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A surprising success

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services
Published Monday, February 22, 2010

HAY RIVER - When Wally Schumann Jr. launched the sign-making section of his auto body repair shop nine years ago, he wasn't expecting too much.

NNSL photo/graphic

Hay River businessman, Wally Schumann Jr. started sign-making shop nine years ago. - Paul Bickford/NNSL photo

Schumann - an auto body repair person by trade - said a friend talked him into the sign-making venture, which he recalls was started with only about $9,000 and a small vinyl cutter.

"I said there was no way on Earth I'll ever make any money with that," he recalled.

However, the sign-making division of Poison Painting has grown and prospered, so much so that a year and a half ago Schumann started spending all of his time on that side of the business, while others ran the auto body repair shop.

The sign operation required his full-time effort, he said. "If you're going to put a half-assed effort into it, you get a half-assed result."

The 47-year-old said virtually all of the work is done on a computer and his skills were learned on the job.

"No one taught me any of it," he added.

Curiously, Poison Painting does not have a sign on its own business.

"How unique is that?" Schumann said with a laugh, saying he never had the time or need to erect a sign.

Before he started the sign division, Schumann said almost all such work was done outside of town, and often returned with the wrong font or the wrong colour.

"It was just a hassle," he said.

Schumann said the sign store is actually much more than just a sign store, it also creates banners, stickers, flags, decals, window proofs (see-through signs for windows) and more.

Schumann said the sign shop's products go all over the NWT and even into Nunavut.

"I still want to double the size of it," he said. "That's how much work there is out there."

Schumann said he tries to fill orders from customers as quickly as possible, sometimes even on the same day they place an order.

"If they're in a jam, we'll do it," he said, noting that, in today's economy, a sign shop has to be the best sign shop. "That's what we're striving for."

Schumann said sign-making equipment is expensive. "It's nothing to spend 50 grand on a piece of equipment."

His operation is about to get a new piece of equipment - a flat-bed printer for direct-to-surface printing. That equipment will cost in excess of $100,000.

Schumann said the biggest surprise to many customers is that Poison Painting does picture framing.

One of its most unusual jobs was putting back together a Fort Smith fibreglass buffalo statue that was smashed by vandals several years ago. It is now displayed in Queen Elizabeth Territorial Park.

Schumann, who is originally from Fort Smith, has lived in Hay River for 23 years and formed Poison Painting 13 years ago.

His work in the sign shop includes putting images on vehicles. Those special vinyl and laminate images are called vinyl wraps.

Several months ago, Schumann put an image of Hay River biathlete Brendan Green on a Smart Car.

"I was just here one Sunday and decided to put him on my car," he said, noting he has never even met Green, who has since qualified for the Vancouver Winter Olympics.

People don't realize the work and effort it takes to do what Green does, he said. "I like hard-working people, period."

Schumann said every sign is different and he enjoys the variety of the work.

"Some jobs are pretty challenging," he said, explaining a lot is involved in the process. "It's rewarding in the end when you get a product that people like."

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