A Safe Space
Sunrise Safety Services, Inc. celebrates 25-year journey of cones, zones and connections
Sunrise Safety Services, Inc. is much more than a construction zone safety management company. For Founder and Chairman of the Board Margaret “Cathy” Vogel, the world of traffic cones, drums and barriers has become a path of opportunities, second chances and professional development for 125 individuals, and counting.
There is a distinctive sense of family that thrives behind the Maryland-based operation, an ambiance that is personified and encouraged through thoughts and action by Vogel since its founding in 1995. That culture has helped the company to become the state’s largest minority-owned traffic sign fabricator with customers throughout the Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Delaware and Washington, D.C. areas.
For Vogel, the company’s past is a foundation for an even stronger future.
With just an eighth-grade education, Cathy Vogel did not have dreams of becoming the owner of one of Maryland’s most successful traffic sign design, fabrication, installation and maintenance companies. But, she did know the value of hard work. She was a successful real estate agent while raising her children and grandchildren. In fact, it was a real estate transaction that introduced her to traffic management possibilities when she was 50 years old.
Vogel decided to put her lessons learned to work. She says, “I liked the idea of running a business guided by my principles. I had some money saved from my real estate business and a growing interest in traffic control, so I thought, why not?”
She began by building relationships with local contractors such as the late Pierce Flanigan III and David Nesbitt of P. Flanigan and Sons, Inc., which is one of Maryland’s leading paving contractors.
Sunrise Safety Services was officially open for business in Glen Burnie, Maryland, on June 13, 1995. “I had $35,000 as startup money, a 7-foot by 9-foot basement office in my home and a few drums and cones stocked in the yard,” Vogel recalls. “I thought I was something—which looking back, was really not much. But ignorance is bliss.”
Vogel relied on gut instinct, a commitment to quality work and a good attitude to build business and the company’s reputation. By 1996, her business dreams were turning into reality.
“I greatly appreciated the support I got from contractors, in particular. In those days, I always said if we make it, I will take care of my people to the very best of my ability, try to promote from within whenever possible, and hire veterans and those who need a second chance,” she says.
With an eye on making a difference beyond the bottom line, Vogel began building her team.
One of her first employees was Charles “Ed” Shirk, current Chief Operating Officer, who was hired as a Supervisor in December 1996. With over 30 years of experience in Maryland road construction specializing in the maintenance of traffic, he proved to be an invaluable asset to the emerging company. As a traffic supervisor and a flagger instructor with the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT), and possessing American Traffic Safety Services Association (ATSSA) flagger certifications, he has been responsible for designing large traffic control plans for high-profile projects and has also been asked to be an expert witness for traffic control work zone accident cases.
By 1996, Vogel moved her growing team out of the basement to a property in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Baltimore owned at the time by Long Fence. She recalls that the owners were kind enough to defer rent for six months so Vogel and her team could build more backlog.
With work zone contracts increasing in scope and scale, Vogel continued to hire new employees from all walks of life, including in 1997, Janet Groncki. Groncki had been a cosmetologist, an administrative assistant and a homemaker. She answered an ad for flaggers thinking she would like to work outside. Vogel says, “Janet is a hard worker. She dug holes, shut down roads, put down pavement markings, everything we needed.” Soon after joining the company, Groncki became a certified traffic control manager, then moved into a supervisory role.
Today, former flagger Groncki is the CEO of the company.
“I started this business, but I didn’t build it. The people that work for me did that. We have many people that have come to us down on their luck, and we’ve helped each other.” Margaret “Cathy” Vogel, Founder and Chairman of the Board, Sunrise Safety Services, Inc.
Signed and Sealed
Along with ongoing work zone safety contracts with local contractors, state agencies and developers, Sunrise Safety Services began making aluminum road signs to support work zone traffic control.
Vogel recalls, “In those early days, we’d spend all night cutting, sanding and vinyl-coating signs to meet temporary traffic signage needs for various jobs.”
Her husband, Norman, a retired camera man for WJZ-TV, stepped up to help his wife’s business by establishing the first Sunrise Sign Shop in 2000. With assistance from the MDOT State Highway Administration, he planned and designed the facility. The sign shop is now housed within the 30,000-square-foot Sunrise Safety Services facility. It is co-managed by Sherry Thompson and Tiffany Schrauder, who have been with Sunrise Safety Services for over 20 years. Both are highly experienced in highway maintenance and have maintained their certifications in highway traffic control.
Today the shop, which specializes in permanent and temporary traffic signage, produces full-color or digitally printed custom signs, stickers, magnets, posters and banners.
In 2004, the shop’s permanent signage was certified through the MDOT State Highway Administration and all materials are listed on the MDOT Qualified Products List (QPL). The shop also produces designs that meet standards listed in the Federal Highway Administration’s Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways (MUTCD).
Zones of Safety
Since its inception, Sunrise Safety Services has performed thousands of work zone safety jobs of varying scope and scale. On any given day, the company has about 40 jobs running at a time.
While not all projects are memorable, Vogel recalls a few including the inaugural Grand Prix of Baltimore held in 2011. This 2-mile street race around the Inner Harbor area of downtown Baltimore required a large number of concrete barriers and the orchestration of people and vehicles. The company was called on for the Grand Prix in 2012 and 2013, as well.
In September 2019, the company was chosen to orchestrate traffic control for the move of the historic, 18th-century Galloway mansion from Easton, Maryland, to the Chesapeake Bay barge that would then float the home to Queenstown, Maryland. Sunrise Safety Services’ team coordinated various temporary road closures along the 6-mile route to the bay.
The group also developed traffic control plans to help facilitate the safe move of large transformers to the Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station, a nuclear power plant located on the Susquehanna River 3 miles north of the Maryland border. The Sunrise Safety Services team was involved from start to finish, from flaggers and cones to ensuring safe lane changes and bridge crossings to protecting the transformers at overnight parking areas.
A Place and a Promise
While the Sunrise Safety Services operation has grown to over $13 million in annual revenue, Vogel, Shirk and Groncki remain focused on the people that make up the company.
Vogel reinforces, “I started this business, but I didn’t build it. The people that work for me did that. We have many people that have come to us down on their luck, and we’ve helped each other.”
Donavin Petre, current Head Mechanic, is one such individual. He has been with Sunrise Safety Services since 2009. “His previous company had downsized, leaving him with a mortgage, a family to support and an uncertain future,” Vogel recalls. “At the same time, we had decided to bring on a full-time mechanic as opposed to sending our vehicles out for maintenance and service. Fortunately, he chose to apply at Sunrise Safety Services, giving us one of the best mechanics available.”
Similarly, Sandra Phillips joined the company in 2012 as the office manager/bookkeeper. She became the company CFO in 2018. As well, Damon Carroll and Anthony Boxdale joined the company in 2015 and 2017, respectively. These two brothers-in-law took the initiative to first clean up and then reorganize the Sunrise Safety Services warehouse, which at the time was 25,000 square feet. They streamlined the workflow, coordinated deliveries and pickup, and managed the warehouse stock to ensure equipment and materials are available as needed. Carroll is the Rental/Warehouse Manager and Boxdale is the Warehouse Assistant.
Although only a few are mentioned, there are so many others that continue to contribute to the success of Sunrise Safety Services, according to Vogel. She believes one of her greatest accomplishments was hiring Groncki.
Vogel says, “Janet is one of multiple employees who give true meaning to what is meant when we say that we promote from within whenever possible. I could not have chosen a more perfect person to take my place. She is the new face of Sunrise Safety Services. Together, our team has overcome many business challenges, but the journey has been worth it and I have been blessed. We have hired a number of people who struggled in other jobs but have come here and found a second chance and succeeded. I just provided the vehicle to help them shine.”