South Barrington Resident Bill Pyter has a Passion for Signage

South Barrington News
August 2, 2015

Starting the Olympic Sign business with partner Rob Whitehead in a garage of a driving range in 1980, they grew their business to meet demand.

Recently purchasing part of the White Way Sign Company, they currently service and maintain some of the most iconic signs in the Chicago Area.

We sat down with Bill and asked him about the business and his life here in 60010.

What made you go into the sign business?

There were few jobs to be had in 1980. My partner Rob found work installing real estate signs. He needed help, so I joined him. We started building smaller signs, mostly wood, and grew into other types of signs to meet the customer’s needs.

You seem to have a great working relationship with your partner, what is the key to your success?

We have never fought or raised our voices at one another. We respect each other. He has been great at making connections and maintaining relationships with our customers. We handle different areas of the business.

What does owning this type of business entail?

We manufacture, install and service signs of all types. We don’t manufacture all the signs we install and maintain. About 50% of the business is installation and service. We install signs for companies that have them manufactured elsewhere, usually because a national company centralizes their production to have them sent to new locations as they open up in new areas.

We also hold contracts to take care of existing signs and keep up with their maintenance, including some of the most iconic signs in Chicago. We maintain The Catlow sign in the Village of Barrington too.

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What was a turning point for your business?

There have been a few. We started building electric signs. Portillos became a customer early and we grew with them. We went on to get other large customers and helped them establish their brand through signs.

We know how the permitting process works in different villages and municipalities. We can help make sure that everything is timed so they can open when they want to open. We are usually the last stage of the construction/building process.

With the advent of LED lights, the industry changed and we had to change with it. We need to offer our customers signage that is best for them. LED lights require less service, so we do not make as much money as we have in the past with bulbs and neon, but in the long run LED solutions are giving customers a product that lasts and costs less to maintain.

In 2008, the recession hit everyone hard. New growth and expansion slowed. It hit us about 2 years later. We had to cut back on our staff. We went from 50 to 38 fulltime employees. Fortunately, we are seeing growth again. This weekend we are installing signs at the Premium Outlets in Aurora, they are expanding and adding stores.

Changes have happened within local government. Municipalities are cracking down on large signage. It is getting hard for companies to get permits for their signs. Many choose not to locate in areas where they are not allowed to have their signage. It is not good for a village to be so strict that they eliminate a potential popular business from locating in their town.

We recently had an opportunity to really expand our service business when White Way Signs went into bankruptcy. We were able to purchase maintenance agreements. We now service the majority of some of the most wonderful signs in Chicago.

This business is addicting! It is very specialized, so there are not a lot of companies who do what we do. I love the business.

What are some of the challenges in your business?

Timing, weather and location are concerns. We have to make sure everything is measured perfectly prior to installation. For instance, we have many signs on the top of buildings. We need to have our guys set, sometimes repelling from ropes, on the spot the sign is being installed, ready to grab the sign and get it in place when the helicopter lowers it from above. It is risky work. Fortunately, we have a lot of experience and the equipment to get it done.

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Getting permits to do work can be challenging. Many times we have to be in place for extended periods of time. Permits for a truck in downtown Chicago can run $20,000. a night.

Safety is also very important and always a priority. We work with OSHA to make sure our guys attend all the required safety sessions. It is important that we do everything we are supposed to, not only for our people, but also as representatives of our customers who hire us.

We have guys certified to operate swing stations along the outside of skyscrapers and repel over walls and roofs.

Do you have a favorite sign or project?

We recently re-did the Drake Hotel sign. Pink is not a standard color with LED, so the transition took a bit of figuring out. It is such a beautiful sign in a great location.

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What brought you and your family to 60010?

We were living in Schaumburg with our two sons and daughter. My wife wanted to look at areas with schools she wanted our children to attend. We love the water and would frequently go to the Fox River. We looked at South Barrington when we took a short cut to the river 22 years ago. I fell in love with The Coves neighborhood. Initially we could not buy on the water, but we eventually bought a house on the water. I love taking our boat out. It is a great neighborhood and we have wonderful neighbors.

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My wife has been active in gardening groups and nature projects in South Barrington.

Our two younger children went to Barbara Rose elementary and eventually St. Viators.

Speaking of your family, are any of your children involved in the business?

Currently, both my partner and I each have two children working with us at Olympic Signs. The four of them seem to get along very well too!

Where do you like to go when you are not working?

We like Millrose and Pinstripes locally. My wife loves D & J Bistro in Lake Zurich.

We go downtown Chicago a lot. We have a place at Clark and Division and love to get out and walk around. We walk a few miles every time we are down there. There is so much to see and do.

Everywhere I look in the Chicagoland area I usually see a sign we took part in: Building, Installing or Maintaining!