If your business provides a mediocre product with average customer service, you will constantly be chasing new customers. If you feel like you’re continually advertising so you can bring in new jobs, but those projects don’t turn into repeat business, then it’s time to make some changes.
We’re in a custom industry (signage and wraps) that inherently creates repeat business since the customer goes through an initial process to set up their artwork with your company. If you provide good service and an excellent product, then it makes sense that they’ll keep coming back.
Repeat customers build a stable foundation for your company by providing a steady income. You’ll also find it’s easier to manage a business built on established customers; artwork and colors will already be on file, and many projects will repeat a previous job, which speeds up production.
Define your services
Defining what your business specializes in and advertising those services is essential. When you first start out, it’s tempting, and sometimes necessary, to take on anything that comes along. You have to start somewhere, and by tackling different kinds of projects, you can determine what you’re good at and what you enjoy doing. Just be careful that you don’t take on jobs too far outside your expertise, or that could cost you in the long run.
We have a C45 Contractor’s License, and for quite a few years, we offered electrical signs. After a while, we determined that our profit margin was too slim in electrical signs. We didn’t enjoy the permit process or the headache of working on-site, and there was too much local competition in that area. So, we stopped offering electrical signs, sold the boom truck we rarely used, and shifted our focus to areas with a higher profit that we enjoyed doing.
We specialize in signs, banners, engraving, and wraps/fleets. We run many non-electrical signs through our shop, specializing in aluminum composite signs. For our banners, we outsource them, turning a good profit with minimal labor. Having a reliable wholesale printer for our banners and yard signs, we can do a high volume without impacting the rest of our production.
Engraving has been more of a niche service. We offer both laser and rotary engraving specializing in solar tags. This was a service built from customer requests, interest in the engraving industry, and technical knowledge in the area. Like choosing the types of signs we offer, we’ve done the same with our engraving. Just because we can do all kinds of personalized items, trophies, and plaques doesn’t mean we want to. Getting into personalized engraving is a different type of service that we’re not really interested in. By focusing on laser-engraved solar tags, we streamline the material we need to stock, and we can turn around the products faster.
Since we started our business, we’ve offered vehicle graphics, and it’s always been a decent chunk of our sales. When large-format printers came on the market and customers started asking about full-color graphics and wraps, our business quickly narrowed in on that market.
Last year, 49% of our sales were in vehicle lettering, wraps, and installation. 27% were signs and decals, 10% were banners, 5% engraving, and the other 9% were in window graphics, design, and dimensional letters. By knowing where our income is coming from, we can focus our efforts on profitable areas and let go of less profitable services that could be spreading us too thin.
Once you’ve defined the services you want to offer and determined the areas with the highest income and profit margins, you can start building your business around those areas. The best way to build your business is through repeat business. As I mentioned, repeat business streamlines your advertising efforts, simplifies production, and is an overall more efficient way to do business. There are five general areas that you should focus on to keep customers coming back to you: convenience, expertise, quality materials, workmanship, and pricing.
Making it easy for your customers to do business with you is one of the most critical areas of building up repeat clients. Answering the phone, returning emails, getting quotes out on time, and keeping good records of their jobs will build the customer’s confidence in your abilities.
Getting to know the customer and taking an interest in their projects helps build a repertoire. Two or three of us primarily answer the phones, and when a customer calls in, we try to put the person most familiar with their account on the phone with them.
Building a one-on-one personal relationship ensures we ask the right questions and makes the time on the phone efficient for both the customer and ourselves. Paperwork for repeat clients is also organized in separate folders, making it easy for us to pull and reference for accurate duplication.
Much of our repeat business is the addition of a vehicle to a fleet. We like to see and measure vehicles ahead of time for our partial and full wraps, but we utilize Art Station Vehicle Templates for spot graphics jobs to quickly and accurately proof vehicles. These templates streamline the process, make our design and quote process more efficient, and get the customer’s project into production quickly.
No matter what area of the sign industry you specialize in, look for ways to streamline your interactions with the customer. This isn’t to rush your time with them, but rather to respect their time and make it easy for them to order from your company.
Another benefit of narrowing down the types of signs and graphics your business specializes in is it builds knowledge in those areas. The more you work with a particular product or service, the more you learn. Passing this knowledge onto the customer through the sales process builds confidence in your ability to handle their project.
This isn’t an obnoxious dump of information in a know-it-all-manner; rather, it’s a quiet passing of knowledge by answering questions, helping to steer them toward the right fonts, colors, and design elements for their project, and knowing what materials to recommend for a particular application. Subtle salesmanship builds confidence; you’ve earned a repeat customer when quality products and excellent workmanship back it.
Whether we’re selling a flat sign using calendared vinyl or a full wrap requiring premium media, we always use quality materials with proven performance. We’ve built up an arsenal of wrap media and supplies over the years that we know we can count on to deliver a quality product.
We stick to a handful of materials and laminates to cover all our needs. We don’t look for the cheapest material or constantly switch up product types – we stick with what works. We also listen to the customer’s needs and ensure that the materials we choose will meet their needs and their budget.
Not only should the material you use be top quality, but the finish work on the project should also be of the highest quality, too. We recently had our kitchen cabinets repainted, and we had an excellent experience with the contractor. They had great communication, used quality paint, and did a thorough job papering our floors and masking off the kitchen against overspray. All the little things combined contributed to us having such a good experience. We, of course, turned around and recommended them to multiple people, including online to others in our neighborhood with cabinets of a similar age who might be looking for the same work to be done.
Workmanship isn’t necessarily one thing, but a combination of skill and attention to detail that makes all the difference. Workmanship is customer service in disguise.
While pricing is part of the sales process and is an essential factor, it’s not the most critical element to earning repeat wrap business. Most of our repeat fleet customers don’t even ask us for a price before we do another vehicle. We’ve proven over time that our pricing is competitive. We will offer them an estimate when we have to adjust our pricing due to material price increases, otherwise we keep our pricing consistent.
Pricing is more important early in the process of building a new repeat client as you educate the customer and explain what they can expect for the price. Once the customer realizes that the product they’re getting for the price is high-quality, with solid workmanship, and backed by excellent customer service, then they’re confident that you’re taking care of them.