East Hampton, New York
By SignCraft Magazine
Posted on Wednesday, October 30th, 2019
2700 sq. ft.
Royal Sovereign laminator
Inventables CNC router
SAI Flexi software subscription
Adobe Creative Cloud
If you drive out Long Island from New York City, one of the last towns before you run out of island is East Hampton. It’s home to Will McLear and Ocean Graphics, his all-around commercial sign shop. Will bought the business six years ago. Here’s what he had to tell SignCraft about his shop and his market:
Small town sign making Ocean Graphics had been around since 1989 when I bought it in 2014. I was in another unrelated business that I didn’t really enjoy when I learned Ocean Graphics was for sale. I always had a passion for design, so the sign business was a good fit.
The previous owners had been doing mostly flat signs, but I wanted to move into dimensional signs and wraps as well. Today we do anything from small house signs to storefronts and wraps. In small towns, you just about have to do a little of everything.
I like to play around with different film materials, too. We cut letters from color change film sometimes, and we may combine matte and reflective film on the same project. There are a lot of interesting films available, and you can do a lot with that.
A mix of skills The sign business usually requires that you do a little bit of everything— wood, metal, paint, vinyl, computers—and I was comfortable with that. I do everything from design to fabrication to CNC to electrical to installations.
That also makes it hard to hire people. In a shop like mine, no one really does just one task. There are five of us here, and you have to be able to move around to do whatever needs done. I have to be able to do everything in case I don’t have someone to do a certain task.
I have one person who does everything from lettering vehicles to fabrication, and another does some design plus runs all the machines— the router, printer, plotters. Another covers the front desk, dealing with customers, taking orders and doing some layout. Another does the bookwork, and I also have a young guy who picks up material, does deliveries and helps out. We have about 1300 sq. ft. of office area and 1200 sq. ft. of production space.
Dealing with sign codes Long Island is made up of many small towns and hamlets, and the sign ordinances are restrictive. We can’t do interior illuminated channel letters, lighted faces or reverse lit letters in most areas. Most everything has to be dark sky compliant, which means it must be down lit, lighting only the area that needs lit and be no brighter than necessary.
But not every customer wants a gooseneck light on their sign, so we try to be creative about the lighting. We have designed a lot of signs with integrated hoods that have LED lighting in them.
Favorites My favorite work is the large freestanding signs. One of our recent projects was a sign with carved faces and gooseneck lighting mounted on 8-in. pilings. I like putting a project like that together, but I enjoy most all the work.
I also try to do more creative mountings for our signs. Most everything in the area seemed to be mounted on a couple of 4x4s, so I try to avoid that look. An interesting mounting can make the sign look bigger and more appealing, which is especially helpful when the sign size is restricted. People notice the difference when you give them something else to see.
I like to change the graphics on my vehicles regularly, too. It’s funny how people will notice that, too. It always brings in new work.
Marketing via social media Social media is our main advertising platform. I’ve also done some print advertising, but most of our focus is online. Most of our customers find us from our work or a web search. We use Google Adwords marketing, too.
That’s the goal for now—to expand our market and make our off-season a little busier. As you go west towards New York City, there are more small towns and a bigger market for us to grow into.