Industry Insights: Meeting in the Middle

If you look up the word “convergence,” you’ll find that it has many meanings. In logic, it means that a sequence of events will lead to the same conclusion, no matter what order they’re performed in. In telecommunications, it means the delivery of multiple services through one provider. Convergence of the eyes means both eyes move inward towards each other.

So what does “convergence” mean when it relates to the sign industry? In some ways, it means all of the above.

No longer are disparate forms of the sign craft siloed. Instead, we’re finding that many sign professionals have expanded, adding additional services and skills to their core operations. That includes adding wide-format printing to traditional electric and architectural sign making operations.

That idea encompasses the convergence of multiple services offered through a single provider. If sign professionals step back and consider the industry as a whole, we essentially focus on delivering effective branding to support the image of our customers. For some, this is crafted through neon, for others through dynamic digital signage and for others, via printed graphics. Today, we’re trying to reach the same destination using different vehicles. The successful sign program of the future, however, will incorporate multiple types of signage incorporating a broad range of technologies.

In today’s economy, many sign companies’ customers have cut back on staff, asking employees to juggle more tasks at the same time that project budgets have tightened. Thus, the ability to deal with a single vendor or sign company that provides a broad range of branding products and services increasingly is seen as a key advantage. Not surprisingly, therefore, customer demands are driving many of today’s successful companies to branch out and add entirely new segments to their operational cores.

Changes in wide-format printing technology have also provided incentive for exploring new printing surfaces, media, and ink types. This has given the entire industry more options for meeting the ever-expanding menu of client needs.

While many large sign manufacturers already have invested in wide-format printers and related equipment—and have hired the personnel to operate it—it’s not as common to find companies whose core business is printing that venture into manufacturing architectural or electrical signage.

But just because this particular convergence hasn’t occurred yet doesn’t mean that we won’t be seeing more of this in the future. There are two important outgrowths of the recession: a) customer service is an important differentiator; and b) working with reliable partners who provide related products and services is much more effective than going it alone.

Throughout the recession, anyone who has money to spend—whether that’s a home buyer or a sign customer—has grown to expect higher levels of customer service as competition has intensified. Now that business is showing signs of growth, this customer service attitude hasn’t changed—and rightly so. In this regard, convergence of the sign and printing industries has elevated expectations across the board in terms of product quality and lead times for delivery. In the current environment, therefore, providing one-stop solutions to clients’ branding and imaging needs has become more crucial for business success than ever before.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that a printer should invest in crane trucks or painting booths. But printers can begin to build relationships with sign professionals who offer expanded capabilities. Then, when an RFP incorporates elements that your firm can’t provide, you can still serve as a full-service provider and win the confidence of your client.

Initially, it can be challenging to view other sign shops or printers as potential partners rather than competitors. But the long-term advantages to expanding the range of customer needs that your firm can meet will outweigh the challenge of finding reliable partners. This will become increasingly important as new and advanced technologies such as dynamic digital signage come into play. Because it’s not always practical or cost-effective for one sign company to offer everything that customers demand, building mutually beneficial relationships with reliable partners will be critical.

ISA International Sign Expo 2012, held March 21-24 in Orlando, FL, offers a great place to learn about the latest technologies and seek out these potential partners. Last year, we had more than 19,000 attendees, 87 percent of whom had purchasing power. It is estimated that more than 51,000 business leads were generated. This year, we’ve expanded our networking events and opportunities even more (learn more at www.signexpo.org).

Convergence clearly is the wave of both the present and the future in the business world. And ISA is proud to play an integral role in bringing exceptional people and grand ideas together.

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