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Published: Tuesday, 7/28/2009

Local elections mean printing jobs for Toledo area firms

BY GARY T. PAKULSKI
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

Political campaigns are moving to the information superhighway, but businessman Frank Ozanski doesn't fear being run off the road.

Mr. Ozanski specializes in $2 yard signs used by candidates to attract the glance of passing motorists traveling much slower than the 1.47 megabyte-a-second speed with which data travel across some high-speed Internet connections.

"It's all about name recognition," explained Mr. Ozanski, president of Clear Images Promotional Products LLC in downtown Toledo. "Some people want to put a lot of verbiage on signs. We try to steer them away from that.

"People have got to be able to look at it at 55 miles an hour and remember the name they saw," he said.

With the Toledo mayoral primary election seven weeks away, Mr. Ozanski and his staff of 10 have printed signs for Democrat Keith Wilkowski, Democrats-running-as-independents Michael Bell and D. Michael Collins, and Republican Jim Moody.

Democrat Ben Konop is buying signs from a competitor, Nabil's Same Day Signs Ltd., off Reynolds Road west of Dorr Street.

"I like the underdog," Mr. Konop said, acknowledging that price was also a consideration.

Both firms carry the "union bug" on their signs. That is considered essential in a heavily unionized city like Toledo. Mr. Ozanski's employees are represented by a Strongsville, Ohio, local of the Sign, Display & Allied Trades union; Nabil's by a Detroit local of the Graphic Communications International Union.

Mr. Konop said he plans only limited use of yard signs. "They are not No. 1 in my book," the candidate said. He said he will rely more on e-mails and social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

Josh Thurston, campaign manager for Mr. Wilkowski, said social networking sites are useful, but that signs also have a role.

"It's important to have a presence in a neighborhood," he said, adding that people tend to be influenced by the views of neighbors.

Owners of the sign firms have differing views about the business.

Mr. Ozanski said sales aren't as good as last year when he printed hundreds of thousands of signs for the Obama campaign, as well as for local candidates. Typically, business is not strong in the year after a presidential race.

Still, Mr. Ozanski isn't complaining.

"Business is picking up now," added the owner of Clear Images. "We're just coming into the season." Already, the firm has printed more than 20,000 signs.

Nabil Shaheen, who is new to the business of campaign signs, said that discounts demanded by candidates make profits elusive.

"I don't know why we got ourselves in this mess," said the owner of Nabil's Same Day Signs. "They order 500 signs. You have $1.60 to $1.70 in a sign. Where is the profit?

"We'll finish out this season and that's it," Mr. Shaheen said.

The company doesn't plan to get out of printing entirely, but to stop supplying political campaigns.

Mr. Ozanski said prices locally haven't risen since the last mayoral election in 2005, when incumbent Mayor Carty Finkbeiner, who is not seeking re-election, set what many political observers consider a local record by ordering nearly 7,000 signs, or more than double the number for a typical Toledo campaign.

Small yard signs are $1 to $3, depending on the number of colors and extent of assembly. Large, so-called "mini-billboards" are $15 to $38 each.

Signs made of longer-lasting plastic are slightly more expensive.

Besides yard signs, the firm sells other items to candidates and other political campaigns: bumper stickers, lapel stickers, nail files, and magnetic football schedules.

The business can be exciting.

Four days before the world knew that President Obama had chosen Joe Biden as his running mate, Mr. Ozanski got word.

He was hired to print signs to be shipped to Illinois for the announcement. The Obama campaign allowed him to disclose the information to only three employees who would be involved in filling the order. Other workers got a free day with wages picked up by the Obama campaign.

Mr. Ozanski and his three subordinates were each required to sign contracts that set $1 million personal fines for premature disclosure of the news.

Contact Gary Pakulski at:

gpakulski@theblade.com

or 419-724-6082.



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