Fast Company

TRAVERSE CITY – What do you get when you combine a good attitude with experience in sign creation and installation?

Well, if you're Jason Orton, you get a company that's a model for successful business.

In fact, he thought those traits were so important that that is what he names his company when he and his dad Jeff opened the doors in 2004.

The business has grown dramatically in the six years since. Jeff had started in the sign business right out of high school, and Jason had gone to college for marketing and management.

"I got out of school and got a good job and made some good money," said Jason. "I told Dad I was buying a truck."

From that auspicious beginning, A&E Sign Company has grown to a fleet of seven trucks ("We're getting ready to add the eighth," says Orton) with a staff of 16 fulltime and five to six part-time employees.

Orton says one of the things that sets the company apart is its ability to offer various marketing services and electrical contracting in addition to creating and installing signs.

"We offer full marketing service. We can do a project, design a logo, signage. We're master electricians, can do clothing. We do business cards, both design and print. Anything marketing, from setup to startup."

That's a lot to take in. But Orton says the approach has stood the company in good stead.

That's obvious in the company's success. Orton says they have met their sales goal every year except 2009, but they rebounded this past year.

That growth has necessitated moving the company to a new, larger location twice within the past five years. The current location at 1230 M-37 South in Traverse City is on two and a half acres, giving the company the capacity for design, fabrication and installation start to finish.. In addition to its manufacturing capability, the new location also includes a complete showroom.

A & E boasts a heady list of clients, including serving as electrical contractor for the State of Michigan and national accounts with Walmart, Meijer, GM, Mercedes, McDonalds, Burger King, KFC, Taco Bell, Auto Zone, and Spartan Stores, among others. The company also has national accounts with 14 of the largest sign manufacturers in the nation.

In addition to sign services, the company's master electrical services include energy management, parking lot lighting, emergency power systems, and a host of other services for both commercial and residential customers.

Jason and Jeff aren't the only Orton family members at A&E. The company's staff includes his brother Josh, a foreman and licensed service tech and an LED lighting specialist, and his father-in-law, Larry Hoofmeister, as well as many friends, giving it a real family feel.

"It's a real tight group," Orton said. "We grew up together, and do stuff together after work."

There's that attitude again. And with the experience to back it up, 2011 looks like another successful year for A&E. BN