Industry Insights: The Needs of the Many and the Few

We’ve all heard the adage about the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. But that should not discount the importance of the individual pieces.

ISA represents sign companies in all 50 U.S. states and in Canada. We have relationships in 60 countries around the world. While that creates a certain strength based on sheer size, it is important to realize the many smaller parts that comprise ISA.

ISA is structured through its Affiliated Associations, sign associations that represent one state or a handful. Those Affiliated Associations are composed of smaller pieces still: individual sign companies that operate primarily on a local basis. By breaking down the larger ISA into these smaller—and vital—parts, sign companies can better network with peer companies, work together on joint projects and help grow the sign industry locally.

Think of it this way: In retail, there’s a trend called “showrooming.” It’s the idea of showing up at a local store to touch and feel a product before you make the purchase online. That perhaps better than anything enforces the idea that, even in this internet age, proximity is important.  

It’s the same in how we conduct business. The Affiliated Associations hold meetings and events that allow for networking, learning and discovering new products and services. These Affiliate trade shows are excellent opportunities to talk with existing vendors, learn about new technologies on the market and connect with local suppliers and distributors. In addition, these events are a great complement to the ISA International Sign Expo, which showcases more than 580 companies. When taken together, Affiliate events and ISA Expo offer the latest products across a broad swath of the industry while making important connections with local or regional sales managers.

Many of these local events are occurring throughout the summer into fall. Check out ISA’s website ( for a link to your local association to find out when events are scheduled.

“Our peers in San Antonio work well with each other,” said Lydell Toye, president of U.S. Signs in New Braunfels, Texas. “We assist each other in day-to-day business and when there is a code issue, we come together like flies on a cow patty.”

Among recent wins: working together to rewrite the digital message center ordinance “that we can all live with.” The San Antonio Sign Association and the Texas Sign Association are currently working on state regulations related to unlicensed sign contractors.

Whether at the state or local level, there is a real power when sign companies come together with a voice loud enough to get the attention of local leaders.

Another important component to this relationship is the great work done by the Signage Foundation, Inc. SFI provides research and education which ISA and our Affiliates use to combat codes issues when they arise. ISA, the Affiliate and SFI also sponsor regional outreach events to education planners. We all know how much of an influence the planning community has on whether sign projects are approved. In recent years, this powerful trio has combined to train more than 1,500 planners throughout the United States. At least six such sessions are scheduled for 2014. Area sign companies participate in the presentations, giving them another opportunity to connect with planners.

Ron Sellers, president of Luminous Neon in Olathe, Kan., recently made a presentation as part of a “Planning for Sign Code Success” event in Kansas City, Kan. “I have had numerous conversations with planners since the presentation. We have developed a good dialogue with most building officials. Treating people with respect will always give you an edge when there is a decision that can go either way. Groups like ISA and SFI have made a difference in the minds of many city officials.”

He’s also worked with ISA through the Tri State Sign Association’s State Legislative committee. “That has worked and is working presently with several municipalities on revisions of codes.”

 SFI, by the way, will hold its own annual meeting, Oct. 8-9 in Cincinnati. During the National Signage Research and Education Conference (NSREC), SFI will release the latest research into issues of importance to the on-premise sign industry. Temporary signs—a heavily regulated area—will be among the topics includes. I know that ISA and our Affiliated Associations will be able to use this fact-based research to influence regulations. (Learn more about NSREC at

No matter how large or how small your sign company or print shop, you play an important part in helping shape the overall sign industry. If you are not currently involved in your local Affiliated Association, we’ve missed you. Please join us. And if you are involved, I would urge you to look for ways to become even more involved. Our industry, ISA, and our Affiliated Associations will be stronger because of the part you play.