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A HOBBY OR SKILL becomes a profession when it results in formal agreements, contracts and food on the table. A hobbyist or practitioner likewise becomes a professional after devoting weeks, months or years of time and toil to their trade. Very particular experience and deep understanding of a field comprise the telltale marks of professionalism — for those in the sign industry, those marks can be something more, something specific to their chosen niches and a badge of pride. Here are some of the foremost marks of a sign pro, according to our Brain Squad.

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KNOWLEDGE

  • You speak in cast and calendar, in IJ180, 480, 35, in 3M, Avery and ORACAL, in Foamcore, Acrylic, Gatorboard. We know the differences and the uses. — Steve Linville, Linville Design Studio, Farmington Hills, MI
  • You understand every step of the process to get the project completed on time, within budget and code compliant with a result of a happy client and profit for the company. — Greg Abbott, Abbott Image Solutions, Wilmington, OH
  • You have the ability to train your crew to perform their jobs with competence. You have the ability to assist your customers in achieving superior results by providing expert advice. — Michael Snow, Innovative Sign Systems, Vista, CA
  • You are able to tell the difference in sign lighting that has had LEDs replaced. — Matt Robinson, Eastern Sign Tech, Burlington, NJ

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Experience

  • You know when to turn down a potential order or turn away a potential client. — Dominic Tancredi, Woodshed Stage Art, Cleveland, OH
  • …you’ve felt the power of a 60Ma transformer and lived to talk about it!
  • …you’ve felt the comfort of an undersized body harness and can’t put your arms over your head and you know the value of kitty litter when a truck blows a hydraulic line. — Adam Brown, Sign Effectz, Milwaukee
  • You, too, have your vehicles wrapped. The same would go if you sell electric or EMC signs. — Paul Havenaar, Sign Impressions, Kalamazoo, MI
  • You know you’re a sign pro when you are always trying to learn and develop all of your skills and realize other like-minded individuals can teach you a thing or two. — Rob Tafflock, Tafflock Signs & Graphics, East Northport, NY
  • You have nothing else to learn. — Brett Jeltema, Fresh Coast Signs and Graphics, Spring Lake, MI

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WORK

  • You have a good backlog of work. Not because you’re the cheapest but because you deliver an exceptional product, on time and on budget. — Louis Pascuzzi, Economy Sign Co., Danbury, CT
  • You can take the impossible situation and make it work. — Ben Phillips, Phillips Signs Inc., Seaford, DE
  • You don’t design a great-looking sign that is impractical to fabricate.
  • You don’t throw quotes from the hip or guesstimate quote prices.
  • You don’t badmouth other sign companies; you just outshine them. — John Miller, Signs by Autografix, Branford, CT
  • You start your morning with plenty of pep in your step, by lunch you have solved three deadline issues… two unexpected employee quirks… one supplier missed delivery… and a flat tire on your service truck….. and close out the day with an unexpected sale you quoted six months ago. — Bob Chapa, Signarama Troy | Metro Detroit, Troy, MI
  • You say “NO” more often than “YES” to unusual projects. — David Gonzalez, Toronto Channel Letters, Toronto
  • You can estimate any project possible within scale of project. — Gary Wildner, GW Sign & Paint Co., Cape Coral, FL
  • You don’t budge on a price you’ve given. — Peter Poanessa, Keene Signworx, Swanzey, NH
  • You are proud of the work you are putting out. — Louise Fischer, Trimline Signs & Graphics, Rocky Mountain House, AB, Canada
  • Your installation trucks are out all day with work and your team is dedicated to finish before coming back! — Shaun Ensign, Legacy Sign Group, Westville, IN
  • You make it look like the design. — Joe Gibson, Ramsay Signs, Portland, OR
  • …you arrive at the job site that hasn’t been surveyed correctly and succeed with the task at hand regardless.
  • …wear a Brain Squad T-shirt under your winter business shirts.
  • …can read the comments on Facebook’s “Those Damn Sign Guys” and not resort to 6th grade communication skills but instead try and understand the a****** posting the dumb as f*** comment or question. — Edward DeZuzio, Butler Sign Co., Wayne, NJ
  • …you’d rather tell them to check the breaker box instead of charging for a service call.
  • …you tell your client the sign is still in permitting to buy yourself an extra week for fabrication.
  • …your kid’s softball team wins first place in the banner contest. — Russell Toynes, Studio Dzo, Austin, TX
  • You know how much time is needed to fabricate and install per project.
  • You’re driving at night with your family and your little guy says, “Hey dad, they need an LED retrofit on their sign.” — David de Los Santos, D-signs & Awnings, Allentown, PA

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OFF-WORK OBSESSION

  • You can’t drive anywhere without obsessing about every sign you drive by. — Jeremy VanderKraats, Signs by Van, Salinas, CA
  • You know you’re a sign pro when you have more photos of signs on your phone than pets or family members. — Matt Brasel, Indigo Signworks, Brasel, ND
  • …you have RTA vinyl stuck to your clothes and hair at the end of the day.
  • …you go to a new exhibit or attraction and you’re trying to see/figure out how they made the signs.
  • …you get geeked about white ink and varnish. — Karrie Brock, Fastsigns of Toledo, Toledo, OH
  • You stop in a parking lot to check the quality of a wrap installation on a car you’re walking by on your way into the store. Or you step over to get a close-up look at how the interior dimensional sign is made before sitting down in the waiting room at your dentist’s office. — Kelley Campbell, Specialty Graphic Solutions, Vancouver, WA
  • That sign that has needed service for the last two years just drives you crazy even though it’s not your client. — Bob Burke, Burke Enterprise, Oakdale, CT
  • When you break down a font to your wife on vacation.
  • When you point out all the cool signs to your wife on vacation.
  • When your wife leaves you at the pool because you won’t stop complaining about the lack of and unclear safety message of the pool signs. — Chad Lawson, Sign Pro of Skagit Valley, Mount Vernon, WA
  • … you recognize bad kerning from the first half-second.
  • When you do not read signs but feel them to see how they are constructed or mounted. — Andrew Akers, Image360 DC-Silver Spring, Kensington, MD
  • Your family pulls you away from looking at methods of attachment while shopping. — Keith Davis, KRD Design, Chester Springs, PA
  • …you are driving down the street and keep saying, “We did that, we did that, we did that…”
  • …when you see a vehicle with graphics on it pass by and say, “That’s installed crooked.” — Ted DeWitt, Signarama Covina, Covina, CA
  • …you can deconstruct a sign mentally faster than it takes to pass the sign while driving.
  • …you can’t follow a movie or TV show because you’re constantly looking at signage. — Kevin Obregón, Brown Graphics, Dallas
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PUBLICITY & CUSTOMER RELATIONS

  • When your client gets featured in various forms of media and receives accolades due to the branding and/or imagery you’ve helped establish, however large or small. — Derek Atchley, Atchley Graphics, Columbus, OH
  • People that I don’t know refer me to jobs. — Jeffrey Cross, Cross Signs, Seminole, FL
  • A prospective customer shares that they’ve spoken with several other sign companies and you are the only one that wanted to schedule an on-site discovery survey. — Joe Allen, So Easy Signs, Middletown, OH
  • A client sends a card that says that they appreciate that I take notice to detail for specific sign projects. That’s what we do! — Cindy Gillihan, Gilly’s Super Signs, Placerville, CA
  • …your customer base views you as the go-to first choice for service/support. — Don Budde, CalComp Graphic Solutions, Cypress, CA
  • You do not let the customer dictate everything. — Harold Pedley, Sign Engineering, San Juan, PR
  • Other sign professionals come to you for input and advice. — Ian McLellan, Hill House Graphics, Bristol, RI
  • More work comes from repeat and referral than advertising, you do not advertise at all, and your business is still growing. — Larry Mitchell, SignChef, El Dorado Hills, CA
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FINAL THOUGHTS

  • Your hairdresser tells you your hair always smells like ink. — Sabrina Davis, Port City Signs & Graphics, Wilmington, NC
  • You have more trips to the dumpster with liners than trips back home. — Marco Milliotti, Image360 South Orlando, Orlando, FL
  • You are constantly pulling studs and screws out of the dryer! — Bobby Jordan, Fastsigns of White Marsh-Joppa, Joppa, MD
  • You work long hours, put up with good and bad customers, deal with employees, pay more taxes than you would like, think you’re making a lot of money till all the bills come in, have days that are like a dream and some days that are nightmares. I can go on and on! — Cody McElroy, Commercial Signs, Houma, LA
  • You start running out of large equipment purchases on your dream list. — James Cota, JC Signs & Graphics, Clear Lake, MN

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What’s the Brain Squad?

If you’re the owner or top manager of a signage and graphics company in the US or Canada, you’re invited to join the Signs of the Times Brain Squad. By taking one five-minute survey each month, you will receive access to some of the industry’s freshest data on sales — including your fellow members’ comments on what’s selling and what isn’t — and can make your voice heard on key issues affecting the sign industry. Sound good? Sign up here.

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Introducing the Sign Industry Podcast

The Sign Industry Podcast is a platform for every sign person out there — from the old-timers who bent neon and hand-lettered boats to those venturing into new technologies — we want to get their stories out for everyone to hear. Come join us and listen to stories, learn tricks or techniques, and get insights of what’s to come. We are the world’s second oldest profession. The folks who started the world’s oldest profession needed a sign.

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