Fluvanna Faces: Mike Chenail, owner of The Graphic Garage

By Harvey J. Sorum

Mike, tell us about your background and how you decided to start your sign and design business.

Growing up my parents owned a vegetable stand and my dad would regularly purchase oil-cloth signs made to promote the various seasonal products or upcoming sales. That, coupled with an opportunity to watch a sign painter letter a tow truck at a local gas station when I was 17, was what first sparked my interest. As a young and soon to be “starving artist” looking to my future, I began to pursue the possibility of becoming a “letterhead” as we were once referred to. Because it was such a coveted field, I realized early on that it was not going to be an easy road. While most would be happy to teach me if I paid them, it was counterintuitive to my goals. After applying to every sign company I could find within an hour of my home range, I eventually ended up at the door of a small sign shop owner named Phillip Knowlton. I will never forget his name or what he would say to me that day, as his words would change my life. He told me, “if you really want to be a letterhead, then get yourself a can of paint, a brush… you get your first job and you’re in business”. Well it was certainly wasn’t nearly as easy as it sounded, but the rest as they say, is history.

What exactly are the things you offer clients?

As a full-service sign company, we provide consultation, design, manufacturing, installation and service of custom, interior and exterior illuminated and non-illuminated signs. We also offer a full range of print services such as business cards, fliers, banners, and even apparel – providing our customers with a one stop shopping experience for all of their marketing needs.

Why is it so important to have a professional designer do the work you do?

In my early years of learning graphic design, I would learn a new technique that I would use over and over again, until I learned another technique, or simply realized that some techniques just don’t work for every application. Recently sent a “do-it-yourself” logo, I was reminded of just that. In assessing their overall design, it was glaringly obvious that this customer was doing just that… one element after another… until voila… they came up with an ugly design they simply fell in love with. So while the design looks “kinda cute” in the tiny little upper left corner of their website, it unfortunately does nothing at all to effectively convey their business – especially on a larger scale, such as a sign or billboard. Hire skilled, professional help to ensure that your visual communication to the public is as clear and effective as possible. Moreover, because sign makers work on a larger scale in a vector based format, our designs are more easily converted for use in most any marketing media and are able to be scaled to any size and format.

With today’s technology, anyone can go to a designing web site and get what they think is needed. Why then should someone consider a dialog with you?

I am often surprised by how many vehicles I see with magnets purchased from Vista Print. They generally stand out like a sore thumb, since the formatting is identical to others and you can’t read the small lettering unless you’re right up on it. Online retailers like Vista Print advertise “custom” business cards, signs, magnets, etc. Then you’re presented with a handful of templates that you can choose from for what you want. You’d be surprised how many identical “custom” business cards we’ve seen that have a similar template with only the business information being different. We at The Graphic Garage offer one-of-a-kind designs for all of our customers to ensure their custom look is unique to their business. For a truly customized design concept, contact a local sign shop or design service.

Why is it important for a business, new or existing, to display a sign or a logo or mission statement?

Does this really make a positive lasting impression?

Signs, or any advertising for that matter, are both subliminal and subjective. What I mean by this is – we don’t consciously read signs. However the information is subconsciously taken in, below the surface or threshold of consciousness, despite the individuals’ unawareness. It only registers with us or is otherwise recalled when we find ourselves in need of a particular product or service as it becomes pertinent to us.

The more appealing your advertising, mission statement, logo, mascot or jingle is, the more positive and longer lasting your impression will be. 

With more and more people starting their own home-based business, how would you help them get started?

The short answer here is that there is no one proven method to starting a home-based business due to the many variables involved. Any start-up business faces an uphill challenge in relation to marketing their business and a home-based business is no exception. This is where a well-written business plan would come in handy.  It would be important to consider the following factors: Where is your business located? Who are your customers? Are you providing online products or is it a local, service-based business? How will your customers find you…or how will you find them? For some businesses, a sign, vehicle wraps and/or print marketing materials would be extremely helpful, while some businesses would benefit from more substantial online marketing. For help with all of these questions and more, I would suggest that anyone starting a new business take advantage of the free advice offered from expert business mentors at their local S.C.O.R.E office. https://www.score.org/.

Do you install all of your signs? 

Some municipalities require that we perform the installations, however, it really depends upon the size and style of the sign and the skill set of the business owner or their contractor. While some signs require skilled labor, such as an electrician, most signs can be installed by anyone with basic construction knowledge or skills. There are instances though where specialized equipment such as a bucket truck, lift, or possibly a post hole digger are used to make installations easier. This is where our many years of experience and our network of independent installers is most beneficial to our customers. 

How do you help businesses stand out?

Most people starting out in business have never had the experience of purchasing a sign, let alone any experience with marketing a business. There are a vast number of materials, construction methods and manufacturing styles for a variety of applications to fit most any budget. Sign making, or marketing in general, isn’t always about eye-popping flashy designs. It’s about the process. It’s about communication. It’s about the experiences, years of practice, tricks of the trade, and design fundamentals learned over time. That’s what marketing your business is and should be all about. Give your business the respect it deserves and take a little time to visit a local sign shop. We had a customer in just this morning who was glad she did after we were able to help her bring her logo idea to the next level.

Other than encouraging readers to look at www.tggsigns.com, is there anything else?

Generally people are surprised by the many services we offer. We also make signs for personal use – such as farm and home signs, etc. Our banners are affordable enough to use for most any event or announcement; such as weddings, new arrivals, graduation, birthday or even welcome home. Likewise if you have a non-profit sports team, charitable organization, church group or the like, we can help you with signs, magnets, decals, banners and so much more. I think it’s important to note that our pricing is competitive with online retailers but remember, you’re supporting a local business when you purchase from us.

Give us a call at 434-589-3432, or better yet, stop by and see us to learn more about all the many marketing products we offer.

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