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Interior signage makers have a tremendous number of potential clients they can target to build and grow their own businesses. Every organization - big or small - has a need for interior signage, from cafes and offices to schools, hospitals, government agencies, nonprofits and beyond. For you, the product decorator, this means lots of opportunities to reach new customers and build profit.
Sublimated signs have huge money-making potential for several reasons. First, is the ease of applying images to a wide range of creative substrates. There are lots of different types of substrates that can be used to deliver a message, promote a brand, provide instructions, identify a location or showcase a product.
All you need is a digital design and you quickly create eye-catching signage for your customers. Because sublimation is not UV resistant, interior signs are more suitable for the application, though you can also offer exterior signs, provided that the customer fully understands that the images will fade over time.
Second, the versatility of sublimation is such that any sublimator can easily add sign making to their list of advertised services and products. Third, the quality of sublimated signs is typically much higher than other forms of signage production, as the technology allows the application of vivid graphics and high definition photos. Other types of signs - such as vinyl lettering, etching and engraving - cannot match this. This is a significant advantage, as images typically have a far greater impact than text when it comes to effective communication through signage.
Finally, sublimated prints will not chip, crack or peel. This means the final product can withstand a significant amount of physical contact, another feature that sets it apart from other sign products. All of this adds up to a product that has a higher perceived value, yet costs less than most other forms of sign production. For you, the end result is higher margins and happier customers.
So, how do you break into the interior signage market? That is what this guide is all about.
If you are already decorating products using sublimation technology, then you are already mostly there. You just have to make sure you have the right equipment to produce signs for your target customers, and then introduce the concept to them (as everyone has a need for signs!).
Any sublimation system can produce signage products. However, the size of the images you can recreate is dictated by the size of your printer and heat press, which can be a limiting factor in terms of some signage products.
Signs need to be visible, and that means bigger is better in many cases - though not all. Obviously, billboards are not needed for every purpose, but products that are wall mounted need to be of a reasonable size to be effective. If you’re looking to offer signs for this purpose, you’ll need equipment big enough to do the job. If a large printer and press is not for you, there are still lots of signs you can make with a smaller system, such as room ID panels, point of purchase (POP) signs, table toppers, and more.
Here is a breakdown of interior signage concepts by printer size:
With this printer, you can make smaller products that either have very limited information or are designed to be viewed at close range. Such products include: name plates on doors, directional signs in hallways, POP signs at cash registers, table top signs (table toppers), small flags, etc.
This printer offers more versatility in terms of signage products because of the larger print format. In addition the products that can be produced by the smaller printer, this printer can also be used to create some decent sized wall panels.
Wider printers, such as the 25” / 630 mm VJ 628, print on a continuous roll of paper, rather than individual sheets, which means ultra-large imaging possibilities perfect for large signage. For example, the VJ 628 can easily generate a print that is 25” / 630 mm wide and as long as the length of paper you have on the roll. However, the heat press you have will realistically determine the maximum length you can print. Images must be slightly smaller than the maximum dimensions of the heat press platens.
These printers generally come in three widths: 24” / 610 mm (25” / 630 mm in the case of the VJ 628), 36” / 915 mm and 44” / 1,120 mm. There are much larger printers available, which are more appropriate for industrial wide format production. All of these printers can all generate anything that the desktop units can, in addition to the much larger hard panels and fabric panels, which can used for a variety of soft-signage products that can be incorporated into framed products or stretched over support frames.
For even more versatility, this type of printer can be paired with a calendar press to produce long fabric panels. A calendar press is composed of a series of heated rollers that apply heat and pressure to a continuous run of fabric mated with sublimation transfer roll paper as it moves through. In theory, the length of what you can print is only limited by the length of the fabric and paper rolls.
This adds a much wider range of possibilities for interior signs, as it means banners, fabric wall panels, trade displays and even architectural products are all within your reach.
Interior signage products are no different than any other sublimated product. You simply apply an image to suitable substrate. Thus, just about any substrate can be used. The key is to create a finished product that is appropriate for the application, taking into account the location, the size and how (or if) it will be mounted to a surface (or not, as the case may be). Here are some examples of sublimated interior signs:
Identification | POP (Point Of Purchase) | Brand Awareness | Banners & Flags | Architectural | Informational | Instructional | & Much More...
Images for reference only.
When it comes to sales and marketing, it’s not enough to simply tell a client you can produce interior signage. You have to proactively execute a sales and marketing strategy that really engages them with the topic and how working with you can benefit them.
A good-quality strategy doesn’t need to be long and drawn out, just focused and logical. However, it will take quite a bit of time and effort to develop something that works for your specific goals. To begin with, identify target markets you want to reach, rather than individual clients. This will enable you to develop a flexible process that can be applied to multiple clients within a defined market, rather than a customized approach that targets one organization specifically.
Regardless of which market you target, this basic approach will get you off to a strong start:
Gain an understanding about what the market is all about, what products or services they offer, how they interact with their clients, what kind of staffing they might have, what kind of facilities they have, what happens within their facilities, etc.
Brainstorm on the information you gathered in your analysis, and then list every conceivable interior signage product you can possibly think of that provides value to those customer. Don’t limit yourself. Just jot the ideas down as they come to mind, not matter how big, small or insignificant they might seem.
Take your list of product ideas and narrow it down to a creative, but effective list of samples that you can produce. This will be much harder than creating the initial idea list, as what you choose will become your sales tools. Choose items that you think will make the right right impact on potential clients.
Where possible, the samples should tell a story or deliver a cohesive message. Think about how different products can complement each other, so that the client might feel compelled to buy multiple products. Stay away from a random collection of unrelated products. Also, think about products that appeal to the market as a whole, not just to one client within the market.
You might also consider producing samples that are not client-specific in terms of logos, images and text. A good practice is to create a fictitious organization complete with names, logos, slogans, graphics, etc., and then use that to produce your entire sample set.
If you have done your research, then putting together a sales pitch shouldn’t be all that hard. Understanding needs and delivering solutions is a big part of selling. Focus on doing just that with everything you say and show a prospect. If your sample set is truly effective, it will do a lot of the selling for you. Keep that in mind, as you will probably need to refine the samples as you gain experience with your sales pitch and your market.
Let’s apply this concept to the restaurant market in the following sections. In reality, this market is really composed of multiple sub markets: fine dining, fast food, dessert and pastry, take-out, specialty foods, coffee shops, etc. For our example, we will narrow it down to coffee shops.
The simplest method to start gathering some logical information about how interior signage is used within a coffee shop setting is to visit a coffee shop and take notes. Take on the role of a customer, so you get to see the process of purchasing coffee shop products. Pay close attention to how signage is used. Where do you, as the customer, look for information that a sign could present? Does the signage available make sense, fulfill your needs? Is it easy to read? Does it deliver a compelling message? Is it graphical enough?
Remember that interior signage plays many different roles, so take the time to absorb it all in, from smallest to largest. Take notes about what does and doesn’t work, and the overall impression you get. Do the signs provide you with a favorable impression of the business? Do they adequately promote the company name and brand? What about the material, shape and size of the different products? Do they blend in nicely with the theme and decorations of the shop or do they clash?
Ultimately you are looking for opportunities. And in many cases, the best opportunities for you are the ones that are missing. Most existing businesses have their signage basics taken care of. It’s all the other useful areas that they might be missing out on, about which you can provide both insight and solutions.
You don’t want to just be able to sell a sign. You want to be different, unique and creative in what you have to offer. Any sublimation business can sell a basic sign. How can your products create more benefits for the customer? If you can show them that your signs will help their business grow and prosper, then you are well on your way to making a sale. Your challenge is taking the time to figure out how to improve upon what you see on that initial visit.
Once you’ve gone to one coffee shop, go to another...and another. Get a good cross-section of the different business models in your area. You might also visit some business that are similar in setup, but different in terms of product line. For example, visiting an ice cream shop can give you more insight and ideas for creating effective and exciting signage products.
Finally, take some time to focus on boring signage. There are plenty of everyday signs that are very functional in nature and a necessity to the normal operations of an organization. But functional doesn’t have to be boring. Always try to think of ways to spruce up the most simple signs - things like restroom identification or operational hours or open and closed signs. Sublimation is a very visual process, so take advantage of all it has to offer for interior signs.
This is the time to brainstorm using the information you obtained in the analysis phase. Just jot down anything and everything that comes to mind while thinking on your experiences in the coffee shops you visited.
Here are some thoughts for the coffee shop: wall menus, table topper menus, table-top menus (yes, menus can be sublimated into a table top!), POP signage about specials and complimentary items, signage about the founder/owner of business, entertaining signs for customers to read while waiting, “order here” signs, “pick up here” signs, branding signs, website info signs, social media signs, local art (a form of signage) on wall panels, lifestyle signs...the list is long.
Be sure to add ideas about different signage substrates – plastic, metal, glass, acrylic, slate, etc.
It’s not practical to create a sample for every idea. You will need to narrow it down to just a few really good-quality products that you can show to multiple clients. As mentioned before, you will probably want to create a fictitious coffee shop and then develop samples around it.
As part of this market guide, we’ve put together a set of graphics that you can use to build a sample set. The items we’ve chosen make sense not only for the coffee shop market, but also for other types of businesses that use a similar operational setup. Notice how all of the samples have the same logo and graphical theme, so they work together to promote the brand. They are quite functional, yet very visual and appealing to the eye.
For your samples, focus on showing the power of good-quality signs through the use of imagining and photography. You don’t need to focus on marketing slogans or anything like that. Just create powerful imagery that tells the story behind the sign itself.
If you are a user of any of the Virtuoso HD Product Decorating Systems, you have access to CreativeStudio, which has an awesome collection of high-quality images that can be used to develop high-quality samples. If you don’t have access to CreativeStudio (or even if you do), there are several excellent websites where you can purchase top-notch images to use for developing your samples. They include:
It’s obvious that you are selling signs, but so are a lot of other companies. Your sales pitch must set you apart from the majority of the competition. In the case of sublimated interior sign products, you have several key things going for you:
Those are all good points for explaining the functionality of sublimated products, but you need a more compelling message (or messages) to create some sales excitement. Talk about the graphical aspect of your signs, which really sets sublimation apart from traditional signage decoration applications. Focus on how great visuals can help create a positive experience for people visiting the coffee shop, which, in turn, can lead to larger purchases and return visits.
Your sales pitch should also go hand-in-hand with your sample kit, so that you have a nice cohesive presentation with plenty of visuals to reinforce your points. Most of all, make sure your pitch feels comfortable and personal to you, as you are the one who has to deliver it.
Pricing is typically considered to be the toughest part of the sales equation. There are no standard formulas or recommended margins for interior signage products. Rather, you should base your price on the perceived value on the part of the client.
A product is only worth what someone will pay for it. Thus, you need to market your products with a focus on raising the customer’s perception of worth to the highest possible level. If you are one of those people who live by the concept of PRICE = COST x 2, then you are probably on the wrong track, not to mention, missing out on the high profit margins sublimation offers.
The first fundamental piece of the sublimation pricing puzzle goes right back to the core issue of marketing – visuals. In most cases, it's what’s on the substrate that determines the perceived value, not the substrate itself (though substrates can play a key part in the pricing matrix). For example, a 12” x 18” ChromaLuxe HD photo panel costs about $15 USD. Sublimation ink and paper will run about $2 USD and labor could tack on another $5 USD, for a grand total of $22 USD.
An interior sign that was functional in nature - with plain text and not much more - would probably have a perceived value of less than $15, which would mean no one is going to even pay the break-even cost. On the other hand, if the same sign was revised to feature eye-catching graphics and maybe an HD photo, you could easily charge $45 - $50. Considering that this is a professional product for commercial environment, the value could easily be much higher.
This example also illustrates another point. Since the substrate typically accounts for the largest share of cost for a sublimated product (in comparison, ink and paper is typically only about 7% of the total), you have to pay attention what type of substrate best fits the situation.
Functional signs are a necessity, and there will be occasions that call for a bland appearance, which drives down the perceived value of the product. In cases like these, finding a lower-cost alternative for the substrate can save the job. You might be able to use an FRP (fiber reinforced plastic) panel instead of an aluminum one, or consider something smaller. It all goes back to perceived value, and some products are going to have tight margins based on the job requirements.
Award-winning author and international speaker Jimmy Lamb has over 25 years of product decoration business experience. He has extensive knowledge in many facets of digital decorating and embellishing, including: business startup, applications, techniques, marketing, sales, mobile, production and management. Jimmy is currently Sawgrass' Education Manager.
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