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Stuart Lipscomb of Pioneer Outdoor represents the fourth generation in his family in billboard advertising.
Jym Wilson | SBJ
Stuart Lipscomb of Pioneer Outdoor represents the fourth generation in his family in billboard advertising.

Billboard Buy: Fourth-generation sign pro sells to national firm

Posted online

Pioneer Outdoor LLC has divested its assets to Lamar Advertising.

The March 1 transaction included 38 digital bulletin panels and more than 100 static billboards throughout the state.

Drachman M&A Co. represented Springfield-based Pioneer Outdoor in the transaction.

Stuart Lipscomb, president of Pioneer Outdoor, declined to disclose the sale price of the 11-year-old business, though he noted company revenue has been growing at just under 25% annually.

“We would add four to six digital billboard units per year since 2012 and about five new billboard structures per year since 2011,” he said.

At the time of the divestment, Pioneer Outdoor had 340 customers, but Lipscomb said he has worked with 715 customers over the years, 572 of them local.

Pioneer Outdoor started in 2011 with 16 billboards that it bought from Greg Watkins. The company’s growth was through new construction as well as acquisitions, which ranged from single billboards up to 14 structures, Lipscomb said.

The sale is the second between the Lipscomb family and Baton Rouge, Louisiana-based Lamar, which also has a local office. Stuart Lipscomb’s great-grandfather, Lester E. Cox, started a company called Pioneer Group in the 1950s after purchasing Olendorf Outdoor Advertising. He later brought on his son-in-law, Jack Lipscomb, who bought into the company and rose to become a leading member of the Outdoor Advertising Association of America, according to a news release from Drachman M&A Co.

In 1998, Jack and his son Larry sold Pioneer Group’s billboard displays to Lamar in the first transaction between the firms.

Thirteen years later, Larry and his son Stuart re-entered the industry to build Pioneer Outdoor, this time using digital technology as well as conventional static billboards.

Stuart Lipscomb credits his father with teaching him everything he needed to know about the business.

“Working alongside my dad, Larry, for the past 11 years has been the most rewarding part,” he said. “We have built a friendship that is priceless. He has taught me everything he knows about this business and allowed me to make mistakes along the way and learn from them.”

Lipscomb recalled how it felt to transition from a small, local billboard company to operating statewide.

“A memorable acquisition for me was when we were competitively bidding on 14 traditional billboards between Kansas City and Columbia from a small company,” he said. “My dad was sick and unable to go, so he sent me alone, which was the first time I was in this position. We had live negotiations, and it came down to a difference of a few thousand dollars, and we won the bid.”

Lipscomb said that transaction ended up being a vital piece of his company’s growth by adding two digital billboards near Columbia, plus other new structures in the region.

Pioneer’s vice president of sales, Jeff LaRocca, immediately joined the staff of Lamar with the acquisition. LaRocca and Lipscomb were a two-person team in Pioneer Outdoor right up until the company’s sale.

“It was just me and him all these years,” Lipscomb said. “We didn’t have some big company with salespeople. Jeff was an absolute key, an integral piece to this whole thing.”

In addition to the two-person sales team, the small firm employed administrative assistant Cathy Briggs and contract artist Teresa Young.

Lipscomb said he is glad that his customers are in such good hands.

“I have total confidence in him to make sure everybody who worked with us previously will have a fantastic experience going forward,” he said.

LaRocca will have the majority of the former Pioneer Outdoor portfolio at Lamar.

“It should be seamless,” LaRocca said. “The transition has gone smoothly, and I really look forward to the additional footprint that we’re going to have in the Springfield market and in southwest Missouri and beyond.”

LaRocca said he is enjoying the transition to Lamar. The national company has a Springfield office with about two dozen employees.

“It’s nice when it’s a positive situation like this one,” he said. “Lamar is worldwide, so we can offer a tremendous amount of services to our clients.”

Lipscomb said his longtime clients are one of the aspects of his business he’ll particularly miss, especially having made it through the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic together.

“Typically, in the billboard business, especially with high turnover on short-term digital campaigns from a high number of digital billboards, occupancy is around 75%-85%,” he said. “The year before COVID hit, we were around 95% all summer. It was incredibly busy and tremendously exciting.”

But then came the shutdown, and advertisers had to close their doors temporarily.

“We did our very best to allow any advertiser to take a couple months off and pick it up at the end of their agreement,” he said. “I didn’t see any value in forcing closed businesses to continue to pay as we were all suffering. This proved to be extremely valuable, and advertisers remembered that we were willing to sacrifice with them – plus, it was the right thing to do.”

Lipscomb is also proud of the public service advertisements he provided for awareness and fundraising campaigns in the area. Pioneer supported CoxHealth during the pandemic, plus Boys and Girls Club of Springfield, Diaper Bank of the Ozarks, the Rebound Foundation and others.

“Giving back and trying to make your community stronger is an important aspect of business, in my opinion, and that has always been a priority of ours,” he said.

Phil Melugin, president and owner of Phoenix Home Care Inc., said his business and Pioneer Outdoor started at the same time in 2011.

Melugin said Lipscomb came by Phoenix on a cold call.

“He said, ‘We’re buying boards, you need to get the word out – what do you think?’” Melugin recalled.

He said he jumped on the opportunity and began to brand the business using the billboards, and particularly the digital ones, to create an instant presence in Springfield.

“Six months or so after we started the campaign, we would hear from our potential customers, employees, even competitors, and they’d say, ‘Man, we just see you guys everywhere,” Melugin said.

He called billboard advertising an essential catalyst for Phoenix in the early days.

“We experienced so much success we never left the campaign, and I stayed very active with Stuart from that time until today,” he said. “I guess now we’re going to be transferring over to Lamar.”

Now that the sale is complete, Lipscomb said he plans to go into real estate development after spending some time off with his wife, Lauren, and their young daughters, Helen and Ruth.

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