A Sign of the Times
Third generation of Reiter family blends tradition with cutting-edge technology at Leroy Signs, Inc.
Over the course of 80 years, a lot has changed in the exterior sign business. For Leroy Signs, Inc., though, one thing has remained consistent: The Reiter family has been at the helm from the start in 1938.
Family patriarch Ralph Leroy Reiter started the company in Minneapolis. Today, there are three owners—Ralph’s grandchildren—and the company’s office is in Brooklyn Park. Ralph Leroy Reiter III, who is known as Lee, is President; his brother, Kaj Reiter, is Vice President in charge of sales and marketing; and their sister, Andria Tormoen, is Secretary/Treasurer and acts as the office manager handling accounting, accounts payable, receiving, contracts, invoicing and even answering the phone.
“We each have our own role, and we work well together,” Andria says. “We have a rule that outside of work, we don’t talk about the office. If we’re in a family setting, we just talk about family stuff and life in general. Conversely, we try not to bring our personal stuff to work as well. But, it is nice to have that support if you’re going through something at work that could use some support.”
Lee and his siblings learned a lot working with their dad, Ralph Leroy Reiter Jr., known as Skip. Skip took over from his father in the early 1970s, running the show until the third generation took over in the early 1990s.
“He always told us, ‘Pay the taxman first, pay the employees next, and then pay yourself if there is anything left over.’ We still do that,” says Lee, who has been with the company for 31 years, starting as a teen sweeping floors. “The employees are the backbone of the business. It is important to treat them with respect and pay them well.”
Lee says that his philosophy for both everyday life and on the job is to keep things simple and keep them going. He’s already anticipating the next generation of Reiters to work for the company—his son, Colton. “I told him to go out and work and come back in about five years and start working at the company. That’s my plan, and my brother and sister are on board with it,” Lee says.
Kaj learned similar things from their father. “He always impressed upon us to be honest and up front with our clients. He was a list guy, too. I am detail-oriented and have a checklist of items so we always have a plan. For the larger projects, we create a list, then add and delete steps. We go through the project from shop and production to installation and fieldwork and follow up with the client after completion.”
As part of that planning process, the Leroy Signs crew (who represent the shop), the installation team and service technicians, meet to troubleshoot and discuss ideas on how to make each project a success, he says. The team relies on years of experience to meet customers’ expectations, correctly and on time, he adds.
“You need to meet their expectations, but be realistic. From the time a contract or purchase order is signed, be realistic about the timeline. There are some forces you can’t speed up, like getting a city permit,” Kaj says. “Our reputation over the years as an industry leader in Minnesota has gotten us a lot of business. I know I’m not the cheapest guy in town, but we don’t want to be the cheapest in town. A lot of the work we get is based on reputation, history and word-of-mouth.”
The full-service union sign manufacturer handles all aspects of signage, from design and manufacturing to installation and maintenance. The team scrutinizes every sign made for visual impact, quality, flexibility and function, with the support of modern equipment and experienced union craftsmen. Leroy Signs offers services including permitting and master sign plans (MSPs), which consists of working with a city to clarify sign code and then help the property owner or landlord draw up a master sign plan for the property. The MSP will call out what type of signage is allowed on the property and what is not allowed. This helps the tenant coordinate the proper signage for their site. The MSP will be added to the city plans for the property, and the property owner or landlord will have to sign off on plans when applying for the sign permit.
The firm also does parking lot lights, engineering (when required by cities or the customer, signs are engineered by a licensed engineer), rebranding and project management to help customers with sign change involving multiple locations. It can include obtaining city permits to surveys, fabrication, installation and final inspections. The firm also handles electronic message centers.
Monuments, pylons and channel signs make up the largest part of Leroy Signs’ work, Kaj says. Channel letters are customizable metal or plastic letters commonly used as exterior signage on the outside of storefronts, strip malls, public buildings and offices, and are often illuminated. A common monument sign is usually 5 feet high or smaller. It displays messages at eye level and fits in with a building’s landscaping. Pylons are taller and designed to be eye-catching from a distance.
The firm works with every size of business, from the one-store operations to large international corporations, with clients including Wells Fargo, SUPERVALU, Thrifty White Pharmacy and Mall of America.
“We like to work with companies of all sizes, but we really enjoy dealing with the mom-and-pop shops where they may only have a couple of jobs for us,” Lee says.
When Wells Fargo changed its look and logo several years ago, Leroy Signs was called in to help change signs. Over the past four years, the firm has done sign updates in about 68 locations for the banking giant. The largest project for Wells Fargo was in Duluth, with a sign that required the use of high-rise cranes, traffic coordination and street closures.
Leroy Signs also completes work for sign companies in other areas. “We get a lot of shipped-in product for other signs companies, who use us locally for their multi-tenant, franchise-type operations. We do a lot shipping, receiving and installation work with large sign companies,” Lee says.
Mall of America
Leroy Signs has preferred vendor status with the 4.2 million-square-foot Mall of America in Bloomington. The firm’s custom signs can be seen from every level of the massive shopping center.
“Budget and schedule are the most important aspects to any project, and Leroy Signs is always prompt with the proper pricing,” says Nathan Klutz, Mall of America Director of Construction. “They’re good at what they do with an efficient shop drawing process and are knowledgeable installers. It is always a challenge to get the best product for the best value, delivered and installed on time to meet our needs and the tenants’ needs.”
Leroy Signs provided the entire way-finding signage inside the mall, which was a challenge because they couldn’t work during regular working hours, Kaj says. The company also recently completed signage for the new CMX Market Cinema Experience, which replaced the previous movie theater at the mall. “It was quite a challenging project with large letters on a front entrance canopy. It required custom staging, as well,” Kaj says.
Doing the Right Thing
Andria says that the key to all of their work is integrity.
“We try to do the best we can. We are honest and upfront, and we don’t play games with people,” she says. “We are proud of what we have here; 80 years is a long time, especially through the rougher periods and recessions. We are very proud that we’ve made it this long, and we believe that it is because we do what’s right in our day-to-day business.”