Posted on Monday, November 2nd, 2020
When he turned 20 in 2002, Doyle Rogers’s birthday gift was his father’s part-time sign business. He knew little about making signs or being in business. He got the computer, software, plotter and a small group of customers—some of which he still serves today. Over the past 18 years he learned to make signs and to grow a sign business. Today his business, Art-FX, is busy and expanding.
8000 sq. ft.
3 full-time, 2 part-time
HP latex 365 digital printer
Royal Sovereign laminator
Roland 64-in. cutter
ShopSabre PRO 510 CNC router
Screen printing equipment
FlexiSign for cutting
On my 20th birthday, Dad told me I could take over the business and see what I could do with it. Needless to say, there’s been a lot of trial and error. I had no experience in the business, so I had to learn as I went along. I knew nothing about running a business, and I’m still learning.
Oracal 751/951 cut vinyl graphics
Pricing sign work is a challenge because every product is a custom-made item. You’re not taking something off the shelf and selling it to the customer. It’s also hard to get started when you’re very young because customers tend not to have a lot of confidence in you. You’ve got to build a portfolio of work to convince them that you can do it. You need experience and have to keep developing your skills.
I’ve been fortunate because I’ve had several experienced sign makers work with me over the years. When you get someone like that on board, it elevates your work. You can learn a lot from someone like that.
Hand-drawn mascot and logo design, printed on 3M IJ180Cv3/8518 laminate
I’ve also made some friends online who have been a big help, like Phillip Newell and Greg Scott. Phillip has Amigo Creative [visit him on Facebook
]. He’s a very skilled graphic designer, and I really admire his work. Greg has GS Worx
and is another awesome designer. They have both helped me through quite a few projects.
Design is really important to me, because I think that’s what we’re really selling. I’d rather not do a sign that has an ineffective design. I know it won’t work well for the customer, and it won’t reflect well on our business either.
“This a 12-ft.-diameter LED-backlit channel cabinet installed 10 stories high,” says Doyle. “It was big and up pretty high, so we subcontracted this project out.”
On the shores of Lake Michigan
We’re lucky here in this little corner of Michigan because the economy is heavily tourism-based. We’re right on Lake Michigan and only about an hour and 20 minutes from downtown Chicago. Our area thrives on the visitors from the Chicago area, and many have a second home here. Now with the trend to move out of the cities, were seeing even a little more of that.
We do wraps, monuments, shop-front signs and some electrical signs. It’s a fairly typical mix for a small town like ours I think—mostly signs for small businesses.
Custom-designed wrap with actual school fight song in sheet music form, printed on 3M IJ180Cv3/8518 laminate
Our shop is huge at 8000 sq. ft. We moved here about three years ago. There’s an 80-by-60-ft. shop in the back with 14-ft. ceilings. Up front we have our offices, the print room and vinyl production areas. We’ve got plenty of room, and that makes it easy to add equipment, which we’re planning on doing soon.
Right now I have three full-time and two part-time people. Before COVID-19, it was five full-time and one part-time. We do a lot of printed sportswear, and that has really been affected this year. We didn’t do anything for the schools or for the local sports teams. That’s a big part of our sportswear business, so we had to cut back there.
Custom-designed graphics printed on 3M IJ180Cv3/8518 laminate with 3M black reflective lettering
Resolving the bottleneck
I deal with customers and do the design work. Crystal runs the custom apparel side of the business and helps out with the sign side, too. Michael is the production manager. He does most of the printing and cutting, and does wrap installation. We have a production assistant who helps him. Both of them are all-around craftsmen, so they do most of the production. Our screen printer now comes in a day or two each week to stay ahead of that work.
One of the problems I run into is having to wear too many hats. When one person has to make a lot of the decisions or handle a lot of key steps in the process, it slows things down. It makes me the bottleneck. I’ve been working at resolving that, but it’s not easy.
Custom-designed logo, painted on aluminum panels
Ideally I would have a designer again, and when I do, it will be someone who understands good sign design principles. I’ve given every designer who has worked with me a copy of Mastering Layout by Mike Stevens
, because those principles are essential to creating effective sign designs.
I’ve also started using shopVOX software
to manage the workflow, do estimating and handle the billing. I had some time during the slowdown here to set it up and it’s working well. It takes some time to get started with a system like this, but it lets others produce some of the quotes, which will free me up a little. It helps us get paid faster and makes the proofing process easier, too. Their process for accepting payments works better than what we were using before.
CNC-cut 1.5-in. SignFoam HDU board letters for shop lobby wall
Changes are coming
My favorite part of the business is that feeling you get when you create a beautiful, effective sign, then see the customer’s reaction when they see it. It’s very rewarding to know that someone is really happy with your work. That’s why design is so critical to me. Starting with a beautiful design is always going to be the most important part of the business for me.
Over the winter I’m looking forward to making some changes. I hope to reassess the whole business and get it positioned for where we need to be in the spring. Right now, we’re adding a CNC router and a 12-by-24-ft. spray booth along with some additional equipment fabrication. That will let us do more work in-house and increase our capabilities. Then I’d like to increase our marketing.
Partial wrap done with Avery SW900 matte charcoal metallic and white film
Hopefully we’ll continue with moderate growth. I don’t have a desire to grow into some kind of massive sign business. I’d like to keep doing what we’re good at and just expand it.
The sign business is pretty unusual, and I like that. Seeing a project go from the drawing on your computer to the real thing is satisfying. It’s diverse, too. You’re not stuck doing one task all day long. You can be doing a design in the morning and be up in the bucket truck in the afternoon. I like that.
—from an interview with Tom McIltrot
“This originated from a Phillip Newell design,” says Doyle, “done with 3M 1080 white film.”
Custom-designed trailer wrap done with 3M IJ180Cv3/8518 film
Printed graphics on 3M IJ180Cv3/8518 and Oralite 5650RA printable reflective
Aluminum channel letters
“This trailer wrap was another Phillip Newell assisted design,” says Doyle.
Customer supplied artwork, printed on 3MIJ180Cv3/8518
Letters are ¼-in. acrylic mounted on 1-in. PVC board
Custom-designed logo, routed SignFoam HDU board