Troy, David, Colin and Andrew Hibbs in the shop with a project for Jaguar Land Rover
Two generations of the Hibbs family make signs for the times, from neon to LED and back again
Troy Hibbs arrives at his office looking none the worse for wear despite being up during the night with his two-year-old daughter, Lillya, who has stomach flu. But then, family figures prominently in his business, TDH (Troy David Hibbs) Experiential Fabricators, a specialty sign manufacturer located in a Langley business park.
His father, David, a veteran neon sign maker, acts as technical adviser. “He doesn’t do neon very much anymore,” Troy says. “He helps on multiple layers, but we basically utilize his experience and the way that he thinks and looks at jobs.”
Neon work is subcontracted to his younger brother Andrew, who founded his own company, Endeavour Neon, in 2010. “He used to be full-time with us, but we wanted him to be able to control his own direction and make more money,” Troy explains. “He shares our shop space, and he’s family, so we get priority to him, but he’s got his hands full with so many projects.”
Troy’s youngest brother, Colin, also used to work at TDH but launched his own installation company, Outdoor Vision Signs, about nine years ago. It’s off-site and he too is busy, so TDH often relies on in-house installers or subcontractors.
The three grew up watching their father make signs. He got his training at Jim Pattison Group’s Neon Products, which he joined in 1978, contributing to projects from the rotating W on the Woodwards building to hundreds of neon McPizza displays for McDonald’s and bar signs for Boston Pizza.
In 1990, when his sons were six, four and two, he started David Neon in a workshop on the property of their home in Surrey’s Fleetwood neighbourhood. Troy began learning how to bend neon and fix broken units in his teens. David referred clients who needed small repairs, and Troy invoiced them himself—“my first little taste of having my own business,” he points out. In 2002, the summer after graduation, he registered TDH Enterprises as a sole proprietorship, using a non-specific name because he planned to get into multiple businesses.
TDH recreated the Sai Woo restaurant sign in Vancouver's Chinatown from a 1950s film clip
About eight years ago, as energy-efficient LED lighting decreased demand for neon, Troy landed his first big contract, for $200,000, and recruited David for his building and engineering expertise. Unlike his father, who enjoys figuring out how to make signs and displays, Troy prefers management. “I actually like paperwork,” he notes. “I like dealing with customers. I like the whole sales aspect of it. So it was a good comple-ment for us to eventually partner that together.”
Until 2016, TDH was the back-end supplier and support for other companies, which let it get involved in projects it wouldn’t have had access to, such as the Telus Garden sign combining LED and neon, Flight Centre rebranding across the province and digital screens for BC Place stadium and the Richmond Olympic Oval.
Courtesy of TDH Experiential FabricatorsCourtesy of TDH Experiential FabricatorsNow, as TDH Experiential Fabricators, the company works directly with clients that include clothiers Arc’teryx and Lululemon and the Richmond Auto Mall Association. The new name reflects customers’ ability to experience the creative and manufacturing process as well as the final product.
Courtesy of TDH Experiential FabricatorsCourtesy of TDH Experiential FabricatorsCourtesy of TDH Experiential FabricatorsIn the past three or four years, neon has regained popularity. “It’s become this fad of having a neon quote on your wall or having a sign that reflects the history of the area,” Troy says. Orders really took off for Andrew when he recreated the signature of Troy’s wife, lifestyle blogger Monika Hibbs, in neon for the wall of her home office in 2013. “She posted about it, and everybody loved it,” Andrew recalls. “I almost feel like it kick-started the quotes-on-a-wall trend.” He ships his signs to customers throughout the U.S. and Canada, 80 percent of whom find him via Instagram.
One of his clients is his mother, Loretta, executive director of Surrey’s City Dream Centre Society, which supports food, education and dental programs for the underprivileged. Andrew is making heart-shaped neon signs designed by Monika to be sold at For The Love Of Thrifting, a store his mom opened in 2016 to raise funds for the charity.
As for David Hibbs, the original sign maker in the family? “My dad always says he never expected any of his sons to get into the business,” Troy acknowledges. “He figured he would retire and that was it. Now it’s something that could continue on, so he’s quite happy with that.”
OLD MEETS NEW
A Market Liquors washroom sign in a Winnipeg Browns Socialhouse looks like vintage neon but was constructed by TDH Experiential Fabricators with LED lighting and new materials. To age the exterior, the company used a rusting technique, added a dent and hand-painted it to look weathered
Approximate number of neon signs in Vancouver in the 1950s
Neon signs now on display at Museum of Vancouver (plus 26 in storage)
Sources: TDH Experiential Fabricators; Museum of Vancouver
Courtesy of TDH Experiential FabricatorsCourtesy of TDH Experiential FabricatorsCourtesy of TDH Experiential FabricatorsCourtesy of TDH Experiential FabricatorsCourtesy of TDH Experiential FabricatorsCourtesy of TDH Experiential FabricatorsCourtesy of TDH Experiential FabricatorsCourtesy of TDH Experiential FabricatorsCourtesy of TDH Experiential FabricatorsCourtesy of TDH Experiential FabricatorsCourtesy of TDH Experiential Fabricators