“I Need a Sign”
by Kari Anderson
Summer is here, and it’s the perfect time to give buildings, boats and signs a facelift. When customers come to you for sign-making materials, do you have what they need? Maybe you haven’t delved very deeply into this category because you didn’t know enough about the materials, the potential customers, or the various applications.
We spoke with Tom Sherry, manager of Hyatt’s: All Things Creative, an art supply store in Buffalo, New York. Hyatt’s happens to be one of the world’s leading distributors of new and used sign-making equipment and supplies. Tom admits that most retailers don’t have a large enough market to justify carrying all the computer-driven sign-making materials he does, but he did offer some sage advice for those who want to beef up their traditional sign materials.
For a different take, we also asked Beverly Aiello, national sales manager for Testrite Visual Products, to weigh in on sign-making basics. Testrite is a manufacturer that offers the largest selection of signframes in the industry.
Who buys sign-making materials?
Tom Sherry, Hyatt’s: I’d say 85 percent of the people who buy sign-making materials from us are professionals who work in smaller sign shops or are restoration experts. The rest are amateurs who might be looking to letter a mailbox or a boat. Some of our sign-making customers are artists who want to incorporate text into their art. Fire departments also come to us for materials to letter their trucks.
Beverly Aiello, Testrite: Sign holders are purchased by galleries, retailers, schools and restaurants. They’re used to display messages in any environment where there may be high traffic.
What sign-making products are essential to have on hand?
Tom Sherry, Hyatt’s: The basic supplies would be lettering brushes, sign paint enamel, gold leaf, dagger stripers (sword shaped brushes) and pounce wheels (for transfering designs). For most outdoor signs, people use patent gold leaf because it has a backing that makes it easier to hold in the wind. LUCO and Sepp are the two big manufacturers we deal with for patent gold leaf. Customers are also looking for paints with UV protection. Every brand has a clear topcoat of some sort that will protect the paint and keep it from fading as much as possible. The two big sign paint manufacturers that we work with are Ronan and One Shot; both have great technical support.
Beverly Aiello, Testrite: Poster board is a basic blank for a simple sign. Foamboard and gatorboard are the most popular substrates for rigid graphics. Size and thickness range from very thin, which can be cut with a knife or straightedge, to a thickness that is so strong a saw or drill is required.
Is there a time of year when sales of sign-making materials pick up? If so, why?
Tom Sherry, Hyatt’s: Summer is the time when people tend to spruce up their homes and businesses, and signage is a part of that. It’s easier to work outdoors in the summer and paints dry faster. There are also more events in the summertime that people create signs for.
Beverly Aiello, Testrite: Sign frames are a steadily purchased category throughout the year. They are used in so many retail and educational installations, for back-to-school and holiday promotions.
Is sign-making an overlooked category in most art supply stores?
Tom Sherry, Hyatt’s: It is a small market but one that brings customers in for other items. These products won’t turn as often and are relatively high cost and low profit, so a dealer must make the decision to carry sign-making materials and stick with it long enough to allow his potential customers to learn that the store has these products.
Beverly Aiello, Testrite: Overlooked? Absolutely! All the board housed in a retail store is almost taken for granted. That customer who walks in the door knows they want to create a noticeable, eye-catching sign, but many retailers never go a step further to offer another means to display a sign other than an easel. A signframe can offer formats in vertical or horizontal upright positions, at 90 degrees or angled, and they take up only a small footprint.
What advice can you give an AM retailer who wants to sell more sign-making materials?
Tom Sherry, Hyatt’s: Go after the customers I mentioned earlier. It is a slow-growth section, but it is one that is important if you want to be considered a “full service art supply store.”
Beverly Aiello, Testrite: Make your store a one-stop shop. Offering the sign frame hardware along with the substrates, markers, ink and service is the ultimate goal for any retailer.
Black and White and Red Is Over
“Everybody wants black and white and red,” says Ann Sheppard of Ann Sheppard Signs, a traditional sign shop in Clifton Springs, New York. “Customers think that is what will stand out the most, but it gets so boring for me! And they don’t want a subtle, muted red; it has to be that screaming, fire engine red.”
When customers come to Ann for a sign, she counsels with them about what will look best and what will look different. “I try to keep everyone’s signs as different as I can.” Uniqueness is a big part of what makes a sign stand out.
Ann explains that, of course, readability is the number-one factor in creating a sign, but black, white and red aren’t the only readable color combinations. “The contrast is more important than the color. Right now I’m working on lettering for a boat, and I have to make sure that the light blue is light enough and the dark blue is dark enough so that it’s readable. If a sign’s not readable, why bother?”
What else makes a sign readable? For a business sign, size and positioning to the road are both important, and these two things are directly related. “It’s best if the sign is perpendicular to the road, so you don’t have to strain your neck to see it as you drive by,” she says. “If it’s parallel, then it has to sit farther back from the road, and it has to be a lot bigger because of that distance.”
Graphics is another element, but it’s not nearly as important as readability. “Graphics is secondary, and it should be kept to a minimum. With computers, you’ll find that everybody thinks they can make their own signs, but they lack the design skills. Do-it-yourselfers tend to over-design, which often makes the sign unreadable.”
For her graphic ideas, Ann swears by clip art. “I wouldn’t be without clip art! I have books and books of it, for flames, banners, alphabets. Then of course I’ll get an obscure request, and with all the thousands of images I have, I can’t find what I’m looking for.” Then it’s over to the drawing board, and her computer, where she’ll design a graphic image herself.
To keep up with trends, Ann reads SignCraft and Sign Business magazines. Consider stocking them for your sign-materials customers, or check them out yourself. You may learn how to better cater to sign makers, or at least get a great idea for a new sign for your store.