Thursday, October 11, 2012

Defending your brand: Cheap Components/LED Sign Systems cost you more than money.

-Deacon Wardlow

Over the years I’ve worked with, bought from, worked-on, serviced, taken-down, sold and installed systems from LED Sign manufacturers all over the world. I’ve been asked to come in on installations to consult and I’ve seen the best of signs and the worst of signs. LED Signs, more than other forms of signage, are particularly unnerving for both the experienced Digital Signage shop and sign shops just getting into the market. The signs are big ticket items and when something goes south, the sign shop who sold the deal is going to hear about it from the customer, their competition and people in the area. They definitely draw attention and the worst kind of attention is from a system which isn’t working properly.

LED Signs are all the same right? not really. If you’ve been following the blog or take a look at past articles like this one you’ll see huge differences. Manufacturers often buyout engineering and software development instead of keeping it in-house. Components are sometimes scaled down and cheaper parts swapped in for “economy lines.” There are a lot of lemons in the apple tree making apples-to-apples comparisons difficult. Even worse, many manufacturers try to create specs around perceived “unique” qualities of their systems which don’t have any relevance to actual system performance. They're parlor tricks meant to divert the buyers attention.

The worst reality of LED signage is a lot of the poorly constructed systems actually look great. Put it up, give it power and it runs like any other; for a month or a year, maybe even two years. Unfortunately, the end-user doesn’t pay out for a 1 year system. The investment is not a small one. Most small businesses will commit a substantial portion of their revenue towards buying an LED sign. It’s a big investment. When that investment fails (starts to look dim, has had five service calls in one month to fix a controller issue, has LED modules which failed and the replacement modules don’t match the color, etc.) it fails spectacularly. 

When I’m going out to eat, I’ll take a look at the sign and if the sign doesn’t look good, I’ll pass the restaurant up. It’s a bit superficial of me but really... Do you want to eat at a place where the owners don’t care enough about their business image to keep the sign looking good... What do you think they’re doing in the kitchen where you can’t see what’s being skimped on? What's the cost of a failing/failed Digital Signage? Beyond the multiple trips out to fix the system and the growing burden on the end-user to pay for the service calls (as most systems aren’t warranted on labor), the reputation takes a big hit.

The reputation you get is the one you’ve earned. The sign industry itself is surprisingly smaller than you’d think. Often I’ve spoken with a sign shop owner in CA who is friends with other sign shop owners in FL and NH. At the national tradeshows, people can point out the shops who cut corners and the ones who refuse to do anything but the best builds (even if the price is high). The reputation you earn is important and unfortunately can be lost in a heartbeat. A lot of pain, suffering, money and bad feelings can be saved by doing a little research now to ensure you’re not buying low-end systems touted as quality. 

I’m not saying the most expensive systems out there are the best, just make sure your investment is made with a company who cares about your reputation and is working hard to ensure both your reputation and theirs continue to grow positively. Saving a few dollars by going with the cheapest thing out there will cost you in more ways than one when the system brings the reality check in for payment. Dig deeper and make sure you're getting what you pay for, a balance of cost-conscious build and solid design/engineering. Don't let a bad sign cost you and your end users hard earned money and reputations. The money can be made back, but a reputation takes a lot longer to recover.

*I invite you to comment here and/or email me directly with requests at Vantage LED has white paper resources and more educational material on the website (, please check it out when you have a moment. Note 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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