In The Trenches: Incredible Credibility

Rick Williams

Rick Williams owns Rick’s Sign Company, a commercial sign shop in Longview, Texas. He has been in the sign industry since 1973 and has been a contributing editor to Sign Business since 1986. Contact Rick via e-mail at ricksignco@aol.com.

Over the years, well actually over the decades that I have been designing and making signs, I have found that a professional, effective layout is very convincing, and carries lots of credibility… even when it is wrong. And that’s not always a good thing because mistakes usually have to be corrected.

For example, just a few weeks ago I made a nice new sign for a Pentacostal church about an hour’s drive away, and sent multiple proofs as we fine-tuned an eye-catching layout, and then drove to the job to do the install one Saturday evening. Finally, and only when I was about to drive away, did the preacher realize I had misspelled the church’s name, though he should have noticed all along as “Pentacostal” is spelled with an “e” in the middle, not an “a”.  But I guess the sign just looked too good to be wrong. 

I paid the price for my amazing power of influence when I had to make the round trip all over again to change one letter on both sides of his new sign, blowing that Saturday evening completely. But, through the years, that sign job wasn’t the only time I’ve been able to convince my clients that what I make look correct and authentic, actually is, even though they certainly know better.

Keith, of Keith’s Refrigeration, was one of my first customers, and I hand-lettered several trucks for him back in the day. One time he stood and watched me hand paint lettering on both doors of his new Chevy truck, spelling his name “Kieth” more than once, and he said it looked great. It took him months to notice my foolishness and then felt a bit foolish himself when he made me correct it sometime the next year, especially since he personally supervised the whole project.

I did almost that good with two large banners that were shipped to a Long Beach sign business trade show, put on by the publisher of this magazine a good many years ago. When they arrived, someone did notice that I spelled “Long Beach” as “Longbeach,” that is one word with a lower case “b”, but it was too late to do anything but go ahead and install them as they were.

When I heard of the error, I felt terrible about it, but over the course of the three day show about three people actually noticed the screw up, and no one made a big deal of it. Again, it seems if the layout really works, the spelling can slide a bit as long as it appears credible. What an amazing power we sign makers have.

But one job I did a good while back had my client believing I had made a sign that worked like a magnetic compass, which kept turning north when the customer’s back was turned. Seems this double-sided sign, with an arrow directing traffic from a major highway up the side street to the business, looked good and correct when we put it in his truck. And it looked fine when he installed it, but when he left his shop for a while and returned, it was pointing not up the road, but across the street in the wrong direction.

Frustrated, but glad he had used no concrete to set the posts, he stopped and worked the sign up out of the ground, turned it 180 degrees and put it back. Problem solved… until later he went to lunch going the other way on the main road and returned to see the sign pointing across the street again.

He admitted to me later, that he was actually in the process of digging the sign up one more time when he realized the arrow pointed left on both sides, meaning it was correct from one way and wrong from the other, and he would have been mad at me for the extra work I made him do, except for laughing at himself for being so gullible.

It’s a power I have, I guess. A sign man gift; a gift that keeps on giving. And that’s why the proofs I send for clients to correct, are approved mistakes and all, over and over again. So, I suppose it’s up to me to get the details right, one word or two, spell checked and then some, and with the arrows pointed on their appropriate ends.

Because when it comes to making signs credible, functional, and reliable and true, in the words of Harry Truman, and I might as well admit it, “the buck stops here.”