Shannon-Baum: Pointing the Ways for 60 Years
- Categorized in: Carroll Business – Past Issues
Jean Baum and daughter Denise Baum own and operate the Eldersburg sign company.
Artists create a design on a computer. They program a digital printer. On the machine, a metal tray shuttles back and forth, squirting colors onto a long roll of paper. At one end of the printer, Baltimore Ravens football decals come out in rows. The bird is midnight black, the background a vivid purple, and the tangy smell of ink lingers in the air.
The scene is a workshop in the Shannon-Baum Signs & Graphics company, which celebrates its 60th anniversary in October. And the Ravens decals are only one of many graphic products that the firm fabricates in its 36,000-square-foot headquarters in Eldersburg.
Starting as a mom-and-pop enterprise in 1950 in Baltimore City, the company has the distinction of being the largest manufacturer of traffic signs in the state, and probably the state’s oldest sign-maker and installer as well.
Jule Shannon Bosse was an early partner and investor in the company. He left before 1955, but the Baum family did not change the name of the company, because by the time Bosse left, the firm had a following that recognized the Shannon-Baum name and the family did not want to rebrand.
“We’ve worked in every county in the state and in Delaware, Washington, DC, and northern Virginia,” said Denise Baum, vice president and the third generation in the private, family-owned and run company.
Denise’s mother, Jean Baum, is president. As a woman-owned business, the company qualifies for minority certification in Maryland, Delaware, Virginia and Baltimore City. Other members of the family work in the company, too, which employs 30 people and has annual sales of $5 million.
Shannon-Baum moved to its current location in an industrial park in 1988. The move allowed the company to expand its product line and to take on more subcontracting work from other sign-makers. Neither Denise nor Jean know exactly how many signs the company makes each year.
“Several thousand,” said Jean, pointing to a recent contract with Montgomery County, Maryland that alone calls for 2,200 signs.
Shannon-Baum has competitors, but it has not survived and thrived this long by chance. Several factors go into its success and Denise and Jean outline them:
The pair know the market, and their goal is to meet every need with a vast assortment of products, from signs and banners to decals, stickers and vehicle graphics. And they are continually on the lookout for new products. The latest offerings are electronic signs that light up and flash (“Think bingo,” said Denise) and three-dimensional signs.
The company has a reputation for providing quick turnaround. Denise mentions the owner of a business who brought in his van one day. A day later, the van was ready with the company name, a few words’ description and telephone number applied to the sides.
In times of flood, the company has quickly produced road-closing and high water signs for local governments. The firm gets emergency calls from contractors who need occupancy permits and handicapped-accessible signs before having their buildings inspected.
Shannon-Baum also seeks out niches in the industry. Jean cites reflective material as an example. It is sticky, hard to install and more expensive than other materials. But it is widely used on police cars, ambulances and traffic signs.
“A lot of places don’t want to work with reflective material,” she said, but Shannon-Baum is not one of them.
In fact, the sticky stuff practically launched the company. The Baltimore City Police Department has been using Shannon-Baum for its fleet of vehicles for 50 years.
Regulatory signs account for about 60 percent of Shannon-Baum’s business. These are traffic and special signs for roads and streets, safety and construction, and buildings, both interior and exterior.
Regulatory signs are made to contract specifications. According to Denise, “The engineer designs the signs with specific dimensions, such as size, color, copy [wording] size and [type of] font.”
In this category, Shannon-Baum has made road signs for the Maryland State Highway Administration from western Maryland to the Eastern Shore. The Carroll County tourism bureau, among others, is a client.
Non-regulatory signs account for the rest of Shannon-Baum’s business. There is more flexibility in this category, but even there, malls and planned communities like Columbia, MD, may have their own rules about signage.
Shannon-Baum’s graphics department is ready to offer suggestions on logo design and wording. “We have experience in what has and hasn’t worked,” said Denise.
Recently, the department helped the owner of a crab restaurant design the crustacean logo that is attached to the front of the establishment. At the other end of the scale the department also designed waterproof horticultural signs for a cemetary botanical garden that identified the plants, shrubs and trees.
Although her company has automated equipment for sign-making, it is still a labor-intensive process, she said.
In one room, large rectangular tables hold blank sheets of aluminum. Computers print out the wording, which is applied to the metal before being cut into sign size. A worker guides the placement by hand. On other tables, a roller presses reflective material onto metal sheets. The material is for a border, and a worker hand-trims the excess material.
In the fabrication center, where the custom work is done, a 14-foot long wooden sign sits on the floor. The sign once topped a stone wall before the entrance to a complex. Now, it is being repaired, renamed, repainted and reinstalled. In the same room, a metal box is designed to look like a pirate’s treasure chest for a trade show. When the lid is lifted, the interior lights up.
One room leads to another: a dark room, paint room, a room where screens are washed, the warehouse area stacked with highway signs. Examples of Shannon-Baum’s work hang throughout, from signs for Subway shops and the National Civil War Museum to decals for the Baltimore Orioles baseball team.
On the community front, Shannon-Baum is a member of the South Carroll Business Association. Every year, the company sponsors an employee appreciation week, with free breakfasts, health screenings and more. For a Christmas raffle, the firm donates money to whatever charity the employees choose, or to the company’s favorite, the American Cancer Society.
Shannon-Baum also donates signs and banners to local schools, fire departments and charitable events such as golf tournaments.
“We try to help out with their fundraisers,” said Denise.
Shannon-Baum looks forward to contributing to the Carroll County community for many years to come.
Rules to Sign By
According to Denise Baum of Shannon-Baum Signs & Graphics, the three rules of sign-making are:
- Make it easy to read.
- Go for contrasting colors (i.e., different colors for the words and the background).
- Size of the letters should be large enough to read from the street.
Of the several thousand signs Shannon-Baum Signs & Graphics has made, a few stand out:
- Largest: 40-feet wide by 18-inches tall highway sign that hangs over the 11th Street Bridge in Washington, D.C.
- Most Unusual: Crab logo installed on the front of a crab restaurant. The crab is three-dimensional, sand-blasted and hand-painted.
- Most Challenging: For a cemetery-botanical garden, waterproof signs provide horticultural identification. Clear Plexiglas protects the printing on the small beige signs, which are set in wire frames and staked in the ground.