By Dawn Kessinger
BATH TOWNSHIP — Have you ever tried to paint a boat while it’s still in the water? How about painting a sign upside down, or working together with young Eagle Scouts to complete an Ottawa Park sign project?
These are a few examples of jobs Chris Fultz, third-generation owner of Fultz Sign Company Inc., has done and found to be amusing, different, meaningful, or just plain quirky.
“The most challenging job we did was when we went to Lake Erie to pin-stripe a boat, and the owner left it in the water. We’re pinstriping the side while the boat is moving, trying to keep it straight. I’d say that would be one of the craziest jobs I’ve ever done,” he said.
When Chris Fultz’s grandpa, Eugene Fultz, started his business on Independence Road in Lima in 1929, it began as a lumber company.
“I worked for Grandpa, but I wasn’t a sign guy. At 13, I worked for Grandpa building pallets. We also made church pews, offering plates and custom-made furniture. He would go to Canada, buy trees, bring them back and it was actually a big sawmill,” said Fultz.
“At one time, when Eugene first started, he had a partner. Eugene did the signs and the partner ran the mill,” said Fultz. “But then Eugene ended up doing the whole thing. And he still did the signs.”
“But he would hire 10 other sign painters and they would sit on a line and work on ambulances and school buses. That’s how the sign business actually started – from him hiring these people, and all of a sudden, they just got busier and busier,” he said.
Eugene’s business, Fultz Lumber Company, burned down in 1973. Seven family members died in the fire. Eugene survived and the mill was moved to Bluffton. After the relocation,
Eugene Fultz downsized his business to making items for churches. Don Fultz, Chris’s dad, then became the second generation of family to work in the business.
“Dad actually made it the sign company full-time. In 1980, he started Fulco Industries, which was the wood-working part,” Fultz said.
Two years after his dad started Fulco Industries, Chris Fultz decided to go to work full-time for the family sign business.
“I had grown up around signs and when I was in school I did a lot of artwork, but never got into the business much. Then, Dad got busier and busier, and finally he taught me how to paint in 1982. That’s when I really got into the business of free-hand lettering,” Fultz said.
The year 1982 proved to be one of changes – technological and generational – for the family’s business.
“There was a unique transition that took place between the second and third generation of Fultzes to operate the business. In 1982 we got our first computer. Before that, everything was done free-hand. You’d bring in a semi, Dad would get on one side; I’d get on the other and we’d letter. We’d do pinstriping and all kinds of designs like that, but everything was done by hand,” Fultz said.
“By 1985, the computers came out with programs where it would actually outline and shade and that made Dad pretty mad – the computer could do the same thing he did,” he said.
In 1985, Chris Fultz took over the business, but his dad still owned it.
“That’s when the sign shop really became a sign shop, and it separated from the mill,” Fultz said. “We did strictly signs there.”
In 1990, Evelyn Fultz, Chris’s wife, joined the family business, and in 1999, Chris and Evelyn bought the company from Don Fultz, which was still located in Bluffton, and the third generation of family was in charge of Fultz Sign Company.
“Evelyn is a computer person, and we had no clue what computers really did. She changed that, and we started doing everything through the computer,” Fultz said.
The Fultzes moved to their Lima location in 2001. In 2003, the couple bought the store on the corner of Bluelick and Slabtown roads and remodeled it before moving the sign shop there and adding Bluelick General Store – where pizza, subs, ice cream and more is sold.
Today, Chris and Evelyn operate the family sign business with the help of their son-in-law, Shane Cash, and nephew, Nick Mayer, who comprise the fourth generation to work there. Cash does the computer work, while Mayer installs signs, builds all the wood signs and does the sand-blasting.
Fultz spends time in the business doing sales, free-hand work, and woodworking, including making sand-blasted signs. Part of the job involves painting on vehicles – including lettering and creative art.
“Mostly what I do in the way of painting on cars is pinstriping. I pin-stripe motorcycles, semis and cars. That’s the fun part about it. And, doing the wood signs, that’s fun and stuff that not everybody does. That makes us a bit unique,” Fultz said.
He enjoys having the ability to turn a hobby into a business, working with his family and being able to provide jobs for other people.
“Just the fact that I get up in the morning and I can do something I enjoy doing is something pretty neat,” Fultz said.