Signs of the Times - April 2013 - (Page 136)

EDITORIALLY SPEAKING “I’m excited to see where the on-premise sign industry fits in.” By Wade Swormstedt And the Sign Industry . . .? The EDS equation still has many variables. I’m more in Las Vegas) than I have been inSign Expo intrigued about this month’s ISA (April 3-6 several years. It’s sold out for the first time, with a record amount of exhibit space, which is excellent news for the sign industry as a whole. But that’s not why I’m excited. It’s the Digital Dynamic Park and the new emphasis on digital dynamic signage, electronic digital signage (EDS), electronic signage, digital signage, or whatever name you prefer. There’s even going to be a special DDP reception on the first night of the show. I’m excited to see where the on-premise sign industry fits in. Our first significant examination of the EDS (the acronym we prefer) market appeared exactly a decade ago, when Darek Johnson, ST’s senior technology editor/analyst, presented the results of our inaugural EDS survey (see ST, April 2003, page 58). We included EMCs (electronic message centers) in that coverage. Darek ended up doing six of those annual surveys, with the last one coming in 2008 (see ST, March 2008, page 136). We really tried to document the EDS market’s status, to present it as an opportunity for sign companies and the industry as a whole. Years ago, I was invited once to speak at a Digital Signage Expo (I believe that’s the correct name) to provide an overview of the on-premise sign industry. I spoke with numerous exhibitors at a POPAI Marketplace show at Chicago’s Navy Pier years ago, where an LCD display manufacturer told me, “Companies like ours are going to put customers like yours [signshops] out of business.” Often, I felt we were trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. I’m still waiting to see where the on-premise sign industry fits in. Two months ago, Louis M. Brill, our technology contributor, wrote a fascinating piece about the interior, EDS system implemented by Japanese retailer Uniqlo (see ST, February 2013, page 58). He talks about three participating companies, NEC USA (which provided the screens), Playnetwork (which handles the infrastructure and installation) and Adaptive Technology Group (which provides mounting and rigging). To the average end user, any distinction would be irrelevant, but I wouldn’t consider NEC a sign company any more than I would consider Daktronics or Watchfire a sign company. I consider them suppliers to sign companies because, typically, a sign company builds some kind of sign around the purchased EMC. Similarly, we would view wholesale-only companies as suppliers to (and a critical component of) the sign industry, but not as sign companies per se, which sell directly to end users. Also, I consider electronic billboards to be 136 SIGNS OF THE TIMES / APRIL 2013 / outside of the on-premise sign industry. So I didn’t see where the sign industry fits in. When I first encountered the EDS market as a separate entity, I gradually became aware that it and the sign industry both revered the same thing. But from completely opposite views. The sign industry viewed “the box” as the critical component, and the content was, eh, whatever. The EDS market viewed the content as the driving force, and “the box” was, eh, whatever. A commodity at best. That’s a bit overstated now, as technology of both hardware and software have improved, but their basic orientations remain unchanged. Of course, it also depends on your definition of “sign industry.” Although there’s some crossover in any industry, our core definition of “sign companies” doesn’t include companies that primarily provide POP, outdoor advertising, government signs or engraving (trophies, awards). Nor would our definition of “signs” include the LCD displays in airports that list all of the flights, for example. So I still don’t see where the sign industry fits in. To me, by definition, virtually all sign companies are custom sign companies. With the notable exception of the behemoth sign companies that serve retail/ restaurant/lodging/oil-company chains, the vast majority of sign companies sells a different sign to each customer. A sign that includes a stock EMC is still a custom sign if a sign cabinet’s built around it. I’ve always wondered why most sign companies quit their selling at the front door. With the exception of mall signage (which is still primarily on the store’s exterior), the vast majority of on-premise signage resides outdoors. I don’t know why more sign companies don’t try to sell interior signage. The axiom holds true that it’s infinitely easier to sell more to any existing customer than to find a new one. I don’t know why more sign companies don’t get involved with exhibit/tradeshow graphics. In both cases, these are highly custom products that would seemingly require the same materials and skills that sign companies already possess. I’m all for anything that expands a sign company’s repertoire. But it seems like EDS displays are simply commodities that someone bolts/plugs into a wall. So I’m excited about going to the ISA show to see how the sign industry fits into the EDS market. ■

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Signs of the Times - April 2013

Signs of the Times - April 2013
ST Update
Cut Your Ink Costs
Technology Update
Vinyl Apps
Strictly Electric
LED Update
Software Update
Technology Review
Technology Review
Sign Museum News
New Products
The 2013 International Sign Contest
Leasing Equipment
The ISA Sign Expo 2013 Preview
Industry News
Advertising Index
Editorially Speaking

Signs of the Times - April 2013