Time of the Signs…



Staff Commitment Key as Family Firm Carlson Sign Reaches 65-Year Mark

Bend family business Carlson Sign Company is celebrating its 65th anniversary this year, attributing part of its longevity to a firm foundation laid through continuing commitment to long-term employees and clients.

The full service sign and billboard advertising company traces its roots back to 1948, when Ted and Irene Carlson established the business in Bend, with Irene Carlson taking the helm after her husband’s passing just 18 months later. She garnered a reputation as a pioneering businesswoman locally, and served as the first female president of the Bend Chamber of Commerce in 1950.

She continued to run the business until 1958, when her son Dick Carlson returned from the University of Oregon and six years in the U.S. Air Force serving as a fighter jet pilot to head the company.

The Carlsons worked diligently to provide high quality sign and billboard advertising solutions for their customers and success in that direction saw them outgrow their initial base, leading to relocation of the business to its current larger new facility on NE Forbes Road, off Highway 20, in 1976, which was later expanded to accommodate further growth.

Since 1997, Peter Carlson, grandson of its founder, has operated Carlson Sign Company with a mission to continue to bring value and innovation to customers, employees and the local community.

He said, “I would help out my dad in the business until I graduated from Bend High in 1980, and continued to work summers between my studies at Oregon State University.

“After college, I took a job with Mercedes Benz/Freightliner in Portland and worked in corporate purchasing for 12 years before my wife and I moved back to Bend and I took over the family business.

“The timing was good as to some extent the business needed new energy and capital investment, primarily in equipment and facility upgrading. I also worked on strengthening the brand and corporate identity, especially as a long term local family business.”

The Carlsons have a well-known lengthy history of community and political involvement locally. Dick Carlson was mayor of Bend in the late 1970s – playing an instrumental role in winning federal funds for the critical major city infrastructure project of installing municipal sewers to replace septic systems.

Peter Carlson continued that tradition, and has been heavily involved in supporting local business, including being elected president of the Bend Chamber himself in 2005, as well as devoting time to other volunteer, educational and community activities.

Under his stewardship, Carlson Sign has also continued to evolve beyond its original scope. He said, “We are today known as a regional company, and last year over half of our work was undertaken outside Central Oregon.

“We work all over the West – including Washington, Colorado, Idaho, Utah and California – building and shipping signs, and can cater to national vendors across the U.S.

“Part of the reason for our expansion into other geographic areas is our long term relationships with key customers. We are fortunate to have earned their business and our footprint has expanded as their interests have grown also.

“On the local level, right now it appears the Central Oregon market is doing better. People had kept a tight hold on the purse strings in the economic downturn, but now it seems businesses are more confident and budgets are bigger and stronger, partly because some pent up demand has been released, though we are a still a ways off the level of activity of the boom period where it was more of a case of managing growth and keeping up regarding capacity.”


Carlson says another component in the company’s success is the approach taken to procuring and training account executives, which is somewhat unique within the industry. Each one is adept in graphic design and the surveying and permit process, and has a command of manufacturing and installation procedures.

The company has also expanded and invested in new technology at its 12,000 square foot facility, which houses the latest equipment as well as production and service personnel who are licensed, experienced and well-trained.

Carlson added, “We are committed to employing high standards and to delivering lasting products and dependable service.

“For instance, the electrical signs we manufacture meet the exacting standards of the Underwriters Laboratory and are UL listed and we continually strive to exceed our clients’ expectations for product and service.

“With our account executives’ expertise, our facility, equipment and experienced production and installation team, the overall aim is to provide our clients with an efficient, streamlined process – from concept to completion.”



Employee retention and attention to staff welfare is also an important part of the Carlson philosophy, as evidenced by the typical staff tenure.

“One of the main reasons for our success is the longevity of our employees,” added Carlson. “We have little to no turnover, and many of our employees have been here 20-plus years, including Robin Dillin, our office and billboard sales manager who has been with us for 29 years.

“The average for current employees is 12 years plus, and some have been here since high school. We really emphasize looking after our employees, and offer a competitive wage and benefit package as well as starting a profit sharing program to help them realize personal goals.

“This business can be complicated, so to have virtually no turnover in key positions really helps. It takes time to cultivate appropriate expertise, and there is no substitute for experience. Sign-making is a specialty trade that requires a high level of skill and knowledge, and it takes years to really learn the art.

“Some elements of the business can also be dangerous, including complex installations that may involve height, power and wind, so again capability and experience is vital, and I am glad to say our safety record is exemplary.”

As the largest sign company in the region, Carlson Sign manufactures all types and sizes of signs; offering custom, turnkey comprehensive sign packages and billboard advertising solutions in a full-service environment covering consulting, research, design, fabrication, install, service and repair. It also has a license to service and install signs in Oregon, Washington and Idaho.

Carlson said, “We employ an exceptionally qualified team of sign repair and maintenance technicians equipped to provide services for of all types of signs. Every technician is properly licensed, accomplished and well-trained, guaranteeing precise and trustworthy sign repair and sign installation services.”

Carlson Sign is also a licensed electrical and general contractor in Oregon and Washington, and has tackled a multiplicity of jobs, including hanging glass neon signs at the Bend Old Mill multiplex theater, installing extensive signage at a Seattle area casino and more recently a project at La Grande Hospital with a significant level of complexity necessitating the bringing in a 200 foot crane to hoist signage into place.

Carlson said challenges of the industry included project coordination and local ordinance requirements, adding, “Dealing with project construction schedules can be challenging, as the sign contractor is usually the last sub to be there, and clients obviously want to project a professional image and have a sign in place by the time they open, but you do the best you can to be ahead of the curve.

“We also have to deal with the rules of many municipalities regarding signs – each code is different with its own challenges and varying opinions, and there is always a balance between practicality and aesthetics.

“The Bend code, for example, wants theirs typically to be ground-mounted monument signs rather than the old pylon signs that were prevalent along the highways, and these demand an even greater attention to detail as they are more at eye level than being 20 feet in the air!

“We have continually reinvested in our business – especially in terms of keeping up with technological advances in an increasingly digital world – and are somewhat sheltered from the challenges faced by other types of media as businesses still need a credible physical signage presence, which can act as a primary means of advertising.

“We are also somewhat protected from outside competition as signs are often a one-off type production; custom to the location and specific business. They are often the most significant first impression for customers, and it continues to make sense to have signs produced locally.”

www.carlsonsign.com, 541-382-2182.


About Author

Founded in 1994 by the late Pamela Hulse Andrews, Cascade Business News (CBN) became Central Oregon’s premier business publication. CascadeBusNews.com • CBN@CascadeBusNews.com

Leave A Reply