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VOL. 119 | NO. 147 | Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Joyce Signs Embodies Arts District Aesthetic

LANCE ALLAN | The Daily News

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ARTFUL SPACE: Art is a part of daily business for Joyce Lower. -- Photograph By Lance Allan

Art is a major passion for Joyce Lower. How else to explain why she often turns her South Main Arts District sign business, Joyce Signs Inc., into an art gallery - at no charge to the artist?

"I decided when I found out about the Friday Night Art Trolley Tours that we certainly did want to participate and we wanted to make this a destination stop for people who are down here," said Lower, who participates in the monthly event - held the last Friday of every month in arts district - in April, June, July, September and October. "And what I would do is I would try to find artists that are not showing in regular galleries that are perhaps architects or designers themselves who paint or are photographers or sculptors or whatever. We'd do shows for them. A lot of them had never had a show before."

Artistic showplace. Joyce Signs' office, which has the art of Jin Bao Han on display through October, is home to 12 employees who each have an eye for aesthetics. In a way, they're all artists - Lower wants the signage her firm creates to add to the beauty of the Memphis landscape, not detract from it.

"We are constantly trying to think of new things that we can do for our customers in a way that they can have a good design for their money and a sign that is appropriate for the budget of the project," Lower said. "And ultimately for me, I want to contribute to what looks better in Memphis in my industry. Sometimes you hear bad reports - too many signs, too many of this and that - and it doesn't look nice.

"So I hope if somebody walked in and saw a sign of mine, they'd say, 'That adds to this location.' That's our goal, is to enhance our city."

Range of projects. Founded in 1999, Joyce Signs is a custom design environmental graphics firm, which in a nutshell means the firm designs interior and exterior signage packages for a range of clients. Customers include commercial office buildings, hospitals, apartment communities, schools and churches.

Joyce Signs Inc.
Owner: Joyce Lower
Founded: 1999
Basics: The interior/exterior sign company often opens up its South Main office space to serve as an art gallery. 543-1950, www.joycesigns.com

And the firm has experienced a growth spurt lately. The business that currently employs 12 has nearly doubled in the past year. It focuses on local clients, but that is changing, and Joyce Signs is now doing some regional and even national work.

It's a long way from the company's beginnings in a 350-square-foot space in East Memphis six years ago.

Lower started small, she recalled, because she wasn't sure the venture was going to work. But her quick success soon called for a larger space. So the Germantown resident - who calls herself a Midtowner at heart - began seeking space Downtown.

"I crave Midtown and Downtown," Lower said. "My husband and I would drive down here on the weekends, and I would just drool. A lot of people look at Downtown and they don't drool. But they should - it's just wonderful. When people say to me, 'Why'd you move Downtown?' I say, 'If I have to explain it, you wouldn't understand it.'"

She fell in love with a space at 515 S. Main St., which, fortunately for Lower, became available. She jumped on it.

Finding her path. The sign business, while something Lower thoroughly enjoys, is not what she set out early in life to do. In fact, as many of her friends begin considering retirement, the 62-year-old entrepreneur is just getting revved up. She went back to school 20 years ago to get a history degree from the University of Memphis.

"I'm really not 62 since I just got out of college 20 years ago," she joked. "I'm really about 42. I see all around me everybody is retiring. Wait a minute - I've got 20 more years' worth of ideas. So I'm not going anywhere anytime soon."

After earning her degree, Lower worked for the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, then as vice president of marketing for the Memphis Regional Chamber. Later, through her involvement in Kiwanis, Lower came in contact with a sign business, and she did interior signs for nine years before deciding to strike out on her own.

Client-focused. Since then, Joyce Signs has built a reputation for solid customer service.

"What my customers tell me is that they can depend on me," Lower said. "Whether it's good news or bad news, they can depend on what I'm saying to them is the truth. We absolutely hope that on the last day of this business, if we go out of business, retire or whatever, that people say, 'That was a good company.'

" This day and age, how many places do you walk into the door that you've been to 20 times and they can't remember your name? We know all of our customers practically by voice."

'It's a love thing.' It doesn't hurt that the company's cool and contemporary office in the heart of the South Main Arts District gets a lot of foot traffic as gallery space.

"For me, it's a love thing," Lower said. "I don't make anything off it. I just want art on the wall that makes a destination stop for folks on the street. It gives my place a changing look. We hope that we are contributing to having a venue that shows how vibrant South Main really is. We will continue to do this as long as I'm here running the business.

"We all have to work every day, but we sure should enjoy doing it. When you add a little bit to the mix that you're doing something for somebody else, it just makes it even more rewarding."

PROPERTY SALES 71 233 2,852
MORTGAGES 74 171 1,954
BUILDING PERMITS 125 894 6,595
BANKRUPTCIES 34 206 1,183