The Signs, They Are A-Changing: Three Generations of a Family-Owned Business
Window graphics, business shingles, and roadside banners by Broadway Signs have been catching eyes across Alaska since 1969. All that time, the Anchorage-based business has been run by the Shockley family—which will continue for the foreseeable future.
Jack and MaryRose Shockley opened Broadway Signs on Spenard Road in 1969, two years after the couple and their young son, Jack Jr., moved to Alaska from Phoenix, Arizona. Though Shockley senior was a foreman at a sign company in Arizona, he began his career in Philadelphia, where “he would literally hang off three- and four-story buildings—before cranes—and he would use a chisel to bore a hole into a concrete wall,” as Jack Jr. recalls. After some hard times, the family ended up in Phoenix and was there only six or seven years when Shockley was lured to Alaska with the promise of a big job. “In 1967, he met a guy with an Alaskan license plate, and he went home and told my mom to throw out anything that didn’t fit in the truck because we were leaving in two weeks,” says Jack Jr.
That job didn’t materialize, so Shockley took another job working for a company called House of Signs. After working there for two years, Shockley didn’t like the direction the company was taking when the owner of the company put his son in charge. He didn’t believe anyone in Alaska was taking the sign industry seriously, so he decided to set up shop on his own.
Before Shockley started hanging signs in Alaska, the city of Anchorage didn’t have any big signs, says Jack Jr. “We have pictures of my father hanging off of giant signs. Back in those days, signs could be much larger than they are today.”
Broadway Signs flourished under Shockley, creating signs and hanging them all over the country. Within two years of starting Broadway Signs, Standard Oil of California changed its name to Chevron, and Shockley got the contract for rebranding in the whole state of Alaska. “We put together the first aluminum sign manufacturing plant in Anchorage, and at that time we had the largest equipment in town,” Jack Jr. says. “We were the guys that did the big stuff.”
In the Family
At the shop on Spenard Road in 1971 with (left to right) sign hanger Art Mulligan, owner Jack Shockley Sr., and 15-year old Jack Shockley Jr.
His biggest idea to date? Jayson plans to invest in cloud-based management software. “It will take each department and give them the opportunity to communicate without having to walk up and down stairs. I see it as an opportunity to create efficiency within existing departments,” he says. “A lot of the questions I get asked on the daily won’t need to be asked because the answers will be right there. I’ll sit on that one for a year before I take the next big step.”
Though Jayson doesn’t have a formal education, he’s certainly done plenty of learning. Having dropped out of school in the tenth grade, he was persuaded to go back for his GED by his parents. The carrot? Jayson’s father, Jack Jr., would go with him and get his diploma at the same time. So two generations of Shockley men earned their GEDs on the same day. Everything else he needed to learn, Jayson taught himself. “If I was interested in something, I taught myself how to do it,” he says. “This industry is algebra heavy, so I learned that, and I’ve worked myself into intro calc, too.”
“We were the ones who built a banner that went up in the space shuttle. An astronaut took a banner into outer space and all the kids from East High signed it—and we made that banner!”
— Jack Shockley Jr., Former Owner, Broadway Signs
Signing the Planet
Family photo: From left to right: Jack Shockley Sr., Dona Shockley, Mary Rose Shockley, and Jack Shockley Jr.
Over the years, Broadway Signs has produced signage for some really big companies. “Chevron was our account for thirty-seven years,” says Jack Jr. “And we were the ones who built a banner that went up in the space shuttle. An astronaut took a banner into outer space and all the kids from East High signed it—and we made that banner!” The company has signs across the country—in Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, and more—not just Alaska. “Waves and waves and waves of signs,” says Jack Jr. “We also have stuff in New York and Florida and California and the Midwest,” Jayson adds.
Both Jack Jr. and Jayson attribute the company’s longevity to the way the family has done business over the years and to the Shockley family’s “pure determination and grit.” To be in this business, you have to want it, Jayson says, “but also we’ve got morals that we live by.” He notes that a family motto is that the company is there to make a living for the family—not a killing, and it’s that motto that ensures return clients. “If I was out for the money or my parents had been, this business wouldn’t be here,” Jayson says. “My parents work on the jobs, I work on the jobs, my grandfather worked on the jobs when he was alive.”
Another reason the company has flourished? “We have a reputation of actually getting it done,” says Jack Jr. “Our word is our bond, and our customers know that. Our contractors know that when we get involved, we get the work done.”
And even in tough times, the company remains loyal to its employees. When times got hard, Jayson says his family would cycle time off rather than laying anyone off. He notes that right now—if the work bubble bursts—he’s built a nest egg so the company could go three months with no work, and he’s working on making that nest egg larger. “My employees are family,” he says. “I don’t want to let anyone down.”
He notes that unlike businesses in the Lower 48, work can’t really be outsourced well in Alaska. “All the pieces of the industry are sitting in my shop here,” Jayson says. “Elsewhere, you have a manufacturing company and an installation company and a vinyl department, and they are all different companies working together. I have all the parts under my roof, and I do the whole job from start to finish. Our population is substantially lower, so there are fewer businesses.”
A combination of luck, hard work, providence, and admirable morals has allowed this family-run company to flourish for more than fifty years. And Jayson is sure it will continue to flourish into the future. “I’ve got a fourth generation coming up,” he says. “He’s four, and I’m pretty sure he’s going to be my installer as soon as he turns eighteen. He has no fear of heights.”
“I started at the bottom—but not by choice… I never cared about what I was getting paid or learning until a few years ago. At that time my father became ill with throat cancer, and I took over as operations manager.”