Shaw finds fortune by following the signs 2015 Bravo! Entrepreneur - Outlying Communities

WINDSOR — Staying open to opportunities and rolling with the punches have proved to be keys to John Shaw’s success.

Shaw graduated from Colorado State University in 1982 with plans to teach industrial arts. But shortly after receiving his sheepskin, he realized there weren’t any teaching jobs to be had in the Poudre School District – and it wasn’t just the education field that was struggling.

“(Jimmy) Carter had been president, interest rates on home loans were at 14 percent and everybody went broke in Fort Collins,” Shaw said with some exaggeration.

While other people were leaving the area to look for jobs, Shaw wanted to stick around. So he took a position with a local sign company and discovered that he really enjoyed the work and his schooling proved beneficial.

“It turns out an industrial arts education degree is the exact curriculum a person in that industry needs,” Shaw said.

He liked what he was doing so much that he decided to open his own sign firm a few years later. He helmed that first company, Shaw Sign and Lighting, for more than a dozen years, and said it did really well. When he turned 40, however, he felt he was putting in too much time at the office and wanted to try his hand at something else. He sold the company and started Creekwood Homes, a residential construction firm.

Shaw put his efforts into home building for several years, but admitted that the vagaries of the industry can be difficult.

“Like everyone, we got pinched in this last downturn along about 2007 when no one was really buying homes anymore,” he said. Luckily he had a fallback plan, having decided a few years earlier to return to what he says he knew how to do. He opened DaVinci Sign Systems in 2004.

According to its website, the company honors Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci’s legacy as an artist, inventor and designer by combining Old World craftsmanship with cutting-edge technology.

Projects range from banks to restaurants, retail, health care, churches and beyond.

A recent job on Boulder’s Pearl Street Mall includes stone kiosks and hand-blown glass, while another in Greeley features a tower crowned with an eagle along with sand-blasted stone pieces.

“We’ve had the opportunity to work on a lot of great projects in Denver and Northern Colorado,” Shaw said, “a lot of real ‘signature’ signage that people know.”

Although the firm was originally located in Fort Collins, when it came time to find a bigger facility Shaw wanted to shift a little south and east, eventually building a new shop in the Crossroads/Highlands Parkway business park on the south end of Windsor.

“From this location, we’re able to reach Longmont, Boulder, Greeley, Loveland, Fort Collins and even knock off maybe 20 minutes going to Denver,” Shaw said. Since the Denver metro area accounts for about half of DaVinci’s work, he said, “it’s really good geographic positioning to service all the surrounding communities.”

The company’s success is apparent.

“We started with only 2 people on staff, and now we have a staff of about 35, just growing along with Northern Colorado,” Shaw said.

For further proof, just look around. The “signs” are everywhere.