AFTER SERVING IN the military for years, finding a brand-new career in a major city like Houston might seem like a challenge. But Woodlands business owner Daniel Nichols says that vets make strong leaders in the business world using skills they don’t even realize they have.
Nichols should know. He joined the U.S. Navy at 18 years old and, at the time, had no plan for his career — except to maybe join a police force. His thinking was that the military might be a steppingstone to get there. “I had never been to San Diego, so when I was assigned active duty on a ship, I jumped on board,” says Nichols.
After leaving the Navy, Nichols held jobs at several companies including GE, and was introduced to many locals who owned small businesses. He got motivated after he met a friend and eventual mentor who had purchased a local branch of nationwide FastSigns. One thing led to another, and Nichols took the plunge on his own FastSigns shop in The Woodlands 14 years ago.
However, the timing was challenging. “My new business debuted during the 2008 recession, so things could not have been worse,” says Nichols. But he drew on his coping skills from the Navy and persevered. “I lived on a ship for two years. You become accustomed to long hours on watch duty in the middle of the night and living in a uniform.” Nichols was able to push through the long days of running a small business with only a few employees. Over the years, Nichols has created vibrant signage for new and older businesses including Exxon, The Woodlands Township, Waste Connection and Huntsman, as well as restaurants Mexican Mom, Conroe Lake House and more.
Luckily, the initial Covid-19 pandemic did not hurt his business as much as it did the hospitality industry. Nichols and his employees had myriad inquiries for creating signs as businesses were adjusting and pivoting during the shut-down. In fact, military-owned businesses did a great job surviving the pandemic compared to many. According to a survey on military-affiliated entrepreneurs, 87 percent of respondents were able to successfully adapt their business during the pandemic, and 56 percent were even able to add additional opportunities for revenue.
His advice to veterans ready to explore a Houston-area business of their own? “Any major franchise … is a great place to start if you don’t want a 9-to-5 job working for someone else.”