Ulrich’s Early History
Prior to the establishment of Ulrich Sign Company in 1939, company founder Robert Ulrich was already making signs for people he knew, right here in Lockport, NY. In 1945, following World War II, Robert left his position working for Harrison Radiator Corporation to pursue Ulrich Signs on a full-time basis. He rented a small commercial space on historic Market Street to craft his signs. The space was so narrow that larger signs would have to be walked out of the building in order to be turned around to work on the other side. Robert Ulrich started out by himself. However, the business quickly grew, and soon he had three employees. At the Market Street shop, they produced hand-lettered and painted signs, vehicle lettering, and electrical signs featuring neon illumination.
Improvements and Milestones
In the years that followed, Ulrich Signs continued to grow, and in 1952, Robert purchased the land at 250 State Road to build the shop that is still in use today. In 1962, Robert’s son, Mike, began helping him with making signs, and in 1975, Robert passed the torch of ownership of Ulrich Signs over to him. In the years that followed, many changes happened to Ulrich Sign Company as the business continued to grow. Mike made additions to the building space at 250 State Road, and also continued to fabricate and install signs alongside his employees, all while handling ownership duties. Robert stayed on as well, continuing to be involved with of the company until his passing in 2003.
The 1980s saw great strides forward in the ways that signs were designed and built. Computerized sign design became available, and vinyl graphics began to make their appearance in the industry. These two technologies brought about a controversial decline in hand-designed and hand-painted signs and lettering. New, industry-grade sign materials were also appearing, ending the “wood and steel” era of common signmaking. PVC plastics, aluminum in sheet form, and high-density urethane panels became mainstay products for creating signs, offering greater longevity and signmaking versatility.
The 1990s brought even more technological and material advancements, ushering in the era of completely computerized, digital sign design and production. Designs and resulting signs could now be precise and consistent. Color digital printing also got its start, bringing back some the “old school” of the sign painting era, adding that “personal touch” to designs and artwork. Newer, high-tech laminated sign substrates began to become popular. Ulrich Signs embraced all of the advances that were being made, all while keeping the workforce employed, and continuing to grow. In 1991, Mike’s son-in-law, Chris McCaffrey, began to work for the company.
The turn of the century also brought increases in capability for Ulrich Signs. A boom truck was purchased, as well as a bucket truck, giving the company the ability to be self-sufficient with raising signs, service work on tall signs, and greater versatility in installation work. In 2003, a computer-driven table router was acquired, which brought significant in-house manufacturing capability to the company. Custom sign shapes could be routed out of materials quickly and perfectly, right in the shop. Letters could be cut from materials or carved into signfaces with the highest quality and precision. In 2004, color digital printing was brought in-house, allowing for the greatest latitude in design and artistic expression. The rising popularity of LED illumination also impacted the company in two significant ways. First, many signs could be illuminated with cost-efficient, low-maintenance LEDs instead of neon or fluorescent lamps. Second, durable LED message center signs began to be available in earnest, and Ulrich Signs jumped on board with this technology as a high-tech and ultra-versatile alternative to standard changeable copy signs.
In 2006, Mike Ulrich handed the torch of company ownership to long-time employee Chris McCaffrey, and, like his dad before him, continued to be active in the company until 2010, when he retired completely. Under Chris, the company expanded and grew during a time of drastic economic decline for much of the country, adding equipment, employees, and clients in every facet of business, from small businesses to major corporate companies. Mike Ulrich continues to be a very visible part of the Ulrich Sign Company, with regular visits and a smile on his face.
Today, Ulrich Sign Company is a thriving, local business with customers all over the region, state, and surrounding states (and as far as Florida). With three boom trucks, two bucket trucks, two service trucks, building and property expansion, and a workforce of 19 employees, Ulrich Sign Company has come a very long way since Robert Ulrich’s humble beginnings back in 1939. Interestingly, some of the company’s roots are still embraced in signmaking. Hand-painted lettering, 23K gold leaf, and neon-illumination are still needed, and are utilized when modern methods are not as suitable.
Future of the Company
The future of Ulrich Sign Company is hopeful and unwritten.