Roundabout Signs LLC, a Colorado Springs-based business that imports authentic foreign road signs to sell for decorative purposes, has been known to cause headaches for government officials unsure how to categorize its product.
“On one hand it qualifies as aluminum, but it’s not just raw aluminum, and it didn’t really qualify as artwork,” co-owner Ben Kwitek said. “They didn’t quite know where to fit it, and when governments don’t know where something fits, it makes it harder because they like having a form and a box for everything.”
Roundabout Signs, opened in 2005, is much like its co-owner in that regard. Kwitek, a Springs native and instructor for UCCS’ Bachelor of Innovation program, dropped out of high school at age 16 and started college at Colorado State University.
The “serial inventor” earned his bachelor’s degree in business and political science by age 19, with a master’s in public administration from the University of Colorado following a year later. He also has a doctorate in management from Colorado State University, and studied innovation and intellectual property at the Harvard Business School.
“My grandfather was an inventor and my dad was really innovative, so it was always in the blood a bit — that you’ve got to think different. Why would you want to work for somebody else when you can create your own opportunities and work for yourself?” Kwitek said. “That’s always been my view. I think I’ve always been a bit anti-establishment.”
Kwitek’s lifelong love of cars blossomed into something more when he was in Germany working on a project with BMW. The white circular signs lining the sides of the German Autobahns, with their diagonal black lines that indicated “No Speed Limit,” called to his inner rule-breaker.
“For somebody who has always loved cars, there’s nothing better than being in Germany driving a BMW on a section of the Autobahn that says, ‘No Speed Limit,’” Kwitek said. “I liked the philosophy of it — the no limits to life kind of thing. Why should people tell you what to do? You should design your own limits.”
Kwitek wanted a sign for his office, a notion that his German friends quickly dispelled. The signs weren’t for sale, and obviously stealing one would land him in a German prison — a place he definitely did not want to go, his friends joked.
When Kwitek returned to Colorado Springs, he reconnected with friend Bruce McGrew, a fellow entrepreneur and car enthusiast who shared his fascination with the “No Speed Limit” signs. The two men decided to start Roundabout Signs LLC, with the sole mission of importing authentic German road signs and selling them to other car fanatics.
Since receiving the green light from the German government, as well as U.S. Customs and Border Protections, Kwitek and McGrew have sold thousands of signs to clientele that include racecar driver Mario Andretti, actors Patrick Dempsey and Nicole Kidman, and TV host Jay Leno.
“We’ve had a lot of fun customers because we’re such a niche business,” Kwitek said.
Products consist mostly of German road signs, although authentic Australian “Kangaroo Crossing” and Dutch “Water Hazard/Cliff Ahead” signs also are available on the company’s website, roundaboutsigns.com.
The signs function not only as decorative pieces, but as conversation starters in a world where traditional face-to-face communication has largely fallen by the wayside, Kwitek said.
“One of the reasons I think people buy our signs is, when you invite somebody over to your house, it’s an immediate story. Either they recognize it, or they don’t know what it is and they say, ‘What is that?’” Kwitek said. “It’s really a conversation starter that I think, in this age of social media, people are craving. They want to have interesting, unique things to tell their friends about.”