Persona’s 40th Year Unlike Any Other

Since its founding in 1980, Persona, Inc. has grown into one of the largest and most-respected sign companies in the United States. As the business wraps up its 40th anniversary year, it is the nation’s top producer of signs for the hospitality and restaurant industries and fourth-largest overall.

Wherever you travel in the United States, you will undoubtedly see a sign manufactured by Persona.

“We’re proud to be one of the top sign companies in the country,” said Persona President Mike Peterson, “but it doesn’t just happen. It is the result of hard work by our professional, dedicated staff and our entire team constantly focusing on the needs of the customer.

“Every person at Persona is committed to serving our customers, and our success in doing so is what earned us our place as a top sign manufacturer.”

Persona annually performs around 8,000 new sign installations each year.

When Dennis Holien founded the company, he chose the name “Persona” to stress the importance of people and their impact on a company – namely the employees and customers of Persona. He wanted his company to be the standard for excellence in customer and employee experience.  It was his goal that customers enjoy the highest levels of service, quality and value resulting in long-standing relationships.  And he saw Persona’s employees flourishing in an environment of respect, collaboration and opportunity.

The result is an organization that is growing, profitable and enduring.

Persona began in 1980 with a single site in west Watertown near the Watertown Regional Airport. Its first expansion came in 1994 when it opened a facility in Madison, S.D., specially equipped for channel letter production. In 1997, Persona opened a second production facility in Watertown, known as Persona West. The 27,277-square-foot plant operates as a face-decoration and distortion-form screening facility.

In 2004, Persona Madison outgrew that original building and moved into the current 80,000-square-foot plant with updated machinery and a larger production team.

Persona established a lighting division in 2012 to supply customers with “green responsible” energy-efficient LED lighting solutions for parking lots and safety. Five years later, Persona also opened an office Sioux Falls, S.D., to house the growing lighting division.

Reimaging campaigns provide big boost

Persona launched nationwide reimaging campaigns in the early 2000s for brands like MarriottChoice and Wyndham. Companies often update or refresh their brand’s image, including new logos. That requires new signage across the company. Persona continues to produce thousands of signs each year for the U.S. hospitality market. Last year, “Commercial Construction & Renovation” magazine ranked Persona as the nation’s top maker of signage for the hospitality industry.

In 2010, Persona earned designation as an approved supplier for the McDonald’s Corporation. Persona expanded its expertise in signage and drive-thru components specific to the industry and continues to increase the number of its Quick Serve Restaurants and fast-casual corporate and individual franchisee customers each year. “Commercial Construction & Renovation” also ranked Persona as the nation’s top supplier of signage to the restaurant industry.

In 2014, always striving to be the technological leader in the industry, Persona invested in state-of-the-art digital print capabilities to offer customers the highest image quality in seamless sign faces. The company has continued to upgrade its printing capabilities with the latest technology. Persona now has four hi-tech printers that can seamlessly and quickly produce huge sign faces up to 16 feet wide, reducing costs and production time.

Today, in addition to hotels and restaurants, Persona serves convenience stores, retailers, gas stations, banks, and just about any market you can name. Persona works closely with more than 200 national brands – including some of the most recognizable companies in the world – to produce an average of 7,000 sign projects each year.

Persona is one of just two authorized manufacturers of McDonald’s famed Golden Arches ­- one of the world’s most recognizable symbols – that adorn more than 14,000 restaurants in the United States.

Commitment to quality

The steady growth from a start-up company to an industry leader was made possible by Persona’s commitment to quality. The company strives to deliver the best, investing in people and equipment to produce signage of every type: channel letters, wall signs, pylon signs, monument signs, directionals, drive-thru components and digital message centers.

Persona is more than a great sign manufacturer with great service; it is a sign technology expert.

Hotel, restaurant, and retail corporations choose to work with Persona because it offers more than just advice. Persona puts 40 years of sign building experience to work for its customers, ensuring they get the best, most cost-effective interior and exterior signage and LED lighting to benefit and grow their business.  Persona proudly works on projects that include:

  • New signs
  • New faces for old signs
  • Conversions from neon and other light sources to LED
  • Re-imaging and re-branding.

“We have to be a learning organization,” said Greg Kulesa, president of Persona’s parent company Anza. “Always striving to be the best. Always looking to improve. That is how we will maintain customer focus in the marketplace.”

Surviving COVID complications

That focus helped Persona stay strong during the company’s 40th anniversary year, which was unlike any other due to the severe impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on businesses the company serves.

Kulesa said the pandemic necessitated a change in strategy while maintaining a focus on the customers.

“2020 has served as a good lesson in planning for the future,” Kulesa said. “If we’ve learned anything from this year it is that change is a constant and that, as a company, we must stay nimble. We also must look outside our company and be in tune with our customers so we can drive the change the market is asking for.”

Early in the pandemic, Persona kept its focus on the customers and developed a plan to help struggling businesses. Persona’s plan allowed customers to complete their sign projects while retaining vital capital for operating expenses. The plan offered low interest rates, friendly terms, options for deferred payments, and no vendor deposits. The company worked with its lenders to offer customers an easy and convenient way to work through the effects COVID-19 was having on their business.

“The early months of the pandemic were difficult,” Peterson said, “and by keeping in tune with our customers, we were able to help them focus on the future. It always comes back to helping the customers.”

Adjusting in the middle of the pandemic was nothing new for Persona. There were other economic downturns in the 40 years since Persona began, and by remaining nimble and adjusting to those situations, the company kept growing.

“Persona relentlessly focuses on serving the customer,” Peterson said. “The values that Dennis instilled in the company enabled Persona to grow and become a leader in the industry. We hire the best people, give them the best tools and the best technology, and always emphasize customer service. That is a solid recipe for success.”

The WOW factor

During Persona’s early years, management assembled 21 fundamental business principles which embodied the values Holien wanted in the company. These principles became known as “Dennyisms.” Over the years, those 21 principles have been boiled down to five core company values:

– “Wow the customer”

– “People are our most important asset”

– “Do the right thing”

– “Be the best, not necessarily the biggest”

 – “Pursue continual improvement”

“The secret is not just having those values written down,” Peterson said. “You have to live those values every day and put them to use in everything you do.”

With its four facilities, Persona boasts more than 170,000 square feet of manufacturing space and employs nearly 300 people in production and support roles. Persona’s location­ –­­ known for a strong, Midwestern value system and an equally strong work ethic – serves the company well.

But Persona does more than just manufacture signs. It is a full-service company that manages projects from beginning to end, thanks to its staff of salespeople, designers, engineers, project managers, printers, metal workers, welders, fabricators, drafters, estimators, installers, marketers, IT technicians, packagers and maintenance personnel.

Persona is also sought out as a consultant, helping companies review, refine and polish their branding and signage programs. 

“While change seems to be a constant, the one thing we will never change is the values the company was founded on, starting with our commitment to employing the best and brightest people and putting them in positions that best fit their abilities,” Kulesa said. “The company’s past success is a result of the excellent people we employ and the culture they have adopted to serve the customer.

“People are our most important asset. A lot of things will change going forward but our focus and commitment to the people aspect of our business – customers and employees – will never change.”