Whitfield Signs, which helps other businesses and organizations gain exposure and brand-recognition, is gaining an enviable level of exposure because of one major client, Georgia Southern University Athletics.
GSU Athletics became a client more than a year ago, when planning was underway for the now completed expansion of Paulson Stadium and construction of the Football Operations Center.
"They have been our largest customer, and it's nice to have them because we're all Georgia Southern fans here and most of us went there or have been there or were raised here," Josh Whitfield said. "So we're all true blue, and it's nice to be part of it. The university has helped us and created jobs here."
He launched the company in 2010, then brought his father, experienced business owner Michael Whitfield, aboard as a partner in 2012. Josh Whitfield grew up in Statesboro - attending Eagles games during the Erk Russell era - but then went to the University of Georgia for a degree in economics and worked five years for the Atlanta-based DeNyse Companies, which creates signs and does corporate branding work nationally.
"Dad and I had a vision to bring that national experience back home to Statesboro and help companies here create brands, everything from logo creation to signs," Whitfield said.
Whitfield Signs currently employs about 12 people, organized as a design team, a production team and an installation team.
"We've got a great team of talented people who deserve a lot of credit for what we've been able to accomplish," Whitfield said.
For GSU Athletics, Whitfield Signs has created signs and graphics for the baseball facilities, the men's and women's basketball locker rooms and hallways, and of course, the football stadium. Still ahead, Whitfield will create new signs for the volleyball program.
But the $10 million, 50,000-square-foot Football Operations Center, dedicated in August, became the largest showcase so far for the company's creations and the fact that these go well behind what were traditionally thought of as signs.
"Everything was just white walls when we walked in," Whitfield said. "Anything you see in the F.O.C. we did, from the central piece trophy case to display the national championships to all the wall features that tell the history and moments of Georgia Southern, honoring that past."
GSU Athletic Director Tom Kleinlein and another staff member brought Whitfield the university's objectives and goals for the facility. The Whitfield design team then created the overall plan, pulling together a narrative history of the university and its football program from elements they were supplied from the archives.
"It was fun. I thought I knew a lot about Georgia Southern football before I started that, but now I know a lot more," Whitfield said.
Historic elements are concentrated in the upper story, where the six-sided display case of the national championship wins is the centerpiece. The company used graphic wall wrap to create a panel dedicated to Eagles championship coaches Erk Russell, Tim Stowers and Paul Johnson with photos and brief bios of each. The "History and Moments" display includes, among other things, a tribute to the "Dirty Dozen" local people credited with re-launching Georgia Southern football from discussions at Snooky's restaurant.
As part of one display, Whitfield signs even installed an interactive TV surrounded by wall graphics.
An 18-foot-tall image of a blue-clad player displaying the initialized "GATA" slogan towers over the main staircase.
Downstairs in the inner sanctum, there's more "more of an edgy marketing look, to try get those recruits," said Whitfield. The design elements look toward the future, with one board carrying a "Plan to win" prescription for players, with graphics reminding them, on behalf of Coach Willie Fritz, to "Take care of the football" and that "The Eagles don't beat the Eagles."
"Our goal with the building was to be able to show the history of our program and be able to excite 18-year-olds who are looking at us as their potential college to come play here," Kleinlein said.
He indicated that he is pleased with Whitfield's work and was glad that a local company wanted the contract and could do this type of design.
"They're basically rebranding all of our athletic facilities for us. ...," Kleinlein said. "This is Statesboro's school, so it's important for us to kind of work with people here in Statesboro, and I felt like he could handle the work and had a really good vision for the project."
However, local businesses did not wait for Georgia Southern Athletics to show them what Whitfield could do. To cite a few examples, Whitfield Signs is responsible for the signage at the 111 South student housing development, the LED board at RJ Pope, and even the vehicle graphics, applied to a van operated by child care provider Kidovations, which gives the illusion of children riding inside, even when empty.
Their wall wraps appear inside the conference rooms of local professional offices. The sign attached to a monumental rock, as if emerging from the earth, outside Southeastern Endodontics office in Savannah is an example of Whitfield fulfilling a specific customer request.
Now Whitfield sees the company growing by two routes. Beyond Statesboro, the Pooler and Savannah areas offer growth opportunities for commercial signs. But with demonstrated ability in the branding of university athletics, Whitfield sees national possibilities.
"It has given us a springboard for other larger jobs as well, and we're looking at doing this at other universities around the country as well," he said. "So, hopefully, it's the first of many."
The company's building and "WS" logo are visible from Veterans Memorial Parkway, and the Whitfields plan to add a new pylon sign with an LED board, to show off some of their client projects, by the end of the year.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454.