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Women in Signs

Nancy Wilde Travels Long Road to Success in the Sign Industry

She takes pride in helping other small businesses grow while representing the women of her trade.

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Job: “Sign-tist” for Wayside (Vernon, BC, Canada)

NANCY WILDE STARTED IN the sign industry 40 years ago, but not through traditional means. Instead of taking the college track or trade-school path, her journey began at a bar. Following her usual routine as she got off a particularly long shift, Wilde took her preferred choice of transportation back home, a trusty city cab. During her ride, Wilde expressed her frustration at being stiffed a serious amount of money (something every restaurant worker knows too well) to her cab driver. This cabbie would change the course of Wilde’s career by suggesting that she look into Baker’s Signs, which was across the street from the bar she worked at and was hiring. Starting as an office assistant, Wilde began to climb the ladder as different opportunities arose until she got where she is now, a standout woman in the signage industry.

When she owned her own business, Wilde Imagination Sign and Design, Nancy described her job as engaging in arts and crafts every day. From old-school, handcrafted and painted signs to cut-vinyl lettering, she and her company tailored custom designs to her customers’ needs and also kept projects interesting and exciting. For example, some of Wilde’s favorite projects were the multiple float collaborations with the North Okanagan Neurological Association to celebrate children with special needs. “They bring a huge team of helpers and it was just so fun to see some people using power tools for the first time,” she said. Wilde sold her business to Wayside (Vernon, BC, Canada) in 2014, and she, along with two of her employees, joined the company. Wilde is a self-described “sign-tist” at Wayside, working in sales, concept, design, production and installation.

Wilde stills finds delight in what some people would say are her smaller operations; she enjoys seeing someone getting their first truck lettered to now having 30, 40 and more trucks lettered and on the road. “To be a part of that growth, it’s pretty exciting,” she said. “It’s just nice seeing people having that success, even if it’s probably one of the simplest things.”

Looking to the future, Wilde would like to see her fellow signmakers become more eco-conscious. “I’ve been thinking a lot about it, but we need to do a better job at being kinder to the environment,” she said. “Through creation there is also a lot of waste. Making signs that are not as long term as ‘old day’ metal or handpainted signs were leaves garbage and non-recyclable material.”

Wilde is very passionate about being a woman in a male-dominated industry, and described the signage business as a hidden gem. She feels that when you hear of trade jobs, you think of carpenters, plumbers or electricians. Whether it be through images like Rosie the Riveter, government grants or mentoring, Wilde believes everyone has a role to play in inspiring women to enter this unique trade. “I’m really proud of being a part of that, starting a trend that is encouraging more and more women, and especially young women, that they can do anything,” she said. “We need to be more respectful and encouraging as a whole.”

This article has been edited.

Sara Skaggs is an editorial intern for Signs of the Times, as well as Big Picture and Screen Printing magazines, two of Signs’ sister publications, for spring 2021. Sara is currently majoring in creative writing with certificates in journalism plus copyediting and publishing at the University of Cincinnati. She plans to use her degree to work as an author and in the editing/publishing industry – hopefully moving somewhere warm. In her (little) free time, she likes to read, visit cat cafes and coach club volleyball.

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