By Peter Saunders
In business since 1988, Masterhand Signs & Design is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. Pat and Ruth Welter, a husband-and-wife team living just outside Unity, Sask., have found a niche by specializing in handcrafted signs, handpainted murals and other works with a personal touch.
The art of advertising
Before he became a signmaker, Pat worked in the broadcasting industry, handling sales and marketing for radio stations in Saskatchewan and Alberta. While he says he didn’t enjoy the politics of the business, the experience made him more fully appreciate the importance of advertising.
“A lot of people, when they start a business, don’t yet realize what advertising can do for them,” he says. “They would jump in before they had the tools to market their good ideas. In retail, for example, they would pour their money into buying a building and filling the store with products, but they still needed marketing to get customers through their door. So I would come along, research their business, show them a marketing plan and explain what they were missing out on, how their potential customers’ dollars were going elsewhere.”
Through this process of considering advertising in different forms, Pat began to notice a relative lack of signage in the marketing mix.
“Many of my retail clients would advertise via radio, TV and newspapers, but never follow up with signs in their stores,” he explains. “That’s how the sign industry caught my attention.”
Pat’s hobbies from a young age included sketching, carving and drawing, so he was already well-positioned to transition into a new career as a signmaker when he decided to leave broadcasting. He also read lots of books about sign layout and lettering.
“Signs caught my heart,” he says. “I couldn’t have found a better niche to stumble into.”
Ruth was working at a bank at the time, which helped bring in enough outside income to offset what Pat left behind in his old career.
“As I got busier, though, I needed her to help me with the paperwork,” he explains.
“He had a friend’s assistance at first,” says Ruth. “Then I quit the bank to do some of the basic work for him. It eventually became a full-time job. I answer the phone when he’s in the middle of something. I work on murals, with Pat telling me what to paint. I mix the paints and clean the brushes. I can cut and weed vinyl for decals. Because of what I do, he can handle more production.”
“Ruth can also look at my work more like a customer would, rather than as a designer, and provide valuable feedback,” says Pat.