On his store’s Facebook page it’s DII Graphics Signs & Engravers. That’s what Dennis Nabors, who owns the store, has on his shirt, too.

On Monday workers put up a sign on the east wall of the Wylie Boring Center on West Broadway Avenue that simply reads “Signs & Awards.”

That’s an advantage of being in the sign business, you don’t have to call another company to put up any sign you want.

“We had one left over that we refurbished and painted and put LEDs in it,” Nabors said as he watched the backlit sign being installed.

In fact, DII Graphics already represents a recent name change, from the former EnGraphics Awards & Signs. For Nabors, it’s not only a change of business name and location, but a change of residence. Nabors started his shop in Lenoir City and still has it there, but has branched out to Maryville with this new store that he’ll run himself.

If his new habitat is any sign, Nabors figures on making a go of it here in Blount County. He’s already bought a house and moved to Maryville. It’s a transition that’s been a while coming, after almost 17 years in business that grew from a small trophy shop.

“We do signs. We do awards. We do banners. We do vehicle lettering. We do screen printing on T-shirts,” said Nabors, who grew up in the Karns area of Knox County before moving to Lenoir City.

“I got started years ago when my boys were playing sports and I was buying trophies and I was coaching. I just thought it was something cool to get into, so I started doing it on the side. As it kind of grew, I went out and opened a little 400-square-foot shop (it’s now 4,000 square feet). Then after a while I realized just doing awards was not going to pay the bills, so we started doing signs.”

The learning curve

That career adjustment didn’t just drop out of the sky. Doing trophies and plaques was something he could pick up on his own, but ...

“On awards, I was pretty much self-taught. I went to any seminar I could go to to learn how to engrave,” Nabors said.

Signs were a different matter. Not exactly rocket science, but not something you just get by paying attention.

“I was fortunate enough to become friends with an older gentleman who taught me how to do the signs and worked with him. I had a mentor.”

Now that he’s opening the new store, Nabors is already ahead of the game. He’s starting with 1,300 square feet for one thing, plus all those years of experience. Plus he’s already got a printer, and not a little one.

“Yeah, It’s a big printer, 54-inches wide and you can print up to 150 feet.” Looking around the back shop area, Nabors gestured toward another machine. “This is the laser engraver. You can engrave about anything on it.”

In the front room of the store, he has plans to fill up the bare walls.

“I’ve got enough stuff from the other store to get stuff on the walls without costing me any money right now,” Nabors said.

A section of shelving already holds small trophies. He planned to start putting plaques and T-shirts on the walls the next day.

“And this,” he said pointing to a wall in the entrance area that he’ll make into a visual display using vinyl wallpaper. “We’re going to digitally print it with all our sign stuff that we’ve done and what we can do. That whole wall’s going to be covered.”

Taking care of business

Like with any business, having stuff to sell goes only so far. It takes people to buy it and that takes entirely different skills. That means connecting with customers, finding out what they need, letting them know what you can do for them.

“That really is. First of all, listening to what they want to stay in as far as budget. Then what’s most effective for them when it comes to signs. What’s going to be their biggest bang for the buck. Not just selling the sign and saying ‘good luck.’ What we want is for people to come back. That’s what we depend on, repeat customers and referrals. That’s what drives us,” Nabors said.

The other side of his business has a little different vibe.

“As far as awards, just getting people in and showing them the different options. We do a lot of corporate stuff, especially at the Lenoir City store. A lot of churches do a lot of awards and plaques for members,” he said.

“That’s what pushes us. A lot of times you’ll have a customer who comes in and orders trophies and they’ll go back and tell their church or tell their work, ‘Oh you need to go and check them out.’”

That’s what Nabors is working for now, hoping that people will come and check out his new store that he plans on opening next week.

So how’s it going to happen? Well, he’s got some customers who used to drive to Lenoir City. They’re finding out they can do their sign and awards shopping in Blount County now. That’s a start.

He’s also counting something else: That exterior sign Nabors put up, what else?

His shop is on the back side of the Wylie Boring Center, but it’s right on the end where a pet grooming shop used to be. His sign on the outside wall of his new shop is visible to westbound traffic on busy U.S. 411 in Maryville, at 1817 W. Broadway Ave. to be exact. Lots of eyeballs see that sign.

“I’m hoping that will help us a lot. That’s why I picked this spot, because I knew that was my best shot to getting at least some of this traffic,” Nabors said, ready to get back to work to get his shop in order for getting back to business next week.

“I’m excited, I really am. Everybody here’s super friendly I’ve met so far. I’m super excited to get it going.”

It goes as DIIGRAPHICS.COM.

Bob has served in a variety of roles since joining The Daily Times in the 90s. He currently is editor of the business section. When someone gets promoted, retires or gets hired at a new job in Blount County, he's the man to email.

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