tonner11.jpg - 7.51 KBarry Tonner...Milton, Ontario

tonner-3.jpg - 10.50 KIt all started in the basement of a fur store in Woodstock, Ontario, around 1958. Woodstock is about half way between Detroit and Toronto. I was working there during high school as a delivery boy, keeping the rich and famous of this southwestern Ontario city happy with their $1000 fur coats.

In the basement of the store they had some old signs that they kept using in their window displays. Some of them looked pretty dog-eared and since I was always interested in commercial art, I offered to trace and repaint them, to freshen them up. The boss was really impressed with the results, so I was encouraged to repaint all of them, which I did and loved it. tonner-2.jpg - 10.97 K

Having now established my self as a sign painter (or so I though) I set about doing signs all over town - probably some of the worst signs ever seen in these parts. After high school I took a 2 year commercial art course at Beal Tech in London, and left home to seek my fortune.

My first job was as display man in a Junior Dept. Store, where I was responsible for all displays as well as signs - If I ever see another Morgan sign machine in my life, I will kill it with a sledge hammer. The Morgan sign machine used rubber type, which had to be set up by hand for each sign and then rolled etc. tonner-7.jpg - 10.48 K

From there I moved up the ladder to larger and larger stores, eventually becoming area display supervisor for 5 stores in the Niagara Area, and then on to the big time.

In 1973, became National Display Director for a chain of mature ladies clothing stores, that's when we moved to the not so thriving town of Milton, a bedroom community just 40 min. west of downtown Toronto. We opened stores from coast to coast in Canada, did a lot of traveling, and had a lot of fun. I was then enticed away, to do the same job for a chain men's stores. We did not see eye to eye, over ... guess what ... signs, and so began the torturous birth of a new sign business in 1977. tonner-9.jpg - 7.97 K

In Milton, the only thing moving faster than the 18 year old girls, is the commuter train and the speed at which the sidewalks fold up at 5pm (if you are not careful you'll get your foot caught or lose your drink) and so it was a struggle for a number of years. We did manage to get permission from a store at the intersection in town to use a billboard to advertise our services, we had the use of the sign for three months. In return, I painted his message on it for free and that helped a great deal. In the beginning, we bought paint one can at a time, as we needed it. If someone wanted a sign with red lettering, then we went out and bought a can of red One Shot, that's how we built up our stock on everything, from brushes to banners. We are lucky here, in that everything we need for the sign business is available close by in Toronto, Canada's largest city (Area pop. approx. 5,000,000). tonner10.jpg - 11.01 K

From this humble beginning, we had nowhere to go but up! We worked from the house for about 4 years, and then moved into a 1500 sq. ft shop in an industrial mall. My wife Becky helped run the office and manage the books. We were one of the first shops in Ontario to buy a Gerber machine. I had already been playing around with a computer at home, and had said for years, that when they invented a computer that would do signs, I would be the first to buy one. That's when business began to really take off, and after only 3 years, we had to move to a 3500 sq. ft shop..... this was around 1988. We then bought a second Gerber machine and an optical scanning system for creating cutting files of logos etc. We had now grown to 12 full time employees. Even the bigger shop seemed crowded with 12 employees and their egos. tonner-5.jpg - 7.14 K

Because of my increasing interest in computers, we designed, produced and marketed a pricing program called SignCalc. This software was originally for my own personal use, but others showed interest, so we decided to market it for the small shop. It took the chore out of pricing many signs on different types of material. In the end, we figured the program was a head of its time, because not many shops at that time had computers, let alone knew how to use them. (It's still available, by the way!) tonner-4.jpg - 5.18 K

That brings us to the great recession (Depression of 92).... I call it. Business began to decline as companies cut back or went out of business, and one by one we had to either let people go, or not replace them if they left.

Today we have two full time sign writers myself included, one part-time summer student, plus one part time bookkeeper, and we have managed to survive. We are now beginning to grow again, as the economy improves and look forward to better times. tonner-8.jpg - 7.90 K

Our shop produces mainly commercial signs of all types, with some screen printing of fleet decals and real estate signs. We used to paint 100% of everything when we started, and now we hand paint only about 10%, other than backgrounds, and many signs are completed using a combination of both vinyl and hand lettering (See an upcoming next issue of Signcraft). We do not manufacture electric sign boxes, but will letter and repaint faces depending on the size. tonner-1.jpg - 8.30 K

There, Ladies and Gentlemen, is a short history of our shop, and along the way we have raised a dashing young man, Christopher and a beautiful and charming daughter, Catherine. Both children are our pride and joy. Christopher and Catherine have traveled the world, as members of the famous Burlington Teen Tour Band (I have a keen interest in Marching Bands, and Marching Music). None of this would have been possible without the help and support of my charming wife Becky, affectionately known as "Becko".

In the sign business you have to be positive, "No extra charge for spelling mistakes" (lol) and we try to be positive in everything. If you are going by, feel free to drop in and say hello! My favorite quote is "A Business with a good sign is a sign of a good business!" and also....."Whoever dies with the most fonts, wins!"

Visit The Tonner Sign Home Page

E-mail Barry


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