Industry Insights: What Keeps You Up at Night?

As business owners, sign company leaders have plenty of worries to keep them up at night. Recently, ISA convened its first Leadership Congress, which was designed to bring these issues out into the open, see where there are commonalities and use that to shape the future direction of ISA.

The Leadership Congress is comprised of steering committees representing the three segments of ISA membership: Affiliated Associations, Direct Members and Suppliers/Distributors. Though we had a number of leaders from different regions, with different sized companies, focused on different avenues of business, the issues that concerned them were strikingly similar. While we’re still in the early stages of discussions, I thought it might be interesting to see what caused worries for these leaders, and to compare how those align with your business.

A lack of well-trained and available workers.

This has been on the horizon for a few years now. In 2011, the Manufacturing Institute estimated there were 600,000 unfilled manufacturing jobs, largely due to a skills gap. Demographics are working against us, even with the nation’s relatively high unemployment rate. The Census Bureau statistics report that the average age of a manufacturing employee is 56. Some estimate that, if boomers continue to retire at the same rate and manufacturing keeps up its current growth pace, there could be a shortage of nearly 875,000 manufacturing workers by 2020.

ISA has aggressively responded by expanding our education efforts. We launched a new learning management system last year, bringing online training to the sign industry. Still, given the concerns, there is more work to be done. We must ensure the vibrancy of our industry by recruiting bright workers and ensuring that all employees are trained to shift as technology does.


In many ways, we are deeply affected by the actions of others. We rely on end users to decide to buy our product and they rely on their customers to purchase from them. All levels of government have an influence as well, whether that’s the health care law or environmental regulation. At the local level, concerns over brightness and a misunderstanding of the importance of signs to business can lead to burdensome regulations.

ISA has been at work in this area as well, providing resources to local planners and code officials to help them better understand our industry. The Signage Foundation continues to sponsor academic research into areas of interest to our industry, such as the economic value of signs. We also have worked to help our members understand the coming impact of the health care law, adding resources to our website (

Anticipation of Needs

Our industry, like all of society, is undergoing rapid change because of new technology. Just think of the impact that smartphones have had on our culture. For our industry specifically, dynamic digital signage is becoming increasingly significant. Digital print changes, including G7 certification, provide new opportunities. How can a company keep up with the latest technology and better serve its customers? Or better yet, how can we anticipate the changes that our customers will want?

This requires that we all stay abreast of these developments which affect our industry and seek to learn more. We must at least consider these new opportunities and decide whether pursuing them is right for our business strategy. If we keep our heads in the sand and ignore them, we run the risk of having them pass us by.

Not every change is right for every business. Yet our customers expect us to offer resources when they choose to pursue a technology or solution that we don’t offer. Therefore, the smart business owner will begin to build relationships that fill in the gaps. Providing a referral to a complementary business is much less risky than sending the customer to someone who may take all of their business.

ISA has been working to make this possible for its members. We have made a concerted effort to reach designers and architects, with a subcommittee at work in this area. They’ve had success already; a record number of designers and architects attended the recent ISA International Sign Expo 2013.

While ISA is already at work on some of these issues, the Leadership Congress brought home the idea that there is much to do. While the board explores additional ways that ISA will respond, I thought it might be interesting to see just how common some of issues remain.

There’s a comfort in knowing that your worries aren’t unique and that, together, we can begin to solve them. That will help us all sleep a little better.