(15 Total References)
K-W Record - Wrapped Up
National Sign Group owner and president Mark Stever wraps himself up with fibre-optics cable at the Kitchener company's offices.
Born and raised in Kitchener, Stever
is making a name for himself by putting the names of other companies in bright lights.Over the past year his
company has designed and installed nine signs for retailers in "the Big Apple," including two of the big, flashy variety that glow nightly in New York City's legendary Times Square. Stever
, 37, launched National Sign and Awning in 1995 and changed the name to National Sign Group last month.In the beginning, he
goal was to cash in on the rapid growth of franchise retailing across southern Ontario.
But now, employing a take-no-prisoners attitude at trade shows across North America, the little Kitchener company is trying to develop a much larger continent-wide profile.
"Our sales have doubled every year, and this year we're on target for $5 million in sales," Stever
About 65 per cent of his
business comes from the United States, thanks largely to the undervalued Canadian dollar.
"A $1-million sale in the U.S. is the same as a $1.5-million sale in Canada," says Stever
, explaining why he
can bid so successfully for U.S. work.
"At trade shows, we call ourselves the home of the 65-cent dollar," he
says."We make our margins based on the exchange."
And the push south continues.
"People have to look at all their opportunities," Stever
says."And there are plenty of opportunities in the U.S. People have to look beyond their own little area."
customers is San Francisco-based Chevron
supplies the signs for the oil company's lubricants division -- a $1-million-a-year deal that was arranged thanks to a Chevron dealer in Western Canada who recommended National Sign
head office. Stever
was still a university student -- studying economics and marketing -- when he
first business."I needed a little cash," he
Markrite Display Systems sold price tags, point-of-purchase displays and logo shopping bags. From time to time, however, Stever was asked about signage, so he branched out and became a partner in Orillia-based Voros Signs, which among others things, produced signs for the now closed Lulu's nightclub in Kitchener. Stever later joined Accent Sign and Awning in Waterloo as a salesman, but quit six years ago.He
was intent on developing his
own company. His
first customer was M&M Meat Shops.It was followed by Goodlife Fitness Centers
, 2001 Audio Video, First Choice Haircutters, Travel Lodge and Williams Coffee Pubs.
Also among the early customers was HMV Record Stores.When HMV wanted to open a store in the newly re-invigorated Times Square in New York City, it turned to National Sign
to do the job. Stever's
team went to work devising the biggest, most glittering sign it could.
"In Kitchener, there's a maximum amount of light, animation and size you can put in a sign," observes Stever
The two Times Square signs, Stever
admits, are the company's pride and joy.A large photo display of the two accompanies National's
sales people to every trade show.
The signs were conceived and designed in Kitchener, but owing to New York City's union labour regulations the structural and electrical work were done by shops in New York.But Stever's
crew was there to supervise.
Good relations with the unions will assure National Sign
of more New York work, Stever
says.And there will be plenty of that, particularly in Times Square, he
"I think there's another four good years of construction in Times Square," says Stever
, who says he's
in the running for jobs with two prestigious New York City stores, Saks Fifth Avenue and Cartier jewelers.
And then . . .
"Las Vegas is my next goal," says Stever
employs 16, but Stever
expects to add some sales people, designers and project managers over the next couple of months.
"We want to quickly expand," he
says."Our plan is to expand through sales and through acquisitions of other companies that are working in the franchise market.They may be in Canada or the United States, but they will be companies that are working in our focus market."
And then, says Stever
, the company will go public and offer shares to investors."Our goal is to make our IPO (initial public offering) in two years." Stever
wife, Joanne, are the majority owners of National Sign
.George Voisin, a Kitchener lawyer and longtime friend of Stever, is a minority shareholder.
"This business could not have taken off without George," says Stever
worked for the Voisin family when he
was a teenager, doing clean-up work at the family-owned plazas -- a relationship he
"Frank Voisin (George's father) taught me some good values of business, the simple things, the fundamental values," he
These days, Stever
spends two or three days a week travelling to meet customers and potential customers.It's a vital part of doing business, he
"It's very important to be in their faces at their offices," he
...Instead, it's fibre-optics cable that will be putting the fire in the signs that beckon us into stores and restaurants, says Mark Stever of National Sign Group in Kitchener.
"Fibre optics costs 30 per cent more to install, but after that the long-term savings begin," Stever
says."Two or three years down the road, people are glad they spent the extra money up front."
A neon sign, says Stever
, needs about 15,000 volts to get it going.Fibre optic cable can be fired up with a much less expensive 120-volt light bulb.
And while neon sign maintenance can be difficult and expensive, the opposite is true of fibre optics signs, which can even go under water.
Because neon lighting carries a powerful charge, it's heavily regulated.In Canada, neon signs have to be at least seven feet from the ground, Stever
Potential customers seem attracted to the bendable fibre-optics cables.
"It's like flypaper at a trade show," Stever
Sign company shifts its focus | The Record.com
National Sign Group, a seven-year-old business that designs illuminated storefront signs, has been put on the backburner because founder Mark Stever is concentrating on LED Solution Inc., a spinoff that designs outdoor electronic billboards.
It has moved out of leased offices on Manitou Drive and its two remaining employees now share space with LED Solution
Two years ago, National Sign
employed 16 people.
"We probably will be winding that down and putting more focus on the LED market," said Stever
. LED Solution
, meanwhile, is moving most of its operations to the U.S. because the business was recently sold to a Florida-based communications company.It now is a division of Global Entertainment Television, a company that is setting up a digital television channel and owns a business that buys and resells advertising time on TV networks. Stever and George Voisin, a Kitchener lawyer who is a minority shareholder in both National Sign and LED Solution, have become shareholders in Global as a result of the deal.
will keep a sales and support office in Kitchener, in a plaza at Ottawa Street and Westmount Road, but half of its 10 employees, including Stever
, will move to Global's offices in Boca Raton, Fla.
FOCUS ON ELECTRONIC BILLBOARDS Stever, who remains president of LED Solution, said he shifted his focus to electronic billboards because the business has so much potential,
The billboards, giant television screens that show ads downloaded from the Internet, are installed in busy locations, "basically wherever people go," said Stever
Merging with Global gives LED Solution
the resources it needs to take advantage of opportunities across North America, he
"You can have all the marketing ideas in the world, but you still need somebody to back you up," he
said."That's what this group does for us." Stever
said Global, a one-year-old firm that is seeking a stock listing on Nasdaq, gives LED Solution an advantage over competitors because it allows LED to offer prospective customers advertising content as well as sign technology.
"We will bring in the advertising support, the financing on that sign, so it doesn't end up costing the client anything," he
said. Stever launched National Sign Group in 1995.
The business, formerly known as National Sign
and Awning, received a lot of publicity two years ago when it installed huge neon signs for HMV Record Stores and Applebee's Grill & Bar
in Times Square in New York City.
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Stever is an entrepreneur who ...
Stever is an entrepreneur who is proposing to convert the old Boehmer Box factory into the Berlin Film, Arts & Cultural Centre.
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- Transforming the 120-year-old Boehmer Box factory into Waterloo Region's hub for Canadian-made movies is a job that would take many years of work and millions of dollars.
But despite a film resume that tends toward pornography and has yet to include any finished mainstream movies, Kitchener's Mark Stever
just the man to do it.
already come up with a name, the Berlin Film, Arts & Cultural Centre
, and a bold plan to turn the 174,000-square foot former box factory into an alternative to film centres in Toronto or Vancouver.
believes the iconic building, which is adjacent to the region's future transit terminal in downtown Kitchener, could become a "flagship" for the local arts scene, modelled along the lines of the redeveloped Tannery building.
Stever has the support of the Duke Street building's owner, Krishan Judge, and the tentative backing of a few of the Boehmer Box factory's tenants: a costume maker, recording studio and an artist.
needs is money - Stever figures as much as $10 million of it - which he
says could come from government grants or a well-financed backer.
limited experience in redevelopment projects like this, he's
can pull it off.
"This is my way of giving back to the community," he
For about five years, Stever was the owner of Velvetgate Entertainment Group, a Kitchener-based pornography studio that produced around 25 titles before he says it was "wound down" in 2009.
The studio's claim to fame was the Black Velvet series, which featured a travelling hearse that people had sex in.
But the aspiring feature filmmaker hopes the public doesn't judge him for his
Adult films were just a way for him to break into the movie business, he
"If you stripped out the sex scenes, you still had a viable film," Stever
is making his
first foray into full-length movies with a film called Illuminatus: 8 Deadly Sins, which he
financed and wrote himself.
The renamed Illuminatus, which was mostly shot in the basement of the Boehmer Box building, is in the editing stage now and set for a spring release, Stever
Technically, the Boehmer Box factory's industrial zoning doesn't allow for moviemaking, but that hasn't stopped the self-made producer from turning the dingy basement into the backdrop for Illuminatus.
isn't just producing the movie.
also saved one of the main roles for himself, acting under the pseudonym George Reynolds.
He plays a "ruthless lawyer," and "a man whose appetite for money, sex and power know (sic) no limits," according to the film's press release.
left the pornography business behind - but how far behind is not quite clear.
In an interview, he
still trying to produce another movie, called 143, which he
described as a "romantic comedy."
It's also apparently being produced under the Velvetgate label, which Stever
closed in 2009.
The distance between Stever's
adult film past and his
new mainstream efforts is also hard to determine.
still shares a phone number with his
new outfit iRITEi Pictures, a company that appears to exist only in a website address.
At several points in separate interviews for this story, Stever
offered contradictory information.
When first contacted, he
had flown in the band L.A. Velvet from Los Angeles to shoot a video at the Boehmer Box, despite the fact the band was already on tour in Ontario and had played in Kitchener
the night before.
also initially claimed members of Kitchener's Voisin family, owners of the M&M Meat Shops chain and a portfolio of real estate properties in Ontario, were working as advisers on the project, a claim he
later toned down.
Stever does have a connection to the Voisins - the late George Voisin was once a minority investor in his sign business - but the family says it no longer has any business ties with him.
handouts for the project also showed the logos of the federal government, Scotiabank, the City of Kitchener
, the Region of Waterloo and others as "targeted sponsors and strategic partners."
All "strategic partners" contacted for this story, including Kitchener's
Sherwood Systems, a Buffalo company called IBC Digital and Daemen College in upstate New York, said they'd never heard of Stever's
later explained he
used the logos of those companies to show the kind of partners "we would like to target for this project."
wanted to get support from the tenants before he
approached the city.
believes film producers will be drawn to his
proposed centre as a cheaper alternative to locations in Toronto.
wants to build a three-storey sound stage in the building, and fill the rest of the old factory with hairdressers, makeup specialists, costume makers and other tenants that could support movies shot on location.
Some of those businesses already rent space there, and he
warns their rents could go up if his
project is successful.
Other businesses that don't fit, such as an appliance repair shop, will have to move out, Stever
In late October, Stever
held an open house in a third floor studio at the Boehmer Box factory.
said it was a first step applying for a zoning change that would allow his
project to proceed.
The building's owner, Krishan
Judge, says the project has altruistic motives.
Once the Berlin Film, Arts & Cultural Centre
is a reality, Stever
could stay on as the centre's general manager, he
Mark Stever is an entrepreneur proposing to convert the old Boehmer Box factory into the Berlin Film, Arts & Cultural Centre.
Exhibit Builder Magazine - Online!
" We wanted a virtually maintenance-free product, and that's what we got with Acrylite sheet," says Mark Stever, president and creative overseer of LED Solution.
ACRYLITE(R) Acrylic Sheet Lights Up The New Yorker Hotel
"We wanted a virtually maintenance-free product, and that's what we got with ACRYLITE sheet," says Mark Stever, President and Creative Overseer of LED Solution.