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Profile: Sunset Neon

Dairy Queen (DQ) franchisees rely on Sunset to deliver solidly built signs in time for new store openings.

Expanded horizons
Following a dip with the 1990-91 recession, the next phase of expansion came in 1992, when Sunset moved into a 464.5-m2 (5,000-sf) facility in Burlington, Ont., closer to its Hamilton roots, and was officially incorporated.

“We’ve tended to move every eight years as we outgrow each building,” says Carley. “We’ve tried to continue with the same business plan for organic growth by keeping our existing clients and dedicating a few key staff members to prospecting new ones. The prospecting can be a struggle, as we all get busy, but growth will not come without new blood.”

With this strategy, Sunset was able to add new national accounts every year or two, becoming a long-term supplier for The Body Shop, Moore’s Clothing for Men, Michael Hill and other retail chains across Canada. In addition to supplying signs when new stores opened and existing ones were refurbished, Sunset gained trust by ensuring local sign bylaws were followed from city to city.

“Our national accounts come back to us year after year,” Carley says. “All of the Dairy Queen (DQ) franchisees, for instance, like to deal with us because they know we will provide a solid product and we won’t miss a grand opening.”

In addition to serving regular customers across Canada, Sunset began to manufacture signs for shipping to locations in the U.S. and further abroad, including a video arcade in Japan.

“We shipped the components and sent our installers over there to handle them,” says Carley.

Sunset is primarily known for fabricating illuminated channel letters for retailers and other tenants of shopping malls and plazas.

Continued organic growth
The initial move to Burlington was followed by two relocations within the same city, first to a 929-m2 (10,000-sf) facility in 1999 and then to a 1,858-m2 (20,000-sf) facility in 2007, doubling the size of the company’s footprint each time.

Each move set the stage for major investments in new machinery, as well as research and development (R&D) efforts in emerging areas like light-emitting diode (LED) illumination and computer numerical control (CNC) routing.

“The sign industry continues to make improvements very quickly,” Carley says. “You walk through a mall today and the signs all look fantastic and are high-quality. Even a sign from just two years ago looks very clunky by comparison.”

At the end of 2016, Sunset moved back to its hometown, Hamilton, with a 4,645-m2 (50,000-sf) manufacturing facility providing more room for a staff that had doubled over the previous three years, to more than 50.

“This location has the best and most advanced equipment available in our industry,” says Carley. “It’s very exciting to be part of this experience, where a mature company is still growing organically. Sales were up 37 per cent in the first quarter (Q1) of 2017 versus last year.”

Sunset now focuses more strictly on sign fabrication and installation, outsourcing servicing to a local Young Electric Sign Company (YESCO) franchise. The Sam’s signage, however, will be installed by Media Resources International (MRI) of Oakville, Ont. (see Sign Media Canada, July 2016, page 24).

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