Like many business owners, entrepreneur Mark Petit already had experience in his industry of choice before taking the plunge with his own business. After managing another local sign company for several years, Petit founded Premier Sign Creations, Inc., in 1993. "In nine years, the business has moved from a one-room office in the Meister Building, to the lower level under Acme Comics, and to our current home of two years in downtown Peoria. The first years of operation were focused on building a customer base, purchasing various pieces of equipment, and getting the name to the public," said Adam Rieger, vice president and partner of Petit, who’s president of the company he started.

Rieger joined the Premier Signs team as a result of meeting his wife, Kara, in college. "As we dated and I met her family, she took me to her dad’s shop-Premier Signs. I thought it was neat, but I was a teacher in the Chicago area. About a year later, though, the summer job I had lined up fell through, and Mark asked if I would help. A couple of months later I resigned as a fourth grade teacher and have loved living in Peoria and building Premier Signs ever since," he said.

Premier Signs specializes in neon channel letters, electric signs, vehicle graphics, and sandblasting. Other services include: awnings, banners, board signs, digital printing, engraving/routing, message boards, painting/lettering, plaques, rubber stamps, screenprinting, and vinyl graphics. The company installs their work and also does repair and cleaning for the products.

At the beginning, Rieger said the founding vision for the company was simple: to put food on the table. "Now, it’s to provide a fantastic service to our clients and produce high-quality, long-lasting signs. I strive to build great relationships with our clients, and I believe our customer service is unmatched in the Peoria area. That’s reflected by a long list of repeat business and a large number of referrals."

As for expansion, Rieger said the company has added trucks, bucket trucks, computers, tools, and other equipment. "We also have a computerized engraving system that allows us to make all sorts of interior Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) signs. This is key because all new construction is required to follow ADA guidelines."

One of the changes Rieger said he’s seen through the years is the change to large format digital printing, which is here to stay. "In Peoria, the largest ’canvas’ you see are the wrapped busses or semi trailers. In Las Vegas and other cities around the world, they’re wrapping entire buildings. You may have even noticed ads on the floors of supermarkets and the home improvement centers."

Another change is the growing LED technology. "It’s being used for the lighting of individual letters, as well as the outdoor video screens seen downtown (InPlay and The Civic Center). LED technology is good because it’s low voltage and has an incredibly long life," he said.

Rieger said in the past, Premier Signs has used large ads in the yellow pages and radio advertising as its main marketing tools. "Today, I’m into referral-based marketing by being involved in several different groups that facilitate that. Also, becoming involved with the community helps us make good connections. I believe you don’t need more business contacts; you need more friends because friends buy from friends."

One of the ways the company is involved with the community is through The Cathy Petit Foundation, which was founded after the death of Mark’s wife, Cathy. "It’s a charity we formed with all proceeds going to Youth Ministry in the area. We have an annual golf outing that raises money for the ministry programs. Also, we support various charitable organizations like the MS Walk and the Boy Scouts of America W.D. Boyce Council."

Rieger rated working in the winter months as one of the challenges of the business. "A lot of the materials we use are temperature sensitive, and the ground freezes," he explained.

The most rewarding aspect of the business is being involved in the grand opening of a business, he said. "The owner may be beginning their dream, and the sign is often the ’icing on the cake.’ It’s great to be around that type of optimism and excitement."

Rieger said many people are under the mistaken impression that quality signs are too expensive. "Signs are by far the least expensive form of advertising available," he clarified. "They can send your message or present your image 24 hours a day for years and years. We do what we do because signs matter, which happens to be our slogan and Web site address (www.signsmatter.com)." IBI