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Sign-Making and Advertising Are Strong Franchise Opportunities

Those words have particular meaning for potential business owners interested in sign-making and advertising franchises. In both those fields, the medium often really is the message.

A sign is often the first impression a potential customer gets of a company or store with which he or she is considering doing franchising business. As such, signs are an integral part of a business's marketing communications plan. A good sign can be the deciding factor in a customer's choice whether or not to enter an establishment.

The International Sign Association (ISA) defines an on premise sign as, first and foremost, "the primary advertising and marketing device for a business location." The on-premise sign advertises goods or services offered by businesses on the property where the sign is located. An off-premise sign is essentially a billboard, advertising something not located on the same property as the sign.

On-premise signs constitute a wide variety of types and styles. They vary from signs high atop poles or roofs to ornamental wood-carved signs on historical buildings to neon signs in shop windows to small directional signs in hallways.

In both sign-making and advertising franchises, the medium often really is the message.

In its most recent "State of the Industry Report," trade magazine Signs of the Times pegged annual volume in the electric-sign segment of the industry at $4.6 billion. That segment includes companies engaged in the manufacturing, maintenance and repair of electric signs; lighting, erection and installation of signs for other companies; quantity production of electric signs; manufacturing of architectural sign systems and illuminated or back-lit awnings; and related businesses.

Signs of the Times also periodically releases its "CAS/Commercial State of the Industry Report," which tracks the computer-aided sign-making industry, which is the category into which many sign-making franchises fall. It estimates sales in this segment of the industry at $3.6 billion. Companies in this segment generally sell signs, banners, vehicle graphics, window lettering, displays and similar products. Their products are typically made of plastic, wood, synthetic wood or metal.

It should be noted that it has been several years since the last state-of-the-industry surveys were conducted, and it is quite likely that the industry's sales have grown substantially in that time. One trend driving that growth has been the overall growth of franchising itself. As franchise companies open additional units, and more and more independent shops convert to a franchise format, the demand for signs continues to climb.


Prospective franchisees should be aware that the sign industry and the on-premise segment of the industry in particular-is a highly regulated sector of the economy. There are more than 80,000 communities across the U.S. with laws regulating signage on their books, according to the ISA.

The on-premise industry not only has to abide by a variety of local, state and federal controls, it is also subject to a wide range of regulations drafted by independent bodies that have standards applicable to the sign industry. These include the National Fire Protection Association, National Electric Code, Underwriters Laboratories, Electrical Testing Laboratories, American Planning Association, American National Standards Institute and more.

The emergence of sign-making businesses as an important segment of franchising is a direct result of technological advance. Few sign-making franchises existed prior to the mid 1980s. Before that, sign making was the province of skilled artists and craftsmen who did all their work by hand. Computers changed all that, making it possible for just about anyone to produce quality signs, as long as they had the right equipment and the right training.

Those developments have benefited businesses in all segments of the economy by greatly increasing the signage options now available to them. They can choose among everything from electronic scoreboards and free-form neon designs to vinyl lettering and ornate cloth banners. As the range of choices has increased, so has demand for the products and services offered by sign-making franchises.

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