What Should One Know BEFORE Entering the Signage Industry?

What Should I know BEFORE I go in to the sign business?

While this SignForce blog space is generally focused on the benefits of signs, the pitfalls of signs and general selling of signs, this post will be different as the writer was recently approached by a family looking to get into the signage industry, and asked about it.

After my initial shock – wondering why would any ‘sane‘ individual – the mom who spoke to me looked and sounded VERY sane – WANT to get into the signage industry.

It is quite possible that I was stressed at the time and thus I was too quick to forget that this was me about 22 years ago. Someone looking to get out of the financial / consulting industry I was in and looking for a new challenge – they do say be careful what you ask for!

I guess that at a time when business is tough I had forgotten all the positive aspects of the signage industry that have served me well for the past two decades, and was more focused on the day to day challenges I was facing.

As a colleague recently mentioned, the signage industry is not for feint of heart, sane people ho want a boring, predictable, regular job where you have structure and know days in advance what your schedule – and life – will look like.

Signage is an extremely dynamic business where, if one is not disciplined, your daily schedule can change every other minute.

On the positive side the signage industry requires one to be a jack of many trades, possibly a master of one or two, with the ability to design, work with multiple materials and SEE (visualize) some things that don’t exist – in the sense that one has to be able to imagine what the end product (that does not exist) will look like AND be able to work backwards from what the end product looks like through the step by step manufacturing process – which may change when actual production begins, so lets add in that being in the signage industry one needs to be extremely FLEXIBLE – to the start which includes determining what materials will WORK to achieve the desired outcome. All this in the most cost effective manner.

While traditional sign writers in the 21st century tended to be artisans that came through the ranks of artists who did some apprenticeship and could go into a one man business, modern signage is more computer generated, and more business like than ever before.

For a modern sign business to be successful the head of the business tends to need to be a marketer and sales person with a BIG PICTURE mentality where one is able to talk to, motivate, lead, inspire and deal with the widest possible range of people – from the MD of a large publicly listed business to an ego driven politician who will never have done a days work in your industry but will always know how to do it better, to the slowest, lowest paid employee in a business who may be required to do the simplest and most important of tasks, without which the work comes to a sudden – not even grinding – HALT.

The need to be able to get all individuals to work together is possibly the second largest challenge, second only to the need to be able to turn off and take time away from work in the modern world where one tends to be expected to be online, on call and available 25 / 8 / 366.

On the other hand, if one possesses the necessary mind set and skill set and is prepared to put in some HARD WORK, working what can be insane hours with little gratitude or reward, then signage can be the most amazing and rewarding industry.

Working in signage can be amazing because it opens doors for a person with a flair for design to put their skills into practical operation. There are seldom two days in a row where signage wok is the same. Signage requires one to think out of the box a LOT more than one would expect, possibly because the industry is dynamic, and client’s can have some EXTREME expectations, from how long a sign will take to produce to what the sign will cost to how long the sign will last to what the sign may look like. 

The signage industry has almost ZERO limitations in design. This means that ten sign businesses – or ten estimators within one sign business – can quote the same sign and come up with 10 different designs, 10 different costs and 10 different structures. It cannot be stressed enough that all 10 designs will ALL look the same on paper, and they will surely ALL work – at least in the short term – but they can (and most likely WILL) be VASTLY different in design, (finished) look, appeal and cost. This is one of the reasons it is so difficult for buyers of signs to compare the offerings of one sign business with another if they do not have detailed specifications on EXACTLY what materials will be used in the manufacturing of the sign, as well as how they will be assembled.

Signage is also an ancient and static yet changing and dynamic industry. Signage is possibly the third oldest profession – ok, that is an exaggeration, especially as physical businesses needed to come first – because it has been around a LONG time. Some ancient techniques are still used to manufacture certain signs, yet there are also new and exciting developments, new materials and a lot more digital processes used in modern day signage.

BUT, even with the new materials and the -progress of digital signs, for the large part signage is still an EXTREMELY LABOUR – read that as PEOPLE – intensive and oriented business. Yes, machines can make a number of modern signs, BUT machines (and AI) have limitations that may mean the client’s reject the signage or the machines cannot make signs with certain materials or they cannot be used to DESIGN certain signs or processes.

This means that until AI can (a) design and think out of the box, (b) get on it’s – their? -hands and knees and climb ladders and drill holes that are nor necessarily ‘straight’ – people employed in the signage industry are sort of secure in the knowledge that like many artisans – plumbers, electricians and the like, the physical elements of the work will not be done away with in the foreseeable future.

SignForce believes that the market is large enough for all competitors, and collaborators, so we at SignForce work closely with a number of our competitors. Because this is our philosophy, we are glad to assist any folks that are as insane as we are and looking to enter the signage with information on the good, the bad and the ugly aspects of the signage industry as we see it.

For more information – or for signs – contact SignForce now on info@signforce.co.za or call +27 (0)11 440 7525 or WhatsApp +27 (0)82 558 6413

Find out more about SignForce by visiting our website at http://www.signforce.co.za

Is LUCK necessary to make a Business Successful?

What does it take for a business to be a success? (or survive?)

Gary Player, the famous golfer, is also famous for saying something like “being successful requires a measure of luck”, and “the more I practice the luckier I seem to get!”

While this comment was specifically made about Gary Player’s golf career, I was wondering if it applies to every aspect of a successful business as well.

Life has taught me that a LOT of success in business comes from doing the same repetitive, ‘boring” things over and over and over and over and over and over again. This is because it is the “boring”, “repetitive” actions that are needed to keep a business functioning. Things like accounting, marketing, selling and doing the work!

A great man named Dennis Kaplan once said that every person who is successful has to do the work (similar to what Gary Player says as this becomes practice which can lead to ‘luck’), work hard, focus and also needs an element of LUCK.

It is the LUCK part that intrigues me most. In the context of a sport, luck can easily be attributed to hours of practice and training, as this practice and training hones the muscles, hones one’s reflexes and makes one better at the action that is being repeated.

There is also a level of mental focus that is required. If one looks at the top sports people, it is often their mental attitude – and fortitude – that separates number 1 from number 100. This is one reason the field of Sports Psychology dos so well.

So how do these factors apply to business?

Is it LUCK that a particular client finds a specific supplier? If we focus on marketing efforts, then LUCK could possibly be one’s ability to get into the prospect’s line of sight, or keep one’s business front of mind. But is this really luck? If it is luck it could be interpreted that the business with the biggest budget will ALWAYS win as they have the ability to keep one front of mind. BUT is this true for all businesses?

Could it be LUCK that a specific prospect finds your business, contacts your business and then decides to go ahead with your business to do the job? This one is specifically questionable when one does not necessarily have much influence over the decision process.

For an example lets look at a business like SignForce.

We can market all we can, as we have control over this.

Once we have marketed we have no control over the prospect clicking on, calling or emailing SignForce. This step I would put down to luck.

Once the prospect DOES contact SignForce we then have some control over the next step which is seeing the client (if necessary), advising the prospective client and quoting the prospect.

The next step is once again out of SignForce’s hands, as this step depends on the client’s budget, the competitive quotes the prospect received (we always assume every prospect gets the standard three quotes which is considered good governance) and what quality the prospect is prepared to settle for, assuming that (as is standard) all three competing companies have quoted on the SAME sign(s). The last one is a little challenging as history has shown that there are MANY ways to quote on the same signs, but they all have different pro’s and con’s, many of which the prospect would have no clue about, simply because they would need to be sign specialists to know about all sign materials and their pro’s and con’s.

If the prospect does decide to work with SignForce all steps going forward ARE in the hands of SignForce so this is where practice (and hence no longer luck) comes in, as the more we do the work to the client’s approval – this involves quality, life span, delivery as per agreed deadline and many other factors – the more likely SignForce is to get additional work from the client.

Of course one issue with the signage business is that unless the client is expanding, the repeat cycle of business is between five and seven years. This means a sign business needs to continuously market in order to fill the five to seven years, and then some.

At SignForce we know we don’t know it all. We do practice a lot, and we tend to get better the more we practice, which is one reason people could explain why SignForce has been in business under the same management for over 20 years.

If you are in the market for signs – anything that makes you and your business visible – SignForce has been around assisting businesses to be visible for over 20 years, andd we will gladly assist your business as well.

Contact SignForce now on info@signforce.co.za or call SignForce on +27 (0)11 440 7525 or WhatsApp SignForce on +27 (0)82 558 6413

Find out more about how SignForce can help make your business visible by visiting our website at http://www.signforce.co.za

Why Sign AKA Are Signs a Worthwhile Investment?

Why Sign?  Why use Signage?  Are signs a worthwhile investment?

Good quality, innovative signage is not cheap. In fact, if truth be told, good quality, effective and innovative signs can be quite expensive.

SignForce recently had a prospective client ask for a quote and artist impression so he could get a rush job done. The rush is all on his side. When we quoted what we believe is a very fair price, the prospect came back to advise SignForce that his previous supplier would do the work for 1/5th of the price.

When the SignForce price was reviewed it was found to be fair and realistic.

Historically and on average – average being VERY IMPORTANT as this is the median on a bell graph where there can be a drastic variance between the most costly and the least costly signs – which means an average can be extremely misleading – the higher the overall cost and selling price of a sign, the lower the contribution from material alone.

On AVERAGE material cost ranges from around 7 to 10% of the TOTAL SELLING price of a sign. This means that if the material cost X, the final cost will be between 10X and 14X. That is 10 to 14 TIMES more than the cost of the material!

This may seem excessive and even irrelevant, however when someone gives – ok lets say provides to be politically correct – your business with a sign for material at say cost or even cost times 2 or 3 or even 5, especially for a small sign, the chances are the supplier is running at a loss.

Lets look at an example.

Lets say the prospect is quoted R350 for a sign where the material realistically costs R141– assuming the material is delivered – and the supplier is effectively charging around 2.5 times the cost of material. One could argue that the material will not be fully used so there is a possibility of some material being added back to stock. HOWEVER this is only a POSSIBILITY. What happens in the event of unexpected or unplanned #loadshedding when the vinyl is almost completely cut and is lost and needs to be recut – these events need to be budgeted for.

What costs are involved in making that R350 sign? I am using this number as this is what the prospect told us he was prepared to pay. The material – bought per running meter – cost R141. This is material that has not been cut. The material has to be cut – this means someone has to program a computer program that then needs to talk to the digital cutter. The vinyl needs to be placed into the cutter, setup and checked. Guess what, all this takes TIME.

Once the vinyl has been cut it needs to be what we in the signage business refer to as WEEDED. Weeding is the removal of the excess vinyl from the cut vinyl – sadly signage has a HUGE amount of waste – and then the vinyl needs to have application tape applied to it. Application tape is tape (paper or vinyl) that allows the vinyl (sign) to be applied to the final destination – be it metal or glass or Aluminium or whatever. Guess what, this is a MANUAL task that, being manual, requires TIME, and as importantly, can easily be result in the sign being ruined, requiring additional material to be cut and weeded.

At this time we are not allocating any COST to the TIME, however at SignForce we firmly believe that salaries need to be fair for EVERYONE because we are all in this business together and thus we all share in any profits. The point here is TIME cost MONEY, and this is not yet been accounted for, and the SignForce staff are paid a fair, living wage.

Once the vinyl has been weeded and application tape has been applied to the weeded vinyl, the vinyl needs to be applied to the final surface. Now in the case of this specific prospect, the final destination of the vinyl would be approximately 15 kilometers away. That is a one way trip. Now a 30 kilometers return trip in terms of current fuel costs works out to approximately R65.

This puts our cost at R141 plus R65 equaling R206. Add to this the cost of parking at R10, we are looking at a cost of R216. This means that selling the sign at R350 means there is, at BEST, a contribution of R144.

R144 may look fantastic if one only compares it to the flat cost of the material. HOWEVER, when one INCLUDES the cost of TIME – and when one considers that this small sign would take approximately 25 minutes for artwork, another 5 – 10 minutes for possible changes and revisions the prospect may require. About 20 – 40 minutes to cut and weed and applying application tape, as well as approximately 30 – 60 minutes to get to site. So we are in for approximately 2 HOURS – at a massive ‘PROFIT’ (PLEASE NOTE – IT IS NOT PROFIT BUT CONTRIBUTION – of R72 per hour.

This R72 per hour needs to pay for lights and water, time for staff, insurance, mess-up’s, coffee, toilet paper, soap, telephone AND all the other little (non existent?) costs that are necessary to run a business.

The point of this blog is that while as a customer you are entitled – in fact almost OBLIGED – to take the BEST COST option for your business. This means that if you believe the cost effective solution would meet your needs almost as much as the most expensive solution, (ALMOST as you do expect some variance if one is six times more costly than the other), YOU WOULD (of necessity) go for the most cost effective solution.

Of course this makes the supplier that is awarded the work very happy as they now have some income. What they are not necessarily aware of is that THEY are in fact PAYING for YOUR SIGN. This means that they are losing money. It may be a little at a time, but as soon as the supplier gets a LOT of orders, they will lose a LOT, possibly even too much money.

Time for another example.

Lets say the signage company makes a loss of US$1 per sign sold. That is not necessarily a lot when one sells one sign a day. But what happens if they sell 1,000 signs in a week. Suddenly they have lost US$1,000 that week. It adds up and gets very costly.

What the small loss means is that when something goes wrong, or when you want to get a second sign, you, as the buyer, are either put out when the supplier has to more than double their price – a natural reaction because you have a base price and suddenly that is lost in the wind – OR the supplier simply never comes back. The supplier is happier to weather the bad PR than to come back because they simply don’t have the funds to come back.

The reality is WELL MADE, QUALITY SIGNS can be COSTLY, but COSTLY is RELATIVE.

Relative is simple. If you get a quote for X and a second quote for 100X, 100X is expensive relative to X.

On the other hand, if the 100X sign lasts 5 times longer and brings in five time the feet that result in turnover of 1,000X, is the sign still relatively expensive?

Or, from a different point of view, if the 100X sign saves you TIME and cost on marketing, is the sign relatively expensive?

A short survey revealed that MANY small to medium businesses STRUGGLE with marketing. They struggle with the time marketing takes. They STRUGGLE as much with finding relevant content to market with.

EFFECTIVE signs and signage are the most COST EFFECTIVE marketing tool I know of.

Why is effective signage the most cost effective tool? Very simple.

An effective sign needs a once off payment – you can change your sign as often as you like or as often as your budget allows, but – that once off payment will get you a sign that will last for approximately three to seven years, with NO EFFORT on your part and no additional cost after the first payment.

Effective signs are wonderful marketing tools because they TELL or SHOW prospective CLIENTS WHAT you do and HOW you do it? What would the cost be to get a PERSON to do this same work, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for over 500 weeks?

Effective signs are then best marketing tools because they never complain. They never let you down and they are ALWAYS ready to work. Please tell if this can apply to ANY of the people you employ – even if you are a one man show and you only employ yourself. We humans NEED to sleep!

Effective signs allow prospective clients, prospective patients and anyone who VIEWS the SIGN to know where the business is located – well at least in most cases.

Is it fair to expect a business to sell you a sign at a loss. No!

Are you wrong to buy the cheapest sign you can – No, BUT this depends on a number of factors such as quality, lifespan, pleasure – or otherwise – of dealing with the supplier, and what, IF ANY, other benefits there are to dealing with a specific supplier. BENEFITS can include advice, QUARANTEES, proximity, ability to come back to fix errors and possibly a number of other benefits.

If you are in the market for quality signs from a reputable sign business that charges a FAIR price for the signs they produce and will come back when necessary, contact SignForce and lets see if we have enough common ground to forge a mutually beneficial business relationship – in other words, let SignForce advise and quote your business on the effective signs you want.

Contact SignForce now on info@signforce.co.za or call SignForce on 27 (0)11 440 7525 or WhatsApp SignForce on +27 (0)82 558 6413.

Find out more about SignForce by visiting the SignForce website at http://www.signforce.co.za

Labels – for Covid Essential Items – or any items for that matter

What with South Africa – and a large chunk of the world – in lock down, and many people scrambling to get HAND SANITIZER, as well as a number of other essential commodities, ALL of which need to be LABELED.

SignForce is in the fortunate position of having a full color digital printer as well as stock of vinyl and an operator on site so that we are in the position to help YOU with printing any labels you may require. We are also able to design your labels if you don’t already have a design.

If you are in the market for labels, contact SignForce now on either +27 (0) 82 558 6413 or email us at info@signforce.co.za and we will gladly give you an obligation free quote.