From small operator to market leader, local business Kingman Visual’s signage portfolio includes high-profile work at Perth Airport and Optus Stadium.
The sign writing business has undergone a major upheaval in the decades since Vernon Kingman started his business, an era when everything was hand-painted and computerised lettering was in its infancy.
Following in the footsteps of his father, Frank, a prominent self-taught sign writer in Victoria, Mr Kingman took up the profession in the 1970s.
“Dad was one of Australia’s greatest pin liners; he used to paint all the lines on coaches, and then trucks … so when he retired I took it on,” Mr Kingman said.
Vernon Kingman in 1983.
In 1984, Mr Kingman settled in Perth with his family and established Kingman Visual as a one-man operation out of his backyard shed in Bayswater.
Despite being knocked back by his bank for a business loan, Mr Kingman went about building up his workbook, completing minor jobs before securing his first client – high-profile butcher Vince Garreffa, whose Mondo Butchers on Beaufort Street remains a client to this day.
“In the space of a couple of years the industry changed enormously, we started seeing lettering that was computer generated,” Mr Kingman said.
“So we bought a second-hand computerised sign-making vinyl cutter.
“It changed the business overnight; Kingman was really in front of everyone else and we stayed that way for a number of years because we kept embracing technology.”
Mr Kingman’s wife, Dianne, joined the business soon after as co-director, and by the late 1990s the Kingman Visual business shifted out of the shed into a purpose-built factory in Malaga.
“Over a two-year period we grew from six to 25 people,” Mrs Kingman told Business News.
“At that time everyone just had small paint shops, we built showrooms and lifted the level of what sign writing was all about.”
Frank Kingman in 1950.
Within 10 years Kingman Visual moved to its current, larger, neighbouring property, with signage works since completed for Crown Towers, Multiplex, Perth Airport, Myer, RAC, and Hawaiian’s shopping centres.
More recent jobs include The Camfield (bar) and Optus Stadium, which Mr Kingman said involved more than 12,500 signs.
“We’ve got about 50 staff now and it’s very diverse,” he said.
“We have metal work, fabrication, graphic design, architectural design, digital printers, spray painters, electricians … our business spans the gamut of almost all trades.
“There’s not a lot that can be machine made with this type of work because everything is bespoke.
“We’ve got lots of competitors – there are about 400 signwriting businesses here, most are small – but we’re good at what we do.”
Kingman Visual has been recognised more than 30 times at the Australian Sign & Graphics Association’s national biennial awards, recently winning gold for work on the Nine Network sign at the broadcaster’s headquarters in Perth’s CBD.
“We look at all opportunities,” Mr Kingman said.
“We’ve always been known as sign writers, but its more sign makers now because the actual brush work is minimal.”
The business has also branched out to cladding and bespoke street furniture, and last year appointed general manager Greg Metcalf, a former chief financial officer at Austal, to lead the future direction of the business as the Kingmans plan to take a step back.
Amid all the changes, Mr Kingman said the business was still committed to the core values of sign writing, recently painting a mural at Dog Swamp Shopping Centre.
“Just because everything has become more digitised it doesn’t mean we should forgo that hand-painted craftsmanship,” he said.
“We’ve got those people here still, myself included. It’s our roots.”