Sign Franchises Use Digital Imaging Technology To Propel Today's Industry

In 2007, chances are there's a franchise near you--offering customers a wider array of choices than ever before, thanks to continuing technological advances, especially in communications and digital imaging.

And there are more types of signs than ever before too: vehicle wrap graphics, window graphics, banners, lighted box signs, magnetic signs, A-frames, neon signs, signs, banners, trade show booth signs, and more.

This estimated $12 billion annual market (about half of it in the quick sign segment) is primarily business-to-business. Civic, community, and private organizations providing an additional year-round revenue stream.

Cost of entry ranges from $30,000 to 40,000 at the low end up to $150,000 to $300,000 or more, depending on the breadth of services offered, technology, or if sign-making is part of a larger operation. A with a business-to-business focus can provide its owners with a 9-to-5, Monday-Friday schedule.

As for the market, all retailers need one (a that is)--maybe more--for store fronts, window treatments, and, increasingly, The need to stand out in a crowded marketplace loaded with a 'round-the-clock barrage of and brand messaging continues to drive industry growth.

Digital imaging technologies continue to make it easier and cheaper each year to wrap ever-more-sophisticated signage over a spiffy little vehicle or across the sides and back of a full-sized delivery truck. (The boxy little Toyota Scion xB is proving a popular choice in the mobile unit department--just ask Mike Scruggs, a Little Caesars franchise owner in Colorado Springs, about how people react to his "signed up" Scion!)

Interested in a multi-brand franchise strategy? Consider adding a One enterprising franchising couple, Sally and Robert Brewer, use their Spartanburg, S.C. Sign-A-Rama store to handle all their signage needs for their other two franchise brands--Merry Maids and Furniture Medic. They also use the sign store to discreetly display materials for those two other brands.

Sign-A-Rama, with more than 800 units worldwide (about 75 percent in the U.S.), claims bragging rights as the world's largest full-service sign franchise. Founded in 1986 by Ray and Roy Titus in Farmingdale, N.Y., the company is now based in West Palm Beach and is part of United Franchise Group, which also includes Billboard Connection and EmbroidMe.

Signs Now, with more than 200 locations in the U.S., Canada, and U.K., is now part of Allegra Network, one of the world's largest graphic communications franchises with more than 600 locations in North America and the U.K. Sister brands include Allegra Print & Imaging, American Speedy Printing, Instant Copy, Insty-Prints, Speedy Printing, and Zippy Print.

Fastsigns International, started in the mid-1980s, has about 500 sign and graphics centers worldwide (about 75 of its centers are overseas). According to Drue Townsend, senior vice president of marketing, "Signs and graphics have three general purposes: to inform, direct, and sell."

Signs By Tomorrow was founded in 1986 and, as its name indicates, promotes its one-day turnaround service at its nearly 200 U.S. locations. Its focus on computer technology and quick turnaround translates into startup fees of about $200,000 to $250,000.

Magnetsigns Advertising is a Canadian company with about 100 franchises in Canada and another dozen-plus in the U.S. and has been franchising for 10 years. The company provides portable and roadside signs with changeable fluorescent magnetic letters, on a basis. The brand also offers signs that wrap around poles for areas with bylaw or space restrictions.

Billboard Connection (with the same parent as Sign-A-Rama)--whose more narrow focus translates into a $30,000 entry fee--is looking for owners seeking to cash in on the growth of billboards and outdoor its own multi-billion dollar market. Started in 1990, and with about 50 the brand also airs its outdoor messages on posters, taxi tops, and buses.

Signs First, founded in the mid-1960s, began franchising in 1989 and has about 30 U.S. franchises.

Sign Biz, another player in the sign industry, is not a franchisor, but has been around since 1989 and has more than 170 store owners offering digital sign and graphics services.

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