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Design your signs for efficient, profitable production

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

To make money in the sign business, you have to be efficient. It’s easy to design masterpieces, but a lot harder to find customers with the budget to pay for them. The secret is to design signs that look great, but that you can produce quickly, easily and profitably.

And if you have a small staff, this approach is even more important. Just ask Jeff Gilfix, Brushfire Signs []. By using prefinished aluminum composite panels, 3M VHB tape for assembly, and subcontractors to make the frame and cut the graphics, he pared the assembly and installation time for this sign down to under four hours.

“This sign was easy to make while delivering a distinctive look,” Jeff says. “I’m a one-man show, so I have to keep things simple. This type of production goes pretty fast and gives you a lot of flexibility. It helps that the client gave me all the room I needed to do what I thought was best. As always, that’s the client who gets the best value, because you can’t help but work a little harder when they give you that freedom. I had about two hours of sales, design and planning time, then I was down to work.” 

Jeff subcontracted the manufacture of the curved aluminum frame to a local welding shop, who built it in about 3½ hours. The rest of the sign is made of Dibond [] aluminum composite material [ACM]. The letters and the border on the top and bottom of the main panel are Brushed Silver; the background is Brushed Stainless. The grain direction is also reversed to provide additional contrast.
“It’s a great product to work with,” says Jeff, “very consistent and stable. We have a pretty extreme climate up here, with an 80-degrees Celsius range. We get as low as -40 and as high as +40. It’s hard on materials and finishes. The ACM holds up great.” 

This sign was assembled completely with 3M VHB Tape, which is easy to use and doesn’t cause any distortion. 

Jeff wiped the Gemini mounting pads [] down with lacquer thinner to make sure they were clean, then applied the tape. The letters are ½ inch off the black background, which is mounted 1/4 inch off the cabinet. 

A dab of acrylic latex on each pad marks the location of the holes on the background panel. Latex paint dries quickly and is easy to clean up, should any get on the metal. 

Here the holes are marked on the pattern and it’s ready for drilling. 

Jeff drilled the background panel and attached the letters with machine screws. 

Once on site, the final assembly and installation took about 45 minutes. He hung the main sign, then butted the black top and bottom panels to it. 

This fascia sign’s clean design and subdued color scheme gain a lot of punch from the use of dimension. Not only is the face of the sign curved, but the lettering, outline and background panels all have their own dimensional effects going on. It’s a great look, yet the production approach made it a practical solution.

You’ll find the complete article on this project in the Nov/Dec 2012 issue, including a breakdown of the time for each step and all the materials. In every issue of SignCraft, we follow a sign step-by-step, tracking the time and materials involved. It’s a great way to see how others work efficiently and to hone your estimating skills.


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Comments  6

  • H Glaeser Sign Company 03 Nov

    Here, at Glaser Sign Company, we try to keep as much as the production in house when possible.  However, circumstances dictate how we adjust our strategies.  Being spread too thin, having too many ongoing project, knowing when the subcontracted work will be a better product that what we can do.   For example, there are many simple fabricating tasks and welding that we can efficiently accomplish but there are many welding tasks that require tools or a higher skill level to complete in a timely manner.  One task we have given up completely is powder coating; by doing so, we regained shop space and get a higher quality product than what we produced.

    I suppose the point I'm making is that each business must assess whether it's profitable to sub-out many components and potentially grow and potentially take on those tasks at a later date or when appropriate.  Having the flexibility to retain the work in-house to keep employees busy is immensely helpful during slow periods.  We encourage staff to advance their skill set with all aspects of the sign making business when possible.  It challenges staff, keeps them excited about work, allows them to express their creativity, and expands our production capabilities.  One example was for a set of wooden signs that required custom lathe work  One employee who had a limited experience using a lathe took on the challenge, figured it out and learned more.  Now that our shop and employee have that experience and an understanding of the time requirements for such tasks, we can accurately estimate and produce another run of custom beer taps for.

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