We see signage everywhere we go, every single day. Walking, driving, sitting in traffic, searching or not: signs let us know where we are, where to go, and often things we didn’t realize we wanted – or needed – to know.
Paul Lachapelle is the Operations Manager at Signs Plus, the Bellingham company that’s been producing many of our area’s most innovative, eye-catching signs since 1992.
On a recent visit to Signs Plus, Paul walked me through the expansive Marine Drive facility and explained the immense work going into the company’s project to re-brand the Best Western Plus Lakeway Inn into a Four Points by Sheraton Bellingham hotel.
From the outdoor signs to each individual room number, the Signs Plus team was deep in the process of designing, fabricating and preparing to install hundreds of signs at the Lakeway Drive hotel.
“There are hundreds if not thousands of details in every job,” Paul says, as we look over a work bench covered in small acrylic squares that have been masked off, painted, and finished with raised room numbers and corresponding Braille.
“I’ve been doing this so long, I can smell a potential problem a mile away,” he says. By nature of the business, issues crop up often, and it’s Paul’s job to anticipate them or work to fix them.
“Fortunately, we very rarely have to do something twice,” Paul says of the stellar Signs Plus track record. “Proper communication, planning and execution are key to our company’s success.”
Paul is quick to point out that what Signs Plus does is a team effort. “We’re blessed to have a group of extremely talented people, from the manufacturing departments to the design, sales and office staff – and, of course, the installation crews. These people do the impossible on a daily basis.”
One of Paul’s many tasks on the day of my visit was translating a spec plan’s colors to paint, so elements of a lighted sign being installed on the side of the Four Points by Sheraton Bellingham hotel would be a perfect match across all of the project’s different signs, made of different materials.
Paul walks me to a large production area in a different building on the property, where several men are hard at work creating the steel frame for a free-standing, outdoor Four Points by Sheraton Bellingham sign that will be 12 ½ feet high and 16 feet wide.
“You’re going to drive by this on I-5 and it will just look like a little sign,” Paul says. “It’s not really very big¾but of course it is.”
In comparison to other Signs Plus projects, the Four Points by Sheraton Bellingham signs aren’t massive¾they created and installed an outdoor sign for Seattle Premium Outlets that looms 90 feet up in the air and is 40 feet long by 30 feet tall. But standing next to the frame for this particular sign, it’s still mighty impressive.
“This sign is probably going to weigh about 3,000 pounds,” Paul says, and then explains some of the technical details behind it, including its flex-face, tensioning system and how the new portion of the structure will sleeve into the existing 14-inch pipe.
“You can build the same sign five or ten different ways,” Paul explains. “I take all the different methods I’ve learned and find the best approach for every project.”
The day before installation of the outdoor signs is set to begin, Paul and his team hit a snag.
“We went to dig the foundation for one of the free-standing signs and hit solid sandstone,” he says. “That stops us dead.”
Paul has worked through hundreds of projects, so nothing seems to phase (or surprise) him. After a quick call to their structural engineer, new drawings were created by the permit department and re-submitted to the city, rebar cages were built and bolts secured into the sandstone with epoxy, and the excavator returned to finish the job – all done by the next day.
“It’s the kind of thing that happens almost on a daily basis in the sign business,” Paul says of this problem and the myriad of other issues that his team tackles on every project.
The next day, the Signs Plus team installed the sign and finished the job without further issue.
“Our group always pulls together and makes it happen,” Paul says. “Everybody works well under pressure here.”
In fact, Paul wonders out loud if the Signs Plus team might prefer those unexpected problems that must be worked out immediately.
“I think a lot of us here are a bit bored when there’s not some sort of a heart attack going on,” he says with a laugh. “It’s a rush and gets the adrenaline going.”
In this case, like so many hundreds before it, Signs Plus completed the project successfully. “All the planets had to align – the engineers, the city, the excavator, and our team,” Paul says. “And it’s a beautiful thing when that happens.”
To contact Signs Plus for your next project, call 360-671-7165 or visit www.signsplusnw.com.