Follow-up: Chris and Debi Lovelady
Posted on Monday, March 22nd, 2021
When Chris and Debi Lovelady were first featured in SignCraft’s January/February 2007 issue they had a 300 sq. ft. shop and the help of one staff person. Today their shop is well over that at 5500 sq. ft. The staff has grown to five plus the two of them. Debi brought us up to speed in a recent conversation:
Vital Signs LLC
Five plus Chris and Debi
5500 sq. ft.
HP Latex 260 and Latex 270 printers
Two Graphtec cutters
5-by-10-ft. Camaster CNC router
Facebook: Vital Signs, LLC
I guess the big news is that we made it through the pandemic okay. It really turned things on end for a while there, but we figured it out. Our sales were off 25% in the first half of last year, but we have been very busy now exceeding our expectations.
We were considered to be an essential business by several municipalities who needed signs, so we were able to stay open. During that time, though, a few of our people were out sick—not with the virus but with other things. So for a week it was just Christopher and me in this big shop, trying to do everything. It was like our early days in the business, only busier. We did a lot of laughing and crying, trying to figure it all out.
About that time, Christopher heard that they were looking for people to sew masks in the community because they were so hard to get. He had taught himself to sew earlier that year, so he got right in there and started making them. He would sew in the evening and weekends and make them. It turned into a cool community project, and he helped others start making them, too.
Thomasville is a small town surrounded by many other small towns, so you really have to do whatever needs to be done. We have always tried to do a little of everything, always looking at what the market needed. A couple of area sign shops have closed over the past year as our work has increased significantly.
The CNC addition
One of the things we’ve done over the past couple years is to add a CNC router. I’m glad it’s running a lot. It has been a great investment. The router has let us do a lot more 3D work along with ADA Braille signs which has opened up some new markets.
We’re also doing more work outside of our area. One of our local customers recently has expanded by buying stores across the South, and we’ve been doing all the signage and shipping easily with a system we set up. This actually ended up getting us another corporate client who heard we can do what they needed via shipping.
Most of our work is commercial with vehicle wraps, architectural signs, monuments and ADA signs and more.
A lot of people know Christopher through the Walldogs and Letterheads, as he has been involved with them for many years, working and designing several murals.
Going after the work
Our market has changed quite a bit since that first article. One difference is that I really have gone after the municipalities and universities in the country. Small businesses come and go, but these large clients need a steady flow of signage as they expand and grow.
I have found that you really have to go after the work that you want to do. Building relationships and delivering quality work on time, is all anyone really wants. Having a presence in the community and being involved has added to our visibility as well. The variety of types of signs from ADA Braille to vehicle wraps to way-finding to neighborhood entrances. I like to say: “Let us help you imagine it, and we can create it.”
Still having a good time
Our shop works well for us—it was originally a VW dealership back in the ’70s, so it has big windows for the showroom in the front and two large overhead doors. It makes a great sign shop. For the past 28 years we have been in business, whenever we would see a vacant building anywhere, we would say, “Hey, that would make a great sign shop.” Well, now we have it!
We believe in building a great team of employees. More like family. After all, we are together so much. We still have our moments and fuss at each other. However, problem-solving is our game. It’s all good—we’re still having a good time. Maybe another 28 years, eh?
One thing for sure is that Christopher will never stop making signs. He is the easiest thing I have ever sold. He loves doing the designs and painting and seeing the jobs come together.
–From an interview with Tom McIltrot