By Ginny Mumm
North Simcoe Signs, based in Midland, Ont., has been providing signage to various businesses and other organizations in its community for more than 15 years. The secret to its lasting success has been a commitment to production versatility to meet its clients’ needs.
“You have to care about two things in this business: your customers and your quality,” says Mike Cillis, founder (pictured).
A family affair
A fourth-generation pressman, Cillis studied at Edmonton’s Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) and worked for the Calgary Sun. His first experience in the sign industry came when he visited relatives in Toronto; he wanted to spend time with his grandmother in her final months and, while in town, he worked in his brother’s sign shop.
Later, when he and his wife divorced, Cillis moved with his children to Midland. At the time, he owned a 0.6-m (2-ft) wide vinyl cutter. He began watching for new businesses opening, as they would need new signage. In 2000, he opened the first shop of his own, SunSport Signs, equipped with a used Roland CammJet CJ-70 aqueous inkjet printer/cutter.
After growing this business to 12 employees, Cillis sold it and took a five-year sabbatical, starting in 2011, to travel with his family. SunSport Signs continues to operate today.
When Cillis returned from the sabbatical in 2016, he started up North Simcoe Signs. This business became a family affair, with just four employees. One of them is his son, Ryan, who both works in the business and maintains its presence on social media platforms.
“You can do a lot with a few talented people and great production equipment,” Cillis explains.
From stop signs to band posters
Indeed, digital automation has helped North Simcoe Signs become a full-service shop, providing all types of indoor and outdoor signs, window and wall graphics, banners, posters and decals for local restaurants, retail stores, other businesses and civic organizations, along with municipal signage ranging from stop signs to vehicle wraps for the local police and fire departments.
The shop has also developed something of a sub-specialty by serving the music industry. Cillis, who has played in several 1980s-style ‘hair bands’ over the years and understands the market from the inside out, produces a wide range of band posters, banners, logos, decals, fridge magnets and other fan giveaways.
He is particularly proud of his shop’s community involvement, including its work for Tushfest, an annual party and fundraising concert in honour of musician Wayne ‘Tush’ Tocheniuk, who passed away in 2008. The money raised at the event goes to pay parking fees for patients at Edmonton’s Cross Cancer Institute. North Simcoe Signs donates buttons, stickers and custom graphic ‘skins’ to help the participating bands outfit their drum kits.
Return on inkjet investment
To maintain his commitment to quality and support his versatility of production, Cillis has come to rely on Roland DGA digital inkjet printing technologies. Specifically, his shop is now working with its fifth Roland machine, a 1.4-m (54-in.) wide TrueVis SG-540 printer/cutter.
“Within the first four weeks of owning my very first inkjet printer, I generated in sales what the machine had cost me,” he explains. “After that, it was a no-brainer. I don’t understand why anybody would buy anything else. Today, everything we print, we print on a Roland.”
While he chose the vendor partly for its reputation for after-sale support for sign shop owners, he says he hopes he will never actually need it, as he just wants his equipment to keep on working.
“My printers have been workhorses,” he says. “We have never had a serious issue.”
Keeping up with the hustle
Over the years, Cillis has seen many changes in the sign industry, including the development of separate professions for specialized graphic designers and installers.
“Before, everyone did everything and there were no separate charges for layouts or installs,” he says.
For his own part, he relies on a versatile production department and plenty of hustle to generate sales.
“Signmaking is a great business,” he says. “It really connects you to your community. I couldn’t ask for things to be any better.”
For more information, visit www.northsimcoesigns.com.