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Speed signage; high technology and fast turnaround put quick sign companies on display.

Speed Signage High Technology And Fast Turnaround Put Quick Sign Companies On Display

Mimicking the world of fast food, quick copies and overnight mail, the sign industry is joining the ranks of speed-oriented enterprises. Retail sign companies now deliver a finished product - from yard signs to banners to window signs to placards - in as little as one hour, or at the most, one day. That's a long way from the 14-day standard waiting list for standard sign production.

"It's the same idea as fast food," says Jerry Hodge, owner of Signs First, a Little Rock franchised company. "When you go in a restaurant you don't want to wait two hours to eat. When you order a sign you don't want to wait two weeks."

Hodge's franchise business is one of three in the Little Rock area that specialize in rapid signage. The others are Fast Signs, a franchise headquartered in Dallas, and Arkansas Instant Sign, a locally owned company. All have emerged in the past 12 months following a national trend.

Signs Of The Times

The emphasis at the companies is on speed, not price. For the banquet that doesn't have a banner; the company grand opening that is suddenly rescheduled; the office reshuffling that requires new nameplates on the doors; for all of these needs and more, rapid signage companies hope they have found a market.

"Anybody that has that capability is definitely an asset to the business community," explains Ron Hackleman, general manager of Koger Center, who frequently uses fast sign companies. "You're never given enough time to sit down and really work on something, and it's usually, `I need it right away.' "

Last December, Hackleman wanted a Christmas banner to fly across one of the Koger Center buildings. A traditional sign company said the job would take two weeks, too late for the holidays; Fast Signs did the job within a day.

Computer-Aided Design

The signs are constructed by first placing designs and logos on a board where they are digitized with a computer-assisted tracking device (the art is traced from point to point by an object computer mouse). The scanned artwork next appears on a computer screen where it can be edited and lettered. When the design is finished, a machine called a plotter cuts the pattern into colored vinyl.

Unwanted parts of the vinyl are peeled away and the resulting patterns can be applied to almost any smooth surface - wood, plastic, glass, aluminum, car doors, etc.

"A lot of people don't even understand about this type of industry," Al Johnson, owner of Arkansas Instant Sign, explains. "They come in here and they're just amazed at what we can do. The sign-making business has been antiquated for so many years, now it's a much more high-tech industry."

Despite Johnson's enthusiasm, rapid sign companies aren't the only businesses in the sign industry to have the technology. But they are the only ones who focus on the concept of a retail storefront oriented to fast customer service.

Signs First's Hodge understands both traditional and fast signnage because he also owns Budget Signs, a conventional type of sign shop. Hodge says the two approaches are complementary. Gigi Kagy, manager of Ace Signs, a traditional sign company, agrees.

"I think it [quick signnage] is a great idea, but whether they will pose any sort of threat, I don't think it's going to happen. I think we work well in combination together," she observes.

Tom Madding, owner of Fast Signs, explains the differences and similarities like this: "We're not into lighted or neon signs. Those guys fill a very needed aspect of the business, but they don't have the time to do small signs, and that's where we find our niche."

Starting Out

Getting a business into the niche isn't cheap, and as Madding puts it, "it's not a get rich quick scheme." Start-up costs for a quick sign business range from $75,000-100,000.

All of the local owners say their investment was a wise one and their respective businesses are doing well. Since all of them have been open for less than a year, they don't have figures on annual sales revenue, but they are satisfied with their growth.

"There is a good outlook for fast signnage," Hodge predicts. "It's a growing segment of the industry and people are realizing more and more what you can get done."

As the fast signage industry continues to grow, won't that mean more competitors for the three existing companies?

Johnson doesn't think so and says the Little Rock market is already saturated with fast sign companies. He also doesn't look for many more out-of-state franchises to come in.

Hodge disagrees: "If something's good, somebody's going to get into it."
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Author:Garner, Jennifer
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:May 7, 1990
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