Like many in the industry, Wendy Graves took a unique path to the sign industry. She went from taking X-rays at a local hospital to joining her husband Lloyd, who has a background in commercial signage, full time at his franchise, Signarama Louisville East.

For the first two years, she worked part time answering phones, conducting marketing, and reaching out to the contact list before joining full time. Six years later, she has handled everything from sales to operations to human resources, and she most recently launched the business’ wholesale side in September 2020, inSIGNia Wholesale.

Graves now serves as president of inSIGNia Wholesale where her day-to-day roles include contacting small-to-mid-sized sign companies that have no interest in manufacturing signage but want to offer that product. She works with the owners, project managers, and the sales team on increasing product knowledge of lit signage, dimensional lettering, and more.

Despite inSIGNia Wholesale launching in the middle of the pandemic, the business did much better than projected and was welcomed with a lot of positive feedback in the marketplace. Graves attributes this to business owners learning in the last year that the more they know and the relationships they build, the more business they can capture.

Speaking of relationships, Graves also recently launched the Facebook group Women in Signs, Etc., which is a platform designed to give women a place to uplift, empower, and learn from other women in the industry. We spoke with Graves about this group as well as advice she has for other women.

What led you to start the Facebook group Women in Signs, Etc. (WISE)?

While doing marketing for the wholesale company, I Googled “women in signs” and nothing came up. On the wholesale side, I spoke with so many women each day in different roles. I continued to check across other platforms and noticed there wasn’t a group for women only.

ISA has a great initiative called Women Leading the Industry, but it wasn’t something daily or weekly that women could connect and engage with. I had to include Etc. in the name because I knew we couldn’t just talk about signs. When I laid it all out, W.I.S.E. stuck!

The Facebook group launched the end of January and has grown over 250 percent since. It is currently at 175 members and growing every day.

What role does social media plays in bringing together women from across our industry?

Social media allows women from all over the world with the same interest in signage to find common ground. Signage is the first common factor, but a close second, of course, is being women in this trade.

The social media platform is a safe place to share funny stories, read a word of encouragement for the day, or even just that moment. Working in this trade, at times, ladies can feel alone, however, this social platform allows us all to connect on two things that make us all have a common bond. Without social media, we couldn’t connect with women sign professionals in other states or even the other side of the world.

Social media is bridging the gap where state lines, oceans, and time zones keep us apart.

What are your future plans for WISE?

In June 2021, the podcast W.I.S.E Wednesday’s will launch. It will be a bi-weekly podcast where I invite guests on to discuss any number of topics. The first six are already in taping. They will cover rebounding from tough situations, scaling your team, marketing, and much more.

Guest spots are open to any lady in the sign industry. We all have a story to tell, and someone can learn from your journey, beginning, middle, and end.

At this moment, I am focused on growing the Facebook group to support ladies daily, launching the podcast, and getting traction and good feedback from it. Down the road, I would love to host women-only events on a local, regional, and national level.

Women in signage hold a lot of seats in very important roles. Learning, growing, and mentoring will only improve these positions and help the next generation of women see value in this very important trade now and into the future.

Any advice for other women in the sign industry?

Build a network. Days are long and very stressful at times. You will need people to lean on and get inspiration and strength from. Don’t be afraid to do the work.

At times, you will be tested to prove your abilities and knowledge—be ready and make yourself proud. You don’t have to know everything, but always be willing to learn and grow!

—Ashley Bray