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40th Anniversary – The Story of Western Safety Sign

Posted by Anita Bihun on

If anyone had told me in 1982, when I was in my 20’s, that I would be in the sign business for 40 years,
I would have said “No way!!”  
But fast forward 40 years and here we are in 2022 and Western Safety Sign is alive and well and still going strong!

My husband Dave and I have been operating WSS for 40 years and it has been an amazing journey! Dave and I started from humble beginnings in the basement of our home in old St. Vital in October 1982……..here is the story. 

Western Safety Sign (WSS) was started in 1969 by my Father when he purchased the traffic sign division of Westeel Roscoe. At that time, WSS was solely a manufacturer of traffic signs. Though still in high school, I started to help out with company operations in 1975. By 1980 I had met and married my husband, Dave, who then came on board WSS and was working along with my brother and brother-in-law. WSS had truly become a family run operation. Market share for WSS started to decrease in the late 70’s early 80’s with the opening of government run sign shops. The recession hit in 1982 and business really dropped off. By the spring of 1982, the decrease in business was devastating enough that my father decided to close the doors of WSS. I remember the final family meeting with my father when that decision was made, it was very sad and it put my family out of work.
Newly married and hit hard by the recession, Dave and I sat back and took a look at what we should do now. We realized that we were not ready to give up on this company and could see the vision of where we could take the business. We decided to tackle adversity head-on and to view this as a new opportunity. We discussed this with my father and he was gracious enough to encourage us if that was the road we wanted to undertake. So after only a few months of WSS doors being closed, Dave and I reopened WSS. Armed with the WSS name, customer list and WSS post office box, the 2nd generation of WSS began.
In October 1982, in the midst of a recession, we began sign production in the basement of our first little home in old St. Vital. Signs were silk screened or hand drawn in those days…yikes!! I sound old when I say that!!! So, we suffered through the smell of silk screen solvents in our home for the first winter and then moved sign production out to our garage in the spring of 1983. Dave and I used to laugh about our “delivery door”. We did not have a pickup truck and so improvised (necessity is the mother of invention!) and put an old door we had lying around on the roof of our car and strapped signs to it to deliver signs to customers, hence our “delivery door”.
WSS was still getting orders through the mail and this got our business started. In the olden days…😊 having a post office box was essential to run a business. It is hard to imagine but in 1982 there were NO computers, NO fax machines, NO email, and NO cell phones. At that time, the only forms of business communication were by telephone, in person and snail mail.
By the fall of 1983, we and 2 other young sign entrepreneurs leased shop space for all 3 of our companies to work out of. This may seem odd, but it actually worked very well for a number of years for the three companies. With overhead expense cut in three, we all had a shop space we could afford. It was at this time that we purchased our first automated vinyl cutting machine and within the next three years purchased the first generation of computerized sign making equipment. The new equipment increased our sign making capabilities and allowed us to expand our products and services into workplace safety, commercial signs and vehicle signage. Our first employee was hired in 1985. And in 1986 customer contact was tremendously enhanced when we purchased our first fax machine at a cost of $2,500.00!
In the 80’s we hired a very talented young sign painter. This is slowly becoming a lost art. But before sign making computer equipment, a sign painter on staff was a must. This young sign painter would paint a sign with precision and artistry. It was really amazing to watch!
In February 1990 our handshake partnership with the other 2 sign companies came to an end and we were in a position to move to our own shop space. We moved to our current location at 45-C Panet Road. We hired our second employee and began to computerize the accounting side of our business.
In 1990 the economy entered another recession, our second since starting our business. Through the recession, we continued to focus on our customers through personal contact and direct mail. This approach served us well through this recession and the next 2 recessions yet to come in 2002 and 2008. One of our very talented employees we hired along the way had the ability to set up our first website in 1994 which was a great addition to our business. Our website continued to grow and improve and today represents a catalog of our signs and provides e-commerce sign solutions for our customers.
Through the years, we have kept up on purchasing the latest in computerized sign making equipment, which continues to expand and diversify our product offerings and increase efficiency. As of 2022, WSS has grown to 12 employees and a 5000 square foot manufacturing facility. Our commitment to the principles and values of exceptional customer service, quality sign products, and timely delivery paved the way for our business to grow and flourish and will ensure the continued future success of WSS.
In 2009, our son Erin, started working with us and developed the same passion for this business as Dave and I. We are pleased to say that the 3rd generation of Western Safety Sign was born in 2020 when Erin purchased the business from us. After a lifetime of hard work, we could not be prouder or happier to see WSS still growing, prospering and flourishing and we are excited at the prospect of another 40 years !!
        Thank you to our valued customers for your continued patronage. Without you, none of this would have been possible! We look forward to continuing to serve you for many more years to come.
        A big Thank you to our amazing WSS team of talented individuals. Your dedication and hard work have been the key to our success.

              Thank you for 40 great years from all the team at WSS!
  
         


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