Profile: Dennis Stanworth
By SignCraft Magazine
Posted on Wednesday, October 31st, 2018
Shop size: 600 sq. ft.
Roland GR540 plotter
While many sign business owners got their start doing commercial signs, Dennis Stanworth found his way into his sign business by doing design and production drawings for large electrical sign companies. After 20 years of doing designs and drawings for electrical signs, he opened Stanworth Signs, focusing on a market between large electrical signs and commercial work—storefront signs, dimensional letters, ADA signs, monument signs and channel letters.
He’s using his knowledge of sign fabrication and the help of a variety of wholesalers to serve his customers in the San Francisco Bay area. Just two years into the new shop, here’s what Dennis has to say about making it work.
How it happened:
I got my start in the sign industry back in 1994 working the retail counter at Denco Sales, a local sign supply house. When some of the customers would show me their sign work, I was amazed how they could make simple letters pop off a sign panel. It looked like exciting work.
So I bought CorelDRAW 3 and learned to use it at home. I landed a job as an entrylevel designer with Arrow Sign Company. Over the next decade I worked my way up to lead designer at the largest electrical sign companies in the Bay area. It’s kind of cool, driving around the San Francisco Bay area, to see all the work I’ve had my hand in.
A couple years ago, I found myself out of work. I decided to go into the sign business alone. I passed the state exam and am a licensed C45 electrical sign contractor. I think one of my strongest assets is knowing how large electrical signs are fabricated. Years of producing design and shop drawings for a team of salespeople gave me a great understanding of how signs are fabricated and installed.
The market and the work:
I’m not a typical sign shop. I’m not designing a lot of logos or carving signs or doing wraps all day. I work in an area with many high-end retail establishments, restaurants and entertainment venues. These are usually corporate customers who already have a logo or a good idea of what they want. Usually, my job is more about taking an existing logo and matching the fabrication method with the building architecture and city permit requirements.
To me, design is more about simple clean lines, negative space—as described in Mike Steven’s book, Mastering Layout
—and finding a way to make things pop without over-designing. I love to create something beautiful that shows the client’s logo well. There’s something to be said for clean and simple. There’s a lot of visual competition out there, and a lot of overdone designs.
Service gives a small shop an edge:
One of the reasons this is working for me is that when I get a call from a prospective client, I often drop what I’m doing and go see them the same day. I can produce a scaled drawing and building elevation within 24 hours for them to review and approve. Meanwhile, if they called a larger shop, they’re probably still waiting for the salesman to stop by.