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How Sign Companies Can Grow During Economic Downturns

Here are four ways to mitigate the effects of a slowing economy and grow your sign business

The past few years have delivered ups and downs that challenged many businesses, and the U.S. economy is showing signs of an economic downturn. High inflation, increasing costs for materials and logistics, and difficulty finding workers, all appear to be putting a damper on the economy. In a recent survey of economists conducted by the National Association of Business Economics, 72% said they expect the U.S. will be in a recession within a year, and nearly 20% felt we already are in one.

While the sign industry is a little more optimistic, with 63% of sign shop owners in a recent survey saying they expect a recession to affect business in 2023, the time is right to start thinking about how to meet the challenge if the economy slows.

The good news for the sign and graphics industry is that there are several avenues available not just to mitigate the effects of a slowing economy but to grow. Here are four ways:

1. Diversify your product and service offering

Look for adjacent products and services that you can offer alongside your traditional sign and graphics craft. Digital signage is one route that requires no upfront cost for products, supplies, or training. Upselling to add a digital display to a traditional exterior sign can increase margin dollars, and digital displays are easy to incorporate into most sign types and designs. Also, look for services you can offer that add value. For example, Strickler Signs in New Oxford, Pennsylvania, has added content as a service, providing turnkey content creation and management services for digital display customers.

Wesley Medical Center
Wesley Medical Center placemaking signage. (Image courtesy Watchfire Signs)

2. Expand into other markets

Consider how you can use your craft to create additional value for your customers. For example, if you have concentrated on ID signs, consider expanding into wayfinding signage or other informational displays. Wesley Medical Center in Wichita, Kansas, is a great example. Working with Luminous Neon Art & Sign Systems, the medical center installed placemaking signage at a busy intersection. They soon realized they could use this signage to direct traffic to its emergency room and broadcast health reminders and other programming for the public. After the pandemic, medical buildings and educational campuses are ripe for digital displays that can be networked and function as both wayfinding and informational signage.

Gila River Hotels and Casino Wild Horse Pass YESCO Phoenix Indoor X 1.9mm
Gila River Resorts & Casinos – Wild Horse Pass video wall. (Image courtesy Watchfire Signs)

Another signage trend gaining steam is interior video walls that create a welcoming experience with immersive content that engages and informs visitors. Businesses from restaurants to dentist offices are realizing the importance of first impressions and are investing in large displays that give them a wow factor. Gila River Resorts & Casinos – Wild Horse Pass, a Four Diamond resort and casino in Chandler, Arizona, worked with YESCO Phoenix to design and install a large video wall that sets the tone for its new dining and entertainment experience. Positioned opposite a glass-enclosed elevator, the video wall showcases videos and photos of food and dining experiences viewable by guests as they ascend to the top floor.

3. Make the old new

During an economic downturn, businesses often are willing to make investments that will help them weather the decline and emerge ahead of the competition. Signage is one such investment. Look for successful businesses that have inadequate or non-functioning signage and suggest upgrades. Older technology, like bulb-based or even monochromatic LED message centers, can age a company and also are expensive to operate. Newer LED displays often consume significantly less energy, which helps defray the cost over time. Plus, there may be grants available for businesses making energy-saving upgrades.

4. Leverage creative funding options

Many business segments continue to benefit from Covid relief grants. Chief among these is education. School districts have yet to spend more than 90% of the $122 billion allotted to K-12 schools as part of the American Rescue Plan. Digital displays are smart investments for schools because they help improve communication while also providing educational opportunities for students in STEM and visual design classes. Nazareth Area High School, east of Allentown, Pennsylvania, worked with FastSigns of Easton, Pennsylvania, to install a digital scoreboard at the school’s football stadium that showcases student-produced sports videos and interviews. Pioneer Central School District in Yorkshire, New York, worked with a team of architects, sound engineers, and A/V integrators to install a new 18′ X 49′ digital backdrop in their performing arts center. The school is designing a curriculum for students leveraging the backdrop to teach scene design.

Yorkshire Pioneer U and S Services Inc Indoor S 2.4mm Yorksire NY e1668727808638
Pioneer Central School District digital backdrop (Image courtesy Watchfire Signs)

Municipalities also may qualify to use various grants for signage that informs the public, promotes public safety, and, at the same time, boosts economic investment. The Etowah Horse Shoe Volunteer Fire Department located in the Smoky Mountains worked with Moss Sign Company of Asheville, North Carolina, to leverage a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) to install a digital display used to notify residents about burn bans and other safety messages. Sponsorships and other donations can be leveraged to beautify and add value to public spaces, including parks, theaters, schools, and athletic complexes.

Looking forward

A slowing economy can be worrisome for businesses, yet it also can be a time for businesses to grow by innovating and creatively looking for new opportunities. Spending some time now to plan how to weather a potential recession can position your business for even greater success when the economy begins improving again.

CarolWade WatchfireSigns

Carol Wade

Carol Wade is senior director of marketing at Watchfire Signs, a leading manufacturer of exterior and interior LED signs.

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