What makes a #sign expensive? Signs as an investment.

What makes a sign ‘expensive’?

Expensive is a VERY subjective word, so lets look at the input costs and how that could, would or should influence one’s purchasing decision.

#SignForce, as all sign suppliers, work in a very competitive market. There are generally many sign businesses in a relatively small area, especially as #signage is a low entry cost business. Because of the high level of competition, each sign business needs to have ‘something’ that makes our business ‘stand out’. For the person making the purchase, the high level of competition means one SHOULD be able to compare various options and get the best solution to fit your requirements, although COST, OUTLAY or INITIAL INVESTMENT is often the deciding factor, very often at the sacrifice of long term investment or long term LIFE of the sign.

Because COST or INITIAL OUTLAY is such a HUGE determining factor for many buyers, one of the easiest ways to stand out  is on ‘price’. It is easy for clients to choose the lowest cost supplier, as, generally, all suppliers will quote to supply the same LOOKING sign.

Often how this works is the potential client (or buyer) will send out a ‘tender’, which consists of a picture of how the sign should look. Sophisticated buyers will also supply detailed specifications – which they understand and can check – but this is less common than only supplying a picture and sizes. Also too often the person supplying the specifications does not gave a great understanding of what they are specifying so their ability to ensure that they receive what was quoted could be limited.

Because EVERYONE is quoting on the same OUTCOME (read that as picture), when the buyer gets their three or more competing quotes, they naturally assume they are comparing ‘APPLES’ with ‘APPLES’, but because #signs are not standard, off the shelf items, the design, makeup and materials can (and generally will) differ from manufacturer to manufacturer. As such, although all the signs may (initially) LOOK the same when installed, they could, in reality, be EXTREMELY different.

In order to explain I am going to use the example of a modular, internally illuminated light box sign with an acrylic face that is illuminated using energy efficient LED lights. I am using a modular frame as we can then assume that everyone that is quoting is using the same external frame, so all the quotes would have the same (or similar) input costs for the frame.

Now lets look at the make up of the sign, starting with ILLUMINATION. There are a number of LED’s that can be used on a light box sign. The difference can be anything from in how much light the LED emits (lumens) to the size of the individual LED units (or modules) to the angle of the light emitted from the LED module (especially if the module has a LENS), the expected life of the units and the COST. Because there are so many variables, for the purpose of this article I will compare cost that can vary from about R35 (US$ 13) per meter to about R500 (US$ 186) per meter. It would seem obvious there are a number of variables that affect the cost, but for #SignForce the important differences are (a) the LED’s are the correct LED’s for the job (meaning they will give equal and sufficient light), (b) the expected life of the LED and (c) the LED’s are sure to do the job (preferably guaranteed) so that the business will not have any unnecessary call backs which can be substantially more costly than the cost of the LED’s.

Other factors that can have a GREAT  impact on the cost include, but are not limited to, (a) the size of the sign (this has way too many variables to reference in this article), (b) the cost of the decoration (print versus cut vinyl versus ink versus paint) (we will only refer to PRINT where costs have a range difference that can easily exceed 500%, with the quality and life span of the print varying greatly), (c) the thickness of the acrylic face (this is influenced by the size of the sign and possibly the location of the sign, and will in turn influence the cost of both the acrylic (the thicker the higher the cost) and the beading that holds (supports) the acrylic face). (d) If the frame is to be painted the make up and application method of the paint can also have a great impact on costs, both due to the large difference in cost of the base paint as well the time and process differences between the various application methods which range from ‘dipping’ to using a paint brush to spray painting and powder coating.

At #SignForce we take our guarantee VERY SERIOUSLY, and as such we use materials which, while generally more costly, will have a higher likelihood of lasting and not creating negative comebacks from clients. This does tend to make the initial outlay slightly higher, (historically this is generally no more than 20%), but #SignForce’s logic is that having to redo a sign after three to five years could be substantially more costly than having a sign that does it’s job well for it’s intended life, which is generally seven years, even if the decoration needs to be replaced more regurarly.

For more information on why SignForce views #signs as an investment or on purchasing  quality signs that will consistently keep you in your prospective clients eyes for many years to come, please contact #SignForce at info@signforce.co.za

#Signs and the Coefficient of Change

Coefficient of Change

Experience is an amazing, if somewhat costly, teacher.

We at #SignForce we recently asked to maintain a #sign (#signmaintenance) where the lights had stopped working. When we touched some of the letters they literally fell apart.

Now let me give some background. #SignForce did not initially make the sign and we don’t know exactly how old it is. We do know it has been in it’s current position for 30 months when the sign moved with its owner. The reason I am explaining this is when one hears that the sign fell apart, it is common for the first thought to be that is is a result of poor workmanship, which I do not believe is the case in the instance.

Back to experience and the difference in the coefficient of change.

A while back – in 2010 – #SignForce manufactured and installed a 3D sign that was attached to the glass face of the building – the sign is in fact a total of eight stories high. One of the lessons that was learned from that installation is that, if the coefficient of change – the rate at which one material expands and contracts when it heats or cools in relation to a second material – is too large, one or both of the materials will literally tear themselves apart.

On inspection of the letters that fell apart, it seems this is the issue. The #stainless steel and #acrylic that were glued together simply placed too much strain on the #acrylic causing the acrylic to fracture in multiple places.

While the two materials CAN be attached to each other, various factors need to be taken onto account in order to prevent fracturing – something that comes with experience and expensive lessons.

If you are looking for a sign that combines various materials it may be worth approaching a business like #SignForce who have been around the block a few times and could thus be able to assist without the sign falling apart.

Contact #SignForce now on 011 440 7525 or at arnold@signfrce.co.za to get assistance and an obligation free quote.

How do I choose a sign supplier #2?

Illuminated signs

The same sign during the day and at night

Choosing a sign supplier #2, or how do you know what you are getting when you decide on your sign supplier?

I recently saw this sign at night – there is a photo attached. Big deal. I see this sign often – during the day, BUT, during the day the sign is very different.

I must say up front that SignForce did not make this sign. I am not making that statement because the sign is poorly made or is an example of a poorly made sign, quite the contrary. On the number of occasions I have seen this sign I have generally been impressed by it’s size and the seemed quality of it’s manufacture.

Seeing the sign at night got me thinking (again) about the components that go into the manufacturing of a sign, and the resultant costs associated with the manufacture and sale of the sign.

With signage it is ‘sometimes’ possible to compare “apples” with “apples”, especially when the signs are simple – say a Chromadek sign decorated with cut vinyl, yet even then the quality and life expectancy of the cut vinyl decoration can vary from six months to five to seven years, with the longer life vinyl having a higher input cost than the short term vinyl. The same applies when looking at outdoor digital prints, as not all inks or full colour printers are created equal, with some inks having longer life expectancy than others. And all this is for ‘simple’ signs.

When signs get more complicated – be it because the sign is illuminated or fabricated or on pins or painted or has been through one or more of a number of processes that result in the final finished product that you see – the situation can get exceptionally murky when comparing one supplier to another.

In order to keep this article short(ish), this article I will only cover illumination. I will cover fabrication – materials and processes, letters on pins and bonding components, paints – the various types and processes, and any other elements in separate articles.

Looking at the attached photo’s you can see that during the day the sign looks great. It is big and bold and tells any potential clients where the store is. It projects a professional, clean image and fits the available space well.

Looking at the same sign at night, when the lights are on, a lot of the professionalism that the sign projects during the day is lost. This is because at night, when illuminated the sign looks dull and dirty, and for me personally, being able to count the tubes inside means that it is most likely I will not actually be looking at the sign or it’s intended message, but I am more likely to spend my time getting the subliminal message that the sign, and thus the business it represents, is ‘cheap’ and dirty, and very likely not going to make my visit pleasurable.

Now these messages are generally not conscious, but they are subliminal (unconscious), which possibly makes them even stronger than the conscious, intended messages that the sign was designed to project. Now it is very easy to say the sign company is at fault for the sign looking bad (and they should possibly carry a portion of the responsibility), or to say that the store staff and management are ‘obviously’ unaware or unobservant or uncaring so they should be responsible, but in reality the staff either see the sign daily and are not noticing the progressive deterioration and / or the sign was ‘like that’ when they started working there or they may leave work before the sign comes on. [All positive arguments why businesses should enter into sign maintenance contracts with businesses like SignForce where we will independently and objectively check on the sign at regular, predetermined intervals, with reports and photo’s been provided.]

While it is easy to ‘blame’ all and sundry for the deterioration of the sign, the truth is that the sign will deteriorate over time, and it is a combination of ALL the factors mentioned above – as well as a number of other possible factors – that will lead to the sign looking as it does at night.

Now getting back to the issue at hand, deciding on a sign supplier, some of the ‘obvious’, visible (to sign suppliers) issues are that there are not enough florescent tubes and, as importantly, especially over a period of time, the placement of the said tubes.

In order for a sign to illuminate evenly so that the tubes cannot be seen three factors need to be considered. 1. The proximity of the tubes to the face of the sign. Tubes that are less than 70 mm have a great possibility of being visible, unless 2. The number of tubes is high. If there are tubes right next to the face, and the tubes are all almost touching each other, the light will be great, but the cost will be VERY high. 3. The third factor is the placement of the tubes. While it may be possible to use less tubes if the tubes are placed vertically, and there are times when there is no alternative but to place the tubes vertically, the reality is that the tubes run off gas, and when not in use, the gas will fall to the bottom of the tube. Over time, as the tube gets older, the gas no longer ignites as efficiently or brightly as when new. While this will happen to al tubes, it happens to vertical tubes noticeably faster.

It seems obvious to me, and I will thus assume all, that the number of tubes has a direct impact on the final cost of the sign. Since most businesses are cost sensitive, it is very likely that a supplier like SignForce, who as a matter of course, use more electronic over magnetic ballasts and place all tubes horizontally, will come in more costly than a supplier that uses magnetic ballasts and places the tubes vertically. As a rule SignForce also place tubes no more than 150 mm apart.

While electronic ballasts may cost more initially, over the five year expected life of a sign, there is a far greater possibility that a magnetic ballast failing, and an even greater possibility of the manual ‘starter’ failing, so in reality the additional cost of replacing and maintaining the electrics at least once over the life of the ‘cheaper’ sign should be costed into the initial costs, but this is seldom done, if ever.

As mentioned earlier, placing the tubes vertically may mean that the initial outlay for sign will be lower, but once again, the cost of maintenance, and almost unmeasurable reputation cost also need to be factored in.

Also as mentioned earlier, SignForce did not manufacture or install this sign, so without any knowledge of the client’s budget, or the size of the sign, I can only assume that SignForce may have used somewhere around the same number of tubes as have been used, but simply placing them horizontally should have resulted in a longer life of the tubes and thus better night visibility of the sign.

If you are in the market for professional looking illuminated signs that can be considered an investment in marketing, contact SignForce now on info@signforce for advice and / or an obligation free quote