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Sign Builder Illustrated [Aug. 2010] Features Signs By Benchmark

No Reservations, No Problems

Sign installers check into building an eighty-foot-tall pylon sign for a hotel.

Tharaldson Enterprises, with headquarters in Fargo, North Dakota, owns and operates hotel and inn properties spread out across the country.  So when it was looking to have a highly recognizable sign built for it’s new Residence Inn in Butler Township and the York development area in Dayton, Ohio, it turned to its ten-year-plus sign provider Persona, Inc. ( in Watertown, South Dakota.

Persona started up business as a four-man wholesale sign shop in 1980, but it now counts 300-plus employees in its four facilities across the United States, with a customer list that includes Marriott International, Choice Hotels, Domino’s Pizza, and Aldi.  Persona has worked closely with Tharaldson designing and supplying signage for its many hospitality development projects.

When Tharaldson Enterprises approached Persona about the Residence Inn project, Persona Senior Project Manager Melissa Pulscher Nash knew that a tall, striking sign would be in order.  “Tharaldson always likes to have the tallest signs,” she says.

Persona coordinated this turnkey project, providing project management, design, engineering, and coordination of manufacturing activities.

“[Tharaldson Enterprises] wanted a large, off-premise pylon sign that they could get approved through the Township.  To do that, they had to show that the sign would have architectural features and that it would allow for additional tenants in the development area,” says Pulscher Nash.

“They wanted a sign that would have significant impact on a high-traffic street, but they wanted it to complement the community and the development,” adds Persona Expediter Laurie Seefeldt.

Tharaldson Enterprises and Alex Kolodesh of Singer Properties (the land developer for the area) collaborated on the design of the sign.  As the project unfolded, many of the architectural and finishing details were added in to reflect the recommendations of the Township.

The Residence Inn sign stands eighty feet tall.  The main part of the sign measures 25 feet high-by-20 feet wide.  It features a steel angle frame with a composite (foam-core) cornice that has LED channel letters and an LED logo, plus a flex-face sign for the main tenant ID.  The sign sits atop steel poles with composite pole covers that have been designed to match the look of Dryvit and brick.  The base of the sign is made of actual brick.  (Note: The top five-foot, six inches of the pole covers can be cleared to make way for an additional sign cabinet down the road.)

During fabrication, Persona recognized that the shape and detail of the top module were going to be fairly complex.  They realized that the customer required a look that would be difficult to fabricate from metal.  Because of this, Persona brought wholesale quality foam-core sign supplier Signs By Benchmark ( also of Watertown, South Dakota onboard to provide a solution.

“The flexibility of our composite medium was ideal when it came to realizing this sign’s particular needs,” says Signs By Benchmark Division Manager Matt Frey.  “Responding to the need for lightweight, yet highly durable sign components, [we] were able to provide unique elements and accents that express the culture of the customer and surrounding community.”

Signs By Benchmark created the composite (foam-core) pole covers and topper (cornice) using CNC hot-wire cutting equipment, hand-sculpting techniques, and trademark finishing methods.  “For strength and durability, all components were sprayed with a specially formulated impact-resistant hard coat,” explains Frey.  “Finish colors were applied according to specs.  In the case of the faux-brick lower pole covers, the composite was finished to match samples of the brick that would later be used to build the sign base.”

Persona and Signs By Benchmark participated in several meetings to be sure all the details were in place. “We had a lot of upfront meetings that really helped bring it all together.  We met with Signs By Benchmark, with the structural engineering firm, and with our technical staff.  We also included plant personnel in working out the details,” says Pulscher Nash.

There are eleven sections to the sign, not including the pole covers.  The sign is a dual-augured pole structure with composite sections sleeved down the poles.  The cabinets were saddle-mounted and the cornice frame structure bolted to the top cabinet.  The brick base was built last.

The pole covers were built in two sections: The lower 4-by-4-by-14-foot pole covers were finished in faux-brick to match the brick of the existing base, and the upper 3-by-3-by-34-foot upper pole covers were finished in acrylic stucco colored to specifications.  Meanwhile the 20-foot-wide-by-8-1/3-foot-tall-by-7-3/4-inch-deep topper was finished in acrylic stucco and colored to specifications.

It took Signs By Benchmark about twenty working days at its facility to create all the components for this sign.  “The challenge for [us] was making sure the topper (cornice) was over-sized just enough to fit the frame that Persona had manufactured,” says Frey.  “Special attention also had to be paid during pole cover design and creation to ensure that the covers could easily be lifted by crane and set flawlessly over the pole assemblies.”

“The on-site masonry base brickwork and the Signs By Benchmark pole covers look awesome!  You couldn’t have matched the pattern or colors much closer than that!” says Persona Assistant Technical Sales Manager Les Rossman.

Once fabrication was complete, the next challenge involved determining how to ship the product from Watertown to the site location in Dayton some 975 miles away!  “Signs By Benchmark provided materials for packaging and took extra precautions to avoid freight damage,” says Rossman.

“The sign and the pole cover pieces weren’t especially fragile (the hard-coated foam is pretty durable), but it was challenging to arrange the sign’s shipment,” says Seefeldt.  “It required multiple exclusive-use trucks: two flat beds and one step-deck.”

Once the sign was delivered, Persona coordinated the installation with Dave Wilson of Wilson Sign Co., Inc. ( in Dayton, Ohio.  Relying on an experienced sign installer also helped, as Dave Wilson’s firm has done business with Persona for many years.

Equipment used for the installation included a sixty-inch-diameter, twenty-foot-deep auger; industrial cranes to set the steel and sign cabinets; and sign cranes and bucket trucks to set pole covers.  Wilson Sign Co., also made sure a certified welder and brick masons were on-site for the installation.

The pole structures were put in place and allowed to cure, and the center-to-center measurements were verified and the welds reviewed.  “Then things went really quickly,” says Seefeldt.  “The project was slowed temporarily by spring weather delays for a few days but then moved to completion.”

There were three to four Wilson employees out at the site during most days of the installation, which took three days to complete.  “A problem-free installation is always the crowning event of a successful collaboration,” says Frey.  “Every individual who worked on this project – from those in on the original concept to the Signs By Benchmark, Persona, and Wilson Sign Co., Inc. teams – played a vital role to ensure a smooth installation.”

Although the sign project was first quoted in June 2009, its installation wasn’t completed until April 2010.  Much of the project’s timeline was consumed by the processes necessary to get the required permits and variances from Butler Township and the York development area in Ohio.  Persona put the sign into production on January 20, 2010 and shipped it out on February 10, 2010.

Persona worked extensively with the township to secure the necessary permits and variances.  Much of that work was reflected in the end product, as Persona made adjustments to the overall design and aesthetic to meet the township’s requirements.  “Wilson received many calls about it – some just asking how they got it approved,” says Pulscher Nash.

Pulscher Nash and Seefeldt coordinated most of the project, using resources at Persona, at Signs By Benchmark, and at Wilson Sign Co. to ensure that all phases of the project went smoothly. “Communication was the key to coordinating a successful project of this size using multiple resources,” says Rossman.

Frey finds that it’s the challenging projects (such as this one) that keeps his company motivated.  “I bid on some interesting projects that force us to think outside the box,” he says.  “I’m always confident in my bids, because we have a team that enjoys a challenge.  We never look at a concept and say it can’t be done.  Our reaction is usually: ‘How can we create that?’  Then we pool our skills, put our minds to it, and determine how to turn the concept into reality.”

Tharaldson Enterprises was definitely impressed, calling the sign fantastic.  “Our projects may be challenging, but Persona is always willing to do what it takes to reach our goals,” says President Rick Larson.  “They obviously chose a good partner in Signs By Benchmark for this project.”

Sign Builder Illustrated: August, 2010 (Number 182): Click here for the SBI website.

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