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    All The Signs Pointing to Detroit

    The Detroit Sign Factory was conceived in Detroit by Kay Stefanski with a supportive hand from me, her husband Ron. After two decades in educational marketing, Kay decided it was time to mix it up. Our sons were both launched, and we were looking for a new adventure. Little did we realize at the time we were to find it in Detroit, Michigan.

    I was born in Detroit over on the east side. After marriage, we settled into life in Ann Arbor. When my beloved grandma Vicki was killed in Detroit, we were both done with the city for good. That is, until a chance encounter decades later with two brothers, Dave and Tom Carleton, changed all that.

    The high spirited brothers kept talking about all the buzz and energy that was building in Detroit. And these were two guys who invested in Detroit in the 90’s when most of the downtown area was a burned out shell of its former self. Shortly after realtor Matt O’Laughlin had introduced the brothers to us, we saw an article in Hour Magazine featuring the Carleton’s adventure renovating the GAR building on Grand River. Mesmerized by their bold plans for the old building, suddenly we were drawn into Detroit’s new possibilities. I remember thinking that Tom and Dave were so connected to so many interesting people doing all kinds of different things; it felt like the time was now. The energy vibe in Detroit was clearly palpable.

    Everywhere in the city buildings were crying out for new tenants, new purposes, and new life. We leased a two-story loft in the Carleton’s Library Loft building, went home and gave away half our “stuff”, including lawnmowers, snow shovels and tools. We moved into the beautiful space overlooking the empty Hudson’s site on Woodward. It only took a year of living downtown to decide to make a more permanent commitment to city life in Detroit. In short order, we found a condo in the Riverfront district that needed renovation. We bought a condo that overlooks the Renaissance Center and the Detroit River.

    Soon after refurbishing the space in Garden Court, an historic Albert Kahn building, Kay started thinking about another, longer term project, a new business endeavor. We met so many wonderful, welcoming people in Detroit that shared in the excitement for the city. From these conversations, the idea of a start-up manufacturing business began to emerge.  Like many others, we’ve talked from time to time about opening our own business, but every time we got serious there was another new work opportunity right in front of us that seemed promising.

    After leaving her job as director of marketing for a reference library publisher, Kay met a small business consultant, Mark Cory, who was working in Detroit and we began researching opportunities together. Her criteria for the business was simple: “It had to be a business I could operate in Detroit for Detroiters. I definitely wanted a business I could put my own creative stamp on.”

    Mark introduced Kay to former native Detroiter, Ken Kindt, who built a successful sign manufacturing business methodology. Ken and his partner, Jack Werner, were looking for other small business owners to expand their business in the Detroit area. After talking with Ken and Jack Werner, we were intrigued. What I love about Detroit is that it’s rediscovering its past as a place where you make things. Making and manufacturing signs for small businesses plays to Kay’s longtime experience in surface design and marketing. And with all the small businesses opening in our area, the market seems ripe for a business like this with strong products and stellar customer service.

    In the months following her business and technical training sessions, Kay launched her website for Detroit Sign Factory, and recently leased space in the historic Elevator Building, blocks from our riverfront home. The way I see it, this business is perfect for Kay and our neighborhood community. Signage is the most important direct form of advertising for small businesses

    At the end of the day, the most rewarding part of starting and operating a small business in Detroit is connecting with so many cool Detroiters. You’ll be hearing about more of these people and their stories in the weeks ahead here on this Detroit Blog.

    Looking to connect with Kay? You’ll also find her here on the website.

    Of course, these days Kay is back at the Elevator Building managing the renovation for the newest resident in her neighborhood in Detroit: the brand new home of The Detroit Sign Factory.

    Follow us on Facebook to see photos and videos and to read my weekly Detroit Blog.

    I look forward to including you on our Detroit adventure.

    Ron Stefanski

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