Posted on Thursday, February 28th, 2019
Erik Dickson’s roots in the sign industry go back to SignCraft’s early days. Trained as a signpainter, he had added computers and a vinyl cutter—with 16 fonts!—when he and Cheryl, his wife, were first featured in the May/June 1989 issue. Now celebrating 35 years of Erik Designs, Erik continues to turn out his mix of vehicle lettering and signs in his hometown.
A world of change:
2500 sq. ft.
Erik and Cheryl Dickson
Gerber 15- and 30-in. plotters
Gerber Omega software
The first issue of SignCraft that I got had Emmett Morelli, the Las Vegas showcard writer, on the cover. That was about 1980. How the world has changed since then! I went on to Butera School of Art and learned how to hand letter. Those are my roots, but I had to learn and adapt as computers became more involved with the industry.
Today, my enthusiasm for the work is as high as it’s ever been. I think we’re turning out the best work ever. The medium is different, but we’re still creative. I’m glad I got to see the business before computers, but we have to remember that there was also a sign business before we got started. The folks before us had to mix their own paint and got to hand letter showcards.
We’re still dealing with our customers’ needs within their budget, but still keeping design as the primary factor. For me design and quality are the two essential parts of this business. Those are the things you can use to set your company apart.
I’ve also discovered that while technology has pushed our industry in one direction, there’s a new interest in the world of hand lettering and sign painting—especially among young people. They’re fascinated by the old-school techniques and the look of hand-lettered signs.
A lot of my color printing is of a smaller physical size, so the Gerber Edge works great for that. I don’t wrap semi trailers or big box trucks. In western Maine there’s just not much of that work to be done. But there are a lot of logging trucks and tow trucks that people want nice graphics on. I also do a lot of work for an ambulance dealer. I outsource the larger digital printing to Signs365. The quality and turnaround time is great. They stock a lot of different media, too, so I can offer just about everything. They’re really easy to work with, and you know you’re giving your customer a quality product.
Design makes the difference:
For me, it all starts and ends with design. That’s what you’re really selling to your customer: Your ability to solve their visual problem with an effective design. I won’t shortchange that. There are times when I could be more productive if I spent less time on design, but that’s what people see, so it’s the wrong place to cut corners.
This approach has worked really well for me. I seldom have a customer who is not pleased, and I’m always at least satisfied that what goes out the door is effective.
I’m doing about the same mix of work as I’ve always done. Most of the work I do is on wheels. I would say 85% of it is vehicle graphics. The rest are mostly flat signs. I seldom pick up a roller to paint a background. It’s either going to have a vinyl background or I will take the panel to a body shop and have it sprayed. I try to work clean. I also do some architectural signs which I outsource to Howard Industries.
I think I get to be a little more creative than I used to, too. For a while there, all you could do was cut and layer vinyl, but now with digital printing you can do a lot more with your designs.
I don’t do wraps, but that term has changed over the past few years anyway. For some customers it has morphed into a description for about anything you can do on a vehicle. So when a caller asks if I do wraps, I start by asking if they want me to change the color of the vehicle as part of the graphics, or are they really asking if I do vehicle lettering? Do they really want or need an actual wrap?
Still having fun:
We built the shop 25 years ago and it has worked out great. I could always use more space, but it serves us well.
Cheryl does the scheduling and bookwork, which is a big help. That only takes part of the day, but she is also the administrator for the regional Chamber of Commerce, which serves ten surrounding small towns. She does that from our office, so it works well.
The creative spark is still there. I don’t feel old or bored with the work. I enjoy what I do, and I’m glad for that. I have no desire to hang it up so long as I feel I have something to contribute. I may slow down a little, but I plan to stay at it.