Profile: Ken Stiffler
By SignCraft Magazine
Posted on Monday, April 25th, 2016
Wooster, Ohio, sits roughly between the larger cities of Akron and Cleveland, about an hour or so from each. It’s in a county that’s home to about 115,000 people—along with Ken Stiffler’s sign shop, Sign Design Wooster. SignCraft asked Ken about his approach to the business and what’s behind its growth on a recent busy afternoon.
When did you open your doors?
Sign Design Wooster
5000 sq. ft.
Seven full-time, three part-time
Mimaki CG-130 plotter
Seal 54 laminator
We opened the shop in 1981. We subscribed to SignCraft about the same time and have been reading it ever since. [Laughing.]
When you opened, you were painting signs.
For the first 12 years we did, then we began making a soft transition into the world of digital. We’ve been upgrading software and hardware ever since! It’s been good, though, and it’s led us to doing a lot more work.
What’s your current mix of work?
Our primary focus these days is vehicles. Last year that made up 62% of our sales. We did almost 400 vehicles in 2015. We’re on track to top that this year, which is great.
It looks like you do quite a few wraps — and that your wrap designs keep the main message out front.
That’s partly from what SignCraft has taught us. I’ve studied that work—done by some of the best in the business—for decades and tried to apply what I’ve learned.
I explain to my customers that I don’t do what I call “Super Bowl wraps.” You know what I mean—the ones with lightning bolts and wild textures and all these effects — but you don’t know what it said after you’ve passed by. They remind me of Super Bowl commercials. They’re cute or funny, but once they’re done you don’t remember the product they were advertising.
I tell customers that if they will let me design it selfishly, the way I think it’s best, I will get their message out there. I will increase their contacts, via phone calls or the web. And if they put out a good product, they will make more money because of this wrap.
Like any sign, a wrap has to be clean and concise. I tell clients, “If you want it muddied up or you want to design it yourself, you might as well take the money and blow it on a weekend. You’ll have more fun and better memories.”
How big is the shop?
We’re right at 5000 sq. ft. and about 3000 feet of that is garage bays and shop. We bought this building nine years ago, right before the economy soured. We went through some very slow times like everyone, but the past two years have been excellent. We’re having another year of unprecedented growth. We’re up 67% over last year.
We’ve actually outgrown it. It has two big bays with 16-ft. doors, and I plan to start adding a third bay shortly. It’s not unusual for us to do six or eight vehicles in a week. It’s not all wraps, of course—some of it is large graphics. But either way it’s hard to handle that volume with just two bays. We need more room.