by Mahanth S. Joishy, Fleet Superintendent

Have you ever wondered where the decals for City of Madison Fleet vehicles such as police cars, fire trucks, Community Development vans, or the new electric Chevrolet Bolts come from?

Since the year 2000 most of these orders for Fleet have been fulfilled by a one-woman business run by Renee Schnabel, called Creative Signs. Renee was born and raised in the Madison area, and started her sticker, sign and decal business here back in 1986. That business has changed a lot since then. At that time, there were no computer graphics or printing; decals were hand painted, and Renee actually preferred the way things were.

Renee Schnabel placing a decal
Renee Schnabel installing a decal on a Madison Fire Department vehicle.

“I loved to paint. Now it’s gone to digital. I fought the switch to vinyl,” she said, referring to the industry-wide trend toward vinyl material decals printed digitally. Today, Renee uses a huge printer, known as a plotter, to make decals for City of Madison and other government fleets such as Belleville, McFarland, Monona, DeForest, and until recently, Dane County. The process is computer dependent. Thanks to the quality of her work, the decals she makes last 8-10 years.

“The industry doesn’t like people like me,” says Renee, referring to the longer life of her decals that prevents more frequent orders. I assured her that Madison appreciates quality, craftsmanship, and long life in everything we buy at Fleet.

Renee's work has taken her to new heights, literally. She hand lettered the sides of the new Woodman's grocery stores in Waukesha and Appleton while 30 to 40 feet in the air! Renee also has her lettering driving around on trucks as far as Jamaica.

How did Renee get into this niche business? “I was the artist in high school,” she said, talking about Oregon. So she went to Madison Area Technical College (MATC) and earned an Associate’s degree in commercial art, where she focused on hand painting - which she enjoyed and excelled at.

Renee began doing business with City of Madison around the turn of the century, some years after starting work with Dane County Sheriff. She came across Madison thanks to the relationship between Dane County Sheriff and now-Captain Richard Bach of MPD. Soon Renee was doing decals for more than just the MPD cars. Today, she is a frequent visitor to Fleet to help set up new vehicles from numerous Madison departments on-site.

Renee’s husband Mark works in a related area for Dane County Highway unit as a Signs Foreman. They have known each other since age 7, as neighbors, and began dating in high school. They have two children, son Cody and daughter Chaylee, who graduated from UW-Madison in the last two years with degrees in Computer Engineering. Both are pursuing careers in this promising field.

We are proud to work with Creative Signs and other woman-owned businesses - as long as they keep producing at the quality we’ve come to depend upon. After 19 years we are confident Renee will.

This content is free for use with credit to the City of Madison - Fleet Service and a link back to the original post.

Category: Updates