West Fargo sign makers use cutting-edge technology to create art of the states – InForum

WEST FARGO — The Kents’ trucking business hadn’t faltered, but the “Check Engine” light was on.

With costs and downtime rising, Allen and Laurie Kent struggled to stay on top of things. What’s more, Allen has been out and about all week, which has taken its toll on her family, which includes sons Benny and Dayton.

When Benny was about to start preschool, Laurie decided to take a job in accounting to help relieve her husband.

While looking for decorations for her new office, she had an idea. Years ago, Allen, a race car enthusiast, had purchased a plasma cutting machine that could precisely cut steel for new race car parts. It was now in the basement, taking up space and gathering dust. Every now and then they talked about selling it.

This time, Laurie asked Allen to start the machine to cut out a silhouette of the state of North Dakota. Then she decorated the shape with the word “Heimat” and mounted it on wood.

Little did she know then that this simple decoration would become Made with Love by Laurie, a full-time family business that now sells signs nationwide.

After Laurie posted the “Home” sign in her office, employees and visitors began to ask where she found it.

Laurie suggested that Allen make a few similar pieces using molds from North Dakota and Minnesota and try to sell them for the 2018 holiday season. She thought it would bring in “some extra Christmas money.”

That weekend they built some plaques and posted them on Facebook.

The orders started almost immediately. They didn’t stop – not even after Christmas.

Allen and Laurie Kent talk about the different types of wood – including barnwood from Hatchet & Co., Moorhead – which they use as the background for their various steel signs.

David Samson/The Forum

They decided to put all their efforts into growing their new business. They sold the trucking business, and in April 2019, Laurie quit her accounting job.

“Talk about a scary leap of faith,” says Laurie.

Since then, their business has continuously expanded, both in terms of product range and volume sold. Numbers nut Laurie figured if they sold three to four signs a day for $30 each, they could make it. Since then, increasing material costs and refined production methods have pushed the retail price to $100 a piece. Despite this, they continue to sell 10 to 11 signs a day.

So far, Laurie says, they’ve sold more than 12,000 signs.

“Both sides” idea works

After making either North Dakota or Minnesota “home” signs, they received a request for a sign that included both states. The signs were ideal for clients who might have been born in one state but had moved to or still had connections in the other state.

When they began marketing the combined state sign in the Twin Cities area, a customer suggested they also create a Minnesota-Wisconsin sign. Since then, her border state signs – part of her “Home is on both sides of the river” series – have become the bread and butter of her business.

Their most popular products are the signs from the “Home is on both sides” series.

Contributed / Made with love by Laurie

The states do not have to be contiguous or limited to two states. They’ve also created signs for neighboring countries, such as a US/Canada version, says Laurie, who is from Saskatchewan.

Allen cuts out a large set of states at a time and first nests them in a diagram using a software program called CORELDraw. “My Tetris is getting really good,” he says.

Another program converts this rendering into another file that tells the plasma machine how to cut the silhouettes on a large sheet of steel.

The CORELDraw program and a plasma cutting table allow everyone to quickly and accurately cut out any number of condition contours.

David Samson/The Forum

The shapes are sanded and powder coated and then mounted on timbers ranging from fine grain aspen to rugged barnwood sourced from local companies such as Hatchet and Co. in Moorhead. Words are applied with thin vinyl lettering that looks almost like engraving.

Venture grows out of the basement

The business has grown so much that they have moved from their basement to a shop in an industrial park in West Fargo.

The move not only created more space for her work, but also a better work-life balance. “I was upstairs with the kids and I was like, ‘I really should work downstairs,'” says Laurie.

A Minnesota-Wisconsin sign waits to be completed at the Made with Love by Laurie shop in West Fargo. Although this sign is on reclaimed barn wood, customers also like aspen, says Allen Kent.

David Samson/The Forum

In the process, they learned how to speed up their production without compromising quality. Laurie laughs as she demonstrates how she used to cut the wood for the signs by cutting the board in half with a small circular saw and then turning the board over so she could finish the cut evenly.

You now have a giant rotary saw that does all the cutting in one go. They also learned that it’s quicker to burn the edges of the wood than to stain them and create the same look.

Despite these shortcuts, there’s still a lot of manual labor involved in the 12 or so signs they produce every day.

An example of Made with Love by Laurie’s North Dakota “Home” signs as they appear today.

David Samson/The Forum

The steel and wood signs are well made and sturdy, weighing 15 pounds in the larger sizes. “We’re both pretty picky.”

Their signs range from $99 to $200 for larger barn wood signs.

“As with everything, our costs have increased,” says Allen. “Our steel tripled, so that was hard to swallow.”

Their custom signs can also be found at Ball Corporation, True North Church and Duane’s Pizza.

This photo, taken in March for a “Made with Love by Laurie” Facebook post, shows the sign Ball commissioned to commemorate plant workers in neighboring states.

Contributed / Made with love by Laurie

They are as busy as they can handle.

We’re at such a delicate point,” says Laurie. “We really could hire one full-time, but if we hire one full-time, less food will end up in my boys’ mouths. It’s a lot to try and find out.”

So they’re going to keep it with them for now and place those orders when they arrive.

And grateful they kept that plasma machine.

“I’m glad he didn’t sell it when I told him,” Laurie says with a smile.

You can find their wares at madewithlovebylaurie.com, Minn-Dak Market in West Acres, Simply Swag ND and Red River Coffee Co., Fargo.


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