Follow-up: Brian Schofield
Bridgewater, New Jersey
Posted on Wednesday, March 1st, 2017
Lines & Letters Designs
2250 sq. ft.
First featured in SignCraft:
Mutoh digital printer
“My favorites,” says Brian, “are imagination, hands, a #8 Mack brush and an Iwata Eclipse airbrush.”
If you dig back to the July/August 1990 issue of SignCraft, you’ll find Brian Schofield on the cover, adding the details to truck door lettering with an airbrush. The 27 years since have seen changes in technology and the economy, but Brian is still turning out custom signs from the same location with the help of Karin Levin.
“We have a very simple operation,” Brian says. “It’s just the two of us, still in the same shop. The production techniques have changed, but we still produce attractive, effective signs. We’re not the cheapest show in town, so people who come to us expect a little more. We seem to make it work.”
Their work is about a 50-50 split between signs and vehicles. While some of it is printed, there’s still a fair amount of painted work. Most of the signs are carved and 3D signs.
“We outsource the carved sign production. They do the carving and shoot the base color on, then send it back to us. Karin does the gold leaf work, and I build the posts. I have an installer who helps with installations. Outsourcing lets us do something else while the sign is being produced. We don’t have to have the equipment and keep it busy, either.”
One of the changes in the business that Brian notices is that customers want to be more involved in the design work.
“We’re seeing more customers who feel they can do their own design work thanks to a design program on their computer. That can be frustrating because you have to do the education over each time. I gently try to remind them why they came to me, which is usually because they have seen my work. I explain that if they’re willing to let go of the ball, I’ll take care of the rest. Usually it works out okay , but it does add extra steps to the sales process.”
Brian often handles the initial contact with the customer. As he is getting an idea of what they want, he’ll flip through his portfolio or look at the gallery on his website with them. Once he sees what appeals to them, he has a direction for the design.
“More and more,” he says, “people want to do all this online. But unless it’s just a routine sign, I believe a face-to-face meeting is important. It speeds the process and minimizes misunderstandings. I explain that I need a half hour meeting so that I can show them the products and determine what they want and need.
“If they’re on board at the end of the meeting, they pay upfront for the design work. I prefer getting paid throughout the process— rather than waiting till the end and hoping to get paid in a timely fashion.
“Then I get started on the design, and do two or three layouts—no more than three. I don’t usually do finished art on these because they are primarily for sales purposes. I don’t want to invest a lot of time when we know they’re going to only choose one of them. Then I’ll meet again to show them the designs. Sometimes they decide on one, other times they want some revisions. We limit it to two or three revisions, though, because that can get out of hand with some customers.”
Once the design is settled on, Brian gets a 50% deposit on the sign. At this point, Karin will take over and do the final production drawings. Brian may get involved again with the final cleanup, too. Then Karin does the printing and cutting. If there’s painting and pictorial work that needs done, Brian does that along with any fabrication.
“Karin’s very proficient on the computer,” Brian says. “She’s excellent at the gold leaf and finish work. She also does a lot of the customer relations work so that I can focus on design and fabrication.
“After working together for so many years you get really familiar with each other. That makes the work go through the shop very smoothly—most of the time! We’re very good friends—as close as family. We work very well together and drive each other crazy and have good laughs. It’s a terrific way to work.
“Like anything, making signs sometimes feels like you’re just doing your job. But other times there’s a project that brings out the passion for the work. It brings a lot of satisfaction. An attractive sign that does its job really does a lot for a business. It’s good to be able to deliver that.”