Signs of the Times - April 2013 - (Page 136)
“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
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 / www.signweb.com
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,
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
Cut Your Ink Costs
Sign Museum News
The 2013 International Sign Contest
The ISA Sign Expo 2013 Preview
Signs of the Times - April 2013