In our monthly Made in the Tri-States feature, we’ll go behind the-scenes of some of the area’s signature products. Watch for new installments the first Sunday of each month. And if you’ve got an idea for us to feature, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
For the past 15 years, Lange Sign Group has made a large impact by focusing on small businesses.
The East Dubuque, Ill., company has designed, manufactured and installed hundreds of signs for local companies. Signage for Dubuque Bank & Trust, Dupaco Community Credit Union, UnityPoint Health-Finley Hospital and Q Casino and Hotel all originated at Lange Sign Group.
Co-owner Dan Lange believes the business found its niche by focusing on local customers. And the benefits of the relationship go both ways.
“Signs for companies like a McDonald’s or Hardee’s, they will come from some great big company that can make hundreds of signs all at once,” Lange said. “It would be impractical for us to do a onesie for them. And at the same time, it would be impractical for a local company to get a sign from one of those big shops. We are a custom sign shop and we’ve helped a lot of small business when they need a sign made.”
The local focus on small business doesn’t mean Lange Sign Group is some little mom-and-pop operation, however.
Lange said the business filled 23,700 orders during its decade-plus in business.
Shop foreman Fred Failmezger said each of these signs is crafted with an expectation of top quality.
“I always tell customers that I do a sign the way I’d want it done for my business,” he said. “We focus on quality. The main thing people know is that we will create a good product.”
HISTORY IN THE INDUSTRY
Dan Lange’s career in the sign industry dates back to the early 1980s, when he began working with Weitz Sign Co. in Dubuque.
In 2003, he purchased the retail portion of that business along with his brother, Mike, and cousin, Pat, and created Lange Sign Group. All three remain co-owners of Lange Sign Group today, while Weitz Sign Co. continues to operate in Dubuque with a focus on wholesale business.
In its first year, Lange Sign Group leased space in Tamarack Business Park and focused on sign installation. The following year, the business began manufacturing signs.
“We had a need to keep people busy when it got really cold in those January and February months,” Lange recalled. “Then we slowly got larger and larger with our manufacturing. Now we manufacture nearly everything that we put out.”
By 2008, Lange Sign Group had outgrown its facility on Tamarack and opted to construct a facility at 1780 Illinois 35. It remains in the 15,000-square-foot shop to this day.
FROM START TO FINISH
Dan Lange said the company takes pride in accompanying clients through each step of the process.
He noted that everything generally begins with a visit from a sales representative, who helps the customer determine the best position, size and height for their signage.
An artist then creates the concept for the sign, creating a to-scale rendering to give the client an idea of how the finished product might look.
Lange said details like the location and the lighting are essential to get right.
“The size of the sign and the placement is critical,” he said. “Having the expertise to design it the right way is important. If you put up a sign that is too small, or that isn’t bright enough, you might as well not put something up.”
The process ultimately makes it ways to the shop, where employees will trace the design onto aluminum material.
Workers then bend aluminum to conform with the shape and form the sides of the letters. The sides of the letter then are welded to the aluminum backing surface.
Staffers then add color to the letters, typically painting the insides white and adorning the outside of the text with whatever color the client chooses.
For many projects, employees also install the lighting that illuminates the sign during the evening and overnight hours.
Finally, Lange Sign Group oversees the installation of the sign, using cranes and bucket trucks to put it in its place.
FROM DUBUQUE TO DAVENPORT
A trip through Lange Sign Group’s East Dubuque facility proves that there is no project too big or small for the company.
In one room sits a small plaque bearing the names of doctors within a local dental practice. Just a few steps away on the shop floor, workers are making progress on a massive new sign for Palms Theater & IMAX in Waukee, Iowa. The letters alone stand 8 feet tall.
Lange Sign Co. also created the 72-foot tall sign that stands outside of Q Casino in Dubuque. The soaring structure helped the facility announce its branding change when it moved away from the old moniker, Mystique Casino, last year.
Today, Lange Sign Group employs 12 workers in East Dubuque and an additional four in Davenport, Iowa, where it operates a second office.
Lange noted that all the manufacturing is done in East Dubuque, but the sales and installation presence in the Quad Cities has helped the business maintain a steady work flow.
“(The two markets) kind of complement each other well,” her said. “It seems like whenever we’re not busy here, we are busy down there, or vice-versa.”
Lange takes pride in how much of an impact his business has had in both of those markets, where commuters cannot help but notice the contributions of Lange Sign Group.
“You can drive down any street in Davenport or Dubuque and see our work,” he said.