Gordon Sign is the oldest sign manufacturer in America. David Soyka reports on the full-service sign company’s selection as a White House Made in America Showcase honoree and its over 110 year record of making and installing custom brand expression for everyone to see.
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Hang out your shingle” is an old expression for opening a business. The point of putting up a sign is to advertise your services and attract customers. Gordon Sign is an old hand—in fact, the oldest full-service sign company in the country— at helping businesses not only design and display their signs, but achieve maximum visibility to fully express brand identify for all to see.
Founded in 1904 by Harry Gordon, this Denver, Colo.-based business was family-owned for some 80 years; a third generation of Gordons remains involved in a company that is now a subsidiary of Fallon Luminous Products Corporation. Many of its 43 employees have extensive tenures (one sales rep has been there for 46 years), attributed in part to continuing many of the family-owned business values of pride of ownership, craftsmanship and personal commitment to customers.
Early in the 20th century, the company made classic storefront signs for local Denver landmark businesses such as the Next Music Company, Best Western motels, the Cooper Theater and Ratner’s clothing store. A sign it created in 1967 for Carl’s Italian Restaurant is still there today. More recently, and employing the latest hightech display signage, Gordon Sign installations include those for the Denver Broncos, United Artists Theaters and Wendy’s. These are just several examples among a range of structures that include custom monuments, pole signs, direction and wayfaring signs, channel letters, tenant displays and electronic message centers employing stylish lettering using Neon or LED lighting that is both architecturally attractive and eye-catchingly promotional.
In addition to long time experience with signage, Gordon Sign’s full service capabilities are unique in the fragmented sign industry. Typically, a company might specialize in design and fabrication or installation, but usually not the entire process from conceptualization through manufacture to “hanging” the finished product. Gordon Sign provides the complete “soup-to-nuts” package, with about 98 percent of all fabrication performed locally. According to Gordon Sign’s website, “We make signs that people look up to, and ensure that we as a company are worth of the same standard.” To this end, Gordon Sign emphasizes a collaborative process with its customers that emphasizes five key values: safety, accountability, pride, creativity and teamwork.
Which is why Gordon Sign was recently named by the White House to this July’s Made in America Showcase. “We were excited to represent Colorado manufacturers in the nation’s capital to recognize American manufacturing ingenuity and innovation,” CEO Max Fulton says. “We were also honored to have as our guest Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta, who did us the privilege of an on-site tour of our 35,000 squarefeet Denver facility.” Fellow Made in America Showcase Alabama honoree Altec also recently toured the shop floor as part of Gordon Sign’s hosting of the recently reinstated Colorado Sign Association Summer Mixer.
It’s a sign of the times how American manufacturers work together. “We have the largest paint booth in the state, as well as cranes that reach up to 150 feet when most other cranes can reach at most 100 feet,” Fulton notes. “We’re happy to lend out our capabilities to other companies when they need the help to perform special work they ordinarily wouldn’t be able to handle.”
While Gordon Sign uses its own crews to install its products in Denver and throughout Colorado, it does contract with third parties for out-of-state work. “For certain projects that are a little more involved than typical installations and require special attention, we do send our own crews outside the state,” Fulton points out.
Most people probably don’t recognize how important a sign is. It is the main way people learn about your business—according to a study by the International Sign Association, about half of all business leads are generated by signage (word-of-mouth ranks a distant second, with news, yellow pages and radio and television each representing single-digit percentages). Also according to the International Sign Association, a $15,000 investment in a properly designed and displayed sign can increase profitability by 45 percent.
What’s key to a sign’s success is “proper design and display.” As Fulton points out, “An effective sign has to fit a building’s architecture and convey a consistent brand identity. Of utmost importance is maximum visibility.” Which does not mean just making something big. Fulton explains that, “We can design a small sign that has as much visibility, maybe even more, than a large sign. There’s more to good design than just making something colorful. You’ve got to scale all the lettering and components with just the right depth and size of materials to ensure it can clearly be seen as far and widely as possible. A sign that is unclear or doesn’t fit properly into its surroundings is a sign that will be missed. And a missed sign means missed business.“
Case in point is a recent project with the University of Wyoming. “They have a font for their logo that was way too complex for the large lettering that they wanted us to do,” Fulton says. “So we worked with the university’s creative team to come up with a similar looking font consistent with their brand identity, but that could clearly be seen from a hundred yards away.”
This combination of artisan and marketing expertise is why Gordon Sign tends to prefer the term “brand expressions” for its products. “Your putting up your name for everyone to see,” Fulton says. “You have to effectively express your brand and attracting interest in way that stands out. We can do that in a number of ways, including special lighting, taking an old look and putting a contemporary spin on it, even giving it three dimensional characteristics. It all begins with a conversation with the customer and making sure the conversation continues throughout the entire process, so that the design and technical expertise we offer perfectly matches customer needs as well as the location site and the surrounding backdrop.”
The personalized customer experience extends from the creative design to fabrication. This isn’t off-the-shelf manufacture, but custom work tailored to a specific job. Moreover, Gordon Sign works directly with local authorities to obtain the necessary permitting as well as ensuring the same quality that goes into designing and making the same applies to its installation and ongoing maintenance. Depending on local permitting processes and the complexity of the project, Fulton says the typical turnaround time ranges from four to six weeks.
Like everything else these days, technological advancement is playing an ever increasing role in the look of business signage. “We’re seeing a lot more in the use of 3D lettering,” Fulton says. “Also, LED technology is beginning to approach the warm colors of neon. The advantages of LED over neon is greater energy efficiency and more flexibility in shaping. Also, LED is much more impervious to weather, particularly hailstorms that can easily damage neon glass tubing. So we are working with a number of customers to give them that near-neon look without the disadvantages. That said, a number of customers still have neon signs and we are happy to continue to work in that medium.”
He adds, “Again, it all starts with the expectations of the individual customer. We don’t force designs on customers, we make forceful designs that express what the customer has to offer so it can been seen by as many people as possible in the best possible way imaginable.”