- Associated Press - Saturday, January 7, 2017

MANCHESTER, Iowa (AP) - The huge lettering on the Mills Manufacturing building visible from U.S. 20 near Earlville is just the start.

“If you drive through Manchester, probably 75 percent of the signs were done by our business or its predecessor,” Bryan Gray, owner of Manchester Signs, said.

He and his wife Brenda bought 15-year-old Recker Signs in 2010 and changed the name “to let people know we were going to stay here in the area,” Gray said. The previous owner stayed on to help train the couple.

“I knew nothing about owning a business or the sign business,” Gray said. “But I always said if I ever owned one, I’d make service my main priority.”

Gray’s home is attached to the business at 908 E. Main St.

“I just walk through that door every day to get to work,” said Gray, 50, as he sat in a small office, the churning sound of machines coming from another doorway.

“It’s hard to shut it down,” he added. “After supper, I’ll sometimes go back to do some book work or inventory later into the night. That’s when my wife (Brenda) will tell me that’s enough.”

Brenda, who helps out when needed, said the setup has its pros and cons.

“It’s convenient and it’s nice in the winter getting to work,” she said with a laugh. “But people know we live here and are always knocking on our door. Our doorbell and phone ring 24 hours a day.

“They know we’ll accommodate them.”

The Telegraph Herald (http://bit.ly/2j60ClE ) reports the couple and a two-person staff produce everything from small decals to the nearly $22,000 multiple-sign Mills project. You’ll see their elaborate work on semi-tractor trailers, high school sports logos, celebratory banners and billboards.

Graphic designer Aubry Cook has worked at Manchester Signs for more than three years.

“I like the team that we have. We help each other out,” she said. “And I like creating logos, the design aspect of it. It’s getting to use my creativity.”

Their creativity has helped them land contracts from as far away as Minneapolis, Utah and Long Island, N.Y. People often visit the area or see the signs in other ways and want their own versions.

That includes one of Manchester Signs’ biggest projects: A life-size, 5-inch thick wooden milk cow and a slightly smaller milk truck that help explain the milk producing process from start to finish. It was on display at the 2015 Delaware County Fair and won an award. People with the Long Island Fair later saw a photo of it in a national fair-related magazine.

“I got a call from Long Island and they wanted a quote for it,” Gray recalled. “I thought, ‘We’ll never get that job.’ Four months later, they accepted the ($6,400) job and in September, we shipped it to New York.”

It took him two days to make it. He has spent 30 hours putting trailer-length American flags on semi-tractor trailers. Local medical centers and police cars boast the company’s work.

“We do a very good job of making exactly what the customer wants,” he said.

The other graphic designer, Missi Thede, started working with the business in 2012.

“Everyone’s great to work with,” she said. “It stays busy here, that’s for sure.”

Busy enough to where they’re looking for another full-time designer.

“Word of mouth is the best advertising,” said Gray, who had worked 22 years as a service and warranty manager in the area. “We have almost 90 percent return of customers and a lot of referrals.

“It always stuck in my mind that I wanted to bring good customer service back. When (customers) come through that door, they’re greeted with a smile.”

Often, just moments after he’s left the door of his house.

___

Information from: Telegraph Herald, http://www.thonline.com

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