Doug & Jane Downey
Hi Letterheads! We're Doug & Jane Downey from Stratford, Ontario, Canada. We always enjoy reading your stories here and now I guess it's our turn.
In 1985, while working at Dofasco Steel in Hamilton, Ontario, Doug began working on his dream of Sun Signs! In the basement of our home in Burlington, Doug taught himself lettering and we screened small signs. Doug had lots of connections from working part time at the local race tracks so many evenings were spent lettering race cars in the area."Learn to do by doing" was and continues to be Doug's motto. Before long we were pinstriping, sandblasting and lettering signs.
In the winter of 1987, we began actively looking for a new home for ourselves and Sun Signs. We looked towards the Stratford area where Jane's family lived. After investigating the area closer, we felt the surroundings of Stratford offered the perfect opportunity for a budding sign artist! In Gadshill, a small rural community on the edge of the city, we found a small acreage with a home and the shell of a shop. After saying our good-byes, and selling our Corvette, we moved to Stratford on June 1, 1987.
It was an exciting and anxious time. We both left well paid jobs with all the benefits, for this venture into self employment. We were also expecting our first child. But we both believe that dreams and visions must be followed. We have always prayed about each decision we made, so how could we go wrong! Doug got busy cleaning the shop and setting things up. Our truck was the first thing to get lettered and Doug would drive into the city each morning, to pick up a coffee at the local Tim Hortons and then cruise the main street to do some advertising! Our truck attracted many of our first customers.
Doug has always made friends easily, and his warmth and genuine interest in others and their needs quickly drew people to Doug and Sun Signs. It was around this time, while attending a Consac show in Toronto, that we spotted a hand lettered showcard promoting a Letterhead Meet in Fergus, Ontario. Doug had read about the Letterheads in all the sign magazines and Fergus was only a 50 minute drive from our home. It was at this first meet that we met Steve & Barb Shortreed and many others that would develop into our present Southern Ontario Signcrafters or SOS group.
We soon bought our first computer, a used 1VB. This treasure was set up in the house, but only briefly, as Doug found it an invaluable tool that needed to be right there in the sign shop. The shop itself was really starting to take shape. The one light bulb was replaced by an array of fluorescent lighting. The pounce wall and a paint counter evolved. I began doing the bookkeeping, which was not an easy task for me with my nursing background.
In December, between lettering a half dozen snowmobiles for anxious customers, we delivered our first child at our home in Gadshill. That winter was a bit of a struggle, but the promise of business and Doug's love of sign making kept the dream alive for all of us and little Derek. We set up a booth at a local Home and Garden Show and Sun Signs attracted some new clients. Things were picking up!
A funny story! Dofasco Steel has a employee suggestion plan. If you
make a suggestion that saves or makes them money, you receive a percentage of the first
years savings. When I left Dofasco's sign department, I suggested they replace me with a
Gerber 4B and they went for it.
In 1989 , Doug invited Mike Stevens to conduct his Design and Layout Workshop at our shop in Gadshill. A dozen eager sign artists from southern Ontario, anxiously awaited this opportunity to meet and learn from a sign giant. Unfortunately, just days before the workshop, we received news that Mike had died suddenly. This was a terrible shock to sign artists everywhere. John Cox of Lexington, Kentucky was persuaded to travel to Canada and conduct this workshop as a tribute to Mike. He did a wonderful job.
Doug has made a great effort to attend most major Letterhead events over the years, and with this experience, he became very involved with the development of the Canadian Letterhead Discovery events. Discovery 1990, held at Don & Kim Edwards shop Knightworks, in Newmarket, Ontario, was the first of these large scale events and has now become an annual event. The exception was in 1995 when the Southern Ontario Letterheads deferred their event for the American 20th Anniversary Letterhead event in Denver.
In 1990, our daughter Jenna was born at home in Gadshill. In 1993, we started to realize that Sun Signs may need to relocate from the family home in Gadshill. The shop was becoming too small and was not as efficient as Doug felt it could be. Our family was growing, and the business was threatening to take over the house. A property with a deserted factory, right along the edge of the city of Stratford and situated on a major highway became available. We took about 6 months to prepare the building and new sign shop. In January 1994, Sun Signs moved to the Little Lakes Industrial Park. That winter, an informal Letterheads party took place at the shop and the weekend was spent decorating the shop with various samples of sign work to display in the shop. It was one of those spontaneous, fun filled Letterhead get-togethers that make us really appreciate our friends and colleagues in Letterheads.
In the summer of 1994, another daughter, Lisa, was born at home in Gadshill. Then one day, from out of nowhere, Doug was approached about selling the business. We looked at it, and in the end decided to accept the offer. Doug would remain with Sun Signs, but more in the capacity of sign designer and production assistant. We are expecting our fourth child and who knows what the future holds for sign artist Doug Downey? Stay tuned!
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