Local company makes stickers, signs for Obama ’08 campaignWritten by Duane Ramsey | | email@example.com
A small local sign shop in Downtown Toledo, Clear Images Promotional Products, is making bumper stickers and rally signs for U.S. Sen. Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.
Clear Images is producing 100,000 bumper stickers and 55,000 rally signs for Obama’s campaign. The 11-by-7-inch “Obama ’08” signs are screen printed in three colors, one color at a time on both sides of the signs, which are then cut, counted and boxed for shipping — all in the same union shop.
With four signs on a sheet, workers can print 1,200 signs per hour, said Frank Ozanski, the founder and a partner in the privately owned business.
Ozanski has been making campaign signs for local and state political candidates for several years, but this is the company’s first contract for a national candidate. He said Clear Images got the contract through a similar firm, Tigereye Design, in Greenville.
That company is a union designer and manufacturer of promotional items for trade unions, political groups and businesses nationwide. However, it also has roots in Toledo.
Tony Baltes founded Tigereye Design in 1974 after he graduated from UT. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because Baltes played on the unbeaten Rocket football teams in the early 1970s.
Baltes began selling buttons to union and political organizations, and his company has grown into a national supplier of promotional products. When he needed a source for campaign signs, he contacted Ozanski.
“Although we’re competitors in some areas, we have worked with Tony’s company on other projects so it’s like doing business with family,” Ozanski said.
It all began as a family business in Ozanski’s basement 12 years ago while he worked at Pilkington Glass. Clear Images has grown into a promotional products company that now occupies an 11,500-square-foot building on 11th Street in Downtown Toledo with 13 employees.
Ozanski made his first big move when Bill Welling, owner of the former Design Graphics and Star Graphics in Bowling Green, retired. Ozanski bought that business and its equipment and has added new equipment as his business grew.
“We took a leap of faith to purchase Welling’s operation,” Ozanski said.
That faith and a lot of hard work has resulted in a growing business that produces not only political signs and bumper stickers, but also signs of all sizes as well as the wire frames for campaign and yard signs.
Clear Images also produces screened or embroidered caps, shirts, jackets and other apparel. The company creates its own screens in-house, which is more expensive, but saves time in getting screens for last-minute orders.
“We’re low-priced, we’re union and we’re going to stay Downtown. I felt we needed to stay Downtown if we wanted to continue making political signs,” Ozanski said.
The company recently moved from its first commercial space of 2,000 square feet in a nearby building on 12th Street to its current facility. The employees are members of the Sign & Display Union Local 639.
Ozanski’s mother, Zora, operates one of the three embroidery machines at Clear Images. She may be the oldest worker in the union at 81, he said.
Ozanski credits much of his success to a local organization, Assets Toledo, which trains, mentors and supports self-employment and small business entrepreneurship.
“I believe that without Assets Toledo, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” Ozanski said. “They taught us to find your niche, don’t put all your eggs in one basket, get your clientele and contracts and then get your building.”
Ozanski is a graduate of Assets Toledo’s 13-week, 25-session course that teaches potential entrepreneurs the basics of setting up and running a small business. The local nonprofit group has trained more than 500 graduates, helped to develop 125 business start-ups, reinforced 142 businesses, while creating 126 full-time and 117 part-time jobs since it began in 2000.
“Some men and women have a good business idea but do not have the ability or knowledge to develop the idea and become successful entrepreneurs,” said Olivia Holden, executive director of Assets Toledo.
Ozanski has given back to the organization by serving on its board of directors, currently as its president.
Ozanski said he got a micro loan from Assets Toledo to buy a vinyl cutter to make vinyl magnetic signs for automobiles and other uses when no bank would consider giving him a loan.
“The networking we learned at Assets has a snowballing effect on business,” Ozanski said.
Ozanski believes in doing business for and with other local business to help sustain the local economy. Clear Images buys all its garments from F.W. Galliers, a wholesale apparel supplier in Toledo.
Clear Images designed and produced special T-shirts for the dedication of the Veterans’ Glass City Skyway for the Ironworkers Local 55. They also made the embroidered shirts for the Keith Dressel Memorial Ride.
Clear Images also makes vinyl magnetic signs for Dunbar Mechanical’s fleet of trucks. It made all of the directional signs for the Toledo Zoo. It is licensed to make products for BGSU.
Ozanski’s business partner, Mike Micel, is a BGSU graduate who helped land the contract with the university. Micel does most of the marketing for the company.
He joined the firm three years ago when Ozanski was ill and needed help running the business. Micel knew him through their families and merged his business with Ozanski’s.
“It was divine intervention that brought us together,” Ozanski said.
“You’ve got to have a good team in a family business and our employees are our greatest asset,” Micel said.