Follow-up: Ray Sauder
Posted on Monday, April 5th, 2021
Shop name: Raynbow Signs
City: Palmerston, Ontario, Canada
Staff: Five plus Ray
Shop size: 4800 sq. ft.
Roland SolJet Pro4 XR-640
Roland CAMM-1 plotter
Gerber Sabre 408 CNC router
Ray Sauder opened Raynbow Signs at the ripe old age of 21 in 1993. Twenty-eight years later his shop provides graphics for Palmerston and the many other small towns that surround it in this scenic area, which is about two hours from Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Ray was first featured in the November/December 2011 issue of SignCraft and here’s what he told SignCraft.com in a recent chat:
Not much has changed as far as what we do and how we do it since that last article. I’m a little older, so I’m less likely to get involved in the larger installation projects. But we’re still mostly doing signs for small and medium-sized business—like flat and 3D signs, vehicles and wraps along with illuminated signs, channel letters and logo designs.
Most of our work is general commercial projects, but we still get ourselves into some big jobs. Last year we did our biggest sign ever—16-by-42 feet, illuminated signs, 110 feet in the air on a big feed mill. We subcontracted parts of it because it was way too big for us to fabricate in house or install.
A family loss
It’s been a difficult year. We recently lost our 19-year-old daughter, Amy, after a 2 ½ year battle with cancer. It was devastating. During that time I really had to rely on the staff to get things done. We were in and out of the hospital constantly. They did a terrific job. My brother Cameron manages the production side of the business, and he kept things on track for us.
The pandemic made it very hard for us to spend time with Amy, who was in the hospital an hour and a half away from our home. She was very strong and had a great attitude. She was remarkable.
Right now I’m still trying to find my equilibrium and deal with the grief over the loss of Amy. It’s hard. It tests you and your faith. But me, my wife and our two sons are doing the best we can. It takes time, I’m sure, but we have the support of many very good people through this. That’s very helpful.
As for the business, when you’re in the middle of a swirling storm, it’s not a good time to make big changes. We’ve tried to just stay on course as best we could.
The shop, staff and work
Today, I mostly concentrate on outside sales and site inspections. I also quote the more complex jobs. I do a little bit of design work, but Cameron does most of it. Since I do the sales, I can usually steer the customer in the right direction so that Cameron doesn’t waste much design time. I hand him rough comps, and he usually knows what road he’s going down from there. It doesn’t always work, but it often cuts down on the time involved in the design process.
Counting me there are six of us here. Cameron heads up the production department and does most of the design work. The rest of the team handles production and installation.
We are three generations at Raynbow Signs. There’s my dad, who is semi-retired, me, and now my son, who recently joined us.
We’re still in our 4800-sq.-ft. shop and haven’t added any major graphics equipment. About 4000 feet is the fabrication area, and the balance is office/showroom space and the printer room.
We are a full-service shop, so we do illuminated signs as well. A lot of those jobs were put on hold last year because of the pandemic. Now, though, they’re starting to come through after all, which is good news.
One of the interesting changes over the past few years is that I find we’re often doing work for the second generation of family businesses. I did signs for the father who started the company and now I am doing them for their sons. That’s encouraging.
Respect builds confidence
I don’t take any job for granted. Many times I have had a customer come in for a very routine project that makes me wonder, “Do we really have time to do this?” But we still take care of them, because I learned a long time ago that it really matters.
Often they come back shortly afterwards with a very good project because they were satisfied with the service they got. That’s happened to us more than once over the years. Just by treating them with respect we have often gained them as long-term customers.
You can’t take your customers for granted. If you put in the work to gain their confidence, sales get much easier. I’d rather work that way and have long-term accounts.
28 years and counting
I started the business when I was 21. At that age, you don’t really know what you’re getting into, but you have a passion for the work. I still enjoy the creative process. I still get a charge out of helping a new client get a good-looking sign that will help their business get started and grow. They trust you with their image, and you help put their small business on the map.
Just the other day I hand-lettered a set of truck doors for a customer. I haven’t done that in a long time and it felt pretty good. They drove here from an hour away to have us do it because they wanted hand lettering. I was rusty but it was enjoyable, and the customer was very happy with the results. It was a good feeling.
–from an interview with Tom McIltrot
Left to right: Nelson Sauder, Ray Sauder ,Bryce Sage, Cam Sauder, Tony Sauder, Jeff Thornback