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Sign shop upgrades equipment
Business prevails over NWT manufacturing sector challenges

Thandiwe Vela
Northern News Services
Published Monday, May 13, 2013

Business has been good since Wally Schumann dropped his autobody services pursuit to focus on a lucrative sign manufacturing venture. And it just got better.

NNSL photo/graphic

Poison Graphics owner Wally Schumann holds the controller for the company's new $200,000 MultiCam Digital Express cutting machine in Hay River on May 8. - Sarah Ladik/NNSL photo

Last month, Hay River-based Poison Graphics added a $200,000 MultiCam Digital Express cutting machine to its production line, which has increased productivity at the shop and introduced a whole new line of product offerings for the company's clients.

The investment is part of close to a half-million dollars the company has spent on equipment to date, in addition to printers, laminators, and a $100,000 printing flatbed purchased two years ago.

"With this new machine, you could print (a sign) on the flatbed, throw it on the new machine and just cut it out. Just bang," Schumann said, rattling off other features of the equipment.

"Anybody could just print it on a flatbed, then just cut it with a knife. But with the new machine, what it does is it will cut it out in whatever shape you want. It's the fastest machine in the world right now. It does 7,000 inches a minute.

"It's increased productivity because it's going to speed things up considerably. It's allowing us to cut other materials that we've never been able to do because it was too time costly. But now you have the capability to do it within a matter of seconds."

The machine has been running nonstop since it arrived from Dallas, Texas, in April, as clients respond to the new offerings, Schumann said.

"Everyone loves it. It offers a wider range of products you can offer to your customers and it keeps the money in the North because for that sort of product, before if you did do it, you'd have to order it from down south," Schumann said.

Schumann, who is also president of the Hay River Metis Council, started Poison Painting as an auto body shop in the late 1990s. The business branched into graphics and sign making and eventually dropped the auto body services two years ago when it became Poison Graphics.

Despite high operating costs in the North, including higher salaries, cost of living, and energy costs, the manufacturer has grown into a million-dollar business with contracts to make signs for the Nunavut and NWT governments, mining companies and election candidates across the North, northern Alberta and B.C.

"When we first started out, our total investment was five or six thousand dollars, a little vinyl cutter, and some software. And I don't even know if we made that much money in the first year," said Schumann. "So it's basically gone from that to this. Over a million a year."

Poison Graphics is a member of the Made in the NWT program.

The NWT Chamber of Commerce recently renewed efforts to promote NWT manufacturers through the program, because of the jobs and other economic benefits they create.

Poison employes seven people, including 24-year-old manager Derek Mundy, who started at the business as a high school student while growing up in Hay River.

"Now he runs the shop better than I do," Schumann said.

"I was pretty fluent with computers and all that and before I knew it, I was in charge of the sign shop," Mundy said.

Mundy now encourages other high schools students to pursue machinist careers.

The NWT manufacturing sector makes revenues of more than $25 million annually, and has been seeing average annual growth of more than two per cent.

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