Monson Goes ‘Undercover’ –Cagle

Catherine Monson in her office (left) and in disguise for her appearance on “Undercover Boss.”

Monson is contractually bound not to give away any production secrets; she did admit the taping sessions were unrelenting. “It’s very intense, exciting and fun. Even when you go to the ladies’ room, you’re still miked for sound.”

In order to protect Monson’s identity—after all, many franchise owners/employees have met her through various company functions—she was decked out in all black as “Louise Steely,” a somewhat gothic-looking free spirit. The filming was done under the guise of shooting the pilot for a new reality show, Second Chances, where a downtrodden “Steely” was vying to win money to buy her own franchise.

Monson bounced around the country visiting franchises. She didn’t have any hands-on experience with the signage aspect of the business and found it to be fun and frustrating as she attempted various duties, from applying vehicle decals to rigging an exterior installation.

While no one caught on to Monson’s real identity, there were some close calls. She’d spent extensive time with Scott Koehler, the Phoenix franchise owner, and had visited his franchise twice prior to the “Undercover Boss” taping.

“He didn’t have a clue,” Monson laughs. “It was a combination of the fake tattoos, heavy eyeliner, heroin-chic makeup and more F-bombs than he’s used to me sharing.”

The FASTSIGNS’ honcho reaped a number of takeaways from her experiences that were or are in the process of being implemented as changes or modifications for the company. She was floored that Koehler had to fend for himself when it came to learning the installation aspect, including training, permitting and safety standards. So, now the company is in the process of creating a corporate curriculum. Marketing and e-commerce enhancements have also been developed, in part, from Monson’s interaction with franchise workers.

One unintended consequence of the show was Monson relating some aspects of her personal life, including memories of her abusive, alcoholic mother. She was interviewed for several hours to provide some background, and the relationship with her mother bubbled to the top.

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