By SignCraft Magazine
Posted on Tuesday, May 1st, 2018
Shop size: 5000 sq. ft.
Joel and Janette Lunsford
Multicam 5 x 10 CNC router.
In 1991, Joel Lunsford was going to college to be an art teacher when he realized that he “didn’t like the teaching part but did like the art part.” He had been doing some graphic design, and about that time he created a logo for a client who asked if he could turn it into a sign for them.
“As a starving student,” Joel says, “I said yes without having any idea how. After much research, I created my first sign. When I saw my small logo creation turned into the 4-by-10-ft. sign, I was blown away. I discovered that making signs combined my love for art, graphic design, sculpting and construction. Before then I didn’t realize that a career like that even existed. Lunsford Signs was born.”
For a while he made dimensional signs on his own, then went to work for a large electrical sign company for about six years. In that time he married Janette and in 1997, they moved back to Grand County and opened up their sign business. We’ll let him tell you the rest:
Marketing: The population of Hot Sulphur Springs is about 500 or 600, so there’s very little work right here. We work throughout Colorado and focus on marketing to the ski resort towns.
There’s quite a bit of resort-type signage within a two-hour radius of us. Much of it is in Grand County, and we’ve developed loyal relationships with clients who appreciate our type of work.
In years past, we bought Yellow Pages ads and did advertising in online directories, but now it’s all word-of-mouth. We get some work from other sources, but all the creative, wellpaying projects seem to come our way by word-of-mouth.
A team effort: Janette and I have worked together in our business for 21 years. In addition to handling our bookkeeping—which I can’t stand—she is involved with most aspects of our manufacturing. She also supervises our part-time employees.
Landmark shop sign: Our little town is sort of a crossroads, so there’s a lot of traffic. We have wanted to have a cool sign out there for ages, and finally completed it this January. It’s bringing in work from other states because people see it when they’re passing through, then they stop in or look us up online.
I’ve followed Dan Sawatzky for quite a few years. He once wrote an article on how a sign can be a landmark, and that stayed with me. It’s always been a bit of embarrassment not to have a really cool sign, since we are in the business of marketing. We decided it was finally time to make one for ourselves.
Custom metalwork: I really enjoy the metalwork projects that we do. We use it a lot in our sign work, and I also do a fair amount of architectural metalwork. We have a full metal working shop—benders, rollers, welders. We build custom lighting that uses metalwork, along with decorative metalwork railings, brackets, corbels. Designing and fabricating custom projects is very fun and challenging.
Not just a “vendor”: It’s frustrating for me when someone wants me to bid on a project, because they usually just see you as a vendor who provides a product that is readily available somewhere else. I don’t want to be a vendor—I want to work with a client who wants the kind of work we love to produce. We really appreciate our clients and like to do our best work for them. It works best that way.
Photos as a sales tool: Photographing your work is really important. When we show work on our website or show it to clients, we want it to look really good. You don’t want a beautiful dimensional sign to look flat like a digital print in the photo. If we installed it on a cloudy day, I’ll go back on a sunny day to get the photos. I don’t mind making two or three trips back to get the right lighting and the right background.
More custom work: We don’t really want to grow the company. Janette and I enjoy our time off, and we don’t want to end up working all the time. We don’t do much routine sign work—most of our work is higher-end resort type signage. Our digital printing is usually incorporated into larger projects.
A couple years ago I attended one of Dan Sawatzky’s workshops, and that really changed my mindset about what a sign can be. We’re hoping to steer our business even more in the direction of that type of sign work—creative, fun, effective and traffic-stopping.