Case Studies

Acorn Sign Graphics

Rooted in values and ever growing

First impressions can be lasting, and when the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources [DENR] hoped to leave a good one, its general contractor, Brasfield & Gorrie, selected Acorn Sign Graphics to provide main entrance and interior signs for the DENR Raleigh headquarters.

With distinct topography on a large 3D map beneath the agency’s name is a horizontal bronze depiction of the scenic state. This entrance sign could well leave Carolina on a lot of minds, says Beth Gillispie, who, since May 2003, has co-owned the Richmond, Virginia-based Acorn with her husband Steve.

Acorn Sign Graphics

The fragile Outer Banks, the central Piedmont, the western Appalachian Mountains—all rise from a richly detailed map surface, creating an impression of North Carolina for those who interact with the folks entrusted with safeguarding fish, wildlife and wilderness. And with bronze everlasting, the sign may even remind agency employees of a long-distant tomorrow and their immense responsibilities to the 560-mile-long Tar Heel State.

“It’s really satisfying for us to be involved in such projects,” says Gillispie, whose prior work included management consulting. “It delivers a personal message of the state and its landscape, and hopefully reinforces a shared mission.”

It’s a message that’s reiterated inside the North Carolina department, on another Acorn sign specifying that marble and paneling were salvaged from a previous use, thus resulting in no wasting of resources or accumulation of unnecessary debris.

Sign from above

Primarily active in the Mid-Atlantic states, Acorn has a long list of national and international clients, with its distinct signage gracing the entrances and interiors of everything from small coffee shops to large college and medical campuses, from esteemed international companies like the Booz Allen Hamilton consulting firm to national companies like Candlewood Suites lodging chain.

But Gillispie says the projects have more significance than just the name of a company, school, church or museum. After all, by its own name, Acorn implies a concern for nature and a desire to grow, and she says the company feels compelled to assist others with eco-friendly and aesthetically pleasing signs.

As a certified benefit or “B Corporation”—a designation bestowed by the global nonprofit B Lab—Acorn satisfies multiple criteria for social and corporate responsibility that include employee relations, community service and environmental stewardship, put into action by practices such as recycling and LEED construction.

Operating with about 60 employees in facilities in Richmond and Manasses, Virginia, and sometimes outsourcing work to Matthews Architectural Products of Pittsburgh, Gillispie says Acorn builds lasting relationships with clients, and as clients evolve, so may the signage.

Whether it’s a logo change, an office relocation or a name change, Gillispie says Acorn will meet a client’s needs and give them the opportunity to say that even its signs are green because—like the North Carolina sign—they’re made using sustainable materials and processes, and may also serve as educational tools.

“Wouldn’t the world be a better place if it wasn’t just generous people and nonprofits trying to solve our problems?” Gillispie asks. “If every business—the problems are too big for anyone alone to solve—would get involved, it would take so much of the cynicism away. Business isn’t about just greed and profit; there’s another model, a very exciting model that we’re a part of.”

Painful but poignant

So it’s appropriate that Acorn did the signs reminding Richmond of its role in a disturbing, and once common, trade.

A few years ago Acorn was commissioned by the City of Richmond, working with BAM/Baskervill Architects to provide signage along the Richmond Slave Trail, a 2.3-mile path that acknowledges Virginia’s capital city as the former epicenter of the slave trade along the East Coast.

In addition to fabricating and installing 17 markers on such sites as the docks, auction house, slave market and site of a revolt, Acorn was responsible for bronze in-ground trail plaques depicting the Richmond Slave Trail logo created by a local African-American artist.

“Walking the path alongside the James River retraces the footsteps of slaves arriving at the city they would help to build, and is a very moving experience for many visitors,” says Gillispie. “It was an honor for us to help tell this important story for today’s visitors to the trail and those who will walk the path for generations to come. It is a great example of the impact that signage can have in a community.”

It starts at home

Acorn is committed to a positive community impact, Gillispie says, adding that a progressive modus operandi is implemented in the corporate culture and spreads well beyond the eco-friendly 12,000- square-foot facility where the signs are designed and fabricated.

With both Gillispies successful in their prior professional lives and nearing retirement, they wanted to stay active with their own business, one they could build on what she describes as a three-legged stool paradigm based on profit, people and planet. At the time, they weren’t aware of what B-Corp meant, but as Gillispie puts it, “it was in our DNA.”

“We really believed that we could add to the quality of life in our community by building a business that’s values-based, the kind of place where we would want to come to work and where our workers would flourish,” she says.

That includes the belief that while everyone has skills, cultural fit is necessary to operate as a team. Young employees are especially committed to environmental consciousness and social engagement, she notes, and their interaction with older workers helps keep the company abreast of not just the present but the future, vital in anticipating the next demographics.

“Through working well internally, Acorn creates better products and experiences,” she says. “This, in turn, helps clients to be better recognized and remembered through distinctive signs and logos that help them to be better, too.”

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Spring 2018



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