Signs Now Erie is celebrating a significant milestone. This woman owned business is thanking Erie and the surrounding area for 25 years in business. Owner and President of Signs Now, Sue Hawley, was hired by the original owner, Debbie Trocki, in 1991 as a graphic designer and sign maker. “The technology was all new to me. I thought I died and gone to heaven,” says Hawley who was an industrial screen printer at the time. “I have many fond memories,” says Hawley. “I remember within the first two months I worked with Debbie, that we lettered the back of a boat in about 40 degree weather, with myself on the swim platform and Debbie hanging onto my coat so I wouldn’t fall in the water. I wondered then what did I get myself into?”
Signs Now originally opened as Sign Express in August of 1990 and was located at 2301 West 12th Street. In 1998, Sign Express became Signs Now. As an individually owned franchise there would be significant benefits. Signs Now was a much larger and more experienced franchise. Trocki’s choice to stick with the franchise system proved to be profitable and progressive; ever-changing technology, vendor discounts and franchise support for ongoing training and development were necessary to grow the business. In 2000, Signs Now outgrew the 12th Street location and moved to its new location at 2232 West 23rd street, just off Pittsburgh Avenue. The new facility, that includes 5, 000 square feet, has allowed for the designing and manufacturing of all types of signs, installation of custom vehicle wraps and the room to upgrade to digital printing technology. “We can get a tractor trailer inside to install whatever the customer wants,” says Hawley. “We even had four City of Erie plow trucks inside at one time to custom letter.”
In 2002, at a Signs Now convention in Las Vegas, Trocki told Hawley she was looking to sell the business and wanted her to take over the company. “My mind went blank, I never thought of myself as a business owner. I always figured I’d be an employee forever,” says Hawley. After a year of contemplating such a move and pooling resources, Hawley became the new owner of Signs Now on November 1, 2003. “What a wild ride it’s been. I know all about sign design and manufacturing, but it’s a whole new animal to run a business and have employees, and to always have the business on your mind. But I love it! It was the right decision.”
Return and regular customers like Saint Vincent Health Center, Smith’s, Eriez Manufacturing, Gannon University and Erie Insurance are a big part of the success behind Signs Now. Another one of those regular, long-time customers is Paul Nelson, owner of Waldameer Park & WaterWorld. When you walk by the Wipe-Out amusement ride, you’ll notice larger-than-life wall murals behind the ride. Signs Now Erie printed and installed Waldameers’ Wipe-Out custom wall graphics and for 2015 Signs Now is working on another large custom graphics installation for the Erie amusement park. What makes this possible according to Hawley is large format digital printing technology. “In 2004, digital capabilities transformed the sign industry allowing Signs Now to expand into a whole new level of custom design, products and services,” says Hawley. “The possibilities are endless.”
A constant challenge in the sign business, aside from unpredictable weather for outside installations, is the various bylaws on signage for various municipalities. “Keeping up with all the changing regulations on the local level is a challenge,” says Hawley. In addition, keeping up with the changes on ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) laws is another concern. Hawley says the Signs Now franchise is very helpful when it comes to incorporating those laws to complete an installation.
Hawley is a long-time member of The Women’s Roundtable and past board member. She is a member of the Erie Regional Chamber and Growth Partnership, the Advanced Athena and a 2013 Athena Powerlink Recipient. Hawley is also a member of the Signs Now Franchise Performance Group. Her community connections run long and deep. A graduate of Seneca High School, growing up in Greenfield Township, Hawley studied graphic design at Edinboro University. She’ll tell you she’s a country girl at heart who loves hunting, fishing and fast cars.
After 25 years in the sign business, Hawley says the biggest challenge is keeping regular and long-time customers satisfied while at the same time designing, processing and installing rush orders. “One of the most satisfying aspects of this business is the number of return customers we have. We are very grateful to those customers,” says Hawley. “I haven’t run into a project yet we couldn’t figure out. The possibilities are endless, and if I ever need help, we figure it out! No project is too big or too small. We pride ourselves on every order and every customers needs are of great value and importance.”