When searching for a new restaurant to dine in or when deciding where to go shopping, a customer’s first impression of a business is often made when they see the sign—is it classy, is it chic or sleek, is the logo fun and festive, and, most importantly, is it easy to read?
No matter the business, the sign and its visibility can make the difference between just a few customers and a line out the door. It’s basic branding 101, yet so few consumers think about that sign and the workmanship behind that one simple, but vital, business element.
Every once in a while, however, a sign is so spectacular and full of such craftsmanship that it catches our gaze, not just a quick glimpse—think of the collectable rustic Coca-Cola signs or vintage Shell and Sinclair gas station signs, for example. The new neon Realty Concepts in Old Town Clovis, designed by Clovis-based sign company Excel Sign Company, is drawing such recognition.
The classic style sign, while undoubtedly the most complicated piece Excel has created in some time, is just one of many signs the company has made around town. In Old Town alone, Excel has designed signs for Forestiere’s Place and the Old Republic Title Company. Then there are chains around town, such as the Chevron/Johnny Quik combo stations, the Surf Thru Express car washes, and Judy’s Donuts, that sport Excel Sign Company.
And, if the big signs weren’t enough, the vinyl decals seen on so many vehicles driving around town are often designed by Excel as well—the Clovis Police Department and Clovis Fire vehicles are all outfitted with Excel’s vinyl stickers. On average, the company invoices 100 projects each month, so one would be hard pressed to not see a sign made by Excel when driving around Clovis or Fresno.
Owner David Boothe, 35, described sign making as an art form—a labor intensive art form that often requires welding, fabrication, and electrical skills as well as a good eye for design.
“We touch on so many different trades because we’re doing electrical, welding, fabrication, painting, and even masonry when we dig our own forms for big monument signs like a 100-foot sign at Avenue 7 we did for a Chevron that was 25 feet deep, 5 feet in diameter,” Boothe said. “It is different. I’ve seen a lot of people come and go. People think it looks so easy but they are gone in a year or two because they don’t last. It takes a good team and somebody who can manage it. I sure enjoy it. I enjoy having new guys come in and training them and teaching them the different aspects because a lot of times they think, well I can weld or I can do this and that’s only one aspect of it, there are so many things to learn and it takes years.”
Boothe’s interest in signage began when he was a teenager riding dirt bikes. The Buchanan High School graduate would frequent the old Signarama shop in Clovis and buy vinyl to make stickers for his bike. He called his stickers Dave’s Designs. When he became injured and could no longer make money riding, he took a job at the shop since he loved designing with vinyl. After quickly moving up, he then decided to open his own business at the age of 22.
“I prayed about it a long time and felt it was time and gave it a shot,” Boothe said about the decision to start Excel Sign Company. “I was 22 so I was young enough that if something went south I could try to rebuild again but the Lord has just blessed it and it has kept going.”
At first, the bulk of Boothe’s business was making vinyl signs, banners and vehicles wraps, as he had to become certified in electrical work to do the large lighted signs on his own, but today, with the help of a few other guys including his semi-retired dad, Paul Boothe, who once operated a landscaping business out the current Excel Sign Company shop, the business is about 50-50, with half of the work being inside work or printing banners and vehicle graphics and half of the work done with large welding and fabrication machines in the warehouse.
“We do everything from simple stickers and banners, trade show displays to vehicle wraps to electrical signs and monuments a little bit of everything,” Boothe said.
While the company makes a variety of signs, ones like the Realty Concepts sign don’t come along every day, Boothe said.
“It was labor intensive but a lot of fun,” Boothe said. “The Realty Concepts sign was one of the biggest projects we’ve done, it took a lot of planning and just with the structural aspect of it hanging off the wall, you just don’t see that very often so we had to tie it in with the contractors to plan it out. You don’t just go hang a thousand pound sign off any wall, there is a lot of coordination and with the electrical aspect, there is a lot of neon and the neon ramps up the voltage and there are transformer boxes in there—10 of them—and all of those things are 40 or 50 pounds apiece and they are all stacked up. Most of it is made of aluminum so it’s pretty lightweight material, it just adds up. Overall it was 4 feet by 20 feet tall. Up in the air it looks proportional and it looks right, but on the ground it looked really big.”
In general, Boothe said neon signs are a rarity nowadays as LED lighting is much more energy efficient and cost effective. Prior to the Realty Concepts sign, the last neon project he recalls was building the a B.B. Pepper for the store in north Fresno and that was at least three years ago. He was glad Realty Concepts wanted the specific look only neon could provide so he had the chance to create something amazing with the dying lighted artform.
“We were excited to do the Realty Concepts sign because they wanted to make a statement and a landmark item for Old Town and that is what we wanted to create with them,” he said.