By SignCraft Magazine
Posted on Friday, February 28th, 2020
3600 sq. ft.
Roland TRUVis VG2-640 printer/cutter
Roland VersaCAMM SP-540i printer/cutter
Gerber Edge printer
On Facebook as Jeff’s Graphics
I officially semi-retired as of January 1 of this year. I sold my business to my son Brady, who has worked with me for quite a while. We’ve been moving in this direction for a couple years. I still go into the shop on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, basically to do the hand-painted work—striping, truck lettering and the occasional racecar project.
I just turned 60 so it’s a good time for me to slow down a little. I’m drag racing and doing my hot rods, so I have plenty to do.
Brady is running the show and doing a great job at it. He has three employees plus me. My son Jeff is the senior designer with Dan Antonelli [www.kickcharge.com], so both of our sons are involved in sign work and design.
Selling a sign business
Selling a sign shop isn’t quite the same as selling a lot of other businesses. Signs are custom products, and your customers are buying your skills at designing and making effective signs. I was fortunate to have an experienced sign person to buy the business.
And when you sell a sign business, it’s unlikely that someone will write you a check for the whole amount. You usually have to provide the financing, so it’s even more important that the buyer be capable of running the shop successfully. You’re not going to be able to just walk away.
Over the past few years I have been gearing the business towards letting my staff do more of the work. I would often just do a pencil sketch rough of the layout I thought would work, then they would do the finished design from that. That made the transition easier.
The focus on trucks
Vehicles have always been the largest part of our volume, and that’s because trucks are great for repeat business. Not so with signs. Think about it: You do a truck for a new business and a 4×8 for the front of his building. Then he upgrades to a better truck in a couple years and has you letter that. Then he gets a new truck a few years later and you do that for him. Things keep going well for him, so he buys two new trucks the following year and you letter them. In ten years you may have done five, eight or ten trucks for him. But he still has that $600 4×8 on the front of his building!
And I can’t think of too many 4×8 signs that I’ve taken down, removed the lettering and re-lettered them. [Laughing] But many times I have lettered the same truck four or five times over its lifespan: The name changes, then a new owner, then repainted and re-lettered, then another new owner gets it, and we letter it again. Finally it ends up on a farm, and we do the lettering for that!
I’ve always liked that trucks roll in and roll out, too. There are no permits to deal with, and you often have more freedom with trucks design-wise. I will say that we don’t get as much freedom as we used to, though. The Internet has changed that. People often come in with a design that their daughter did on the computer, and others want you to do the design on the computer so they can see it and approve it.
Then, of course, they would want to make changes. I explain that I would have to charge them for all that time and that I’d rather get a general idea of what they want and just do it for them without that additional expense. If I know what appeals to them, I can usually do something that makes them happy.
Racecar-inspired truck lettering
Everyone in the sign business has their story about getting started. For me, I remember seeing all the cool work in SignCraft, then coming across the story on Bert Quimby where he talked about how many trucks he did each year. I realized that trucks were right for me.
I’m part of a group of guys who grew up hanging around drag strips. I fell in love with funny car graphics, gold leaf lettering and airbrushed grilles. When that generation of sign painters started letting their racecar lettering influence their truck lettering, it changed truck lettering forever.
That’s the work that I love doing and love seeing. It’s fun to have been a part of that.