A Sign of the Times

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Signs and storefront imagery are massively important. Catching customers’ eyes and making the first impression is key to potential business or being overlooked altogether.

Whether it’s the bustling downtown entertainment district on McAllen’s 17th Street or the shops that dot the business-heavy district of 10th Street — even down to Brownsville’s commerce areas along the expressway and, of course, South Padre Island — businesses vie for everyone’s attention and signs do that job.

That’s where The Sign Depot hopes to come in and turn things around.

“A business with no sign is a sign of no business,” Ruben Cepeda said.

The Sign Depot is a long-standing sign business that’s been in operation for decades, and it’s no wonder why when you speak to the charismatic leader there. He has an “it” factor that goes just beyond sales and business. He comes with a personality that can’t be imitated.

Talking to Cepeda for just a few minutes is sure to produce a few gut-moving laughs. He’s a funny, light-hearted man who is passionate about his business and the people that he serves to keep The Sign Depot a local leader.

“We don’t believe in a sale, we believe in a relationship,” he said. “We can all sell each other something, but build a strong relationship with someone that will last for years. That goes so much further than just a sale.”

The Sign Depot has been in operation for 30 years.

“We were one of the few sign companies in the Valley. Now everyone and their mother has a sign company,” Cepeda said. “But that’s OK. Bring it on. We might not know about them, but I’m sure they know about us.”

Design is at the forefront of the company’s operation. They install signs and manage projects, but many times, it begins with an idea that turns into a unique design that an expert graphic design team tackles.

Cepeda told of the vehicle wrap for Atlas Electrical, Air Conditioning, Refrigeration, and Plumbing Services Inc. that won a national award for design and how that changes the way people look at the business and work vehicles.

He uses the phrase “think louder” to summarize the design process while going into an interesting theory about how our mind sees images and not words even when thinking about words.

Over the years Cepeda has seen things change and technology change the way business runs — and also what companies ask for.

“The business has changed a lot,” he said. “We’ve seen the industry change dramatically. Before, it was just details and letters — usually one color. And then came what we call large-scale printing.”

The Sign Depot also follows the trends like LEDs and whatever a customer might ask for. Cepeda isn’t afraid to pass a job to another company or ask around for assistance to meet project goals.

The shop even has a sister store that specializes in flags called Sooper Flags as the popularity of flags lining the street has grown. His approach to that site in Pharr is to make the interior so ridiculous and comically fun that customers can’t stay in a bad mood — and are tempted to make a purchase.

Cepeda is such a staple in local business he sits on the Better Business Bureau. He remarked that the region is bustling with new opportunities — something he says you can notice just looking along the expressway.

“The Valley is booming as long as we help each other,” Cepeda said. “Don’t get greedy — there’s no room for that. That’s our philosophy. There’s enough for everybody. No one should go hungry.”

Nathaniel Mata