Industry Insights: "Zero Net" Store

Recently, Walgreens launched its newest store in Evanston, IL. This is hardly just another store opening. It’s one that could eventually have a significant impact on how we in the sign industry conduct our businesses.

The store is what Walgreens terms a “net zero” store—meaning that it is anticipated to produce energy that equals or exceeds what it consumes. While some of this is accomplished by including wind turbines and solar panels, it also is aided by smart choices in materials—including signage. There even is a gauge at the back of the store that details how the store is achieving its goals.

Christina Galgan, Walgreens’ portfolio strategy, exterior branding manager and a member of the International Sign Association’s board of directors, was charged with finding signage that would fit with the overall goals for the building. Soon after the store opened, she sent me a note saying that she found the right products at ISA International Sign Expo 2013. These new products, she said, reduced energy consumption of the building’s signage by 30 percent. She also found a vendor for solar panels to power the monument sign.

Launching this one store is a tremendous success for Walgreens; it is believed to be the first net-zero retail store in operation. It also is a strong signal for the retail industry that this can be done. More importantly—and bigger picture—Walgreens has said that it intends to use what it learns at this Evanston store to incorporate into its other stores—and to share its findings with other retailers. Consider that Walgreens currently operates more than 8,000 stores to see the full impact.

I realize that sustainable practices in the sign industry have not always lived up to their full potential. Just as there were tremendous strides made in quality and pricing of products, the economy took a downturn and companies cut back. However, Walgreens has set out to prove that green practices can be viable. And that is something that more and more construction in retail and hospitality is seeking.

According to McGraw Hill Construction financial analysts, 38 percent of retail and restaurant owners want at least half of their construction projects green. By 2015, that is expected to exceed 52 percent. Hotels also are seeking environmentally friendly building practices. That same research showed that 48 percent currently expect half of their building projects to be green; that will increase to 64 percent in 2015.

To better serve our end users, it’s vital that we anticipate the trends in their industries and that we position ourselves to help them meet their goals. It makes us a trusted partner, cementing a solid relationship for many years to come. Given the significant business that retail, restaurant, and hospitality provides to sign companies, the McGraw Hill research is worth paying attention to.

It’s not enough, though, to simply know the trends. We must understand how our industry can help. And we can’t just stop at knowing there are green signage products available. It helps to know where to source those materials and the differences between products offered by manufacturers. It helps to see this material up close and in person.

There’s no better place in the sign industry to do this than ISA International Sign Expo 2014, April 23-26 in Orlando, FL. Learn more at We will have more than 500 exhibitors on the ISA Sign Expo floor, including many that offer sustainable products. We have three full days in which the exhibit hall will be open. While there is a lot of ground to cover—almost 190,000 square feet—it should be easy to see new products at every turn.

Go with an idea of seeking out new products. Perhaps you don’t ever envision a day in which your customers will want environmentally friendly products. Seek out other new products that your customers will be asking about. Take advantage of the educational sessions on the Sign Expo floor to learn about dynamic digital signage or to see hands-on solutions to the issues printers face daily in the INKJet Print Theater, a partnership with GRAPH EXPO.

We’ll also have demonstrations of 3D printing on the Sign Expo floor. Because this has been in the news a lot lately, this is something that your customers may ask about. Why not be able to tell them that you’ve seen it in action? Showing that you are on top of the latest trends in your own industry is equally important as being on top of the trends in theirs.

Business is moving again, and that means technological improvements and new goals. For sign companies, it means staying on top of these developments, seeking out information, and standing ready to partner with our end users to help them succeed.