Mountain Dog Sign Company is a local small business that’s recently put its creative energy and manufacturing resources to work supporting its community in a time of crisis.
Founded in 2011 by Steve and Marshon Kempf, the Spokane Valley business typically produces interior and exterior signs, vehicle graphics, and ADA-compliant signage.
The couple has owned two Bernese mountain dogs over the years, both of whom inspired the business’ name and served as its mascots.
“When we started, we had no experience in creating signage, but we jumped right in,” says Marshon Kempf, who currently serves as company president.
“We knew that all businesses need some kind of signage, but we also came to understand that the sign-making process was a way we could give back to businesses, helping them grow.”
During the first five years of operations, the company was based at Meadowwood Technology Campus in Liberty Lake.
“We started with basic sign-making equipment, building mostly non-illuminated signage,” says Kempf. “We found a bit of a niche creating interior architectural signs and ADA compliant signs for schools and other large building projects.”
In 2016, Mountain Dog moved to its current location at 1620 N Mamer Road, where it occupies about 6,600 sqft of space.
“The move expanded our in-house capabilities,” says Kempf. “We added more printers, engravers, computer-numerical-control (CNC) routers and a machine for braille signage, that’s ADA compliant.”
Today, she says the company designs, produces, and install most of the signs it makes, with the majority of its work being business-to-business transactions.
“As a custom signage company, a big part of our process is consulting with clients on how we can design a sign that helps them fulfill their unique marketing and business needs,” she says.
The company’s core markets include healthcare; hospitality; education; and multifamily apartments.
In recent months, however, the company has also transitioned into making personal protective equipment (PPE) products to help businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“When the virus first started there was a lot of talk about shortages of PPE supplies, so we quickly assessed our own internal capabilities to see if we had the potential to help,” she says.
During this time, Kempf says the Greater Spokane Valley Chamber reached out to ask how the business was coping and offer support if needed.
When Mountain Dog expressed interest in PPE production, Kempf says the Chamber worked to connect them with government officials and others for guidance in building the supply chain.
She says Mountain Dog soon realized its use of CNC routers in sign making gave them an important tool that could be turned to the creation of certain PPE products.
“We saw we could give back a viable product that would help protect people in healthcare especially, so we pivoted to making medical face shields and counter shields,” she said.
Facing difficulties sourcing materials and shipping delays, Kempf says Mountain Dog had to be aggressive in ordering large quantities of raw materials from the start.
She says the company also saw challenges in testing prototypes of the new products to ensure they worked as needed.
“We had to design and engineer products based on the materials we were able to source,” she says. “We were lucky to have local people that were willing to test our prototypes, which enabled us to adjust their efficiency while ensuring they were compliant with CDC recommendations.”
As creating PPE products was a shift from the company’s normal product line, Kempf says it also asked for the Chamber’s help in getting the word out to the community.
“They were very helpful in those efforts as well, letting people know about us as a local source for these items,” she says.
Kempf says creating PPE products has made up about 95 percent of the company’s business since March, both locally and nationwide.
“The majority of our PPE products have been sold or donated locally,” she says. “We’ve provided face shields to many in the medical industry including assisted living and hospice care facilities, and dental offices. Meanwhile, our counter shields have benefited businesses within the healthcare, hospitality, real estate, and automotive industries.”
In addition to face and counter shields, Mountain Dog is also creating CDC-recommended signage for use at construction sites and other businesses.
“Each industry has different challenges but being a custom sign company makes it’s been easier for us to adjust and ensure clients have the products they need to be compliant,” she says.
Even after the crisis has slowed, Kempf anticipates a continued need for PPE products. Fortunately, she says, they are easy to make, and the company will have the capability to make them for years to come.
“COVID-19 has changed how we deal with illness and safety in face-to-face interactions,” she says. “It’s because of that changing view that I feel these products will continue to be useful in how we chose to deal with other diseases in the future.”
Kempf says that although many of Mountain Dog’s clients have been closed during the pandemic and are still navigating through unknown circumstances. However, she’s confident the region’s economy will begin to recover.
“Everyone has taken a hit, but as restrictions relax we’re already starting to see industries slowly reopen, continuing prior projects and planning for new ones,” she says. “Part of the beauty of this region is that we have so many generous, caring people willing to support each other, and I’m confident that our community will rebound.”
Post COVID-19, Kempf says businesses also will continue to need custom signage as they work to reopen and make up for lost revenues.
“Businesses will need signs not only to market and brand but also to tell their stories and reach out to donors for support,” she says. “We’ve always believed that giving back to others in service is important, and we plan to continue giving back in any way we can.”