Dana Keen Phillips, VP of Sales for Keen Signs & Graphic

With the help of the work of the International Sign Association’s Advocacy team, all levels of government recognize the sign industry as an essential business. And with very good reason. Those vital companies that remain open need to communicate social-distancing and public-safety information. Indispensable entities, such as healthcare facilities, need to be able to proceed with their signage and environmental-branding plans without resistance. Once the stay-at-home orders are lifted or modified, and guidelines for effective social-distancing and safety procedures are established for reopening businesses, sign companies are likely to experience an upsurge of demand for visual communication solutions — both for COVID-19-specific messaging and general branding. Savvy business owners have taken advantage of the downtime and worked on rebranding to reenergize their businesses in anticipation of the public’s return.

In Georgia, where Governor Brian Kemp has outlined aggressive steps to revitalize his state’s economic activity, Keen Signs & Graphics of Augusta, a member of both the Southern States Sign Association and  Sign Biz network of independently owned sign shops, has seen a spike in its business since beginning to produce sneeze guards and other COVID-19-related products.

In business since 2010, Keen Signs & Graphics had primarily practiced its trade with all manners of non-electric signs, including vehicle wraps, floor decals, and wayfinding. As the impending magnitude of COVID-19’s impact became evident, Lane Keen, the shop’s founder, found a mock-up for fabricating sneeze guards on a Facebook sign-discussion group, and decided it would provide an opportunity for Keen Signs & Graphics.

“The sneeze guards used a lot of the same materials we use to fabricate ADA signs, so we were able to construct them without specifying any new materials or ordering new equipment,” Dana Keen Phillips, Lane’s daughter and the VP of Sales for Keen Signs & Graphics, said. “We had great relationships with several hospitals in our area, so we were ready to meet their needs for additional barrier protection.”

The company fabricates the guards using polycarbonate that’s cut to shape on Keen Signs & Graphics’ Colex CNC router and joined with angle iron for installation. Keen Signs & Graphics also built a set of guards for the Richmond County tax assessor’s office. Office personnel were so pleased that they sent information about Keen’s service to every county assessor’s office statewide.

Dana said, “We’ve also delivered sneeze guards to other essential businesses, such as nursing homes, pest-control providers, and we just delivered a set to a restaurant that plans to reopen [April 27, when Governor Kemp authorized the relaunching of sit-down service].”

Keen Signs & Graphics' sneeze guards ensure that airport employees and customers transact business safely.

Keen Signs & Graphics printed a series of banners for Augusta University's COVID-19 testing site.

Demand for COVID-19 related signage has also surged. The shop has produced banners for Augusta University’s COVID-19 testing site, as well as floor decals that mark 6 ft. social-distancing intervals for groceries, drugstores, and retailers; banners and signs that promote restaurants’ carryout and delivery service ; and “hero” yard signs that honor their community’s healthcare workers and first responders. Keen Signs & Graphics provided COVID-19 prevention-related signage for Textron’s local manufacturing facility and designed the banner that served as a backdrop for Governor Kemp’s reopening announcement.

Dana said, “We received the call three hours before the press conference, so we couldn’t print it ourselves, but we were glad to contribute.”

The shop received an Augusta Chronicle write-up and corresponding YouTube video that Dana said “had the phone ringing started at 6:30 a.m. the morning the article came out.” Amid COVID-19 chaos and its long-term repercussions, Dana offered plaudits to several Augusta businesses that have gone above and beyond to help the community.

“Carole Fabrics quickly started selling protective masks, offering them to those who can buy them, while donating to the local United Way to help those who can’t afford them,” Dana said. She also lauded Fat Man’s Hospitality Group, a longstanding local restaurant and caterer that partnered with Augusta University to launch the Our AU Heroes program. The program launched a website (www.hubaugusta.com) that lists a roster of restaurants offering carryout and delivery service. When customers order, they can buy gift cards to be donated to Augusta University Medical Center healthcare workers to provide meals.

As business leaders continue to manage a stressful, fluid situation, Dana said it’s important to adapt and create a supportive culture: “Any business owner needs to learn to adjust and go with the flow. This is an unusual situation, but there will always be challenging circumstances that require change. It’s important to communicate effectively and consistently, and to create a good working environment. Being a good boss who takes care of their employees will create an atmosphere where they want to support and fight for the company.”