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Heidi Tillmanns

Expect More Change in the Sign Industry

As our industry evolves, I’m embracing new perspectives from the next generation of sign pros.




I AM WRITING this column just a few days before leaving for Las Vegas. It has been nearly 30 years since I have been to the ISA Sign Expo in Vegas. I have attended one in Orlando and often attend local sign conferences in Toronto. This time I am attending with my daughter, Chelsea, who was just a few months old the first time I attended. She, too, is now a sign professional and it’s her first time attending a sign conference. I couldn’t be prouder.

As I sit and write this, I am reflecting on the first time I went. I was in awe. The array of materials, processes and opportunities. Digital printing was just about to break into the market, and I was overwhelmed with ideas on the possibilities that ingenious innovation could accomplish. The one thing I did notice was that I was one of only a handful of women attending the show. Yes, husbands brought their wives and there were plenty of women hosting the various booths. How did I know this? By the reaction of those staffing the booths, all of whom would say, “Oh, so you are a woman in the sign business,” which would let me know I was a rarity. Words that have stuck with me to this day. Yet it was such a common comment that it breezed right over me as I then enquired about whatever product and service they were offering.

It is funny how I just ‘accepted’ those comments. Not just at sign shows, but also on site when measuring or installing the next sign job. For years, I did supermarket signage and the only other woman was one of the architects. The side comments, lack of support, insults and harassment — to me, it was all part of the job. There were no other women there for support, and men who took pity kindly would say, “They are just joking around.” Despite it all, I held my head up high because I loved what I did. I love making signs. I love taking something from nothing, taking the image in my head and seeing it come to life in 3D, 5-10-20 feet in the air and telling the world the message it was intended to give. No one’s comment could ever diminish my pride or passion for doing what I loved to do.

The world has changed, and I look forward to the evolving future. I love the fact that I can attend ISA’s Women Leading the Industry and have the honor of being one of the first Women in Signs award winners for Signs of the Times. With 30-plus years in the industry, I do still get called out, get questioned about my credentials, get pushed back that ‘I don’t know what I am talking about,’ when I prove that I do. Times are changing and I am most grateful that they are. I never wanted to take anyone’s job away from them. I only wanted to contribute to the world the ideas and skills I was blessed to have been given. For me, my contribution to this world is to the sign industry.

This time, however, I will have a different viewpoint at this Sign Expo. I do look forward to all that is new, yet what I look forward to the most is to live vicariously through Chelsea. I am eager to see what she sees. She is the next generation of sign professionals. I look forward to hearing her ideas of what’s next. I look forward to seeing her celebrated for her talents and not her talents and her gender.


She is the director of trail and infrastructure for the Trans Canada Trail in Dundas, ON, Canada. Contact Heidi at



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