Neither Allison Bonin nor her sister Hannah Vedrines anticipated that one day they would take over their retiring parents’ industrial sign business, but that’s exactly what these millennials did, leaving behind careers in nursing and environmental consulting to dive headlong into custom sign fabrication. Their certified women-owned business, Advanced Graphic Engraving, or AGE, was first founded in 1997 as a mom-and-pop shop for signage for the oil and gas industry, a big part of the local economy in Broussard, Louisiana. Since then, AGE has grown to become a national provider of specialty printed and engraved signs used in a wide variety of sectors, including the maritime and shipbuilding, defense, pharmaceutical and oil and gas industries.
Industrial tagging and signage is not your ordinary signage, and producing it requires specialty equipment, top notch service and a keen design eye. The range of signs AGE manufacturers is huge, and each one is tailor-made. Some signs are tiny, including ID plates with equipment serial numbers, while others are large, like OSHA or directional signage used on offshore drilling rigs. Durability is a key goal. The signs AGE produces must be able to withstand any weather and environmental conditions.
In the first several years of the company’s existence, sales to local oil and gas companies dominated revenue. Then in 2005, the company launched an online presence and began to pick up clients from all over the country. That trend has continued, with sales split evenly now between regional and nationwide customers. Bonin, a former nurse, joined the company part-time in 2012, transitioning to full time in 2015. Vedrines, a geologist, jumped ship from her job with an environmental consulting firm in 2013. The sisters, along with a team of 16 employees, work out of a 10,000 square foot state-of-the-art production facility.
“We fill about 600 custom orders in a typical month,” says Bonin, AGE’s chief strategist and head of marketing. “An order can be as little as one piece, while others have thousands of pieces. The types of order vary from month to month because we’re always working across multiple industries.”
Bonin and Vedrines have invested significantly in specialty equipment that allows AGE’s team to create the high quality signage for which they’re known. This includes six computer-driven rotary machines that allow the team to complete large industrial engraving jobs, laser and acid etching capabilities and vinyl and silk screen printers. AGE is able to produce signage on a variety of materials, or substrates, including stainless steel, brass, acrylics, marble, glass, wood, plastic and others. With a large number of global customers, AGE is also experienced in producing signs in a number of languages, including Spanish, French, Portuguese, Russian, Serbian Latin, Arabic and Chinese.
“We can mark on a lot of different substrates and ensure the signs we make last for 20 years or more on a boat or in the desert,” says Vedrines, who focuses on operations and large scale projects. “Our goal to meet our customers’ needs while also fitting their budgets.”
Bonin and Vedrines say that while their careers took a different turn when they took over the family business, leading the growth of the AGE’s next phase has been satisfying. They’ve also enjoyed networking with other south Louisiana based businesses as well as the regional economic developers.
“It’s been very satisfying to watch the business grow and flourish.” says Bonin. “We’re lucky to have such a great team and great customers.”
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