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Sign of the times: Modern Neon Signs continues to flourish after 50 years

Family-owned and operated business

If the sign business runs through the veins of the Pomerleau family — founders, owners and operators of Modern Neon Signs — so, too, does the success it has become over the past 50 years.

Modern Neon Signs started 50 years ago when Henri and Réjeanne Pomerleau decided to purchase Cavallo Signs from Sudbury artist Bruno Cavallo. 

The small shop was located on Albinson Street, but after 10 years, the business had expanded, and a larger location was needed. Modern moved to its current location at 968 Elisabella St., in New Sudbury, where a 4,000-square-foot building and large outside lot could easily accommodate all the people, equipment and trucks needed to run this growing enterprise.

Henri and Réjeanne had their three sons, Claude, Marc, and René work in the family business from an early age, and in 2009 sold the business to them.  

“Although the first few years were a struggle and a learning process for our parents, through perseverance and hard, hard work, they built up a reputation and a long list of repeat clientele,” said the sons. “We owe our success to good service and pride in our work, thriving on customer satisfaction.”

While working for his parents, Marc was the general manager, ensuring clients' needs were met. Now as the president, he consults with clients regarding artwork, providing quotes, shop drawings for installation, and planning the construction of the signs.  

He looks after all the details involved with the manufacture, install, and service of all projects, including liaising with City of Sudbury and other partners such as the Electrical Safety Authority, and engineering firms to ensure signs are made and installed to the highest standard.

Claude is the vice-president, and having worked in the family business for more than 40 years, he brings a wealth of knowledge and firsthand experience in manufacturing many different types of signs.  

He has built his share of this city’s free-standing pylons, building fascia signs, and up until recently, neon signs. Claude had the distinction of being Northern Ontario’s only working neon glass blower until September, when the decision was made to stop making and repairing these custom items.
René is the treasurer, and along with working for his parents, also worked for sign manufacturers in southern Ontario before returning to Sudbury. He is responsible for the graphic design, printing and application of vinyl graphics for all the signs Modern manufactures, as well as vehicle decals. René also meets with clients on site, and at the shop, to discuss artwork requirements.  

“Our parents naturally hoped and planned on having their children take over their business,” said Marc. “Because it's family, it can sometimes become personal and complicated, but further to some planning and deliberation, their dream came through. Our parents are proud to see that their children are continuing with great success.”

In addition to the three owners, Modern employs additional staff consisting of two full-time installers who are out every day in a service truck and crane ensuring signs are installed and serviced correctly and safely. 

In the shop, Modern has an additional general labourer assisting in the manufacturing and application of graphics. In the office is the bookkeeper/office administrator who looks after financial functions, health and safety, insurance requirements, and client inquiries.

The signage industry has become more regulated as the years have gone by. The City of Sudbury now requires all new installs to follow the Ontario Building Code, therefore, engineered structural drawings and a building permit are needed to obtain a sign permit. 

As the Ministry of Labour continues to strengthen safety regulations, owners and staff participate in courses such as Work at Heights, to comply with these new standards.  

Over the past 50 years, technology in the signage industry has changed dramatically. Hand-drawn designs and hand-painted signs illuminated with neon lighting eventually changed to being designed by computer and lit by fluorescent lamps.  

Over the past couple of years, Modern has been involved in converting many of their clients’ signs from fluorescent to LED. New signs are still designed on the computer and are illuminated with brighter, more cost-efficient LED lights.  

Clients save money on their electrical bills, and these signs require very little servicing after they are installed. With the popularity of electronic message boards in Sudbury, Modern also offers sales and service for these signs.

Although most of the work is in the Greater Sudbury area, Modern also caters to Espanola, Manitoulin Island, Elliot Lake and the French River, and many of them are repeat clients.  

“We also take pride in having manufactured signage for clients in Barrie, Orangeville, New Market, and Toronto,” the business says.

Modern also provides sign installation service for corporate stores, where signage is shipped to them from all over Canada and the United States. 

“Some of these clients have been with us for almost all of our 50 years, knowing that we provide timely, consistent and reliable service,” said the brothers. “In any business, it is the people that make it the success it is.”