In 1991, after “researching” starting a company to make signs, banners, and vinyl lettering for walls, etc., in the local Spokane, WA area, my Father and I leapt into the sign business, boldly treading where angels fear to tread.
We purchased the wrong graphics program from John, a slick salesman from Seattle who knew (we found out later) that the company that made the program for cutting self adhesive PVC letters was going to fold 30 days later. Doh!
While self adhesive letters were nothing new in 1991, they were new to us. My Father had a ready built a client base in the area, with 90% of all the real estate agents in our area using his sign posting service, so this start-up periphery company seemed to make sense in being able to add services like installing graphic lettering for wall surfaces or windows and printing signs, and any peripheral business that might be garnered.
Transferring Technology to Make Polyvinyl Letters, Numbers and Logos: How Gerber Took the Engineering Plotter to Utilize Existing Technology to Enable Cost-effective Graphic Lettering for Walls, Windows, Signs, Vehicles, Etc.
Back in the early 1980’s, a company by the name of Gerber “invented” the first plotter that would cut vinyl lettering for walls, signs, banners, and vehicles. This made sense for sign shops as they didn’t have to keep a lettering artist on staff. These guys were temperamental artistic types and hard to work with (we had one for awhile, and if he was indicative of the breed, I can understand the desire to build a plotter!).
Utilizing existing technology, the drafting plotter, which was used by engineers and architects for making drawings of building projects and similar, Gerber fitted the pen holder with a knife, contracted with 3M to make rolls of 15″ colored vinyl “tape,” and the modern sign industry birthed a revolution that, if nothing else, made it so we didn’t have to put up with distempered artists any more.
How a Couple of Neophytes Could Become Sign Makers, Installing PVC Displays For Walls and Windows as well as Adhesive Letters on Signs, Banners, and Vehicles
Of course, when Dad and I started this business in 1991, we knew nothing of this. It had been only July of 1991 when I saw the first vinyl graphics being applied to a large Safeway store backlighted polycarbonate signage, so this was all new to me, even though it was about 10 years old at that time.
But since my Father already had a successful 8 year old business that absolutely dominated the market he was in, real estate broker services, we knew we simply had to put out the word and we had a ready made base. As I said, we purchased the wrong software, and then compounded it by buying an absolute lemon of a plotter made by Ioline (won’t touch one to this day). And the wrong screen printing press. As I said, where angels fear to tread.
But we were in business to make vinyl lettering for walls, and come hell or high water, we were going to succeed. We had some advantages in starting as we did though. As I said, the ready made customer base helped. We quickly became a good sized firm in our local area. Cut letters, for signs, banners, and vehicles, were mainstays for us in the first few years.
Then Dad discovered that you could tap into the electoral process, first in about 1996, and marketed heavily to politicians on the West Coast. I had reservations about this, as it was an every other year phenomenon, and if we were busy serving only these customers for a 6 month window every other year, both our sales efforts in those 6 months and our customer service for making vinyl lettering stickers and signs might be compromised during these windfall seasons.
While I really hate to say “I told you so,” ultimately I believe that one of the roots of failure of Dad’s company in 2010 was that dependence on one or two markets that dried up in the 2008 recession. This was and still is a good business, but one should be very careful not to put all one’s eggs into one basket. Recessions happen, then suddenly every company that bought equipment on credit suddenly finds that those payments are a noose around their neck. So they start slashing prices to get more business, and the payments get harder and harder to make.
Well, this was a bit of a ramble, but it’s a good reminder to me that I have to do periodically so I don’t forget the basics of any business that utilizes self adhesive letters for making vinyl lettering for walls, windows, signs, banners, vehicles, etc. Click here to see more of these graphics.
Vinyl lettering for walls is cheaper than hiring a graphic artist to design your empty wall. Would you rather opt for this simple method which you can install the graphics yourself, or go hire a professional graphic artist which can be pricey? Tell us about it by leaving your comment below.