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Business Commentary: O.K. Carter: Forensic science, nuclear submarine electronics, guitars and signs

Commentary: O.K. Carter: Forensic science, nuclear submarine electronics, guitars and signs

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The answer to what happens when forensic science, nuclear submarine electronics and boot-scooting guitar-thumping twang-meld together in one person has no guessable answer, but it’s this: You end up with one of the country’s most innovative sign makers in Arlington’s Paul Fulks, owner of 3Di Sign+Design company.

Fulks’s signs – which, as the 3Di name suggests, tend to be eye-catching multidimensional, multi-color, computer-adjusted LED light displays – show up in everywhere in the Metroplex, but also in Hollywood, Las Vegas, Miami, New Orleans and occasionally even in Arlington.

It is, by way of example, his gateway sign with the city’s latest version of its cursively latticed flying “A” symbol that greets I-30 traffic as it enters the city, though with a twist.

Other contractors on the gateway sign include ARC Enterprises, SRA and Greenscaping.

Motorists driving through on the day of the recent Auburn-Oregon game at AT&T Stadium would likely have noticed the sign lighting up in alternate team colors of blue-and-orange, green-and-yellow. When the Susan Korman Breast Cancer Walk rolls through town, it shifts to a pink motif.

“Signs are really a critical component of branding and they should also be entertaining, and I’d even say memorable,” says Fulks, 47, with his best promotional spiel. “They also need to attract the attention of the correct demographics. In this age of social media and assorted other distractions, distinctive signage is critical.”

Born in Ohio – “Like John Wayne,” Fulks points out – his original ambition was to be a crime scene analyst, for which he enrolled in a medical technology program at Ohio’s Rio Grande College.

He joined the Navy with intent to continue that career path, but instead, scoring high on technological aptitude and number crunching, was shuttled to a nuclear electronics school.

He’d also first picked up a guitar at age 12, playing steadily in off-duty hours with his Navy compatriots.

“And no, I had not decided by then that my future was in sign design and creation,” Fulks said. Not yet, anyway.

Nor was Texas in his plans. But shortly after his Navy hitch ended, he drove an elderly relative to Texas to visit yet another relative who lived at Lake Whitney.

“The night life boot scooting music scene was unlike anything I’d ever seen, and I knew right away that Texas was for me,” Fulks recalled. “I went back to Ohio, packed my guitar and moved to Waco.”

By day, Fulks worked for the Mars candy people, his claim to fame being that he mixed the first Strawberry/Banana Starburst concoction.

“I’m still kind of proud of that,” he said.

By night he played in a band, eventually hearing about and then visiting what was billed as the world’s largest honkey-tonk in Fort Worth. A place called Billy Bob’s. Enamored, he relocated to North Texas.

The snag was that while his band landed gigs, it didn’t make a sufficient living.

He worked multiple other jobs. Blocking Stetson hats. Selling Western apparel. Hawking Tony Lama ostrich skin boots. He would have moved on, except that in Arlington he met a lovely woman whose name was Toni. And married her.

That development kicked up his financial needs, during which he heard about a job selling signs. He applied, got the job, and discovered that he had not only an aptitude for marketing but also design – all that medical technology and electronics training suddenly coming in handy.

“I’d also realized that while I love music, it is not one of the things that I’m best at,” he said. “Particularly when you have to hold down three jobs at the same time.”

Fulks, with a bass-level radio-announcer voice and a style featuring crispy starched Western apparel and alligator boots, stood out.

He sold a plethora of signs, 23 years ago becoming part of his own company with a partnership, 10 years ago evolving into 3Di. It’s been a blossoming and growing business ever since, helped along by a networking proclivity that he pursues religiously not because he thinks he needs to, but because he’s a social altruist. Likes meeting people.

These include the Chamber of Commerce, assorted school district volunteerism and a boatload of other civic activities, including appointment to city boards and commissions and the Margarita Society – a businessman’s group that provides toys at Christmas to needy children. He was also a founding member of the Levitt Pavilion free concerts board. His contacts list is vast.

Most recently, he’s been a key mover of the Texas Regional Radio Future Faces Awards Show, a two-day event that kicks off at the Texas Live! Professional Bull Riders Cowboy Bar and which culminates at Arlington Music Hall with an introduction of Texas’s top 10 new artists. He’s also a founding member of the newly-created Texas Music Alliance, a musician’s advocacy organization.

When he’s not designing and selling signs that combine a blend of branding, eye-catching artistry and technology, he still whips out his favorite Gibson guitar and plays a few licks – might even be persuaded to do a little entertaining if the crowd is right.

Otherwise, he’s the man with the hi-tech signs of our times.

And a closet full of alligator boots.

3Di Sign+Design

1133 W. Main St.

Arlington 76013


O.K. Carter is a former editor and publisher of the Arlington Citizen-Journal and was also Arlington publisher and columnist for the Star-Telegram and founding editor of Arlington Today Magazine. He’s the author of the definitive book on Arlington’s colorful history, Caddos, Cotton and Cowboys: Essays on Arlington.


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