Ruggles Family Maintains Ownership of Thriving Signage Company Despite Generation Gap
John F. Ruggles, Jr. was studying at the University of Kentucky to become an attorney when he left to work at his father’s painting and wallpapering business in Corbin, Kentucky. He became interested in the sign-making business and decided to go to school to learn the neon tube bending trade. As fate would have it, a hailstorm ripped through Kentucky, damaging numerous signs. Recognizing the enormous opportunity in front of him, he left school and started a sign-making business in 1946.
Ruggles Sign has come a long way since its humble beginnings as a one-man shop in a small town. Today, the company operates a 160,000 s.f. facility in Versailles, Kentucky, and manufactures custom signage for companies across the globe.
And it didn’t take a company buyout to realize this success. In fact, Ruggles Sign persevered as a family-owned and operated business, even when John Ruggles’ two children opted out of becoming involved in the business.
According to Tim Cambron—the company’s current president who is married to the founder’s granddaughter, Anna, who is also the company’s chief financial officer—it all comes down to family pride.
“We are a third-generation company but there was a generation skip,” Tim explained. “John Ruggles had two kids: one was Anna’s mother who was a school teacher; and another son who lived in Florida and worked in the medical field. Neither one of them had interest in the business.”
“So John hung around, running the business until he was in his 70s. He had a lot of pride and was a really good guy. He thought someone in the family would eventually come along to take the business over.”
Anna joined the family business in 1985 and brought in Tim shortly thereafter. After spending some time at the company, both expressed an interest in pursuing other opportunities, but John would have nothing of it.
“We tried to tender our resignation but he wouldn’t take it,” said Tim. “He just said, ‘Well, it’s interesting you say that. Why don’t you hang with me a little longer and we’ll find a niché and everything will be okay? Guess what, within six months, our thinking had changed. We did find a niche and everything is alright.”
That niché was expanding to provide professional signage to national retail customers across the country, and the world. Household brands like Nike, Victoria Secret and Under Armour don the company’s impressive list of customers.
After 50 years in the industry, John Ruggles continued to stop by almost daily to check on operations until his death in 2001. He once reflected back on his career in the sign business: “I have enjoyed the sign business; I don’t know if I would have been a good lawyer.”
Tim says being family-owned doesn’t necessarily give them a competitive edge as far as business is concerned, but when it comes to employees, it’s a significant advantage.
“We have the largest and best staff we’ve ever had, and we pride ourselves on truly having a family here. When one of our employees has a problem, we have a problem, so we’ll try to help them. As far as retaining employees and keeping a good workforce is concerned, I think the family aspect is huge.”
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