Upholding the Family Legacy to Make Signs for a New Generation

Sam's Signs   |   San Leandro, CA

Shareef Khan of Sam’s Signs in Hayward California can’t remember a time when he wasn’t working in the family business. “I was born the year my parents started the shop. They would be working with customers, and I would be playing under the counter,” said Khan. “I literally grew up with the business.”

This year marks the 25th anniversary of Sam’s Signs in San Leandro, California. In that time, Sam’s has gone from being a small “mom and pop” shop to a larger store with a separate manufacturing facility and 10 employees. A lot has changed, but some things have remained the same. Sam’s Signs is still a family business, and though in 25 years they’ve been in three different buildings, they have always had a storefront on San Leandro’s dual-zoned East 14th Street, allowing the family to live just behind the shop.

Sam’s Signs produces banners, billboards, vehicle graphics, floor graphics, monuments and custom-made lit and unlit signage. Their business was an early adopter of digital printing technology. “We were among the first shops in the area to do vehicle wraps, and we used to run them in 12” strips and seam them together,” said Khan. “We even did billboards that way.”

Several years ago, Sam’s Signs upgraded their digital production platform to the Roland SOLJET PRO III XC-540 54” printer/cutter. They appreciate the Roland’s wider printing capacity, which together with its speed, quality color output and higher printing resolution allows them to run a wide variety of applications. They also value the machine’s print and cut capability. “The Roland is the most used machine in our shop,” said Khan. “It literally runs as long as the lights are on, and sometimes even after hours. It has dramatically increased our productivity and allows us to take in more business.”

Digital graphics have become a growth market for Sam’s Signs and vehicle wraps are a key product, especially in the economic downturn. Their vehicle wrap clientele ranges from large corporations with fleets of vehicles to solo entrepreneurs. “Many of our clients rely on their wrapped shop vehicle as their sole means of advertising,” said Khan. “We work to be sure that each wrap, whether it’s one-off or a whole fleet, looks perfect.”

In the early days of vehicle wraps, Sam’s Signs developed a specialty in designing and installing wraps that mimicked custom paint jobs. “Our wraps cost one tenth as much as a custom paint job,” said Khan. “And with the Roland, they looked even better.” Sam’s Signs’ wraps were so convincing, they won awards in competitions against painted vehicles.

“The Roland is the most used machine in our shop,” said Khan. “It literally runs as long as the lights are on, and sometimes even after hours. It has dramatically increased our productivity and allows us to take in more business.”

Sam’s Signs provides partial and full wraps and wraps an average of three vehicles a week. The design and installation team, headed by Manuel Diaz and Toby Porter, has put together several award winning wraps, including a Top 25 wrap for 3M’s nationwide Wrap to Win contest.

Recently, Sam’s Signs won a highly competitive contract to wrap transit vehicles for the Oakland International Airport. With bids coming in from all over the state, a critical component of their success was their ability to produce and install the graphics quickly so the buses and other vehicles could be returned to service within two days. Sam’s Signs used Roland’s VersaWorks RIP software to manipulate the artwork and create a design that would cover the buses without distorting the graphic images. Then the staff worked in teams of two or more to install the graphics and successfully returned the vehicles to service within 48 hours. “The graphics printed beautifully,” said Khan. “Given the high visibility of this project, that’s a client you want to make happy!”

Khan enjoys the satisfaction he can provide to his customers. “The best part is when you see a customer come in, they’re starting a new business and they’re scared, and you get to help them with marketing solutions,” said Khan. “When they come back for more, you know that what you did together worked out.”

These days, Khan is co-owner of Sam’s Signs and his younger siblings are also working in the shop. “It’s really great to see my parents, who worked 14 to 16 hours a day to start the business, enjoy the fruits of their labor,” said Khan. “Having a Roland printer has helped my family realize the American dream.”