Kim & Gretchen Noller...Noller Signs
I was born in Tampa, Florida in 1945, and my family moved to Southern California in 1953. When I got out of the Army in 1968, after being drafted out of college my father (who had ran away from home 12 years earlier) urged me to go into business with him, and learn the sign trade. He had alternated between sign painting and the carnival business all his life. I had majored in commercial art in high school and college, with intentions of becoming an advertising artist with an agency. I had worked around my Dad's sign shop as a very young boy, but since he was gone, I had not intended to become a sign painter.
Anyway, he taught me the techniques of brush lettering, and I became a pretty good lettering man. Like most small shops, we did a little of everything. The shop was in the Sunland-Tujunga area, which is in the Northeast end of the San Fernando Valley (Los Angeles) in Southern California. We did walls, trucks, windows, show cards, etc. A few years later, I took over running the business on my own, with an occasional part time man.
The advent of computers in the sign business came at just the right time, as all the cities and towns were beginning to pass ordinances limiting sizes of signs. Wall signs were becoming harder to get through the bureaucracy.
During the eighties, like so many of you, I had more work than I could handle. With a good reputation, it all came in through referrals. I worked every day at least 9 hours, usually more. In the late 80's the California economy hit the skids, and really hasn't recovered yet. The overpriced housing here has to adjust to a realistic level, before any more growth will occur. When the real estate market is soft, so is everything else.
In 1991, my wife Gretchen and I decided to leave the hectic life, smog and crime in Los Angeles and move to the mountains. We sold the house, where I had moved the shop ten years earlier, and bought our place in Lebec. We have 18 acres, and are in a small little canyon with lots of oak trees. The place had a couple of large metal outbuilding and a house already on it, so I moved the business and the home at the same time. We are exactly one hour's drive from our old area, so I go down the hill once a week. I see customers, deliver goods, and do installations. Occasionally I have to go twice in one week, but not often.
Where we are is between L.A. and Bakersfield, and there are quite a few businesses up here. I have become pretty well established up here, and do about half my work for the locals here. I love to work with tools, and computers as well. I do some webpages for people, and layouts for ads, business cards, etc. In a slow economy, I have to do many different types of work, but that makes life interesting. So much of the work is done on the computers, that I really love it when I get a large billboard or something that allows me to get my brushes wet. At 51 years old, I have to admit that spending the day on a ladder really takes it's toll.
The whole idea of moving up here was to take things easier, so things are really great. With some income from a couple of rentals, and the sale of our home in L.A., we don't need to hustle as much as in the past. We had the swimming pool, the new cars, etc. and now we have cut the life style back to enjoy life more. Our daughter Heather was married this year to a great young man named Mark Landry. They live in Florida, at least for now, so Gretchen and I plan to travel across the country a few times in the next couple years.
I send my spare time working on the place. I have remodeled the house, and added onto the shop several times. At the altitude of 4,000 feet, we now get the seasons we never experienced while living in Los Angeles. The occasional snow in Winter, and absolutely gorgeous skies all year round. The pictures with this profile show the area, the shop, and the office. The main part of the shop is not heated or insulated, and I use it for the "rough" work, like building signs, working on projects, etc.
The office is large enough to handle the computers, the vinyl, and the drying of boards in the winter. The main shop has large roll-up doors to allow for bringing trucks inside for lettering. The 8x16; drawing board is hinged, and I can raise it with a small power winch, allowing the trucks to be driven in. I could have spent a couple hours cleaning up the dump before I took the pictures, but that would have been a lie, because the shop usually is a mess.
The "lower" shop (farther down the hill) is where I keep the shear, the brake, and other sheetmetal tools. I also keep the "toys" there. Two tractors....one with a backhoe & bucket ....one with a blade and mower. I use them to keep the weeds down, and fix the occasional leak in the water system. I just enjoy "playing" on the tractors. If a neighbor needs something done, I'm their man.
I use IBM clones, with CorelDraw and Signlab to drive an Ioline Studio 7 24" cutter. I try to use some of the tricks that combine vinyl with paint. I enjoy all phases of the work, from design, to fabrication, to installation. I really enjoy working with my hands.
Working at home (since 1980) has really worked well for me. I can jump back and forth from signwork to a home project, or go out late in the evening to put that last coat of paint on something. Of course, the customers call on Sundays and evenings, but that's fine with me. I really can't separate the two lives from each other, nor do I want to.
We'd like to thank Steve & Barb for allowing us to share some of our life with all of you. One last comment, and I think it's important.
Over the years we have all come in contact with "snappers." A snapper (according to my old dad) is that guy who travels around ....town to town taking work away from the local sign man. He has to borrow money "for paint", has no tools, no overhead, and usually no talent. In reality, he really isn't taking work away from the local guys, because we all know that those signs need repainting. I have NEVER gone into a business to solicit work. I won't go tell the guy his sign looks bad, and I can fix it. Even when things are slow, I won't do it. If a friend tells me to give SO&SO a call, he needs a sign, I tell the friend that if SO&SO needs a sign, have him call me.
I feel that when I walk into a person's business and solicit work, I am saying to him - "I am hungry, I need work, I am willing to do it for less than it's worth." That gives him the advantage. I am also insulting him, because he probably knows his sign is sub-standard, or like many....he doesn't care. The few times I did call "SO&SO"...he invariably would say "I'm not ready yet, I'll call you when I am." When someone calls me because he heard I do good work, or I'm reliable, he has also heard that I am not the cheapest guy around, but that I am worth the money. Now I have the advantage.
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