By Peter Saunders
In the 23 years since Montreal Neon was founded by Linda Dupré and Carlo Paolucci, the company has grown substantially from a 464.5-m2 (5,000-sf) sign shop to, today, a newly built 5,760-m2 (62,000-sf) facility, with plenty of room for further expansion on a 16,723-m2 (180,000-sf) lot. The company has become well-known by retail and hospitality clients for designing, producing, installing and maintaining large-scale pylon signs, channel letters and directional signs.
Dupré and Paolucci met and began dating in 1989. A few years later, while Paolucci was working as director of sales for a retail store, Dupré was hired by a small, local sign company to check over its books and accounts before it would be sold as ‘Enseignes Neon 1992’ to a new buyer.
“I was working there as an accountant’s assistant,” she explains. “After six months, the new owner was no longer interested in staying with the business. When he decided to close down the shop, Carlo and I jumped at the opportunity to become entrepreneurs, as it was a dream we had long wanted and often talked about.”
So, Dupré approached the new owner—who by that point was renting out the space—and offered to buy his signmaking equipment, which included a Gerber router table and a crane, among other items. She and Paolucci took over the business in 1993 and renamed it Montreal Neon, a brand that has stuck ever since.
“I felt ready to run the company, but at the time, I was just 23 and Carlo was 22,” she says. “We used our own money and also had to get a special, government-guaranteed bank loan so we could buy the equipment and take over the lease.”
Growing the business
Paolucci’s role focused on operations, production, sales and business development, while Dupré handled finances, administration, human resources (HR) and working with suppliers.
“You have to enjoy what you do,” says Dupré. “We’re very passionate about this business, even though we had no idea beforehand we would end up in the sign industry!”
When they took over the business, it had five employees handling custom jobs and catering to clients within the Quebec market. All of those employees stayed on with the company as it grew to take on national sign programs for retail and hospitality businesses and, eventually, to focus on the U.S. market, too.
“We grew together,” says Dupré. “Now we’re a big family, with 75 employees. And we’ll still be like a family even when we reach 150 or 200. Our employees are very close to us.”
Similarly, the company’s relationships with its clients grew in scale over the years.
“We would reach out to retailers for opportunities and once we started working for them, they were impressed by our work and would refer us to other clients,” says Palucci. “And we’d start out just working on one project, but as a customer’s business grew, we would grow with them, becoming their approved sign vendor. A lot of our growth has been with the same clients over the years.”
“Customer satisfaction is at the core of our business,” says Dupré. “We believe in keeping strong and trustworthy relations with everyone involved in our business, from our employees to our suppliers and to our customers.”