SRS Signs: Lightbulb moment becomes booming Winnipeg 20+ year business
SRS Signs & Services has been doing things right since day one, but it didn’t get started the way you might imagine. With a little ingenuity and a lot of motivation, this entrepreneur story is sure to inspire.
No money, no problem — Start with passion
It was literally a lightbulb moment that got Shane Storie into the sign business.
While the born-and-raised Winnipegger was living in Vancouver in his early 20s, a friend with a bucket truck had him drive around at night looking for burned out bulbs on signs to scout out clients for his sign company. By the time he was 23, Shane was back in Winnipeg and started his own business, SRS Signs & Service, which celebrated 21 years in business in January 2020.
Like most true entrepreneurs, nothing would stand in Shane’s way. Without major funds, an office or equipment, he still found a way to get up and running.
I borrowed $5,000, bought a van and a pager, and that was it,” Shane said. “I had a guy fill the van full of lightbulbs on credit.”
Since then, the business has come a long way from those nighttime drives. As Shane puts it, SRS now offers the ‘full-meal deal’ when it comes to interior and exterior signs — including design, printing, manufacturing, installation and even handling permits.
Lighting up the product & service options
Now, SRS produces everything from simple banners to vehicle wraps and LED channel lettering. They also engineer and build structural elements for commercial pylon signage in a 10,000 square-foot shop at 1520 Notre Dame Avenue, where they’ve been located for the last six years.
The company’s installation crews work with a fleet of vehicles, including cranes to accommodate installations up to 85 feet off the ground. SRS Signs also services just about any kind of sign and retrofits signage to use LED lighting.
“If you order a pylon sign from us, the only thing we physically don’t do is dig the hole and take the mud away,” Shane said.
Their work for all to see
Some of SRS Signs’ most prominent work includes the Winnipeg sign at The Forks and the marquee signage at the Burton Cummings Theatre.
Our staff runs pretty true to my core value of, ‘let’s make it right,’ ” Shane elaborated. “People want somebody who’s going to be attentive and concerned — somebody who pays attention and knows what they’re talking about. I think my staff exudes that.”
He credits the creativity of his team of almost 30 full-time employees for setting the company apart from others in the sector.
“We are definitely ‘yes’ people,” Shane said of the company’s willingness to take on interesting and challenging jobs. “We make what people bring us. We have our base of service, LED conversions and customers that rely on us, but a lot of our day-to-day is just who happens to call. Everybody in this building is in this industry because they don’t know what the day is going to bring.”
New opportunities & financing to make it happen
Currently, SRS Signs has seen a huge demand for mural-like graphics.
The industry is changing around us,” he said. “Six years ago, if somebody would have come in and said ‘I want a wall mural,’ we would have said, ‘Like the wallpaper old people used to put up?’ Now everyone wants wall murals.”
While that can mean illustrated company timelines, SRS Signs has also created decals for some novel applications.
Riverview Health Centre wanted Alzheimer’s patients to be able to identify rooms, so we took generic metal hospital doors and turned them into 60 variations — with wood or metal patterns, images of windows, numerous colours and flowers,” Shane explained of the creative solution. “You come off an elevator and there’s a 60-foot-long grain field.”
Keeping up with this customer demand means regular upgrades are needed. SRS purchased computerized numerical cutter (CNC) machines about nine years ago to handle in-demand channel lettering (individual metal letters with translucent fronts, lit from inside). He said it was $85,000 well invested.
“It was night and day,” Shane continued. “We went from using snips and a handheld bending tool, to something that precision-forms the letters in 90 seconds. And we can hit repeat six months from now if somebody needs a letter replaced. Those two machines were massive, massive contributors to the business.”
Benefits of working with ACU
Almost everything we’ve ever bought is thanks to a loan from Assiniboine Credit Union,” Shane mentioned of the partnership with ACU.
The entrepreneur started working with ACU after Astra Credit Union (where he was a member since shortly after starting the business) merged with ACU in 2007. He said big banks didn’t seem to grasp what he needed at the start.
“I was looking for a tiny bit of help, but the banks weren’t there to give you a little bit of help — they wanted to give you a lot,” Shane said. “The credit union understood me in terms of the small business I was at that time.”
Explaining further, Shane noted that ACU has been there for his company whenever it came time to grow. “We’ve had great account reps over the years,” he said.
Lefteri has been great. He’ll come running across a room to say hi to me,” Shane said. “They’ve always been really engaged, always asking questions.”
ACU also helped finance the purchase of the company’s current building. “When I came to them, they understood my track record and our story and they got where we were going,” he said. “It’s a great benefit for the business.”
Making (and collecting) Manitoba history
When it comes to Shane’s connection to the province he works in, any visitor to SRS Signs gets a deep look into Manitoba’s commercial advertising and design history.
I’m slightly a collector,” he said, of the dozens of artifacts lining almost every bit of wall space. “I try to get as many people down here as I can.”
His collection includes the former Old Market Square sign, signage from Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1984, a complete antique postal outlet from rural Manitoba and lettering from the Union Bank Building (now the Red River College Paterson Global Foods Institute). “That sign saw the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike — that’s pretty crazy,” he said.
From a quick $5,000 loan to today, Shane has built a local business that is flourishing. Now, his company’s work is adding its own unique touches to the dynamic neighbourhoods, storefronts and development of our communities. SRS Signs will no doubt create its fair share of the Manitoba history for years to come.
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