Forward Signs was founded in 1986 by two brothers, Simon and Philip Ho, both Chinese immigrants from Hong Kong to Canada. Forward Signs abided by the principles of quality, precision, flexibility and creativity; all topped by the “Old World” honesty, where all business relationships receive the same fair treatment, and where the sense of community topples the single-mindedness of profit.
Forward Signs started its service focusing on catering to the business communities within the GTA, providing customers with simple but creative signage products. While the GTA still represents the company’s main market, the company’s client list grew and spread right across North America, along with the company name and reputation for quality service, efficient production and innovative signage design.
The Canadian Business Journal spoke with Philip Ho about Forward Signs, the company’s commitment to quality service and professional conduct, and its unprecedented growth in the Canadian and North American signage Industry.
“As new immigrants to Canada, we had no local connections at the time, so we started offering services in Toronto’s Chinatown, working within our community.
The community has been our stepping stone for growth into the mainstream market.”
“One year after we started, we opened a shop with seven employees and 2,400 square feet, and since then we went through three stages of expansion, from 4,000 to 10,000 square feet, to our latest move to a 50,000 square foot facility in 2010, and 90 employees.”
According to Ho, the company’s strength lies in aggressiveness not greed, and rather than looking at the dollar signs, operating on the principle of give and take. “You have to give, before you can take,” says Ho.
Besides abiding by the win-win proposition, the company’s main interest is in its honesty and integrity, focusing on providing customers with service they can rely on, willing to go the extra mile to satisfy even the most demanding customer.
“When we talk integrity, it brings me back to 1994, when we worked with a major restaurant brand here in the GTA. We have provided a quality job and the client was satisfied. However, the awning fabric provided by a top-rate supplier started to fade in less than a year. With a cost over $100,000 to replace this fabric, we could not afford to fix this at the time. But after 15 years, Forward Signs returned and honoured the project by replacing all the awning material free of charge.
“It is my view, that business honesty and integrity are crucial to long-term relationships,” says Ho, and the company stands behind him. Forward Signs offers its clients a whole gamut of quality controls, and carrying certifications such as ISO 9001-2008, 3M Certified Shop, Canadian Standards Association (CSA),
Underwriters Laboratories (UL), Canadian Underwriters Laboratories (ULC), and Construction Safety Association of Ontario (CSAO), Canadian Aboriginal & Minority Supplier Council (CAMSC), etc.
With Forward Sign continuously on the “forward”, the company’s installation teams not only travel and install throughout Ontario but also provide service across Canada, supervise new installations and educate the local contractors, building a trans-Canadian team of professional installers for the Forward Signs brand.
“To attract more business you have to provide good quality product and execution, and your job becomes your own salesman, because people will recognize your name through your product. That’s why the word-of-mouth is very important to us. Also, a satisfied customer will return and bring on new projects,” says Philip.
Projects range from several thousand to several hundred thousand dollars, with each project project being an original work facing its own set of challenges.
With almost 30 years of experience under its belt, Forward Signs has worked with several prestigious Canadian companies. Most recent large projects include the rebranding of Bell Canada’s signage for 430 locations across Canada in 2010, signage for the Smart Centres brand – one of the largest landlords in Canada, with more than 200 locations, and recently finalized a large project for Oakville GO Transit signage which included pylon, traffic and way-finding signs.
While the paint is still fresh in the company’s new facility, Simon and Philip Ho’s team are looking to expand the business further, expanding either to Alberta or the U.S., but which one will be more beneficial for the business has not yet been decided. What has been decided is the fact that Forward Signs has been growing continuously over the years, and so far there has been no Stop sign in its way.