published Friday, March 4th, 2011

Family’s sign business expands under new owner

  • photo
    Gabriel Ruiz clamps a signs for Planet Snoopy at Ortwein Signs on 50th Street. The Chattanooga company makes signs for the franchise's stores in Kansas, Minnesota and Pennsylvania.
    Photo by John Rawlston /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

• What: Custom fabricated and installed signs

• Company: Bill Ortwein Signs Inc.

• Address: 2806 E. 50th St.

• Website:

• Telephone: 867-9208.

• Owners: Jim and Colleen Teal

• What’s special: Unlike some sign companies, Bill Ortwein Signs manufactures all its products, including vinyl and electrical signs, the latter of which few local companies build in-house. The company also maintains an experienced installation crew. “We found that we do best when we install our own products,” said owner Jim Teal.

• The origin story: Bill Ortwein Signs’ titular founder began manufacturing signs with his father, who entered the industry with his brothers in 1923. Bill Ortwein founded his company in 1964, and his son, Butch Ortwein, sold it to Teal in 2007. A fourth generation of Ortweins, Adam Ortwein, still runs the company’s art department.

• How long does it take to make: Simpler signs can be completed in a day while larger, more complicated electrical signs can take as long as six weeks, Teal said.

• Where it’s sold: Through a custom sign design tool/quote request feature on the website or via phone calls and in-person interviews.

• Price range: From $25 for the simplest signs up to more than $300,000 for larger sign packages.

• Expansions planned: Bill Ortwein Signs recently acquired a 40,000-square-foot building across from its office on East 50th Street. “We’ll maintain the current facility but will expand into the new building with some operations for larger signs,” Teal said. “Our growth efforts are centered around sales and additional production capacity. Our installation capacity seems fine.”

• Lessons of the trade: “I’ve learned a lot about business-to-business trade, state and federal regulatory requirements, a lot about signs, in general, and a lot about people, but not necessarily in that order,” Teal said, laughing.

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...

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