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When it comes to diversifying your product lineup, few markets are as extensive as signage—and chances are good you already have much of the equipment you’ll need to get started. But that doesn’t mean that selling signage is without challenges. We spoke with two signage sellers, including a retail shop and a multibusiness corporation, to see what opportunities exist for retailers of any size to capitalize on this booming market, what to expect when you first start selling signage, and how to educate current customers about—and attract new ones to purchase—your new product offering.

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Retailers Share Their Insights on Adding Signage to Your Product Lineup


When it comes to diversifying your product lineup, few markets are as extensive as signage—and chances are good you already have much of the equipment you’ll need to get started. But that doesn’t mean that selling signage is without challenges. We spoke with two signage sellers, including a retail shop and a multibusiness corporation, to see what opportunities exist for retailers of any size to capitalize on this booming market, what to expect when you first start selling signage, and how to educate current customers about—and attract new ones to purchase—your new product offering.

Sales don’t stop at ADA signage; public facilities need a wide variety of wayfinding and other informational signs.


Using the same color codes from ADA engraving material for even non-ADA signage ensures consistency across the entire order.

Suzanne Owen-Wright, CRM
Sign Master, Inc., Sevierville, TN
Years Selling Signage: 26 years


What types of signs do you sell? 
We sell everything from UV-stable banners and hard signs on a variety of substrates to reflective street and informational signs, marquee sign faces, and museum-quality signs. We also work with another company so that we can supply large sandblasted signs, which are very popular in our area.

We combine our full-color and engraved signage in a couple of different ways. We are able to reverse-print images and apply them to the back of clear material to create heat-bent signs, or apply raised lettering and Raster Braille to the front to make customized full-color Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)-compliant signage.

We use the color codes from ADA engraving material to create large outdoor signs to coordinate the signage throughout the property (see the image above).

What kinds of customers make up most of your signage business? 
Being in a tourism-based area, we have a wide range of customers. We service hotels, resorts, restaurants, retail and amusement businesses, banks, medical facilities, governments, manufacturers, churches, and schools. We work with groups, such as chambers of commerce, hospitality and tourism associations, and leadership and other professional groups, to educate and raise awareness on a local level.

How did you get into the signage business? 
We started out selling vinyl signs in 1991, and we added our first large-format digital printer in 1995. It was an Encad Novajet that was limited to 36-in. wide. We later upgraded to a 55-in. HP, but both enabled us to make signs for indoor use only. How far that industry has advanced! Now, we currently are on our third 64-in.-wide, large-format UV solvent printer for interior/exterior signage. 

In 1996, we added a rotary engraver and began producing engraved signs. We still use the rotary, especially when making ADA signage. We also have two Universal Laser engravers that we use for a wide variety of signs from plastic and metal to wood and Corian. We laser wood and leather signs for one of the amusement facilities in the area. We also have made custom wood street signs using the laser.

In addition, we do both sublimation and sandcarving. Our customers are beginning to use more full-color sublimated signs, although most of our sublimation work is still for awards. We are hoping to change that because recently, we have been attending some classes and learning new techniques for combining sublimation and our laser, and would like to use the new outdoor sublimation material that is scheduled to be released soon.

As for our sandcarving, although we do mostly awards, bricks, pavers, and stainless tumblers, we also carve glass and granite signage.

Although our vinyl signage still outsells our engraved signage, sales increase annually and we actually sell more engraved signs per order than we do vinyl because we do ADA hotel room signage, engraved electrical panel plates, etc.

Display not just ADA signs, but also complementary products customers may want to order at the same time to help them ensure continuity across their signage and help you boost your sales.


What are the most important tools and skills you have in your shop to support your signage business? 
Other than our printer and engraving equipment, the most important tools are a 60-in.-wide laminator to assist in applying the digital prints to substrates, a 60-in. panel saw, a 52-in. material shear, drill presses, sanders, and a grommet machine, which allows us to make more durable hanging signs (grommets hold up better in our windy environment than a simple drilled hole). We recently invested in a new George Knight heat press for sublimated signs and have a 20-in. shear, drill press, and sander that are strictly for use on engraving materials. We make our signs in two different areas of our facility and although we do cross over in production on occasion, we try to keep everything organized separately.

We attend trade shows and webinars to learn new methods for all types of signs as well as how to market them to our customers.

What trends do you see emerging in the signage market? 
We upgraded both our large-format printer and heat press this year and our sublimation printer in 2015 to better accommodate our customers’ needs and be able to produce signage in a more effective way.

In the engraving industry, we foresee more businesses upgrading their signage to meet ADA requirements. Our area businesses are also interested in adding full color to their ADA signage.

What is the most challenging aspect of selling signage? 
One of our most challenging areas of selling signage is to get the business owners in the area to understand the importance of ADA requirements and keep them up to date on changes. There is a great deal of resistance from a variety of businesses. An example is that we are currently working with one business that has fought updating their signage for several years. It has been difficult to get them to understand that although they see their business as “private,” the public is allowed unlimited access to most of their facility and therefore they need to follow the ADA requirements. 

What advice would you give a retailer looking to add signage to their product lineup? 

  • Listen and learn! 
  • Attend as many classes and webinars as you can. If a vendor is offering seminars in your area, it would be of great value to attend. Although you may not be planning to add equipment now, it is never too soon to start planning and find out exactly what you can do with the equipment being offered or that is new to the industry.
  • Buy a level higher than you think you need. Need a 30 watt laser? If you can afford it, purchase a 40 or 50 watt. Believe me, you will find that you will utilize it much faster than you think.
  • Quality is key! Do NOT undersell your product or time.


Encourage customers to think outside the box with donor walls like this take on a “giving” tree!

 


Sarah Chesebrough
Indiana Signworks, Fort Wayne, IN
Years Selling Signage: more than 65 years

 

What types of signs do you sell? 
We like to say that we are “one solution for all of your signs.” We sell every kind of sign, both interior and exterior signage. This means large electronic message centers (EMCs) and tall pylon signs that you’d see by the side of the highway down to ADA room signs and name plates and name badges. We manufacture almost every kind of sign in house, with the exceptions being tasks like building awnings and casting bronze plaques. We provide major exterior signage including EMCs, pylons, monuments signs, building signs like channel letters, and blade signs, as well as custom cabinets and every kind of interior sign. We manufacture our own ADA and Braille signs, as well as name badges, and we create and engrave custom gifts and awards products as well as donor walls and memorial products.

What kinds of customers make up most of your signage business? 
Our company has such a wide variety of customers. I would say that there really isn’t a major industry that we’re not involved with in some way because of the variety of products we offer. We also work with everything from individuals who need a vinyl banner for a graduation party to large-scale, interior-exterior, multisite projects for banks, hospitals, and educational institutions. For those, many times, our actual clients are the architects, builders, and design firms that are working with the end user. 

We also do a lot of work for property management firms throughout the Midwest installing signage for their tenants. We do awards for businesses and nonprofits locally, as well. 

Indiana Signworks is actually a division of our parent company, Indiana Stamp. It’s fun to go around town and see either a stamp product that we’ve made for someone or a name badge that we’ve made. We also manufacture name badges for many local and regional businesses of all shapes and sizes—we’ve been doing that for many, many years.

How did you get into selling signage? 
Our company is family-owned and operated since 1947. It’s now in the third generation of family ownership. We actually started out as a stamp shop. Millard Beaver was a purchasing agent for a local company, and he identified a need for quality stamps made locally here in Fort Wayne, IN, and called out to his brother, Don Bieber, to let him know about the opportunity. Don moved out with his wife, Lucille, to start the stamp shop/office supply shop. As part of the stamp business, we’ve been making signs for many decades. Name badges and engraved signs were followed by hot stamping and then sublimating capabilities. We’ve been manufacturing ADA and Braille signage for decades. About 7 years ago, we got into wide-format digital printing. This not only gave us new product capabilities, but it also enhanced our existing capabilities by enabling us to combine processes. Then, about 3 years ago, we bought a local exterior sign shop—and then 2 years ago, we did it again. So now, we provide a complete suite of sign solutions for our customers.

Our company was born because of the capability to see a market need and to be able to respond to it. It just makes good business sense to keep following the growth and exploring. Once we started making one kind of sign and offering it to customers, it never failed that another need was uncovered either through customer inquiries or an employee identifying another product or service that we can offer customers. This is also how we’ve grown over the years: developing from, quite literally, a mom-and-pop shop to a corporation with three divisions and more than 50 employees. Signs are no exception to the “see a need, fill a need” mentality that is part of our corporate DNA. We realize that we have something to offer the marketplace: high-quality signs, excellent customer service, and dedication to building relationships with our customers and everything that goes with that, including transparent communication and always building the best sign possible for our customers. 

What are the most important tools and skills you have in your shop to support your signage business? 
In addition to the obvious tools and materials needed to produce signs, our most valuable and important assets are our employees. Our strong team is the most important support of the business. They make us successful. Our sales team, designers, administrative group, production, and paint crew and installers are all top notch. Not only are they skilled at what they do, they all work together to achieve the goal of delivering the highest-quality product possible to our customers. We really focus on communication with each other as the signs are being produced, and with our customers to make sure that we are delivering the sign they need, on time. 

Also, we like learning new things. Over the years, as we’ve added capabilities, we’ve had to learn about them. Maybe two of the biggest learning curves were adding wide-format digital printing and then when we expanded into exterior signage. With the digital prints, it was similar to work we’d been doing, and although there was a lot of technical training, it was easily added into our existing workflow. With the leap to exterior, we were dealing with production processes that required new workflows, and we were challenged to adapt our systems and processes for this new division. Thankfully, when we bought the two sign companies, most of their talented employees stayed with us. So we had the know-how, we just had to figure out how to meld this new division into our existing business. It has been really inspiring to see the team coalesce and to see those adaptations take place.

Dimensional letters easily add depth and interest to large-scale exterior signage.

What is the most challenging aspect of selling signage? 
It definitely has to be the “race to the bottom,” by that I mean the race to produce the cheapest sign possible just to win the project. Since our founding, our company has always built our products to the highest quality standards so our products last as long as possible. We will continue to do that with our exterior sign manufacturing, as well, because it is who we are. However, it seems like some of the competition just wants the job and is willing to sacrifice quality to build it cheaper. We have found we really need to educate our customers and potential customers on what a quality sign is and what to look for when comparing quotes with other sign companies. It’s a struggle because we’re not always the least expensive, but our customers will always get the highest-quality sign that is going to last a long, long time.

What trends or changes do you see emerging in the signage market? 
I think no matter if it is interior or exterior, customers are more and more interested in the design aspect of their signs—they want something unique, they want to stand out. With regard to interior signage, customers are more aware of ensuring their signs are designed to their spaces. They want a sign to reflect the aesthetic of the space, as well as their brand. Having the capability to combine a lot of different methods of production gives us the flexibility to work with customers to get them a sign that fits their needs and helps set them apart.

Sometimes, this is an issue. Take for instance ADA signs, which are governed by laws and statutes that ensure nonsighted or visually or physically disabled people can navigate public spaces. When you overemphasize the design to the detriment of the visibility of the sign, it isn’t doing its job anymore. But we get customers who’ve seen some really neat design online and insist on the ADA signs fitting that design scheme. This is where we can help the customer find a good balance between design and function, ensuring they are happy with the end result and the sign does its job, as well.

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