Graphicus Signs & Designs
7000 sq. ft.
4-by-8 -ft. Vytek CNC router
64-in. Roland RE640 printer
54-in. Roland TrueVIS VG2 8-color printer/cutter
64-in. Roland CAMM-1 Pro cutter
60-in. Graphtek FC5100 cutter
4.5-by-9.8-ft. Rollover Flatbed Applicator
60-in. Seal Laminator
Gerber Edge 2 printer
Gerber 15-in. Envision cutter
Tajima Embroidery machine
Screen printing equipment for apparel and hard substrates
Sandblasting and welding equipment
Lots of other tools!
Early in our 30-year history, we decided to be a one-stop shop with a diverse list of products and services that we could provide in-house, including silk screen graphics and embroidery. We live in a rural community and it helps to do multiple products.
While dimensional signs are our favorite, we do flat signs, monument signs, sandblasted cedar signs, digital printing and vehicles. We screen print flat signs and 3D objects (like electrical enclosures) as well as apparel. We offer embroidered apparel, business cards and stationery, brochures, postcards, nametags and promotional products of all kinds. We have jokingly told customers, “If we don’t do it, you don’t need it!”
We have the equipment to make most of what we offer. It lets us maintain quality and increase the profit margin. We do the design, produce the sign, make the hardware and brackets, then do the installation. It lets us keep the labor costs and markup for ourselves. When it comes to finances, “It’s not how much you make, but how much you keep that counts.”
Several years ago we doubled the size of our shop so that we could handle larger projects as well as pull large trucks and trailers inside. That’s a true blessing in Michigan after doing that work outside for 10 years! We have a 14-ft. door and a mezzanine for more workspace.
Continuing to learn
We’re always looking for ways to improve our products and skills, and add new techniques. (SignCraft magazine helps!) Continual learning is a huge task. I’ve always told our staff, “It’s like eating an elephant. You can’t do it all at once, so just focus on one bite at a time!”
Using effective sign design principles
We often invest more time in design than we can charge for, because this is what sets you apart from other sign companies. Anyone can learn to stick vinyl to a board, but it’s the design that sells the sign. This is called “differential advantage” and is necessary for survival in the sign business—and any business. We have taught classes on marketing, and this is one of the core principles.
Using slow times for marketing
Winters in Michigan can be slow. We made sample signs for our showroom and our portfolio so that customers could see the difference an attractive sign can make. It has helped us sell the type of signs we enjoy making and wanted to offer. Remember, you are what you practice. If you spend all your time doing generic signs, that’s all you’ll get good at.
Our “whatever it takes” motto
In a custom sign shop, you must persevere through long hours, difficult times and hard work if it’s your passion. It is demanding and consuming— it’s not just a day job! Many times we have sketched designs at the breakfast table and pulled some long nights to complete projects and meet deadlines on time.
We teach our customers how to compare “apples to apples” when buying signs and graphics. We stress the fact that quality materials and production gives them much more value than a low-cost option. “Value is not what you pay for something; it’s what you get for what you pay,” we say. We also always provide a little more than the customer expected. Like the baker’s dozen, we sometimes give that extra shirt for free.
Inventing jigs, gadgets and tools
These items help us do our job more efficiently and let us handle unique jobs. For example, we built our own screen-printing machine so that we could print on 3D objects like electrical boxes. We fabricated our 4-by-8-ft. exposing table to expose screens to UV light, using a vacuum cleaner and roofing rubber for the vacuum function.
Working and pulling together
We like to divide and conquer to be able to accomplish more. Although we enjoy doing many tasks together—like gold leafing, laminating, printing shirts, vehicle lettering—we split other responsibilities between the two of us so it lessens each of our workloads. Sandy does office and customer service, computer work in the art room, wide-format printing, vinyl cutting and embroidery. Sergio does designing, routing, hand carving, construction, painting, welding, screen printing and production of all of our products (and adds a special “artistic touch” to them all). We always wanted to work together, so it works well for us!
“Do the right thing” policy
When baffled or confronted with difficult issues, we have always had a policy to “just show up and do the right thing!” Since taking time to make it right the first time was important, we didn’t have many re-dos! But when something went wrong, we made it right. A sign in our shop production area has been a reminder to us and our employees: “If you don’t take time to do it right the first time, how will you ever find time to do it over?”
Look for golden nuggets
In every article in SignCraft, we have looked for a “golden nugget”—some idea or piece of information that would make our work easier, more effective and/or more profitable. We have found plenty of them. We hope you find a golden nugget here that will help you be more successful on your sign making journey! We would like to thank SignCraft magazine and all those who share their ideas in it, making it the best inspirational and educational resource for our entire sign making history. We made signs for over 10 years before starting our business 30 years ago. SignCraft turns 40 this year. (Sergio and Sandy have been married for 40 years this year as well!) We still have those early issues that were published in black and white with the colors of the signs described under the photos! We still look through our collection of past issues for fresh ideas and information, and look forward to receiving each new issue.
For the future
We’re going to keep going until we just say “No more….” We’re more selective now, taking jobs that we want to do and filtering out some of the more time-consuming, less profitable and physically challenging work. Over the past several years, we have created “fun zones” in our shop, such as a stained glass area, a clay sculpting area with a wheel and kiln, and a painting/drawing area with easels and art supplies. We have the studio/ playground we have always wanted right within our workspace.
We have collected materials and tools over the years to be able to enjoy our space even more as we get older, and now we are scheduling in the time to do it as well. For the past year, we have been closed to the public every morning, which reduces interruptions and works well for us. We hope to enjoy this arrangement as long as possible. For years, others have told us to “get a life.” Our response has been “This is our life!” and we are very content with it.