Nikki Taheri grew up in Tehran during the Iranian Revolution and was raised on tales of her trailblazing grandmother — a six-foot-tall woman who chose to forgo a hijab and dressed as a man in order to pursue a career in trade. Taheri never met her grandmother, but she likes to think she inherited some of her gumption. In 1993, as opportunity and education for women seemed nonexistent in her home country, Taheri fled to the United States, where she earned her bachelor’s degree, discovered a passion for design, and eventually opened a sign-and-awning business in Bayonne, N.J. Nearly two decades later, as business was thriving, Taheri made yet another bold decision and converted her business into a franchise location of Fastsigns International in 2018. Joining a network of 700 locations may seem like an odd choice for a successful (and independent) business owner, but so far, all signs point to success.
Why did you want to open your own business back in 2000?
Being a first-generation immigrant has really pushed me to accomplish as much as I can. That’s how I saw myself when I came to the U.S.: I have to make it happen for myself. I realized if I could incorporate the business genes I inherited from my grandmother with my own pinch of creativity, I could succeed in the sign industry. Back then it was a male-dominated field — fabrication, welding, sewing — and people said, “Are you out of your mind? A woman can’t operate this.” But graphic design was my passion.
After almost 20 years in business, why did you decide to convert your operation into a FastSigns franchise?
My husband and I were exploring ways to expand our business and attended a sign convention, where we met the FastSigns franchise team. They had a lot to offer — name reputation, brand identity, continued training. The beauty is that I now have a support system for every aspect of the job. If we’re puzzled by anything, we just call them, explain the situation, and ask, “What do you suggest?”
Was any part of the transition to a franchise difficult?
Before, I had the luxury of running the business all by myself. I could be selective about projects, and I was a one-woman show. I used to print, design, deal with fabricators. When I became a franchisee, I needed to work with a team because of the additional business that came in, and I had to get out of my shell and collaborate with others. But it’s amazing and rewarding. We’ve hired three young men we work with right now, and it’s awesome. I feel like I’m giving back to the community by creating jobs.
Have your vendor partners and operations changed?
As a small-business owner, doing all the research and starting every product from scratch was hard. For example, we’re working on an entire package of documents — booklets, fliers, signs, and more — for the College of Staten Island. They called us and gave us the list of items, and it was overwhelming for me to think about tackling all these products. But because I’m part of FastSigns now, I have access to special vendors that provide these services and offer discounts to the company.
How did your existing customers react to the change?
They were shocked. They asked me why I was transitioning: “You spent all these years to make a name for yourself, and then you’re just giving it up!” Their reactions made me briefly reconsider. But I feel confident in my decision; being a franchisee has been exactly what I was looking for. We’re experiencing strong growth, an increase of somewhere between 40 and 45 percent in terms of both customers and sales revenue.