How does your sign business compare?

By SignCraft Magazine

Posted on Thursday, August 27th, 2020

A couple of weeks ago, we asked Trade Secrets readers to tell us a little about their work and their sign businesses. The results are in, and you can check them out now to see how and where your business fits in.

Most of the surveys were completed by shop owners. 85% of the respondents owned their own shop, and the balance were mostly freelance sign makers and employees of sign shops. And they were experienced—88% of those who replied were over 40 years old, and 86% had been in the sign industry for over 10 years. Here’s how their shop sizes broke down:

Types of work:

The vast majority, over 80%, do cut vinyl and digital-printed signage. About 60% do 3D signs (CNC-routed, sandblasted and/or carved) and almost 40% do electrical signage as well. 41% said they do hand lettering and just as many do architectural signs.

In-house equipment:

Three-quarters of those who responded have a digital printer, and 36% own a CNC router. 14% have a laser engraver.

Materials they use:

Here’s what they said about the materials they use frequently in their work:

Outsourcing is common:

Even though most have a printer in house, 64% say they buy digital printing from outside sources. 77% say they buy cutout and fabricated letters, and 44% outsource their 3D signage.

Biggest hassles:

Not surprisingly, “Pricing my work accurately” topped the list of the biggest hassles that sign people face, with “Dealing with low-priced competition” coming in second.

Pandemic problems:

Not surprisingly, most respondents are feeling the effects of the pandemic. 40% said their sales are down slightly, 30% said they were down significantly, and 30% said the pandemic had not affected sales.

There were a lot of terrific comments, too, so we thought we’d share just a few with you.

SignCraft magazine has been a big inspiring and influential part of my early start in the sign business and it continues to 35 years later.

Customers have been more difficult to deal with lately—too absorbed in their cell phones to tell you what they want, or else they want to show you someone else’s work to “copy” what they’ve seen online. They don’t understand when you tell them there could be copyright issues, and you won’t copy someone else’s work.

We’re the true Mom & Pop shop! I handle the office and getting the jobs, my husband is the shop and installation department. Competing with shops, particularly franchise shops, who tell customers to bring them their lowest bid and they’ll beat it by 10% is our biggest issue.

It is hard to find people to do outside installs. I spent $1,000 on ads for a production/vehicle wrap position and did not get any qualified applicants who were willing to work.

These may not qualify as “Trade Secrets,” but I have found them to be essential: First, excel at good layout and design. Second, enjoy people (or get out of the business!). Third, charge what you are worth and don’t be apologetic about your prices. Thanks, SignCraft!

Thank you for your beautiful magazine, and all the help, guidance and inspiration you have provided our industry for all these years.