If you’re still busy during this period of isolation, good for you. But if you’re not so busy with your usual business activities you’ll have time to attend to other, sometimes neglected, matters.
Some of those things include working on your business model, re-thinking plans, cleaning up the shop, and making sure your accountant is helping you participate in the various government assistance programs.
And since design is a key element in running your sign shop, here’s something from art designer and director, Mike Monteiro, to reflect on too: “A good designer finds an elegant way to put everything you need on a page. A great designer convinces you half that s*** is unnecessary.” It applies equally to signs.
Some, but not enough businesses are addressing coronavirus uncertainty as it affects their customers.
Are you open for business? Are you shut completely? If so, for how long? Are you operating but on a limited scale? Customers have questions in this rapidly-changing situation and you should do what you can to keep them informed.
Tell them what you’re doing or not doing, and update your information daily. This is where your social media platforms, email, blog, and even the telephone, can be useful tools at this time. Use them.
When all this is over, don’t you want your customers to remember that during a time of confusion and uncertainty, you cared enough to keep them informed?
It’s smart business.
Diminished optical clarity. Out-gassing is essential when laminating.
We’re constantly told that procrastination is a bad habit. But in the sign industry, in some circumstances, it’s a good habit, in fact, an absolute necessity. We’re talking about laminating solvent-based ink prints.
The solvent in solvent-based inks penetrates the print media and carries the resins below the surface. The solvent then evaporates leaving the colour behind. It’s the evaporation process that requires you to wait about 24 hours before laminating. This solvent-escaping process is referred to as out-gassing.
Laminating before the out-gassing process is done will result in diminished optical clarity.
A banner year in the making?
Signwarehouse.com estimates that on average 40% of a sign shop’s income is from custom-made banners. Priced correctly, they can be a substantial bottom-line contributor.
The market is apparently large and includes high volume sales to retail stores or lower volume sales to institutions such as schools, municipalities, and corporations.
The key of course is to have the appropriate equipment and materials and then learning to install banners properly. You probably have the equipment so perhaps all you have to do is research the other requirements.
And finally, appropriate pricing is important. Apparently banners can yield higher margin percentages than other sign products. Local market conditions will have to be researched to ensure that you neither leave money on the table nor price yourself out of the market.
Maybe 2020 can be your year of banner sales!
As with all major disruptive events, businesses seek to exploit them for sales. The coronavirus epidemic is no exception with the most commonly-reported instances being those of people attempting to gouge consumers for in-demand items such as hand sanitizers and masks.
However, there is legitimate business to be done by sign shops as a result of this virus. You’ve probably seen signs in news reports advising the public of where to be tested, or full vinyl signs on elevator doors reminding people to wash their hands. This is legitimate sign business which addresses a need rather than taking unfair advantage of one. It’s business that can legitimately be pursued provided it’s done tactfully and there’s no gouging involved.
A tactless, insensitive approach could backfire and shops need to be aware of this and do business at this time accordingly.
Book image courtesy of Amazon.ca
Under the heading: “Your words say one thing while your design says something else” a signwarehouse.com article promotes the book Before & After How to Design Cool Stuff by John McWade. It’s available from Amazon in hard copy and on Kindle.
The book is a compilation of some of the articles from past editions of Before & After magazine.
So, if you want to avoid having your words say one thing and your designs something else, this book sounds like a great resource.
This is one for the many small Canadian sign shops . . .
“When you’re small, being faster than your competitors is your biggest and sometimes only advantage.” – Eric Ryans and Adam Lowry, The Method Method.
So true. Nothing more to be said.
It’s time to remind you to check out Roland’s website again because you probably haven’t been doing it lately, have you? Thought so!
Not only can you find information about new products, enhancements etc. that you may want to Explore with Stanley’s but there is also useful technical information and tips from time-to-time. Take just this one example, Kevin Rosen followed up his webinar, “How to prepare your files for VersaWorks 6 using Adobe’s Illustrator”, with an article on how to do the same thing with CorelDraw.
You have Roland equipment, now all you have to do is stay in touch with Roland and Stanley’s to get the most out of it. Remember that technology changes as it progresses—keeping up is important.
Cut out the unnecessary complications. Simplify!
Large organizations and governments frequently undertake simplification exercises or projects which they like to refer to as “red tape reduction.” Essentially it’s a process of eliminating unnecessary activities and streamlining others to achieve the simplification we all crave when things just seem to get so darn complicated that they waste our time rather than deliver value.
Well, the concept and process of simplification applies to businesses such as even the smallest graphics shop as much as it does to any other organization. Not on the same scale of course, but it still offers benefits. And we’re talking about everything from operations to administration.
Here are some inspiring quotes to get you thinking about simplification from a well-known advocate of simplification, Edward de Bono:
- “If something is not a problem it does not get any thinking time. A search for simplicity should enable us to rethink everything—not only problem areas.”
- “As a ship’s hull attracts barnacles, so all processes attract complications which add little value.”
- “If you are too good at adapting to the current system you may never realize that the system needs changing.”
- “We should not assume that simplicity always depends on major changes. Slight changes in small things can sometimes make things much simpler.”
Stanley’s Edmonton office is offering a Mactac Roodle printable media deal. A 54″ x 100′ roll has been reduced from $307 to $275.
Roodle printable media has some great features:
- removable adhesive
- removable for up to 2 years
- suitable for indoor and outdoor signage
- ideal for tiled wall murals
- good for bumper stickers
- can be printed to the edge
In addition to these benefits, Roodle can be laminated, if needed.
Call any Stanley’s branch but the quickest is to call Edmonton direct at 780-424-4141
In November last year Stanley’s announced that they now have Apolan squeegee blades. If you’re a graphics screen printer and you haven’t yet tried Apolan composite squeegees, you’re going to appreciate the solvent resistance of these blades.
The range of profiles and durometers is also extensive. There’s a squeegee for every requirement you may have, including special squeegee needs.
The Stanley’s staff at all four branches can tell you what you need to know about Apolan squeegee blades and help you find the ones best suited to your needs, both standard and special.
Call any of Stanley’s 4 branches and ask for about Apolan squeegees: Edmonton 780-424-4141; Calgary 403-243-7722; Cambridge 519-620-7342; Richmond 604-873-2451; or call Alfred Gunness directly at 416-832-3162.
Soon it will start warming up in Canada and that means that some regions of the country will have to deal with high humidity challenges. It can be a nuisance in a number of ways but not least of all when sublimation printing.
If you have perfectly good prints that begin to show colour shifts and fuzzy images during the day when nothing else has changed, increasing humidity might be the problem. If it’s over 50% it’s at the stage where the moisture in the air is going to start affecting your prints.
The solution is to store your substrates (fabric or rigid) and transfer paper in a cool dry place at least 24 hours before using them. Fabrics may have to be pre-heated to get rid of excess moisture.
Thanks to Roland for alerting us to this issue.
Do I take this job?
A few posts ago last month, we addressed the topic of controversial billboards and signs and whether a shop should have a policy in place for dealing with them. Well, the topic has intensified just this week. It seems appropriate to revisit the issue and the questions surrounding it.
Recent news reports have been about billboards being deployed in the run up to the 2020 presidential election in the U.S. Some go beyond promoting a particular message and seem to be designed to be insulting. They are of course bound to please one section of the population and offend another.
Back here in Canada at election time sign printers churn out lawn signs for the candidates of all parties. I’m not sure that I’ve ever heard of certain print shops being favoured with these jobs (or declining them) because of political affiliations, but it does raise some interesting questions.
For instance, is it risky to associate your shop with a political party or philosophy? Is it wise to accept jobs such as politically controversial billboards or signs? If the billboards or signs are associated with your business and they offend a large section of the population, could this result in a loss of customers?
You may have to deal with these questions one day. It might be worth giving it some thought in advance in calmer times and maybe even establishing a policy rather than waiting and wrestling with it under pressure.
Roland has some important tips for keeping your printer working smoothly. And it’s not just about when the operator is at the shop; it’s also about making use of the time that the machine is not working when the operator is away. This may be for short periods over a weekend or particularly for longer periods when the shop shuts down for vacation.
The components can clog if the printer is left idle for a long period. This will of course result in downtime to clean the machine is when you have a job to run. It could also result in damage to nozzles and other sensitive parts. The remedy for this is to manually clean the the equipment at regular intervals, before it breaks down.
But what of those longer absences from the shop? Well, those are ideal times to enable Roland’s printing and plotting equipment’s automatic cleaning feature to do its thing. If you turn off the machine at the front panel but leave the primary power source on at the back, the automatic maintenance will kick in.
And while you’re taking good care of your Roland equipment, don’t overlook covering it to keep dust and other dirt off.
Amazing what useful information you can find on the Roland site, don’t you think?
Great design. Simple and to the point. Credit: Etsy.com
Since you’re in the business of not only printing customers’ signs but also advising them how to get the most out of their signs, here are some tips you may want to pass on:
- Make a sign stand out by selecting dark, contrasting colours able to be read from even a distance.
- Directional arrows on lawn signs can be effective.
- Keep the message short; avoid clutter of information. A website address enables an interested person to find out everything else they need to know such as a phone number, address etc.
- Font selection is important. An easily-read font adds to the effectiveness of the sign.
- The bigger the letters the better.
- Printing on both sides of a lawn sign can be a waste of money because seldom can passers by see both sides of the sign.
These tips may seem obvious, but every single day we see ineffective signs because one or more of them have been overlooked.
Am I in the right product line?
One more interesting insight to be gleaned from the Sign Media annual survey is where the industry is focused. Some of the the specialties of the responding printers were:
- Banners – 67%
- Retail signs- 58%
- Vehicle wraps – 46%
- Dimensional signs – 45%
- Wayfinding signs – 43%
- LED illuminated signs – 41%
- Digital signage – 39%
- Floor graphics – 34%
Perhaps surprising for being so low on the list were:
- Billboards – 26%
- Menu boards – 25%
This is merely a taste to encourage further study of the report. The details should be examined before forming firm conclusions and plotting strategy.
They keep coming. The trick is not just for you, but for all your staff to recognize a likely online scam and avoid plunging your shop into a potential problem.
Here’s an example received just today where any reasonably aware person should be able to smell a rat . . .
Dear Customer service team
We are interested in purchasing some of your products. This products are needed ASAP at our head office in Dubai U.A.E, We would like to know if you offer services to international customers, We have a private shipping company who handles our shipping when products are ready for collection. We would also like to confirm if you accept wire transfers. Kindly let us know looking forward to your
Stinks, right? But they must catch some businesses because they would surely have given up by now if it didn’t yield results.
Be careful! Train your staff.
There are many ways to reward employees, boost morale, and keep them on side.
Here is one from Bob Nelson’s book 1001 Ways to Reward Employees . . . Quoting Robert Preziosi of Management Associates: “For some reason there never seems to be enough recognition. After a brutal day, walk up to employees and say, ‘You were great. I’m so glad about what you did today.’ You’ll be surprised how far a simple gesture will go.”
Sorry . . . We don’t do those!
When a client places an order for a sign, banner or billboard that you instinctively know is likely to be controversial, what do you do? Do you produce such an order without question or do you exercise some degree of censorship?
Controversial messages have in the past included a wide range of topics including religion, politics, pedophilia, food, abortion, climate, and a host of other topics around which strong views exist. Aside from your personal view on any of the topics subject of a customer’s order, what might influence you to accept or decline the order?
Does your shop have guidelines regarding the subject matter of potential orders? Do you consider the impact on staff members who may have strong views on controversial topics? What about the impact on some customers? What about the reputation of your shop? Are you forced by law to accept orders you’d rather not?
Subject to any legal obligations imposed upon you in your particular jurisdiction, it may be wise to develop guidelines in which you make clear your shop’s position on certain topics. This could help avoid the potential of embroiling your shop in controversy, not only with the public or interest groups but also officialdom.
Continuing with our reading of the annual Sign Media Canada survey and keeping in mind that it would be a stretch to assume that the picture painted by the respondents reflects the state of the entire industry, let’s have one more look at what the results yielded.
Industry associations: 58% of respondents reported that they are members of either the Sign Association of Canada, the International Sign Association, and/or The Specialty Graphic Imaging Association (SGIA). Clearly a large number agree with us that industry associations have a significant role to play in the industry. If you don’t already belong to an industry association, you should.
Frustrations: Some of the frustrations (presumably of mostly owners) include: chasing money (non-paying accounts); customers shopping for price rather than quality or service; employees with a lack of imagination and motivation; and hiring and retaining competent staff. Seems to be pretty standard for most businesses.
This concludes our cursory reading of the survey. We hope we’ve convinced you to look it up and study it in depth.
Continuing with our reading of the annual Sign Media Canada survey and keeping in mind that it would be a stretch to assume that the demographic of the respondents reflects the demographic of the entire industry, let’s look at some more results.
Working hours: 31.5% of respondents work between 40 and 50 hours a week. But another 31% work a ‘typical’ workweek of 35 to 40 hours. The conclusion is that members of the sign industry seem to have a reasonable work/life balance.
Benefits: 74% enjoy paid vacations. 55% have dental/group benefits. 50% have medical insurance. 41% have parking. 38% have long term disability insurance. Only 14 % enjoy profit sharing. For more details you should see the full results—they’re interesting.
Job satisfaction: 81% of respondents were at least as satisfied with their jobs as they were the year before. Of course this doesn’t tell us how satisfied they are but it seems to more positive than negative.
How does your shop compare?
Sign Media Canada has reported on its annual Salary Survey for the Canadian sign industry. To gain an in-depth understanding of the industry the results of this survey should be studied in detail, however, as a primer we’ll touch on some of the highlights and the interesting questions that they raise.
It would be a stretch to assume that the demographic of the respondents to the survey reflects the demographics of the entire industry. But that being said . . .
Gender disparity: The results seem to suggest a huge imbalance between the genders: 75% male and 23.5% female with 1.5% declining to state their gender. This seems to be out of step with the working population generally.
Age disparity: 80% of respondents were 40 years and older while only 20% were younger than 40 with just 5% younger than 30. What does this mean? The younger members don’t care to participate in an important industry survey or there’s a serious shortage of young and upcoming talent in the industry? Either way, it’s troubling.
Experience disparity: About 60% of respondents have been in the industry for 15 years or more. Only 40% for less than 15 years with 15% having less than 4 years experience. Again, perhaps the younger members don’t care about industry surveys or perhaps while there’s a lot of experience in the industry, it’s not being replaced.
How does your shop compare?
Should I diversify into textiles?
If the industry literature such as signmedia.ca has its facts straight about a diversification trend, then sign shop owners need to sit up and take notice.
It seems that there is a trending tendency for sign shops to extend their reach into textile printing. According to Roland’s product manager for textiles, print-service providers (PSPs) are looking for fabric printers that can handle a wide variety of fabric items.
Singmedia, in quoting Lily Hunter of Roland, report that PSPs are recognizing that they need to get into fabric printing as a means of extending their product offering. Some have already extended their reach into fabric printing but have been using sub-contractors and now wish to bring the work in house.
With any information like this coming from industry sources, you need to investigate it, assess it, and decide if your shop should react in order to beat or at least keep up with the competition.
Three years ago signmedia.com reported findings by the SGIA under the above headline.
How is your shop doing versus the digital trend?
The survey reported that just over 55% of respondents described their business as entirely digital. You can bet that this number has grown since then. Multi-technology printers with no dominant technology numbered only 17%. Overall, digital printing was used by almost 99% of respondents and screen printing by 36%. These numbers almost definitely continued trending in favour of the evolution to digital sign printing.
Now, three years later, where does your shop stand in this regard? Is your shop keeping up with the digital trend and is it staying competitive?
How comprehensive is your shop’s online presence? Are you constantly reminding customers and potential customers that you’re around and ready to do business?
There was a time when a website was sufficient for an online presence but things have progressed rapidly in the online digital world over the past decade or so with the growth of the reach of social media platforms; Facebook launched only 15 years ago and Instagram only 9 years ago. Both of these as well as other social media platforms like Pinterest (launched 9 years ago) and YouTube (launched 14 years ago) accommodate businesses. And your shop should be making use of them.
Hey, we’re still here and ready to do business with you!
A comprehensive online presence for your shop could include a website with a blog, and a regular presence on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and perhaps even videos on YouTube. In a competitive market in which customers are bombarded daily with online information you need to constantly remind your customers and that you’re still around or you will be lost in the noise and clutter.
Remember a saying that’s been around since 1563 and is as true now as it was then: Out of sight, out of mind.
None of this needs to be costly but there will have to be a time commitment if you assign it to an employee or do it yourself with the help of some of the many tools and how-to guides available, you guessed it, online. On the other hand, you can pay a social media expert to get you set up after which you can maintain your shop’s online presence.
The route you decide to take to establishing and maintaining a comprehensive online presence is an important decision, but the really important decision is the one you take to actually do it.
Wikipedia describes step and repeat banners quite well: “A step and repeat banner is a publicity backdrop used primarily for event photography, printed with a repeating pattern such that brand logos or emblems are visible in photographs of the individuals standing in front of it.”
All it needs is your print.
So, here’s an idea for your shop . . . through your mailing list or any other method you have for reaching customers, promote the idea that at their next trade show or event, they set up a step and repeat banner and have a photographer shoot pictures of visitors in front of it. Then they should email the images to these visitors and encourage them to post the images on their social networks, thus having their logos or emblems displayed. Knowing how vain so many people are and how readily they’ll post pictures of themselves (especially with a “Hollywood” type step and repeats backdrop) it seems like a sure thing.
The whole point of course is that your shop will produce the step and repeat banners.
What will a potential customer expect to see?
If you’re retained to design and produce the signage for a trade show booth for a customer, or if you have to do so for yourself, foamcoreprint.com promoted a very interesting approach to the project.
It requires a 180 degree change from the way we tend to design show booths.
They suggest that the design and content should be based on a potential customer’s perspective. In other words, don’t design the booth according to what you’d like to show or how you’d like to show it, design it according to what and how a customer would like to see it. This of course requires that you understand your target audience very well.
As a guide they suggest picking two or three if the following list of elements upon which to base your content and design:
- High tech
- Cutting edge
Great way to go about it, don’t you think?
I’m sure you’ve also seen signs so poorly designed, printed or positioned that you’ve wondered which sign shop the advertiser used and how that shop can still be in business.
As you can see, the sign won’t get you maximum attention in this location . . .
The problem of course is that they got very poor advice or no advice at all. That is not how your shop does business, is it? You tell your customers that you’ll design and print their sign to the highest standards to help boost their brand. But, it will all be wasted if they don’t do certain things with the signs while keeping the image of their brand in mind.
For instance, they must locate the signs for maximum effect. Then they must keep track of their signs so that pranksters (or competitors) don’t relocate the signs to where they wouldn’t want them located. They must follow the local community and municipal rules so as to not to incur fines or damage their reputation. And they must maintain the signs in good condition because a damaged or defaced sign can reflect badly on their brand.
This is one way in which you differentiate your shop from the competition—added value in the shape of good advice.
How often have you had to deal with a “customer service” rep who didn’t have a clue what the job really involved?
Haven’t you found that some of them are so poorly trained or unsuited to the job (which is really a management problem in either case) that you, the customer, far from receiving “service” is left irritated and angry.
It takes a number of qualities to deal with an angry customer.
When this happens, you should be making a pact with yourself to ensure that no customer of your shop is ever left feeling this way.
So what does it take from you or a customer service employee (which could be everyone in your shop who interacts with customers at any level) to deliver the type of customer service that keeps customers coming back? And remember that word of mouth is an effective and inexpensive business builder so you want customers to tell other people about your great customer service. But, word of mouth can also be a devastating business destroyer.
So, here’s a list of qualities needed for providing great customer service (this is just a list, you need to explore them in more depth):
- Top notch communication skills
- Good listening skills
- A thick skin
- A willingness to take ownership of customer problems
- Politeness (good manners)
- Product knowledge
- Adaptability and creativity
What will people say in a survey about your shop’s customer service?
The holiday period – time to put your feet up and relax.
The crew at Stanley’s want you to know that they have enjoyed serving you this past year and that they appreciate your business.
And as we get ready to head into the new year, they also want you to know that they welcome inquires about new products or technologies in the industry at any time. If they don’t know the answer right away they have a great selection of brand-name manufactures from whom they can get answers quickly.
In the meantime, if you’re going to need supplies in the December-January holiday period, please keep in mind that all four branches will be closed from noon on Tuesday the 24th of December until Monday morning, the 6th of January.
If you are going to require a courier delivery, please check with the Stanley’s office in your area well in advance of the holidays to make sure that a courier service will be available closer to the 24th.