February 18, 2021
Letterall Signs Inc. was founded in 1979 in Winnipeg. The original owner had a rust-proofing business named Perma-Guard. His fleet clients would often ask where they could get unit numbers for their vehicles. This led to the birth of an idea—what if he purchased a Letteron machine to get into that end of the business instead? At the time, it was the latest and greatest technology. All one had to do was insert a character, give the machine a crank and, voilà, the die-cut vinyl letter was produced complete with a polyester application tape. And, thus, Letterall was born.
The company’s current president and CEO, Cory Byrnes, worked for the original owner for a few years, back in 1999. An avid learner, Byrnes was not comfortable sitting behind a desk and performing one task. He strived to learn all aspects of the industry and welcomed working with fabricators and installers to enhance his knowledge of the signmaking business. A few years later, he ventured out on his own and created a large clientele as a subcontractor. He would use the facility and equipment and bring in his own business. It soon got to the point where he had too many projects and was contracting jobs back to Letterall to help his clients. So, when the owner mentioned he wanted to sell the company, Byrnes jumped at the opportunity. The door to his dreams of owning and operating his business had swung open. He purchased the shop in 2016.
Sign Media Canada recently spoke with Byrnes to learn more about Letterall’s signmaking process, recent projects, and the company’s secret to supplying Winnipeg with the finest signs and vehicle graphics.
Sign Media Canada (SMC): What makes your company unique?
Cory Byrnes (CB): We are always looking for new, innovative ideas, and when someone says we cannot do it, I treat it as a challenge and always find a way to create the undoable. Sometimes, my staff hates me for it, but it is what drives me to succeed.
I introduced vehicle wraps to the team before I purchased the company. Today, we are one of the city’s leaders in this segment and have two 3M preferred installers.
SMC: How large is the facility?
CB: We have a small 232 m2 (2500-sf) shop. We also have an offsite warehouse for larger vehicles like cube trucks and transport trailers.
SMC: What type of signage does your shop primarily make?
CB: Our primary focus is vehicle wraps and graphics, but we are a well-rounded sign shop. We make everything except sign boxes and channel letters. That said, when it comes to something we cannot do, we have a network of affiliates that help us get the job done.
SMC: What type of projects have you been working on recently?
CB: This past year has been tough. One of our major clients is the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the Canadian Football League (CFL). With the CFL cancelling its 2020 season, we had to get creative and shift gears to making social distancing signage and decals, counter shields, and barriers to keep the business running.
SMC: How much of the signmaking process is handled in-house? What tools/equipment do you currently use to complete your sign projects?
CB: Nearly 75 per cent of everything we do is fabricated in-house.
The shop has two large-format, eco-solvent devices—a Roland SP-540i and a Mimaki CJV30-130—both of which are print and cut. In our peak season, both the printers run anywhere between 16 and 20 hours a day. The facility is also equipped with a Summa D75 vinyl cutter and a GBC Spire III laminator. We use a Digi-Dri infrared print dryer for the curing process, and a homemade media dryer that consists of a heavy-duty fan attached to a vented platform for off-gassing.
We keep up on most industry-specific hand tools and equipment to help with the fabrication and installation process. My favourite website for learning about these is www.signmakertools.ca, which offers a wide range of professional signmaking tools for purchase.
SMC: What does your planning and design process involve?
CB: Quite often, our clients come to us with little to no idea about what they are looking for. We spend time with them, discussing their needs and brainstorming ideas to see how we can realize their vision. We have had clients in the past that wanted text the length of a novel on their vehicle. In such cases, I have had to explain to them vehicle wraps are like moving billboards; one has six seconds or less to read anything on it as they drive by, or 30 seconds if they are behind a vehicle at a traffic light.
I like to follow the ‘keep it simple, stupid’ (KISS) principle in my marketing strategy. Less is more. And it works!
The ideation process is followed by the design stage. We use CorelDraw, Adobe Illustrator, and Photoshop to create the perfect design. Although all three platforms are not needed, the artboard in CorelDraw spans 45.7 m (150 ft), which makes it easy to create full-scale drawings. I still use vehicle outlines instead of some of the more realistic templates for design, simply due to the inaccuracies of the templates. That said, if our measurements do not match the templates, then they can easily be changed prior to creating the design.
SMC: How is technology changing your business?
CB: Technology has only helped our business. The advanced films and tools on the market make our jobs easier; we can produce more in a shorter period, and this greatly increases our revenue.
SMC: What is the key to staying successful in this industry?
CB: I take great pride in staying on top of the latest industry trends and encourage my employees to keep learning so we can provide the best to our clients.
The knowledge I have gained in the past 20 years—since I began my career as a designer and worked my way through to fabrication and installation—has helped me become the business owner I am today.
Most people get a degree in business, marketing, and sales and then learn the ropes. I was the exact opposite. I cut my teeth in the sign industry first, then took business courses to help me run the company properly.
SMC: What are the future plans for your business?
CB: I have plans to make Letterall Signs one of the largest companies in Winnipeg, focusing on vehicle wraps and large-format graphics. In the next couple of years, I would like to see us in a larger facility to accommodate the work we do.
SMC: How has the global pandemic affected your business? Are there any tips/best practices you can share to help industry professionals get through these difficult times?
CB: It has been a challenging year. We had eight employees last year, now we are down to three. Our sales started plummeting in the spring of 2020. We had to shift our marketing strategies to providing social distancing signage and decals.
Currently, Winnipeg is in a lockdown, so most of our clients are closed or providing curbside pickup; they are not ordering new graphics or signage. As a result, we have started offering many services, including colour change wraps and custom vehicle graphics, to personal retail instead of focusing solely on business-to-business (B2B) projects. When the world changes, so should your business.
SMC: Has your shop produced any COVID-19-related signage?
CB: When the coronavirus began spreading, we started producing all kinds of social distancing decals and signage. Now, we also fabricate counter shields, portable barriers, and screens.
The Outlet Collection Winnipeg (OCW) commissioned Letterall Signs to supply and install all of their floor decals, which included directional and distance markers, barriers for common seating areas, water-fountain covers, and table-top barriers for the food court, as well as curbside pickup signage. I am incredibly grateful to have the OCW as a client.
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