"I've been driving tractors since I was 8 years old," said Mark Nolan, who grew up on a farm and still farms 100 acres in Boyle County. "Some people like NASCAR and some people like boats. I just like farm equipment."
The idea of selling farm equipment was also a good fit for Tom Ross, a longtime local veterinarian looking to physically slow down a bit.
Her father broke his back a couple of years ago when he was thrown from a mule, Heather Nolan said, and selling farm equipment is a lot less strenuous than doctoring cattle. He enjoys spending time at the equipment business, she said.
Relying on both his farming and his business backgrounds, Nolan researched the farm equipment industry before settling on the South Korean-made Kioti and Branson tractors. He said nearly all small tractors are now manufactured overseas.
"I was looking for a high-quality line of equipment," he said. "We've put together some manufacturers here that have the best-engineered tractors in the world."
To assist with the farm-equipment business, the owners hired an experienced service manager, Mike Hale, who services and repairs and all lines of equipment, not just the ones sold at the dealership, the Nolans said.
The Nolans purchased the sign business 15 years ago. Working together, they've built USA Signs into a firm that builds, installs and maintains signs throughout Kentucky and even in neighboring states. The firm has done sign jobs costing as little as $5 or as much as $180,000.
They bought the 1-year-old Harrodsburg business at the suggestion of a local Realtor who knew the owner was looking to sell it.
"He knew advertising was up my alley and knew Mark was mechanical," said Heather, who has a degree in advertising. "He thought we would be a good match and we were."
Like a lot of new business owners, the Nolans started out slowly. "That first winter, we started building bluebird houses just to have something to do," he said.
Eventually, they became experts in the electric sign business and built a statewide clientele. In fact, the size of the signs they were building was one of the things that prompted their move to a larger building in Danville.
"We were doing a sign for Target in Louisville that we couldn't even get in that building," Heather said.
In addition to an area for sales and design, the new USA Signs building includes a large area for manufacturing and painting signs, and they're pleased with the location on the Danville bypass, which is more visible to passers-by than their location in old Southern States building in Harrodsburg.
"It took 15 years to afford to do it, but we're glad we did it," she said.
Both of the Nolans attribute their success in business to their employees, which include manager Lynn Hardin, who was working for the business when they bought it.
"We have some of the best people," Mark said. "These guys live and breathe signs. They enjoy what they're doing and we enjoy working with them."
"What we've learned after 15 years in business is that the people in the business make the business," Heather added. "That's why we picked the best mechanic we could find for Homeland. Mike Hale has 10 years of experience working on all different makes of equipment."
From the beginning, USA Signs has been a family business that the Nolans worked together to build. They say they talk business day and night and their children already have become knowledgeable about the business world just from listening in.
"It has been great working with each other," Heather said, "and now we're working with our parents, too."
How other businesses fared
Here's a look at how several other new-to-Danville businesses fared during their first year in town:
Hometown Tire opened in Danville in November 2002.
Dennis McWilliams, co-owner with Lynn Jones, Jon McWilliams and Rick Staton, said the business' first year surpassed the owners' goals. He said the owners had an advantage because they had been part-owners of another local tire business for several years before starting their own company.