Newmarket, Ontario, Canada
Posted on Wednesday, February 28th, 2018
Don and his wife, Kim, are approaching 40 years in the sign business. Over the years, their business has grown and changed with the industry and their market. He was first featured in the November/ December 1989 issue of SignCraft.
2900 sq. ft.
Roland True-Vis printer/cutter
I guess when you can look back on this many years in the sign business, you can call yourself a survivor. There has been a lot of change in both the industry and the economy, and we’ve managed to navigate that. We are such a different company than we were 20 years ago. The market has changed. There’s a lot of competition, and it doesn’t take much to be a competitor now. So you really have to be on your A game every time you talk to a prospect. The work moves faster now, too. I try to get concept drawings back to customers within a few days. Customers expect faster turnarounds on everything, and they often want to be more involved in the design.
Making a move:
About 11 years ago, we moved to another shop very close to our old shop. It’s a more visible location, which is good. Our timing, though, wasn’t ideal. We moved about 9 months before we started feeling the effects of the recession. We had spent a lot of money on improvements, and the phone stopped ringing. It was a challenging two years.
We’re a mainstream signs and graphics shop. To market your work twenty years ago, if you had a nice shop vehicle and a clean showroom, you were set. Not anymore. You need a strong website, and you need to stay at the top of the list when someone does a search online. If someone in my area does an Internet search for “truck lettering” or “wraps”, we need to come up one, two or three on the list that comes up. They probably won’t go any further down the list—they’ll call one of the first three. And when I meet with them, I need to have samples and photos ready to show them so that I can make a positive impression.
We do a lot of vehicles, and that has always been a good niche for us. We do a lot of stock cars, and that gets our name in front of a lot of people in the motor sports world. We do more print graphics now than in the past, like business cards, flyers and menus. We sub the printing out to a trade printer. That let us expand into that market, but at the same time, printers have been expanding into the sign market. About 40% of our business is apparel— screen printed and embroidered. We have a big showroom and have plenty of apparel there. Branding is a big deal now, and businesses need to get their logo on everything to build that brand recognition. Apparel is great for that. Often someone comes in for truck lettering then adds an order of sweatshirts or hats. It’s a great add-on sale.
I know people who go to work every day, counting the days until their retirement. That’s not me. I’m always looking for new ways to promote the business and do the work. I may not want to continue to work at this speed, but I want to keep doing what we do. The money is good, but I still really like it when a customer walks out into the shop from the showroom, sees their truck and says, “Man— you nailed it!” That’s a great feeling.