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What would you get for this pair of tow trucks?

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

For almost every issue of SignCraft for the past 30-plus years, we’ve sent a scenario for a fictitious sign project to several highly skilled sign professionals. We’ve asked them to do a quick sketch of the sign they might have produced and estimate a selling price for the job, then shared it all in SignCraft.

In the latest issue, it’s the graphics for a pair of new white tow trucks for a salvage yard. The owner wants a new look, and likes the idea of incorporating a salvage hook into the design. But he’s flexible and is willing to leave the design decisions up to you.

Take a minute and jot down your estimate for doing these two trucks. Then read on to see what these four sign pros came up with. You’ll find their complete comments and drawings in the latest issue of SignCraft.

Bob Stephens, Skywatch Signs, Zephyrhills, Florida:

I prefer to do all my renderings on photos of the project. This really helps the client visualize exactly how their truck or sign will look in real life.

My first obvious instinct was to incorporate a tow hook into the loop of the J, but I decided against that. The older I get, the more I like to design a clean, crisp look and most important, legible copy and design.

This layout would take 30 minutes, then I would print, laminate, cut and apply. I would have no problem selling this lettering job for $800 for each truck. Total time from start to finish would be 5 to 6 hours for both trucks.

I would remind the customer when it’s done that he will make more money off of his trucks than I would for doing the lettering on it. Thanks to Mike Facemire for that little bit of wisdom!

Jim Arsenault, Smokin’ Signs, Sanford, Maine:

I immediately saw the letter J as a multi-task element. I would make the copy as large as possible on the sides of the truck—ignoring the seams and using the truck’s entire body as the canvas rather than limiting it to just the door panel. I didn’t lay out the phone number here because I would put it on the front fender or rear side panel, leaving the entire door panel to display the name and graphic. The colors are negotiable.

My price for the two trucks, with large-as-possible copy, would be $535 each. I would use high-performance 9-year vinyl.

John Deaton, Deaton Design/, Ages, Kentucky:

Tow trucks are great because most companies like flashy, eye-catching stuff. I provide custom cartoon graphics via my website,, and I always look for an opportunity to sneak one of my ‘toons into a layout that I think would be helped by one.

I used a convex style lettering called Quadrex from for J&M, and Cardiak from for the secondary script lettering. I used one of my tow truck ‘toons, and added a tow hook that I drew and vectorized.

I’d probably use digital prints on premium vinyl with overlaminate for these and charge $300 per truck for two doors, including installation. Any other lettering on other parts of the truck, like 24 Hour Service or the phone number, would be priced additionally.

Russ Mills, Russ Mills Signs, Pineville, Kentucky:

When I am approached by a new customer who doesn’t have a logo, I try to sell him a design that he can use on all his advertising—not just his trucks. Usually they’ve come to my shop because they’re familiar with other signs or logo packages I’ve done for other customers, so the sale is usually pretty easy. If not, I’ll show examples of other jobs I have done, and educate him on the benefits of a good advertising package.

I always take digital photos of the vehicle to be lettered so that I can show the customer exactly what an impact the design will have on their vehicle. These trucks would be done with layered vinyl film.

Initial design fee: $200

Logo package, additional: $400

Two tow trucks lettered: $800

Practical SignCraft articles like these can help your sign business be more successful. Click here to make sure you get every new issue of SignCraft.   --Tom McIltrot


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Comments  7

  • Terry Kid 03 Jul

    I liked the drawing by John Deaton the best. I think I wouldn't make the first numbers in the phone number larger, hard to read. The art would have to be sized to fit the different passenger & drivers door shapes. Price is reasonable. Nice job.

  • Jason Baker 15 Jul

    I think both Russ Mills and John Deaton nailed the design. I like the simplicity of Bob's design though. I used Bob's design to figure out my own quote before I even looked at the other prices. My quote was $850 per truck, so I'm pretty on par with what Bob quoted. We need more exercises like this. Many of my customers bust my chops over price. It is nice to see what other shops charge, and a bit of the creative process that goes into their work.

  • Craig Parrish 16 Jul

    I don't understand why people would only charge $300 or $400 per truck.  Isn't your time, knowledge, and business worth more than that?  I see these small one-man shops pop up all the time and try to underscore pricing this cheap and in a year or so, they are out of business.  You, and all of us, deserve to make a decent living so you need to price your work accordingly.  Are you only worth $30,000, $40,000 per year?  To me you are selling yourself short.  I always tell my customers:  I've been here for over 25 years and if you have a problem, I will stand behind it.  The cheap guy will be gone soon because he can't survive on those prices and what good is a warranty from someone out of business.  If you explain the cost over time like:  A $900 truck lettering is only costing you $100/year (9 year life) or less than $9/month.  Isn't that cheap advertising?

  • Dan 16 Jul

    The designs: Out of all the designs I like Bob Stephens the best, I think it could use some minor tweaking but it is the easiest to read while still looking clean and professional. 

    I feel Jim Arsenault's design comes across as being quickly put together. The fact that it is almost all typography which is not bad necessarily but within a small logo uses what looks like three different fonts styles (JM, &, and Towing) it doesn't look as consistent as the others. 

    John Deaton's is cute, and fun but on the side of a truck when moving will be harder to read, and the cartoon may get lost. Also it is hard to visualize how the logo will look on the side of the truck size and placement wise vs the others who had a representation of the truck for the client. I could honestly see the cartoon making the sale though for some clients who like the iconography of it. 

    Russ Mills' logo is also too busy and harder to read, it doesn't come across as a company logo as much as it seems like a jumble of copy. I do like the addition of the 24 hour towing on the bed of the truck but with the Hour using the script font and overlapping the 24, and the tight kerning on the towing it isn't the easiest to read at a distance, and I assume while moving as well.

    The Quote: As far as the quote I feel Russ Mills' quote is the closest to a reasonable quote. It takes into account the design, logo package, and installation. Also with packaging the design of the logo as a separate item you have a chance to upsell for more promo products and design work for other company materials in the future. I agree with Craig Parrish about underselling yourself to undercut the competition actually being bad for your own company, and the industry as a whole. He makes some really good points.

    Definitely keep in mind that I am trying to be constructive in my critique. All of these would be good comps to give to a client to see what direction they would want to go in the logo development process. 

  • John Deaton 25 Jul

    As far as pricing, the area I live in eastern ky, is having very hard economic times. That coupled with quite a few people doing signs out of their basements and driving the prices down have caused us all to reconsider our pricing. Understand though, that my price was only for two truck doors. Any other lettering on the back, sides, etc. would be more. My average price for the whole job would be closer to 600.00 and I would be on the very high end here. Of course, if the customer wanted the logo for other uses, that too would be added in, at about the same price as Russ listed. People here have gotten to the point where the only thing they care about is price, not how good it looks or the quality of the job. Understand also, I have never undercut prices in my life. I price what I think the job can get in the economy I have to deal with. In my area, Im the highest on pricing, so that gives you an idea of what Im dealing with. 
    Thanks, John

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