Paul Valencia, reporter
Andy Miller was 4 years old when his father started working for Vancouver Sign Company.
He grew up with an appreciation for the art, and the business.
Now, he is passionate about both.
“I like the creativity of it,” Miller said of making signs. “Seeing something from concept to inception, all the way through the process, from when it’s on paper. You’ve got your back and forth with revisions with the business owners. You come to that sweet spot with what they want. Then you turn it over to these very talented people who work here, and they create it. They figure out a way to build it.”
Soon enough, the sign is installed. For the business. For the customers. For the community to see it on display, every day.
“To be able to see the fruits of your labor, it was something I was always proud of,” Miller said.
Miller would end up working with his father for a few years before going into the trucking industry.
Later, Miller’s father would buy Vancouver Sign Company.
Earlier this month, Andy Miller returned home, if you will, buying the company from his dad.
“Signage is kind of like lost advertising. Everyone takes it for granted,” Miller said. “But the key to advertising is exposure.”
Think of a sign positioned just off of Interstate 5, for example, Andy explained. Just how many drivers and passengers are on I-5 every day? That’s how many people potentially see that sign.
This year, Vancouver Sign Company is not just celebrating its new owner, but its own history.
This is the company’s 100th year of being in business in Clark County.
The first Kiggins Theater sign? That came from Vancouver Sign Co. The first Burgerville Sign? Yes, Vancouver Sign Co. Remember the old Steakburger sign? That’s them, too.
Oh, and when the Red Lion Hotel at the Quay sign came down last spring, that left the Vancouver Auto Mall sign as the largest in Clark County. That, too, is a Vancouver Sign Company work, and it was recently renovated with LED lighting.
Adam Wallis, the operations manager at Vancouver Sign Co., has worked in various positions at the company for 25 years. He is also the company’s historian.
“It’s not every day a local company turns 100, and we feel our story is one of community pride, local history, trade growth and perseverance,” Wallis said.
He has found several photos and newspaper clippings dating back to the 1920s. Wallis and the company will be donating many of those items, as well as some old signs, to the Clark County Historical Museum. The hope is to have a ceremony — possibly on a First Friday later this year — to celebrate the 100-year milestone.
The company also is working with the National Neon Sign Museum in The Dalles, Ore., on another project.
Wallis said there is not much information on who started the company in 1923. In 1929, it was bought by William Cole, who ran the business on Eighth Street before moving to Main Street in Vancouver. John Hagensen would come on board as sales manager in the 1940s, and the company moved to Columbia Street.
Hagensen later bought the company and moved it to Pacific Highway, a move described then as “Going Suburban,” according to Wallis’ research.
John’s son Bruce — who would one day become the city’s mayor — joined the company and took over with the passing of his father.
Andy Miller, by the way, had the idea of going into business with his father and buying Vancouver Sign Company back when Andy was in his 20s. Dick didn’t want the business at the time, and that’s when Andy ventured away from the sign company and into the trucking industry.
A few years later, Dick was on board with owning the company. He and Greg Stuart bought the company from Bruce Hagensen, moving the company to Andresen Road.
Dick Miller would later become the sole owner, moving the company to Fruit Valley Road, where it resides today.
Starting the first week of January, Dick is now a very knowledgeable volunteer. Andy bought the company from his dad and is the owner/president.
“I’m excited to work with my dad again,” Andy Miller said. “I’ll keep him around probably longer than he wants to. I’ll lean on him a lot.”
Vancouver Sign Company currently has 22 employees. Every single one of them plays a role in the development of each sign that is produced, mostly by hand, in Vancouver. Last week, products that were undergoing the finishing touches included emergency room signs for a hospital in Oregon. The company has clients throughout the West, but there is a large local focus, as well.
The company has survived for 100 years and is looking toward the next era of sign making.
“You look at where you’re at and where you’ve been for a hundred years. It’s good to pause and look forward to where you want to take it the next five or 10 years to focus on how it can be sustained for another 100 years,” Andy Miller said. “It’s a big deal.”
This story was first published by ClarkCountyToday.com and is published here with full attribution and permission from ClarkCountyToday.com Editor Ken Vance.