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Movin’ on Up

Migrating to a larger town helped Signs & Designs’ competitiveness.

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Biologists postulate that, to break an organism out of cocoon-like homeostasis, some type of external pressure or force — the need to eat or procreate, or to face a looming predator — must provide impetus. Otherwise, it would remain complacent. Of course, people are no different — except that inward forces may also spur us to leave the familiar and comfortable and pursue stressful, risk-laden enterprises that test our mettle and help us reach our potential.

Such was the case for David Schachterle, owner of Cedar Falls, IA-based Signs & Designs.

As his career has evolved from its roots as a one-horse signshop to his current ownership of a 10-person entity, Schachterle has maintained his focus on distinctive design and fabrication.

Small-town roots

Schachterle studied fine art at St. Cloud State in St. Cloud, MN. He’d never considered signmaking a career path, but when his wife, Linda, landed a teaching position, David took a job at Dick Mott Signs in Olathe, KS. After working there for a year, he returned to St. Cloud State to earn his degree.

In 1981, the Schachterles opened their Iowa Falls, IA, shop after demand required more space than their in-home pottery studio could offer. The 3,000-sq.-ft. shop’s unusual layout proved advantageous.

"The shop had been a fruit warehouse," he explained. "So, there were massive coolers lined up along the walls. We removed the shelving and refrigeration units, and I set up a spraybooth and an assembly area for tradeshow graphics."

Their mom-and-pop operation specialized in handlettered, wooden signs. Schachterle’s equipment comprised saw horses that he bought at an auction, wooden ladders and a brush kit. While he enjoyed being in a relatively noncompetitive situation, Schachterle felt like he was shortchanging his ability.

"Being the only signpainter in a small town is fun, and it makes you a bit of a celebrity — you’re the artist in residence," he recalled. "But, it became repetitious making the same type of signs. I’d propose something unusual to customers, and they’d usually balk at the extra cost. If I wanted to do something truly unique, I’d often have to give it away."

During his formative sign-industry years, Schachterle eagerly absorbed the tutelage of fellow "Hawkeye" signmakers. He credits Nancy Bennett, owner of Centerville, IA’s Dannco Inc., and Mark Baty, co-owner of Baty Art & Sign (Waukee, IA), for helping him refine his hand-lettering skills and more effectively use color. Further, he credits a course instructed by the late Mike Stevens, author of Mastering Layout, with teaching him effective font usage, kerning and layout.

"The sign industry has changed a great deal since I started," he said. "I’ve adapted to modern technology, but it was helpful for me to gain a foundation of basic handlettering skills that have continually served me well."

On to bigger things

In 1990, the Schachterles again needed a larger shop to better exploit David’s talents. Thus, they moved to Cedar Falls, a town of approximately 25,000 in northern Iowa.

Concurrently, Schachterle bought a PC to aid design and bookkeeping. Next, he purchased a Roland CAMM-1 plotter, which represented a substantial shift away from exclusively creating handlettered graphics. Today, his shop employs a new Gerber Scientific Products Sabre

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