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Hi Letterheads...

Howdy folks, My name is Bob Stephens of Skywatch Signs, located in beautiful Zephyrhills, Florida. I started out like a lot of you. Just fell into the sign business quite by accident. That was 22 years ago in Montauk Point, N.Y. I was working at a Marina one weekend fueling boats for some under the table money. Well by 1:00pm all the boats were out to sea and I headed into the ships store. Noticing a cardboard sign halfway finished, I volunteered to finish it. The owner asked if I knew how to make signs and I replied "Don't look that difficult to me." I considered myself a fairly accomplished artist, what could be so hard about painting a few ABCs? Well... the owner was so impressed she asked me if I could paint a 4x8. Seems they had been waiting months for a sign painter who lived up island. I said I would try it, they already had the board and had painted it brown. They supplied me with some mop type brushes and all the Rustoleum paint I could want. It took me 8 hours and they liked it, even the mispelled words. Didn't have a spell checker back in those days. That night I thought to myself, imagine, getting paid $40.00 to have fun. Not bad.sw-03.jpg - 8.88 K

The next day they had me paint one more, and a guy watching me complimented me on my natural talent. He was impressed by how much money us signpainters make. It seems he had a friend in the business and he told me he couldnt believe we could make $150.00 for a sign like that. Hmmmm, $150.00? And I was only charging $40? Seems the owner made out alright on that deal. Anyway, another marina owner was complaining that he needed a sign, and the people I did the sign for earlier told him to call Bob the Signpainter :) Well this guy is someone I knew and didn't like. So when he asked me how much, I swallowed real hard and said $100. He agreed to it only if I could finish it by the following weekend. Well I took that beautiful sheet of ac plywood they had painted w/ one coat of white home and proceeded to letter it. Ten hours later, it was done. Wow, simple arithmatic, $10.00 and hour. Now I'm starting to like this sign thing. Well, one thing led to another and it snowballed into the monster that it can become. sw-02.jpg - 10.04 K

That's really how I got into it. Right place at the right time. Well, I read everything I could get my hands on. Because I loved it so much, I put in the incredible hours and practised and practised and practised. Through sheer determination I taught myself how to paint signs. As the years went on, I needed more challenges and learned to blast and carve. Computers came on the scene in 1982 and I had one of the first ever Signmaker III's... thats right, three. Never doubted the decision. In fact, I jumped at the opportunity and capitalized on it.

Like everyone else, the long hours, neglect of my familly for six months at a time, the computer helped me catch up and gave me more time to spend with them. I always have had my business in my home. In a basement about 800 sq. ft, I cranked out more work than my competitors in there big shops. I was extremely organized and efficient w/ my time and ran my business like a swiss watch...Took twelve weeks vacation time a year and made some serious money. Took great pride in charging rediculous prices and found i could get it. I am a strong advocate for charging enough for your work and then some.sw-10.jpg - 7.63 K

Speeding up, I divorced and decided to walk away from my little gold mine. Money didn't matter much anymore. So I packed up and moved to Florida. I had considered working for Disney, but decided I could not fit in with an organization. The only thing left to do was open shop again. Skywatch Signs was started in May of '92 and the first 6 months were slow going. I lost many a job cause I refused to lower my price. I stuck to my guns and slowly built up the cliental I wanted to work for. Now only high end accounts come to me because I am known to be far more expensive than anyone else in the area. The cheapskates dont waste my time and I can concentrate on the premium work. We do very little advertising and most of our business is by referral. sw-12.jpg - 8.56 K

I can do most everything, airbrush, pinstripe, gold leaf, carve, blast and design. We don't want the electric signs or neon. There must be 200 electric shops in a 60 mile radius, all cutting each others throats to get the job. Let them fight it out. We have a nice little niche market, all the work I want, and the option to select and choose who I will work for. sw-16.jpg - 4.89 K

I was told that I could not make it here in Florida. People won't pay for good work in this area, I was told. I came down here determined get what I did in NY and I didn't see any rational reason to charge less for my abilities. So here I am, charging top dollar and doing more work than I can handle at times. Experience has taught me that when things get that busy, I'm not charging enough. Time to raise the price even higher...I cant wait to see what the market is willing to bear :) sw-17.jpg - 6.99 K

Skywatch Signs is currently located in 3500 sq.ft. of space. 1000 sq. ft. is divided into my living area. My commute to work, barring traffic is about 15 seconds. We have all the necessary tools to fabricate any type of sign right here. Very little is subcontracted out to ensure strict quality control. I always say, if you want it done right, do it yourself. I'm using Anagraph Design Art with a 30" Anagraph Express plotter..Corel ver.5, a HPII cx color flatbed scanner and an Hp deskjet 1200 Postscript plotter. I am also a distributer in for Anagraph in Central Florida . sw-07.jpg - 9.01 K

At present, I have only one employee. His name is Tom Hamilton and he is still training, but a great help. One of my outside interests is jumping out of airplanes and Zephyrhills, Florida is known as "The Skydiving Capital of the World." In addition to skydiving, I also like to golf, surf and windsurf, as well as water and snow skiing. Life is too short, you have to have some fun along the way. sw-13.jpg - 6.73 K

This is a little different profile. I know I come on a little strong when it comes to pricing sign work, but I've paid a heavy price in these last twenty two years and I refuse to let the customer dictate what my skills are worth. It upsets me to see talented sign artists just getting by when I know they could get so much more for their efforts.

It's really nice to be independent. It's my life and I can do whatever I want... I personally know a lot of you Letterheads out there, and its been a priviledge to know you all and be associated with this unique and unquestioningly eccentric profession. Drop me a line sometime.

E-mail Bob


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