In this Salute to American Success, we’re taking a look at American Signcrafters, a company that creates and installs signs for all types of businesses, and founder and CEO Jeff Petersen. In his late teens, he began his work in the sign industry with Kal Signs, a Long Island-based company owned by comedian Jerry Seinfeld’s father. There, Petersen installed and manufactured tiny components. After graduating high school, he went to a large sign company, which led to an apprenticeship with a sheet metal union.
“I’d take transformers that were in old signs, refresh them and rebuild them and do service calls,” Petersen said. “I repaired neon or fluorescent signs… then started building small signs while working on the apprenticeship.”
After a stint of living in Hawaii with his parents, Petersen returned to New York and started TJ Signs with a business partner in 1979. At the time, $2,000 was invested into the company, according to Petersen.
“We had a steady flow of business at the wholesale level,” said Petersen. “We got more local and national accounts, including local banks in the early 1990s. The financial sector is very difficult to break into… [banks] demand high-quality signs and you can’t deliver a sign late to them.”
Petersen eventually bought out his partner's stake in the company, became the sole owner and changed the name of the company to American Signcrafters around 1993.
To date, one of the company’s biggest projects was its work on the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. American Signcrafters built and installed 3,000 signs, including the large brand sign on the building, according to Petersen. Other projects include marquees for Jimmy Fallon's “The Tonight Show,” The Novotel Hotel in New York City and the recently-re-branded 30 Rockefeller Plaza.
Today, the sign industry has seen many changes, according to Petersen.
“Computer-driven equipment has been the biggest change, which started in the early 80s,” said Petersen. “LEDs [light-emitting diodes] also impacted the industry. Digital signage is becoming more and more accepted at public places such as movie theaters. LEDs have virtually eliminated neon. [Jimmy] Fallon’s illuminated tubing is actually tiny LEDs with flexible tubing. They last a long time and each year the products get brighter and more cost-effective.”
This year, American Signcrafters is on pace to see $30 million in revenue, according to Petersen.
Currently, the company operates three labor facilities (Florida, New York and New Jersey) and manufactures everything in-house, except for digital signs, according to Petersen.
“We prefer to use U.S.-made products,” Petersen said. “We take a lot of pride in U.S. products.”