Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Finding a Quality Sign Installer for an EMC or LED Sign Project

Finding a good company to install your very expensive LED sign can be challenging. You want to get a good price and high quality work but there are some obstacles to overcome. Some areas have many companies to choose from, others have very few. How do you find the best installer for your money?

I would like to share some tips I’ve learned over the years, and hopefully save some time and money for those who are entering the world of LED Signs, Video Boards and Electronic Message Centers. 

Research is Key
The internet has provided many sources and ways to research any topic, sign installation included. I’ve listed a few good sources below:

  • SignSearch: This site allows you to search for anything sign related, installation included. I usually select “Have a sign installed” and simply put “Pole Sign” or “Wall Sign” in the description field. Companies are then listed, and you can check out their services, contact info and website.
  • Google Maps: This is pretty straight forward. Just search your organization's address. Once it pops up on the map, click the “Search Nearby” link, and type “Sign Installation” or something similar. This will show a nice geographic location of businesses in your area that have something to do with signs and/or installation. 
  • SignWeb: This has some good directories, similar to SignSearch.

Referrals are also a great way to find good installers. Ask your neighbors who they used for their sign installation, and if they had a good experience. Also, your LED sign supplier might have some good contacts for you.

Qualities to Look For
  • Equipment “In-House”: I have used several companies in the past that outsourced their entire crew and have done an outstanding job. But for the most part, having cranes, bucket trucks, and installation crews all in-house is preferable.  In-house equipment means that scheduling and implementing your installation happens much more quickly than someone who is relying on a third party.
  • Sign Company or “Install Only” Company: I have had success with both types of businesses, but I tend to lean toward finding a company who just does installations. If you need fabrication done (pole covers, painting, ect..) in addition to the installation, a sign company that also specializes in installations might be the way to go.
  • Experience With LED signs: More and more business are using LED signs, so many installers have at least a little bit of experience with LED signs.
  • Licensing and Insurance: Every installer should be licensed and insured in the state/county/city they do work in. Using unlicensed or non-insured installers can cause many long term installation and legal  issues. Most installers will give you their license number to verify.
  • Fast Communication: How quickly a company responds to a quote request, is often a signal of how quickly they will execute your installation. Avoid installers who never seem to be available via telephone, or email. This can signify a lack of organization that will ultimately affect your installation schedule.
Getting Quotes
Narrow your search, but try to get quotes from 3-5 different companies.. This will help you get a better feel for a reasonable cost for your installation and give you more chances to see how quickly each company will respond during the quote process.

Make sure to be very clear on the “Scope of Work” for your installation, so there are no unexpected charges. Here are some general items that should be covered:

  • Pre-Installation Site Survey: The installer should see the site prior to installation to verify power, access, existing structures, and other important items
  • Permits: Are they required? (See my series on permits) If so, who will be pulling them, and how much will it cost. City/County fees vary, but the labor fees for installers to pull permits is usually an hourly rate. In my experience it usually doesn’t go over $300, unless you have to get a special sign variance.
  • Installation of the LED Sign: Where will it be going, how high, how many faces, etc...
  • Electrical Connection: Most installers will make the final connection to existing power within 5 ft of the sign, as long at there is no digging involved. Make sure this is clear.
  • Terms: Layout your expected terms in the quote request. Common terms are 50% down payment, and 50% after the installation is completed.

Once you get the quotes back, take note of the following items:

  • Is the price reasonable? Getting more than one quote will help you determine this. If you get (4) quotes back for $2000 and (1) quote back for $600 chances are the low price is either because the installer isn’t quoting the entire scope, or they are under quoting to secure the job, and will increase the cost during or after the installation. The key is to get as many reasonable quotes as possible, to help you get a feel for the “Market Price”.
  • How quickly did they get it back to you? Most of the time a 1-2 day turnaround is good. If the quote comes back to quickly, verify that the installer is actually quoting all the work and not just throwing a cheap price out there. If it takes too long, you may want to avoid that particular installer. They might be overly busy, or under organized.
  • Does the quote include the entire scope in your original quote request? Double check your quote and make sure you are comparing apples to apples between the quotes.

When securing the final installer, make sure the agreement and scope are very clear. I commonly use the phrase “if it’s not in writing, it doesn’t exist” when talking about any kind of service or agreement between two parties. Make sure you have a clear and complete quote and/or agreement for any installation. Email is useful here, and can serve as a good place to verify and keep pertinent information available.

- Scott Hofheins

* I welcome ALL constructive comments. Please feel free to comment and add anything I’ve missed, or additional tips you may have regarding this topic. Please visit www.vantageled.com for any other resources, white papers, and of course: Great looking LED Signs!

**All posts/thoughts/writings are strictly the viewpoint of me and me alone and do not reflect nor speak for Vantage LED’s beliefs, attitudes, thoughts, etc. unless specifically stated.

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