Displaying His Pride For Signmaking
Strolling down the streets of Port Credit in Mississauga, Ont., one is met with an abundance of sharp and captivating dimensional signs, which grace and enhance the neighbourhood’s diverse storefronts. The mind behind these projects is Ernest Florentino, the founder and owner of Signs Den Graphics Inc.
Florentino opened his shop in 2007, five years after coming to Canada from the Philippines and laying the foundation for the knowledge and skill he is known for today. He takes pride in his down-to-earth approach with his customers, as well as his commitment to laser-accurate detail and execution of their signage designs. Sign Media Canada spoke with Florentino about the history of Signs Den, along with its recent projects and specialities, and his plans for the shop’s future.
Sign Media Canada (SMC): What is the history of your shop?
Ernest Florentino (EF): When I first arrived in Canada from the Philippines in 2002, I had no clue that I would eventually own and run a sign business. I was a mechanical engineer, who had gained experience working in sales.
One of my first jobs here was as a signs division manager for an architectural company in Fort Erie, Ont. While I was there, I started exploring signs in general and focused on quality signs for home builders. Later, I was employed by a company in Brampton, Ont., where I learned all about laser cutting and engraving.
In 2007, I founded Signs Den, which helped me expand my knowledge of digital printing. Together all those experiences seemed to complete the puzzle that was running my own sign and printing company. Signs Den is a place where signs are made with seriousness, talent, experience, and skills, resulting in a quality finished product. I also wanted the name to signify being the king of the industry. The lion logo is meant to show that dominance.
SMC: What makes your company unique?
EF: I specialize in knowing what will look best for my customers’ needs, based on my 20-plus years in the industry. My experience ranges from sandblasted concrete, stone, and porcelain residential signs to laser-cut, engraved, and digitally printed commercial signs. Over the years, I’ve become more attracted to the look of laser-cut acrylic and seen the vast varieties of signs I can craft using my creativity. My team is also well-versed on the different types and qualities of print media. Our use and knowledge of design and editing software helps us stand out from the rest, as it is very critical to show how a sign looks on paper before it becomes a reality.
It’s also my passion to make good-looking signs. Travelling throughout Canada, the U.S., and Asia, we get to see what looks good and bad. I take pictures of great signs whenever I travel. However, a lot of the signs I see locally are made “wrong,” whether it’s wrong choice of font, spacing, colours, materials, size, placement, or shadows.
Another key aspect that makes Signs Den unique is our approach to customers. We treat each customer on a down-to-earth level, where they can easily air out what they want, talk to us in layman’s terms, and explain things with simplicity. We also inject humour into our conversations,to help lighten up the relationship. We’ve been praised and admired for our ability to be personable, and to some extent, customers don’t mind paying extra if they feel their needs are met. Our belief is to serve five customers with undivided attention, rather than serve 10 customers with little attention.
SMC: How large is your facility?
EF: Located on Lakeshore Road East in Mississauga, Signs Den is a total of 69.6 m2 (750 sf). It’s situated in Port Credit, a quaint city within a city with a variety of specialty shops, including bakeries, cake shops, bubble tea shops, pizza houses, Greek restaurants, jewellery stores, house furnishing shops, dentists, denture clinics, and pet shops. Passing through the area, I can point out the signs we made, and confidently say they look better than the signs we did not make.
SMC: What type of signage does your shop primarily install?
EF: We do a wide range of signs that utilize 3D, or what are known as dimensional signs. We love trying out different thicknesses and materials. We can be creative, especially when the customer gives us the challenge of coming up with the design. We specialize in 3D reception signs, which prominently display company logos. These can be lit or unlit, but they never compromise on the details.
SMC: What type of projects have you been working on recently?
EF: We’ve been busy with a lot of storefront signs, reception signs with channel letters, and acrylic laser-cut signs. We’ve also been printing and manufacturing signs and doing installations for a company in Australia called KUBE Design Services since 2019. They needed a company that would give them undivided, in-person attention; have the skills to understand what they required; and implement the production and installation of the signs. More importantly, they needed a company that would be committed to their timelines and deadlines.
SMC: How much of the sign installation process is handled in-house?
EF: About half the signs we offer are done in- house. Some of the elements we outsource are the larger, systematically fabricated ones, such as computer numerical control (CNC) cut signs and channel letters. At our shop, we do the laser- cut and engraved signs, in combination with digital printing.
SMC: What tools and equipment od you currently use to complete your projects?
EF: We have a wide-format printer that can print on most vinyl and banner materials.
We also have two laser machines: one for engraving and another for cutting acrylic and other materials. Additionally, we have a laminator and a lightbox table to help with alignment when mounting vinyl to substrates.
SMC: What are some of the steps involved in your planning process?
EF: When we first speak with a customer, we ask what type of sign they need. We also ask for the logo, images, or text they want on the sign, as well as a picture of the storefront or the wall where it will be going. Next, we send them mock-ups showing our suggestions for the design and sample images of previous signs we have made, to give them an idea of how it will look. Most often, this verifies to the customer that we know what we’re doing. As we discuss the options for their sign, we also give them different scenarios with corresponding price ranges.
SMC: How is technology changing the way you run your business?
EF: Technology is changing, which is why we stay up to date with new features and utilize online tutorials and other specialty videos. Over the years, Florentino has gained an affinity for laser-cut acrylic proiects and seen the vast varieties of designs he can create with the material. Since today’s customers are well-versed in technology, it’s also easier to ask them for what we need, including “vectors” for their projects. Usually, they have an idea of how to use basic design apps, and sometimes I can get the files I need straight from one of the popular graphic design platforms.
SMC: What is the key to staying successful in this industry?
EF: One of our key strategies for staving successful is our online presence. We’re active on social media, and we also focus on search engine optimization (SEO) on our website. Additionally, our business profile so frequently updated to ensure it’s accurate. This has kept us top of mind when people in the area search for signs for their businesses.
SMC: What are your future plans for the growth of your business?
EF: My plan is for Signs Den to become a franchise, with a model that can be expanded using the principles of good taste, knowledge, and experience. With what we have established, I’m confident growing our sales is just a matter of spending more on social media content and advertising.