Courtesy of The Florida Times Union
By Drew Dixon
A stroll through the production warehouse at Harbinger sign company on Jacksonville’s Southside is a visual visit to some of the most iconic business brands across the First Coast and America: The Jacksonville Jaguars, 7-Eleven and Exxon, among other names, emanate from the monikers under construction.
“What we have here is a culture of people who are always looking forward, looking ahead and being creative,” said Mike Lev, vice president of operations at Harbinger.
The 65,000-square-foot Harbinger facility on Shad Road is home to 80 employees who are involved in multiple aspects of creating the commercial signs atthe plant. Harbinger, previously known as Quality Sign Co. until about five years ago, was founded in 1962 by then owner George Massey. The original name of the company worked for years, but Chairman of the Board Roger Williams – Massey’s son-in-law — said that name was changed after it was obvious there were hundreds of other companies in the U.S. with the same name.
Harbinger now boasts more than 100 clients in 32 states and produces about 7,200 signs per year. And the signs range from small shop signs to the big outdoor signs brightened by LED lighting that guide motorists and customers to businesses.
The Harbinger production facility itself involves several stages of development, ranging from molds and ovens to sealed painting rooms to vinyl color application departments that breathe color and life into a sign designed to bring customers to a store.
Harbinger not only adapted to the word that means a sign of things, but the company has to stay on top of the sign game in a highly competitive market. In Jacksonville alone, there are dozens of sign companies and all claim to have the latest technology. Harbinger happens to be the biggest sign company in Jacksonville and in the top three in the state, according to Williams.
“There’s a lot of pressure in this business: delivery dates, permitting, scheduling,” Williams said. “It’s just very competitive. I can’t even tell you how many sign companies there are just in this city.”
Williams declined to provide revenue figures, but Harbinger signs, which range in size from huge street signs to small office signs to locker room signs for the Jaguars, are not inexpensive.
Harbinger crews were putting the final touches on a 15-foot-high metal-based sign for the Cowford Chophouse that’s set to open in downtown Jacksonville possibly this year. The base of the sign was metal, but the custom embellishments to the sign that will hang outside the restaurant required multiple modifications as a worker was applying an industrial tool that sprayed a fan of sparks across the production floor.
Meanwhile, the pizza business Mellow Mushroom had a sign that was being touched up within one of the sealed painting rooms. Another sign set to be hung in the Jaguars’ locker room this year was drying after a vinyl application was laid over the frame.
Lev said the cost of an individual sign varies widely according to size, colors and custom additions. The Cowford Chophouse sign, for example, will cost about $15,000.
He said most companies have their own graphic designs ready by the time the order is placed with Harbinger, but the company also provides custom design when necessary. Some of its customers may need adjustments to the image that in the design phase seems appropriate but in digital printouts turns out wrong.
Lev said Harbinger needs to be ready to supply that consultation while balancing price.
“Now, our customers are becoming so much smarter where they’re going to look up pricing and they’re going to shop around,” Lev said. “Anybody with a pickup truck and a ladder is suddenly a sign guy.”
Ultimately, Williams said, he still takes pleasure in the fact that his company produces the signs for many big companies that many people don’t even realize originate from his factory.
“I can take you and show you the first sign I put up 45 years ago which was a State Farm sign over on Beach Boulevard. …” Williams said. “It makes me feel proud.”
Drew Dixon: (904) 359-4098