way of reacting to this, was to make sure we provide other products our customers need. That involved prototyping new product development, and really, we just follow our customer’s leads. They would ask, we would show them what we can do. We haven’t lost sight of our core business. We’ve been able to pivot and provide other items our customers needed. We think this will help us in the future, because it keeps us in front of our customers.” He continued, “We’ve really taken this opportunity to look at what’s truly important on a day-to-day basis. We are asking ourselves, where should we be focusing? … I have challenged our whole team to ask themselves, how do we come out of this stronger, more efficient, and leaner. We are developing an updated marketing plan, rebranding, social media, website will launch in the future. We have the opportunity to come out of this with better processes based on the data Craig has helped us produce. We’re going to be stronger on the other side of this.”
Craig added, “…when the pandemic hit, it required a faster turnaround on knowledge of what is happening in the business. We built a financial model, modeling out our fixed and variable costs, which now we can update profitability for the full year on a weekly basis. That way, we can see, are things trending down or up? We look at weekly changes in revenue estimations and things like that. We also focus on the backlog of contracted work. …Not only looking at financials closer, but obviously cashflow in a time like this, is very important. When this initially happened, the safety of our employees was paramount. Since we were considered essential, we were going to continue manufacturing. We placed signage with respect to the six-foot rule, and safety barriers throughout the building. When we’re out in the shop, we wear face masks. We brought a company in to do a very thorough cleaning at all our locations. We’ve done quite a bit to make sure our employees are safe.
Through the challenges, they have found strength in operating as a team, focusing on safety, and supplying great products and services to their customers. What does the future hold for Comet Signs? Growth. “One of our guiding principles is Grow the Business,” states Mikal. “We firmly believe that a company is expanding or shrinking, and we built this company to grow. We recently expanded with a small group in San Angelo, Texas, so we’re handling things further to the West. In every way possible, we are always looking at what the next opportunity is whether customer, geography, you name it.” Craig furthers Mikal’s thoughts,
“We started as a local company and grew regionally and are now competing for customers on a national scale and now internationally in Mexico. …we can handle things on an international scale, and we do.”
Love of the sign business is apparent with Craig and Mikal. Craig sums it up, “I enjoy coming to work every day. I enjoy the people I work with. It’s a different challenge every day. We’re not just making widgets. We are helping people with their brand. One of our themes is Bringing Your Brand to Life, which we interpret as we are bringing life to your brand and we’re also bringing it to the lives of your customers. To me, that’s fun. We get to help people improve and increase their business, and that’s exciting to us. How well we design, make, and install your sign is integral to other people’s business success. The reason for signage is because it works. It’s one of the most cost-effective ways to advertise your business and let people know that you’re around and available.”
ADKF, is the largest, locally-owned public accounting firm in San Antonio, Texas, with branch offices in Boerne and New Braunfels. We have been serving our community for 29 years. We are a full-service CPA firm that employs a broad range of tax, audit, bookkeeping, and consulting services and superior customer service to help our clients, like Comet Signs, meet their goals and objectives. Our partners are committed to assisting our clients in meeting their goals and objectives through superior client service.