Makers of Tomorrow: Dan Yoder

Sign Art Studio's (Mount Horeb, WI) Dan Yoder made a bet on himself -- and it's paid off immensely.
Sign Art Studio's Dan Yoder made a bet on himself -- and it's paid off immensely

Dan Yoder

Age: 37

Title: President of Sign Art Studio (Mount Horeb, WI)

After work: He is the third consecutive generation of Yoder to operate a successful business in lieu of attending college.

Quote to know: “Once I got into [signmaking], I realized it was one of those trades I, number one, didn’t know existed, and number two, it was such a neat trade that you could be a graphic designer, an architect, a builder, an installer – I just knew it was the thing for me.”

When he was just 19 years old, the sight of deftly air-brushed Chevrolet Astro vans drew Dan Yoder’s curiosity and led him to signmaking. Seriously. “There was a signshop [Vital Signs in Verona, WI] not far from where I lived. They had some tricked-out Astro vans that I thought were really cool,” Yoder recalled. “It turned out that my mother or father had gotten some lettering work done from them,” he said. “I ended up making a connection with the owner.” Yoder asked for a job and was hired. Just like that. “I didn’t have a game plan. I didn’t go to college. I didn’t have anything I was planning for,” Yoder said. “I just lucked out, I guess.”

During his six-year tenure at Vital Signs, Yoder was schooled in the arts of hand carving, hand cutting, hand lettering, pinstriping and other skills of the trade. At age 25, he rented a 150-sq.-ft. garage and founded Sign Art Studio with $1,500 in the bank. “I started pounding the pavement looking for work,” Yoder said.

Sign Art’s beginnings were tied to simpler storefront signage before a job for a commercial office park development altered its trajectory. Sign Art designed, produced and installed a monument sign that was well-received by the community. “That opened the door with commercial developers,” Yoder said. Yoder capitalized on that momentum by hiring his first full-time employee and moving to a 1,800-sq.-ft. shop. Today, Sign Art has seven staff members and recently relocated to a 12,000-sq.-ft. facility. “We find that clients are seeking us out because of our unique approach to design and the ability to blend the traditional aspects of signage with modern technology and design,” Yoder said. 

Yoder considers Sign Art’s reconstruction of the Orpheum Theatre’s (Madison, WI) marquee sign their “proudest moment.” “I had always had my eye on that project. The sign that existed was falling into serious disrepair. City ordinance wouldn’t allow for a new sign unless we recreated the original sign that was installed in 1927,” he said. Yoder did just that, replicating the original design from images found at a local historical society, and even making sure he kept a precise count of the sign’s light bulbs. Eight months and 1,400 labor hours later, Sign Art installed the new Orpheum Theatre sign. They haven’t looked back since. “The success of this company is because of the talented people I have been lucky enough to have on our team,” Yoder said. “I look at them as my teammates – not employees – and there is a genuine love for each other here.”

Signs of the Times January 2019

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