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Signs of the times: Harwood Sign shop capitalizes on campaign season

GRANITE QUARRY — If you ask Drew Harwood who will win his vote in the upcoming election, you’re likely to get a canned response.

“People ask you, ‘Who are you voting for?’ I just say, ‘All of them right now,’” Harwood said.

When you’re the sign maker, neutrality is key.

Harwood is the owner of Harwood Signs at 105 Depot St. in Granite Quarry. The shop was started by his grandfather in 1954 and was run by his uncle until about six years ago when Harwood took over operations. He’s joined in the business by Justin Overcash, who came on board about two years ago, and his trusty shop dog Ivey.

Although the company is well known for making signs stationed across Rowan County, it had largely been a bystander during campaign season.

“In years past, we would kind of turn (candidates) down because we couldn’t compete with internet pricing,” Harwood said.

That changed after Harwood and Overcash decided to purchase both a flatbed printer and a flatbed cutting table with a router. While pricey, the two machines have revolutionized the company’s sign making abilities.

“With this equipment on hand now, it’s definitely been a game changer for us,” Harwood said. “We can get competitive with internet pricing.”

Harwood and Overcash have been swamped over the past six months with printing and cutting out the rectangular campaign signs now dotting front lawns and roadsides at every turn. The company has made signs and banners for almost 20 candidates running for everything from Granite Quarry mayor to district attorney. 

“The campaign signs have been a constant, steady flow,” Harwood said. “A lot of people are ordering 100 at a time, or 500 at a time and we’ll make them in increments of 100 and let them know when they’re ready.”

The orders for campaign signs started trickling in about a half year ago. Candidates in the crowded and competitive sheriff’s race, which isn’t until fall 2022, were among the first to place their orders. As the Nov. 2 municipal election drew closer, orders started pouring in for candidates in other races as well.

“For the last several months, we’ve got a sign up where we’re by appointment only because we’re booked out so far,” Harwood said.

While about half of the candidates have come to Harwood and Overcash with designs ready to go, others have asked the duo to create something from scratch. When the candidate is happy with what their sign will look like, Harwood and Overcash put a coroplast board on their new “flatbed” printer. 

The shop used to go through between five to 10 sheets of coroplast sheets a month but has gone through almost 1,000 sheets since April. Harwood estimates that the sign shop has made roughly 8,000 campaign signs so far.

Using ink that’s instantly dried with UV light, the flatbed printer can magically turn a white board into a colorful advertisement in just 14 minutes. The printer was one of two major purchases Harwood and Overcash made earlier this year to increase their shop’s capabilities. 

The other was a flatbed cutting table with a router on which the printed campaign signs are sliced into rectangles or other shapes.

While the machines are new to Harwood and Overcash, they’re secondhand devices purchased from other print shops. Bought brand new, the machines would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Still, the staggering price of even a used flatbed printer and cutting table was tough for the duo to stomach.

The gambit has paid off.

“Justin and I laugh and talk about getting another flatbed printer, where when we first bought this one we were scared to death about making a purchase like this,” Harwood said. “Now we’re looking to see if the market will maintain where we should be running two because half the time it seems like we’re fighting over who is going to be using the flatbed.”

Harwood said he still gets excited when he sees campaign signs printed in his shop. His wife, however, doesn’t share his same enthusiasm.

“My wife is probably sick and tired of hearing me say ‘Hey, we made that sign,’ or, ‘We made this sign,’” Harwood said. 

The habit of picking out which signs he made is one Harwood picked up from his grandfather.

“I still remember as a kid with my grandpa riding around and him just pointing all of that stuff out whenever we were in the car together, looking around at what all he’d done and calling it out to everybody,” Harwood said. “We would ride around just to look at the signs he had made. I feel myself turning into that sometimes.”

While campaign season has certainly given the company a bump in business, Harwood said it’s not all about the money.

“By no means are we making a killing on it,” Harwood said. “But we’re making enough to keep our machines running and to build a lot of relationships with the people who are running for office.”

Harwood Signs isn’t the only local company cashing in on campaign season. Justin Wells, the owner of Fullers Market and Ultimate Sports Apparel, has printed over 100 shirts for two different candidates.

Although campaign apparel hasn’t been a major part of business, Wells said he is open to the idea of providing shirts to more candidates in the future.

Whether it’s campaign signs or political shirts, Harwood and Wells both said they’re happy with any customer from Rowan County.

“Especially during these weird pandemic times, I think it’s really cool that so many of these candidates have decided to stay local,” Harwood said.

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