Shop Tour: Landmark Pulls it all Together

Shop's service and abilities result in multi-location relationship with Lucky Strike Entertainment

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Landmark Sign Group has spent more than 30 years making custom outdoor signs, many of them big city landmarks.

The company, headquartered in Chesterton, Indiana, just outside of Chicago, has worked on many iconic projects in downtown Chicago, including the marquis outside the Goodman Theatre. It has even used helicopters to install signs on the upper stories of Chicago high-rise office buildings, says Jerry Lefere, art director at Landmark Sign Group

“We don’t do cookie cutter channel letters here,” says Shaun Ensign, controller for Landmark Sign Group. “Jerry starts with the initial concept.”

The company recently signed an agreement with Lucky Strike Entertainment to create unique signage for its new concept locations that include bowling, modern arcade games, putt-putt golf, live music and food and drinks. So far, Landmark has completed locations for FTW gaming centers in Chicago and Albany, New York. It is currently working on signs for locations in Denver, Hollywood, Bethesda, Maryland; Honolulu, Hawaii; and Boston.

Obviously each site is unique when it comes to construction. Some are on upper or lower levels of malls.

“They have different parameters you have to work around. Knowing we are all-custom gives us a leg up to create those things,” says Ensign.

The first FTW was in Chicago. Lucky Strike Entertainment wanted to start with a steampunk theme. It was a very collaborative effort, with the company talking about what it would like, Landmark Sign providing some initial drawings and then the two working together to narrow it down.

“We visited the site, met with the owner. Now we are on our fourth location,” Lefere says.

Landmark Sign Group likes to be on the cutting edge of new sign technologies, many of them developed in-house. That’s one of the reasons Lucky Strike Entertainment contacted the company to work on its FTW locations.

Lucky Strike CEO Steven Foster is “into new technologies. He wanted the newest, coolest stuff out there. We’re using a lot of stuff not out on the market yet, or people aren’t putting together the different pieces the way we are,” Ensign says. “Our design and engineering team has 25 to 30 years in the sign industry. It is a great place to work. We do a lot of good stuff.”

Lucky Strike Entertainment gives Landmark Sign Group free rein to develop signage for all of its new ventures.

“It is nice knowing they trust in us to do this and be fully custom,” Ensign says.

Each venue has a different space to work with for its signage.

“We are designing and developing each individual site as it goes in, which gives us a sense of pride. They’re not cookie cutting their ventures. They want each one unique. They don’t want the same branding on each individual retail [location],” he adds.

Lefere credits the company’s great reputation to its founder Al O’Brien, who has 50-plus years’ experience doing signs.

“He’s a really good structural engineer for putting together projects like that. Being the owner of the company and the person with the most experience here, he goes out to the job sites and decides what we have to do,” Lefere says.

For high-rises, O’Brien devises ideas for structures to tie into a big building like that. He runs the ideas past the structural engineers for the city of Chicago and then develops a process of fabrication for each job and installation.

The company fabricated and installed the Kemper sign on the Kemper building in Chicago, which is a 41-story, marble-clad high rise. Landmark closed down Wacker Drive for 30 minutes to allow the helicopter to land and pick up letters before helping to position them on a curtain wall on the outside of the building.

“Not a lot of companies in the U.S. do that type of work,” says Lefere.

The company is the largest custom sign company in the Chicago and Northwest Indiana area, producing more than 900 projects annually, involving more than 4,000 custom displays across the continental United States. O’Brien named the company Landmark because a landmark is defined as something prominent that identifies location: a conspicuous identifying or geographic feature that identifies a location and serves as a guide to finding it.

“We have plenty such ‘identifiers’ throughout the city of Chicago,” Lefere says. It is currently working on the marquis outside the Goodman Theatre in downtown Chicago, which was destroyed in an electrical fire at the end of May 2016.

“They were looking to completely replace it,” Ensign says. Landmark updated the technology in the sign so that animations could be programmed into the sign, instead of using plain RGB LED lights.

Using a laptop computer, the owners of the theatre can program in new animations for different holiday celebrations or special events.

“It’s not quite a message center, but it gives them the ability to do different things with the sign,” he adds.

Standard RGB lights just fade from one color to another. Animations can be programmed.

The new marquis will feature 1,000 preset animations.

“This will be a very high-profile project for Landmark,” Lefere says. The project was expected to be completed after the holidays.

O’Brien worked for a local sign company when he first got started and was given the opportunity to invest in that company. Eventually, he took it over and grew it into what Landmark has become, says Ensign.

The company has 36 employees in a 35,000-square-foot manufacturing facility.

“We definitely anticipate a great 2017 with Lucky Strike and their new ventures coming up. There are also some potential rebrands in the works that I can’t discuss at the moment,” Ensign says. 

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Paula Aven Gladych

Paula Aven Gladych is a freelance writer based in Denver, Colo. She can be reached at pgladych@gmail.com.

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