Passing away three years apart from each other after 47 years of marriage, Richard “Dick” Bialczak and his wife, Carol, played an instrumental role in the professional and personal life of Jeff Rowe, owner of The Sign Post.
Despite the ups and downs that come with any family, Rowe has shown he will never forget the lessons his parents-in-law taught him as he carries the memories of them with him always.
Rowe stands as the sole owner of The Sign Post in Las Vegas, but for the first few years of the signage and graphics company, that wasn’t the case. The business launched in 1998, with Rowe sharing the helm with his tough as nails father-in-law and receiving support from his realist mother-in-law, who worried about the profitability of the venture.
The relationship between the two men in particular was quite the adventure as it had become prior to the opening of The Sign Post. This was back when Rowe was becoming accustomed to Dick’s gruff persona yet heart of gold.
“He was a genuine character. Sometimes he rubbed you the wrong way, but you didn’t want to hate him. It was hard to hate him because he was a nice guy,” Rowe said.
The two men began a relationship typical of most fathers and sons who became bound together by marriage rather than blood.
When a teenage Rowe met Dick in the 80s, he sensed the “You’re not good enough for my daughter” vibe. Rowe eventually proved not only that he was worthy of his future wife, Kimberly, but he was equally as tough, especially when it came to working with his father-in-law.
“Back then, Dick was a hard case. With people like that, you tend to learn more [from them]. We had his wake three years ago. People came up to me and said, ‘I don’t know how you made it.’ I had thick skin,” stated Rowe. “It took a while for them to gain acceptance [of me]. Dick was tough. As they aged, they mellowed. It’s nice when that happens.”
Many have no doubt been in Rowe’s shoes — regarded distrustfully by overprotective parents (particularly fathers who have a hard time seeing their little girls get older) yet able to forge a relationship with time. The more Rowe got to know the Bialczak duo, the more he realized how amazing they were.
Although Carol questioned her husband and son-in-law about the merits of continuing The Sign Post in those early days, she was truly a shoulder to cry on, according to Rowe, and often helped with answering the phones and other administrative tasks for the business.
Dick in particular may have proved to be a tough nut to crack, but Rowe fondly remembered being on the receiving end of his kindness more times than he can count.
“He always had your best interests at heart. He’d give you the shirt off his back. He was truly that guy. He would give you his last dollar — he has done that for me. Everything I have done is because of him. He was more of a parent than my own parents. He was always there,” Rowe recalled.
The great thing about working with Dick, from Rowe’s point of view, was learning what it took to run a business from the ground up. Having owned other businesses in the past, Dick taught Rowe everything he knew. Back in 1998, Rowe was still learning the world of graphics and signage while working part-time for contractors in Las Vegas.
“I literally knew nothing about sales and pricing. I was green and thrown in the mix. I followed his lead,” Rowe explained. “I learned from him not to take any [crap] and not to let people take advantage of you.
Every business he started, he had a cavalier attitude. He understood repercussions, but they didn’t scare him. He was like ‘Try it and if you fail, dust yourself off and try again.’ That’s what he did.”
After a few years of running The Sign Post together, Dick spread his wings somewhere else while Rowe flew out of the nest for the first time. Leading the company on his own was a full-time endeavor, but Rowe made sure to continue all the lessons his father-in-law taught him, especially when it came to customer service.
“I learned from Dick how to give personal service. He was a lead man [on the show floor]. He took care of all the services for clients at their booth. There was no calling on the radio to have the city manager or labor coordinator do it — no he did it,” added Rowe. “If you needed electrical, the lead man took care of everything. A lot of customers miss that at tradeshows. They miss that personal relationship with the lead man.”
Dick stepped into the convention and tradeshow industry in 1955. He worked at McCormick Displays as the general manager. He then moved to USA Displays and Priority. He also did a lot of freelance work, building friendships with several Teamsters along the way.
“With the Teamsters, he brought donuts and bagels to the freight door. He didn’t always do this just for favors. It was a simple gesture – ‘Hey I appreciate you’,” added Rowe.
After Dick passed away Aug. 12, 2011, at age 78, his wife followed Feb. 20, 2014, at age 72.
“I miss them both dearly. They did a lot. They were truly the best grandparents, the best parents and the best friends,” Rowe passionately said. “They weren’t selfish. They always did for other people.”
Gone but never forgotten, Dick and Carol live on through Rowe, his wife and their two sons, Matt and Marc. Let’s not forget the rest of the Bialczak children, Kelly and Donald. Most of all, the guiding presence Dick was for Rowe is something he’ll always cherish.
Rowe used what he learned from Dick, as well as knowledge he acquired on his own, to grow the business by 75 percent. This includes moving from a 300 square-foot office to a 2,300 square-foot space, gaining bigger clients and increasing his arsenal of printing equipment.