Cedar Rapids sign companies see unprecedented demand after derecho

Orders may take 12 weeks or longer as 'hundreds' seek repairs

Vinyl installers Glenn Spink (top) and Dave Grommon remove the paper from yellow vinyl on a Tuffy Tire & Auto Service Ce
Vinyl installers Glenn Spink (top) and Dave Grommon remove the paper from yellow vinyl on a Tuffy Tire & Auto Service Center sign at Nesper Signs in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020. The Tuffy’s sign and the Johnson Fitness sign were both damaged in the Aug. 10 derecho and are among the many signs being repaired by Nesper. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

Phil Garland’s typical work day has been rather unorthodox since Aug. 10.

After going home to eat dinner every night, the president of Cedar Rapids-based Nesper Signs goes back into the office.

“We’re working as many hours as we can,” Garland said.

After the derecho damaged “pretty much every sign” in Cedar Rapids, companies such as Garland’s have been racing to keep up with “hundreds” of sign orders.

Cedar Rapids sign companies said the volume of calls at their companies since the storm have been unprecedented.

“I don’t even know what to compare it to,” Garland said.

“We’ve never seen anything like this,” said Aaron Vosmek, chief executive officer of CR Signs.

Usually, CR Signs has about 10 to 12 calls in a day about signs. The first few days after the pandemic, it had hundreds of calls each day.

Taking those calls in the days immediately following the derecho proved to be a challenge when much of the Cedar Rapids are was without internet, cell coverage and power.

“Yeah, we were getting a lot of calls initially, but we weren’t able to do much about it,” Nesper’s Garland said.


The high demand has resulted in quite the backlog. Vosmek said it may take 12 weeks to make the repair after someone initially calls, depending on the extent of the damage and the type of sign needed.

“You’re never staffed to account for a disaster like a derecho,” Vosmek said.

Garland said business already was “at capacity” before the derecho hit.

Now, Vosmek expects it potentially to take another six months to repair or replace all the signs affected by the storm.

Delays in insurance claim approvals mean some customers just now are calling about a sign repair or replacement — more than four months after the storm.

‘In the same boat’

CR Signs has tried hiring people to help with the large volume of orders, but that hardly has been a perfect solution. Training “doesn’t happen overnight,” Vosmek noted.

Companies have turned away customers — especially those in other areas not affected by the derecho — who have required a fast turnaround that would be typical under “normal circumstances.”

Some of those customers call back, though, after realizing “everybody else is in the same boat.”

“All of a sudden I’d get a call back in a couple days, and they say, ‘Oh, I guess we want on your list,’” Garland said.

Projects include some of the most iconic signs in Cedar Rapids.

Nesper is working to repair the Quaker Oats sign that overlooks the Cedar River and Interstate 380. The repaired sign will have LED lights instead of neon, allowing for better energy efficiency and safety.

But a mild winter has aided repair efforts. CR Signs and Nesper have plenty of materials, too, despite a supply shortage earlier in the pandemic when many plastics manufacturers pivoted to making face shields.


Garland still has a mountain of work ahead for his company. A large pile stands outside Nesper’s facility, waiting to be recycled.

“We’re trying to recycle them rather than just landfill them,” Garland said.

“So we are on about our third mountain right now.”

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