As engravers, we have many different opportunities to sell our products and services, whether we choose to target a mainstream market such as corporate awards, a more specialized area such as wedding gifts or a highly specific selection of niche markets such as engraving pet tags or horse stall signs. In any case, it pays to consider your options. One that you might want to consider is the architectural signage market.
The architectural signage market can be very lucrative for engraving businesses. Customers in this market area are typically “high-end” buyers who are willing to spend more for good quality signage. And from an engraver’s point of view, unlike some other types of engraving jobs, signage is very easy to manufacture using your laser system, rotary engraving machine and/or sublimation equipment, not to mention the exciting new world of digital printing. For the most part, you are engraving or printing flat pieces of sign materials with mostly text, maybe a pictogram or an organization logo and a few graphics.
Of course, creating a perfectly engraved sign blank isn’t the total answer in making a sale, especially among architectural signage customers. Most of the time, the sign needs more embellishment and a great way to dress it up, give it an “image” and add immeasurable functionality is to put it in a sign frame. A sign frame is a holder for a sign that not only looks good, but allows you to “permanently” place or mount the sign and change the insert if the sign becomes damaged or the message becomes obsolete.
“Sign frames, whether they are simple holders or part of an architectural framing system, provide a classy and finished look to signage,” explains Brad Jaques, president of The JRS Company, Inc., Covina, CA, a major manufacturer of sign frames and holders. “Certain styles of frames can provide a level of protection to the signs in a facility, making it less prone to vandalism and wear and tear. And for the producer of the signs, the frames also provide an opportunity to increase margins with the added sale of the frame with the sign insert,” Jaques adds.
There is an incredible variety of sign framing systems and materials available in the R&I industry. Here’s a look at how they can pave a path to what could be a very profitable avenue for your business.
Anatomy of a Sign System
“A frame system enhances the look of signs and makes them more vandal resistant. If you make your product unique, it is also an excellent tool for keeping customers loyal to your business,” says Dave Johnson, director of operations for Johnson Plastics, Inc., Minneapolis, MN.
When you think about it, one of the main reasons the signage market is so lucrative is because the list of potential customers is huge. Virtually any public building, structure or area requires some type of signage, including (but certainly not limited to) office buildings (whether owned by a single organization or by an investor who leases office space in the building to others), healthcare facilities, government offices, educational institutions, public buildings (zoos, libraries, museums), public transportation facilities (airports, bus and train depots, subways, monorail systems) and theme/amusement parks.
Keep in mind, too, that the organization doesn’t need to be a huge corporation to need signage. Although architectural signage is well-suited for large-scale wayfinding projects, smaller businesses should not be discouraged from using these systems since they are affordable, easy to install and easy to manage.
Because you are already involved in the recognition and identification industry, chances are good that you have a leg up on finding potential signage customers. One of the advantages for recognition and engraving shops is that they have an established customer base, which has a natural extension into the architectural sign-age market. If you’re doing awards for a local school or university, for example, ask if they have any sign-age needs or upcoming projects that you can assist them with.
The trick to selling to this market is to find out who the decision maker is. Who is responsible for purchasing signage? It might be the administrators of public buildings, landlords of office complexes, owners of private offices or office suites in larger complexes, or leasing companies that are responsible for filling vacant offices.
Once you’ve found a potential customer and the decision maker, you can show them their options in sign frames and materials.
Sign Frame Options
Both JRS and Rowmark LLC, Findlay, OH (and their network of worldwide distributors), offer a very large selection of sign framing options. Several major distributors in the industry carry one or both of these companies’ product lines, including B.F. Plastics, Johnson Plastics and Gravograph, Duluth, GA.
“There are so many different styles and price brackets to choose from that there should be something to fit almost anyone’s budget. We are also very proud of the fact that all of the frames we carry are made in the USA,” says B.F. Plastics’ Fichter.
The sign frames available today are typically made of molded plastic or aluminum. Synthetic frames are primarily suited for indoor applications, while more durable materials like aluminum hold up well outside. Aluminum frames are available with anodized, powder coat, paintable or other types of finishes, and both plastic and aluminum frames are available in a wide variety of colors.
The modular designs and accessories for these frames allow you to create virtually any type of sign frame your customer needs, whether it’s a single plate holder for a cubicle or a multi-level directory for a large office building. Some sign framing systems are completely customizable, allowing you to use interchangeable parts that can be mixed and matched to create any frame size desired and achieve a totally custom look. Accessories like “frame dividers” that section off frames for multiple plates, such as a room number and the name or description of a room, are available as well. When using a sign system, there are hundreds of options for configuring and adapting the design to the environment it is being installed in.
The ability to mix and match components to create individually-styled sign frames also provides your customer with great flexibility. Not only can you create a directory for a customer based on his or her specifications, you can create a modular sign that allows individual portions of the sign to be updated rather than replacing the entire sign. This is an attractive option to sign buyers where employees, tenants and departments change frequently, such as hospitals, rental properties, office buildings, libraries and shopping centers. For example, a building directory might contain a sign with a building map, a header panel at the top that identifies the building name and several small inserts containing tenant names. When new tenants move in, the map and header stay where they are and the small inserts are changed.
Suppliers continue to offer new sign framing products as well. According to Jaques, JRS is constantly responding to dealer requests and inquiries for new products and has introduced several new lines over the past couple of years. “Aluminum frames continue to be the material of choice for the majority of the signage that we are involved in fabricating. There has been a more recent push to provide more green products which resulted in the development of our Environmentals line of holders. This line is made from 75 percent recycled aluminum billet,” says Jaques.
JRS also manufactures a line of decorative “bars and rails.” This framing series consists of four sizes of decorative bars designed to create borders for signs. The new system is designed for flexibility—you can use four equal size bars, unequal size bars or just two bars for different looks based on your customer’s preferences.
Jessica Heldman-Beck, marketing manager for Rowmark, says that there are more framing options available today than ever. “The traditional sign frame is always a great way to create a classic finished look and a quick mounting solution for signage. Today’s sign makers, however, are really fortunate because there are many types of, what Rowmark likes to call, signage ‘bling’ available, including new signage hardware, frames and mounting systems, to enhance their sign designs. Stand-offs and mounting fixtures, in particular, are hugely popular today, are available in all sorts of shapes, colors and sizes, and offer the perfect mounting alternative to a traditional sign frame,” she says.
The relatively new stand-offs are architectural sign supports that are mounted into the corners of the sign blank to allow it to protrude from a sign backing or the wall. The result is a classy and modern look that will appeal to many architectural sign buyers. JRS’ Prestige Collection of stand-offs are available in brass and aluminum in a variety of colors.
Rowmark offers Metro and Elite single and double panel stand-offs. The single panel stand-offs are typically used to mount signage that consists of one sign blank. The double panel stand-offs are used to mount two sign substrates on one sign, one on top of the other with space in between. This is an attractive choice for architectural signage when a “layering” effect is desired.
Gemini Inc., Cannon Falls, MN, offers decorative stand-off mounts made of anodized aluminum which are available in two cap sizes and two lengths. Gemini’s decorative stand-offs have a clear anodized finish when sold separately, but when sold with Gemini signs or plates, the stand-offs can be painted any standard Gemini color.
Rowmark also offers the Clamper as another type of mounting fixture. Available in seven sizes, this anodized aluminum sign hardware is a contemporary alternative to stand-offs and features a “clamping” system that allows you to secure sign substrates without having to drill holes through them.
Rowmark’s ClearPath Signage System division offers a complete wayfinding sign system that can be configured for many popular interior and exterior applications, including directory signs, room identification signs, suspended signs, totems, pylons and post and panel signs. The company also offers a wide variety of framing options, from a basic one insert frame to large aluminum modular directories with many inserts and divisions.
There are also sign framing options available for exterior applications. JRS’ Xterior frame system consists of aluminum alloy frames with stainless steel corner angles. These frames are available in two hard-coat anodized colors, satin yellow gold and satin silver. “Typical usages include departmental signage, directional/wayfinding signage and informational signage,” says B.F. Plastics’ Fichter.
Although ADA-compliant signage has long been viewed as being utilitarian, that has changed in recent years. Today’s sign makers are working to incorporate patterns and designs that are appropriate from both a stylistic and an ADA-compliant standpoint. Bright colors—with the proper contrast—patterns and unique shapes are all being used more frequently in interior signage. Rowmark has introduced ColorHues, which is a line of unique, lightweight acrylics that have brilliant color with the smooth, clean look of glass.
Use promotional materials: There are many cost-effective ways to promote this side of your business. Simply adding a page to your website and sending invoice stuffers to existing customers are great ways to promote the fact that you can deliver interior signage, in addition to the awards and other recognition products your customers have come to know you for.
Frame Those Badges, Too!
Like signage, name badges are ID products that are very much in high demand. Just as architectural signs provide wayfinding room and place identification in small and large facilities, distinctive name badges identify people by name, job title, department and other crucial information. As a result, nearly every business, organization, school, etc., needs and uses name badges. And also like signage, name badges can be greatly enhanced through the use of frames. A frame makes a badge look “complete” while giving it a professional appearance, and it also prolongs the life of the badge.
As part of its product line, badgetec offers three different starter kits that include all the components you need to build badges. The Basic Kit “Complete,” for example, includes 20 badge holders in galvanic metallized or a gold-colored finish in your choice of 3 sizes, 20 magnetic findings and 20 front panel options. Panel options include anodized aluminum, which can be screen printed or digitally printed, aluminum for sublimation printing or laser engravable plastic.
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