Valerie Shyblosky in front of one of her latest sign creations. COURTESY SIGN DREAMERS OF BEAUFORT COUNTY

You have likely seen them on front yards around your neighborhood. When you see one, it’s very hard to miss. That’s kind of the point.

Yard signs have become the latest big thing in Bluffton, literally. It’s a unique and extremely bold way of showing love for family or friends on a special occasion, and a number of hard-working entrepreneurs have made it their business to put epic smiles on faces through their yard creations.

Valerie Shyblosky is a mother of two, including a special needs teen, and a special education assistant at Bluffton Elementary School. She decided to start the side hustle during the early days of the COVID quarantine as a way to brighten the spirits of those around her, launching Sign Dreamers of Beaufort County.

“My husband and I noticed many friends in Oklahoma and Tennessee getting these signs in their yards, posting on Facebook. And we thought this was just ingenious, but I wasn’t seeing any of these signs here,” Shyblosky said. “Parties were being cancelled, fun was at a premium. I started doing some research and found this was a real business that fits my life and my crazy schedule, and a great way to stay busy and spread some love and happiness during a horrible time for all of us.”

The signage works like any election placard or the recent graduation yard signs placed in Class of 2021 grads’ yards – just on a larger scale. A series of corrugated plastic signs with numbers, letters and pictures are placed together to create gigantic surprises for the recipient.

“You rent the signage for a day. You tell us your special one’s interests and hobbies and we tailor a sign to celebrate the event,” Shyblosky said. “We come late at night to set the sign up so you’re the talk of the block the next morning.”

Shyblosky and her husband Charles travel all over Beaufort and Jasper counties to set up and take down birthday, anniversary and graduation installations. She found that there are three larger sign distributors that have cornered the U.S. market on the business – Sign Dreamers, Sign Gypsies and Card My Yard.

“It’s not a franchise, but I have a licensing deal with them that I only get my signage from them and they give me access to a huge library of sign components that I can get shipped to me as quick as Amazon whenever I need new pieces,” Shyblosky said.

Shyblosky does most of her marketing through Facebook. At first, she set signs up on friends’ and neighbors’ lawns free of charge just to spread the word.

“I called up friends in all the different neighborhoods I know and asked if it’s OK if I set up a sample just to show off what I can do …  and by summer, it really took off,” she said.

Now, she spends days setting up orders from her website and nights traveling across the Lowcountry setting up the sign art – often getting home well after midnight.

“I don’t know who’s happier, the giver, the recipient or myself. I love spreading joy, especially right now. It’s everything,” Shyblosky said. “My family are my biggest supporters. I’m a perfectionist. I probably need a second helper, but it’s an artform to create just the right mix in the message and I make sure the end result meets my highest standards.”

Kesha Hamilton stands with one of her latest pop-up sign installations. COURTESY LJG EVENTS

As it turns out, one of her neighbors knows Shyblosky’s plight. Kesha Hamilton launched her own sign business, LJG Events, right around the same time.

“My daughter and I have the same birthday and we had heard of these signs, seen them online, but we couldn’t find anyone around here that did them,” Hamilton said. “So I decided to make it a business as a way of honoring my Mom who has passed, Laura Jean Garrett.”

Hamilton said her mom, who died in late 2016, was known for spreading happiness and laughter.

Rather than work with one of the larger sign distributors like Shylosky does, Hamilton works with many different sign makers to create her masterpieces.

“It’s funny, Val and I didn’t know each other were doing it, but I think we each received our first inventory of signage right around the same time,” she said. “I have flexibility in how I create signage. I actually make a lot of my own special images. If you’re a Clemson fan or a Steelers nut or a pug lover, I’ll print up a picture and glue it to one of the sign backs. I try to customize wherever possible.”

Like Shyblosky, Hamilton started by setting up examples on friends’ front yards and the word spread.

“It’s a lot of driving, and sometimes we spook out the neighbors and have to explain that we’re not trespassing or vandalizing. Dogs are always curious, but we try to be as stealth as we can in creating a special memory,” Hamilton said. “It’s the kind of grand gesture I think a lot of us needed during COVID, but when folks see what we create, how would you not want it for your loved one?”

Beaufort County seems to agree. The sign business has become the hottest trend in the local gifting market, as givers spend $75 and up to celebrate a new house, a job promotion or a military welcome home. And the competition is getting even greater among message makers.

Bluffton resident Lisa Cotter launched Lowcountry Signs, a Sign Gypsies affiliate. Married couple Floyd and Benita Ferguson have launched Yard Love Bluffton, an affiliate of one of the up-and-coming sign makers. Lowcountry Yard Art was the first local to launch back in 2019, a slightly different approach with with larger, homemade wooden signage of things like Easter eggs and baseball mitts and numbers – but no personalized name signs.

“I think the beauty is we all have our own unique style,” Shyblosky said. “You look at Kesha’s work, the others, my signs, we have our little signatures. I think it’s a personal preference for sure. I do feel like I was born to do this. I think we all share that bond of truly loving being in the happiness business.”

And there has been plenty of work to go around. Both Hamilton and Shyblosky suggest ordering at least one week ahead of an event. And both entrepreneurs are constantly adding new sign options – and finding creative storage spots in their houses for all the signs.

“The numbers and letters are everywhere, a lot of bins, a lot of organization. We’re not getting rich with this, we put a lot of extra money into this to do the customizing. The gas money adds up, but we’re getting busier and busier and more booked up as folks see our work more and more,” Hamilton said. “My husband Jarvis and I, we are people pleasers. You see the looks on the kids’ faces, the tears of joy, knowing we created a memory, it keeps us energized and constantly upping our game.”

Tim Wood is a veteran journalist based in Bluffton. Contact him at timwood@blufftonsun.com.