By SignCraft Magazine
Posted on Tuesday, October 20th, 2015
Artcraft Sign Co.
14,000 sq. ft.
Paper and pencil!
AXYZ 4000 4×8-ft. CNC router
Gerber and Graphtec plotters
As you scroll down the page at www.artcraftsignco.com, you see scores of photos of beautiful signs—3-D, vehicles, neon, storefronts, illuminated, interior, flat, carved. Before you’re halfway down the page you’re thinking, “Hey, this is quite a busy shop. It must be a fairly large operation….”
You’d be right assuming it’s busy and it’s large. Artcraft Sign Company occupies nearly 14,000 sq. ft. But the staff size would surprise you. Artcraft is essentially a oneman operation.
Jim Jackson bought the 82-year-old business in 2009. He’d grown up around his father’s sign shop, [Jackson Signs in Wakefield, Rhode Island] though he never actually worked there. Even so, he ended up working in many sign shops over the years, in all areas of the industry, from shop hand to franchise vinyl shops to franchise corporate headquarters to management of a shop with an annual gross of 3 million dollars. Along the way, he had his own shop a few times.
“In the early ’80s,” Jim says, “I was getting excited about learning to letter. My dad had always inspired me, and Peter Schnibbe, Kenny Pitts and I spent many hours scribbling business plans on bar napkins, literally drooling over the amazing talent in the latest SignCraft magazine, dreaming of having our own custom shop one day.
“My dad helped me order a bunch of 1 Shot and some supplies, and I started learning and practicing my letters. But then the Gerber Signmaker arrived on the scene, and that altered the trajectory of the industry—and of my lettering skills—dramatically.”
“So I never really became a skilled old school brush guy. I did a lot of computer work, but it didn’t do much for me. There was, though, this market for creative custom signs. That work was unique, dimensional and interesting. I had always had a real appreciation for the creative side of the business and the traditional approach.”
Jim had landed in Raleigh after a few moves and was managing a franchise vinyl sign shop in 2005. It was a block down the street from Artcraft. Jim stopped in to say hello and got to know the owner. They became friends over the years and in 2009, after Jim had moved on and opened his own sign business, she told him she wanted to sell Artcraft and retire.
“I thought it was a great opportunity so I rolled my existing operation into Artcraft, which had slowed down quite a bit over the last few years. I started to rebuild the Artcraft brand, which had a lot of fascinating history behind it. I wanted to make available all of the traditional signage products using a combination of old school tooling and techniques, while incorporating modern equipment like computers, the CNC machine and large-format digital output. I felt that the product line needed to match the long history of the company. Artcraft has slowly turned around and developed a good reputation for high-end specialty signage, but the reputation can be kind of deceptive because customers sometimes think I have this big staff on tap, ready to jump on a project for them tomorrow.”