Warning: Successful local business ahead
By ANDREW McGINN
If there’s a warning label on a product stating the obvious, thank a lawyer.
But, more than a few companies looking to safeguard their money from lawsuits have an unassuming local sign shop to thank.
“We make warning stickers to tell people not to hurt themselves by the bucket loads,” said Paul Ogren, a lifelong Jefferson resident whose East Lincolnway sign shop has become a true success story.
Hey, somebody’s got to make those stickers — and many of them are made here in Jefferson by a father-son team.
If you didn’t even know there’s a graphics business inside the time-worn Quonset hut by the A&W, you’d be forgiven.
In fact, that’s the ironic thing about Ogren’s Custom Graphics.
“We might be the worst-marketed sign company on the planet,” joked Adam Ogren, who joined his dad’s business full-time eight years ago.
Winter is the time of year when work at most sign companies dries up, but the Ogrens’ two-man studio will keep right on churning out everything from High Voltage signs to product stickers that state the following:
“Any activity involving motion or height creates the possibility of serious injury, including permanent paralysis and even death from landing or falling on head or neck.”
Really, now, are people that stupid?
“We take full advantage of it,” Paul Ogren, 62, confessed with a grin.
Take, for example, the warning stickers they once produced instructing Californians not to eat the packaging material.
“I find it ridiculous,” Adam Ogren, 30, explained, “that I make a living warning people not to do things they should know not to do.”
At their shop inside that 64-year-old Quonset hut, the younger Ogren devotes all day, every day, to creating nothing but warning signs and stickers.
“A lot of the stuff we do isn’t fancy,” Paul Ogren said.
But, a lot of it is — and winter also is the time of year when the Ogrens’ work will be seen by millions, in basketball arenas across the nation and on TV.
“We can dial up ESPN right now,” Paul Ogren said, “and something we did in this shop will be on within the hour.”
The Ogrens have developed a partnership with Spalding, the world’s largest supplier of basketball equipment, producing everything from warning stickers and company logos for various products to individual team graphics to emblazon protective backstop pads.
For the local economy, it’s akin to a slam dunk.
Spalding manufactures all those backstops and pads at its Jefferson facility.
The Ogrens then make the assist by doing the graphics.
“We love his work,” Mark Lane, vice president of operations at the local Spalding/AAI plant, said recently of Paul Ogren. “He’s on time. He’s accurate. He makes very few mistakes.
“He’s a great partner.”
As the official backstop supplier to the NBA — as well as the WNBA and the men’s and women’s NCAA Final Four — every time LeBron, D-Wade or Kobe takes it to the glass, they’re taking it to something made almost entirely in Jefferson.
In 2009, when President Barack Obama had the White House tennis court adapted to accommodate full-court basketball games, Spalding supplied the commander-in-chief’s new backstops.
Both were manufactured in Jefferson, Lane said, with the Ogrens affixing the White House seal to the backstop pads.
For Paul Ogren, the whole thing is pretty impressive for a guy who knew virtually nothing about sign-making or the graphics business when he opened his shop in 1999 on April Fool’s Day.
“Some of the signs I did early on, I’m really amazed that they paid me,” said Ogren, a 1969 graduate of Jefferson High School and a 1974 graduate of Iowa State University in business.
Early on, he entered the family construction business — Ferguson-Diehl — until its sale eventually led him to a teaching job for three years in the 1990s at Northwest Iowa Community College in Sheldon, instructing students to operate heavy machinery.
“My boss up there told me I was the worst employee he ever had,” Ogren said.
It was around that time, however, he decided he didn’t want to be anyone’s employee, anyway.
“I wasn’t happy working for somebody else,” he recalled.
The sign shop made a paltry $600 its first month.
“My wife told me, ‘You’re a lot happier, you’re a lot calmer, but you’re going to have to make more money.’ ”
He turned to the venerable Gold Nugget and placed an ad for his new shop in it the second week of May, 1999.
He’s only had two days without work ever since.
“The vast majority of our work does not stay in Greene County,” said Adam Ogren, a 2002 graduate of Jefferson-Scranton. “Between the Internet and UPS, there is no place you can’t get to.”
Despite a never-ending workload that typically now runs two to six weeks behind schedule, the Ogrens still try to help locally when they can.
Sally’s Alley, an area being created on the southside of the Square to honor the late Churdan photographer Sally White, will feature graphics by the Ogrens’ shop.
The Ogrens will be placing White’s photos of native Iowa birds on large banners for the alley next to the Lincoln Building.
The alley’s tentative dedication date is June 7.
They also do the graphics on the Jefferson Fire Department’s trucks — for free.
“I want them to show up if I have a problem,” Paul Ogren joked.