Waterloo Region Record
Local firm claims stakes in federal election
KW Signs will make two million sign holders for campaign
You can’t debate the effectiveness of election signs with the Abdullah family.
“People who say they don’t work are arguing against the psychology of subliminal information and constant repetition that creates associations with colour and branding — that’s marketing 101,” said Nomar Abdullah.
But psychology, marketing and politics aside, to Nomar, his brother Amad and cousin Mueen, election signs are bread and butter.
As the co-owners of KW Signs on Kitchener’s Shoemaker Street — a family-run operation established about a quarter-century ago that was recently passed down — the Abdullahs have seen production increase by about 15 per cent year over year, an encouraging trend they attribute to the implementation of best practices, innovation and, last but not least, the 2019 federal election.
KW Signs has manufactured step-stake election sign holders for the past five years — a relatively simple product that’s made by welding wire together and packaging the end product in boxes of 50 that distributors retail for about $40 to $80 each. Sales of the sign holders have risen steadily.
Amad said every step stake (metal sign holder) in this year’s federal election will be coming out of the Kitchener factory — about two million of them.
“Now it’s up to the candidates to go to their printing shops, and with every little sign they put up, you’ll see our product being pulled out,” he said.
“The reason why is now, essentially, every major distributor in Canada buys their election (sign holders) with us. We’ve secured the biggest ones,” noted Amad, the president of KW Signs.
“We’ve been able to bring costs down because we use cuttingedge technology,” he said. “We have automated robotic welding stations. We produce amazingly high volumes. And the other reason is we warehouse and store product as inventory in high volumes.”
The sign business is one of three companies owned by the Abdullahs under the FMF Group — an acronym that originally stood for “fine metal fabrication,” but one they say no longer captures the breadth of operations.
FMF Store Fixtures, overseen by Nomar, and FMF Metal, headed by Mueen, produce a range of products these days — from automotive parts to the orange cabinets used by Walmart to reserve online pickups.
But it’s the sign frame business that’s taking off.
“Our sign division has grown so big it’s competing with our metal fabrication division,” Mueen said.
“Every home you see for sale, our product is on that front lawn selling that home,” he added, referring to the metal stake holders for lawns, as well as those used to advertise open houses on sidewalks.
The Abdullahs plan to continue making the stake sign frames for federal, municipal and provincial elections across Canada out of their 25,000-square-foot facility in Kitchener. They say expansion could be in the offing for the firm, which has about 25 employees.
With the United States gearing up for a federal election in November 2020, a number of distributors south of the border have reached out for the Abdullahs’ product — something they say is unprecedented these days.
The stake frames are popular because they’re inexpensive and disposable — and 100 per cent recyclable — but when U.S. President Donald Trump announced tariffs on steel and aluminum, the company’s costs went up considerably.
However, the Abdullahs used their backgrounds in technology and engineering to make operations more efficient. They also took advantage of a $185,000 provincial grant to fast-track the purchase of a laser cutter, which will create two new jobs and should help KW Signs take over the No. 1 spot in North America for sign frame manufacturing, Amad said.
Expanding operations to a central state is a very real possibility, he said.
So, could some of Trump’s economic policies work for Canada? Amad isn’t so sure.
“The main thing that matters is there’s going to be another election,” Mueen said.
“That’s the beauty of our business, because even with technology growing and people doing online advertising, the reality is that signs and displays outside — they’ll never leave.”