Story by Mikhayla Dunaj
Years ago, Tracey Hossfeld and her best friend agreed to make each other Christmas gifts rather than buy them. She made a wooden Christmas stocking doorhanger with her friend’s family’s names on it.
Next, she built a business.
Through social media, artisan fairs, a website and word of mouth, Tracey’s business, The Sign Queen, has gifted customers wooden painted doorhangers and interchangeable signs for seven years.
“I describe them as whimsical,” she says. “There are a lot of bright colors, polka dots, stripes. They can be all different shapes, really.”
When naming her company, the Niles native took to Facebook for ideas. As a director for the Miss America Organization and former chairman for the Miss Niles Scholarship Pageant for many years, many friends felt it would be fitting to incorporate “queen” considering the many queens she has worked with.
Order prices can vary, but most signs cost around $40 and take two to three weeks to complete, Tracey says. Some common sign orders include family names or themes based on the time of year. Her most popular item is an interchangeable sign that reads, “home” where the “o” can be swapped out to create a different theme.
Tracey’s busiest time of year is when customers order custom signs for holiday season gift giving.
“That’s really been the bulk of what my business was initially,” she says. “I didn’t even do craft shows or anything like that, I just did custom signs for people.”
A typical day filling orders means about six to eight hours of work for Tracey, with the occasional late night spent painting before a craft show.
During the holidays, custom signs often feature symbols such as Christmas trees, stockings, Santa hats, Santa and snowmen. She has also made signs referencing the movie, “Elf.”
For customers who want to have a hand in the creation process, Tracey started paint parties with her business partner, Marcy Metzger. The classes let participants paint their own doorhanger based on a few different options under the same theme. Students can expect to paint a turkey, snowmen, and more signs during holiday season paint parties.
“It’s been really neat to be able to interact with people through the classes,” Tracey says. “I’ve got to paint with some grade-school classmates – some people that you wouldn’t normally get to see, and that’s really nice.”
The classes cost $30 and take place at the Niles F.O.P. Lodge at 600 N. State St., Niles. Tracey will also be starting classes in Lafayette, Indiana, where she moved a year ago. Most classes average a group of about 20 students.
“It’s just amazing to drive through town and see one of your signs that you either painted or helped to create hanging on someone’s door,” Tracey says. “It’s so exciting and really neat, but it’s just been amazing for me to be able to have my own business and be able to have that supplementary income.”
When she started her business, Tracey’s customers all came from her personal life. Over the last seven years, it has grown beyond that.
“It grew to friends of friends and community members, and now I have shipped signs all over the country,” she says. “I attribute my success to having great people helping me build my business, like my partner Marcy, and all of my supportive family and friends.”
In response to the support she has received, Tracey tries to support other area businesses as well.
“I have found that supporting other small business owners and partnering with them has, in turn, helped me learn and grow,” she says. “I’ve been fortunate to gain some wonderful friendships along the way.”
One of these partnerships is an artisan fair she started with other creators at the Niles F.O.P. Lodge, which takes place each spring and fall. In the future, she hopes to see these partnerships grow.
“I hope to continue hosting paint parties, both in my hometown of Niles and in Lafayette, in the future, along with attending craft markets as I love, connecting with people and helping them create or find a fun piece of home décor,” Tracey says.
Apart from craft markets and artisan fairs, Tracey’s work can be found on Facebook under The Sign Queen, on Instagram @the.sign.queen and on her website thesignqueen.com. Registration for paint parties is also available on the website.