Cowan Graphics Inc. is a family-owned brand builder providing concept to completion services for vehicle markings, retail graphics solutions, building wayfinding signage, tactile and braille signs, murals, window graphics, event signage, decals, tags, magnets, regulatory and construction compliance signage.
You know the work of Cowan Graphics. For more than 75 years Cowan has added functionality, colour and beauty to your life. The massive Lexus ad wrapping the terminals at Edmonton and Calgary International Airports? Cowan Graphics did that. The electrical box on your street beautified by a vinyl photo? Cowan Graphics did that too. Those enticing 3D signs in Safeway that show you the floral, produce, or bakery departments? You guessed it – made from scratch by Cowan.
President Blaine MacMillan says of the family business, “We launched in 1945 at the end of World War II and started out by bronzing baby shoes, hand painting silk ties and making crests. Today Cowan Graphics is a manufacturer of quality graphics solutions serving multiple markets regionally, nationally and internationally.”
And yet that hardly begins to describe the incredible reach of this local company.
Let’s focus on the word local for a moment. Cowan Graphics launched in Edmonton and is fiercely proud to be Albertan despite what MacMillan calls “the challenges unique to Alberta and what is being done, or not being done, to solve them.” With its global reach and massive output capabilities, Cowan Graphics could easily relocate to where staffing, production and transportation are met with less roadblocks, but MacMillan is loyal to the cities and the provinces that have supported the brand for over 75 years, and to the 145 working partners under the company’s employ.
“We are creative,” MacMillan adds. “We are committed to asking what our customers’ needs are and then determining the best solutions for those needs. We think outside of the box. Our clients give us the use of their brand and we don’t take that opportunity lightly. Trust is a very important word in everything Cowan does. We are an extension of our customers’ brands and we need to make sure we get everything right.
Just one example of how serious Cowan Graphics is about their customers is seen in a project they completed back in 1999. Canada Post put out a tender requiring the re-decaling (removing the old decals and putting on the new) of their fleet. The work had to be done at each Canada Post site (postal stations) from the urban centres to the small rural outposts. Naturally there were strict deadlines and the mail flow could not be impacted.
“We purchased five motorhomes, put trailers behind them and drove from Victoria, BC to St. Johns, Nfld. I put newspaper ads in each city telling people that wanted a few days’ work where to meet us,” MacMillan says. “Cowan Graphics completed the job in 2.5 months, which was ahead of Canada Post’s schedule. We re-branded 4,500 vehicles in total and 95 per cent of the work was completed outdoors.”
This monumental success was recognized with an Award of Excellence from Canada Post, acknowledging Cowan Graphics as one of their top four suppliers nationally.
“We are the ‘finish-line’ folks,” he says modestly about the above-and-beyond effort that goes into every project, large or small.
In order to get the brands they work with across that finish line, Cowan Graphics operates out of a combination of plants totalling 135K square feet across Edmonton, Calgary and Saskatoon, and uses state-of-the-art digital, screen, converting and finishing equipment, some of which is the largest of its kind in Western Canada. A lot of the work is finished and packaged by hand to ensure a high level of accuracy and stringent quality control is paramount. All this and more is managed by a dedicated team of employees that are trained and cross trained on site.
But the production floor has something more than equipment. It has a true sense of community. MacMillan knows the names of the 145 staff that are working hard on their clients’ behalf. During a tour of the warehouse he greets even the newest team members by name, and everyone is happy to see him. Flags hang high representing the home countries of all of the employees, and everyone is busy but also relaxed and smiling. Everywhere you look there are hallmarks of an expertly run company that cares about its employees as much as it cares about its clients.
Cowan Graphics also cares passionately about community interests and is a long-term supporter of non-profits like Sport Central, the Cure Cancer Foundation and Youth Empowerment and Support Services (YESS). For Cowan’s business acumen, customer solutions, and community work, MacMillan is both pleased and humbled to be recognized, on behalf of the team, with prestigious awards such as Business in Edmonton Leaders and an alumni acknowledgement from the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT).
“In this age of digital capabilities,” he says, “it feels like there is a ‘sign shop’ on every corner. We are different, not just in our size, scope, and equipment. We are different because of our focus, commitment, resources, dedication and creativity. I have a vision to take our industry to the next level and I’m excited for the journey. I plan to promote, mentor and even push so that the importance of branding and the process behind it gets the recognition and support it deserves.”
He continues, “We are a custom manufacturer of graphics solutions. No two projects are the same. We are excited for each challenge and to create the optimal impact that you, and our team, are looking for.”
In a province where manufacturers are facing significant challenges, the easy thing to do would be to pack up and go where the support is more prevalent. However, Cowan Graphics is firm in its commitment to its Alberta roots, and its 145 working partners. From investing in equipment to taking exceptional care of its team, from creating the most recognizable graphics in North America to supporting the community, Cowan Graphics is more than a ‘sign shop.’ It is a company that has built, and will continue to build, the identities of brands locally and abroad.
“Cowan Graphics invested, at great cost, to position ourselves in our current facility three years ago so we could recognize our fullest potential,” MacMillan confirms. “I have also recently sold a small part of the business to two young and progressive entrepreneurs. Cowan Graphics has a forward-thinking plan to double the size of it’s business. I’m excited to offer my experience, mentorship, and assistance. I’m excited for the next chapter. My partners, Jason Bamford and Dustin MacMillan, are very motivated, resolved and excited to lead the company forward. I am happy to be part of that exciting journey.”
Personally, he thanks the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) and the Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO) as instrumental to his professional growth. MacMillan is also very thankful for the support, trust, and reassurance of his immediate family and says, “I extend that thanks to my staff at Cowan, whom I consider my extended family.”
You know Cowan Graphics’ work because you interact with it daily. Now you know the passion, experience and dedication behind the brand that supports the brands you know and love.
“Visit us at cowan.ca or through our social media links… and let’s get your brand on!” he concludes.