Thursday, January 24, 2013

LED Sign Sales-- Why Cheap LED Signs Sell Well But Fail

“There is nothing in the world that some man cannot make a little worse and sell a little cheaper, and he who considers price only is that man’s lawful prey.”

-John Ruskin

My very first night in College was an Economics 101 class. The professor took the chalk (yes chalk) and wrote the Acronym on the blackboard “T A N S T A A F L” and then turned around and asked the class “who knows what this means?”

The answers from the class came slowly. First there was “nothingness” followed by a protracted round of cricket chirping. We thought he’d taken leave of his senses and not a single hand went up.

 “It means there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch,” He said, very proud of himself. I thought about it and nodded- true. 

In my humble blogger opinion, there are two reasons why “Cheap” LED Signs are sold:

  1. The need for more technical understanding of a quality LED sign and what benefits are created for the customer by these advantages
  2. Denial of the TANSTAAFL rule and the John Ruskin observation on the part of the seller or buyer.

When I write a blog, there is one concept I attempt to impart- Not all LED display are created equally. They may have similar characteristics- LED modules, a control system, some kind of cabinet and a method to communicate. But, if you recall the recently departed automobile brand “Yugo”, it had 4 wheels, an engine and a body. But when you looked at it or drove it, it really did not have any measurable “value”. How many proud Yugo owners wrote about their cars in Car and Driver  magazine?

The LED sign industry is simple in some ways, but if the seller does not possess the technical knowledge to explain why a USA produced brand that has UL Certification and a user-friendly software system with professionally produced content may be a superior choice over other imported brands lacking in these areas, then reason #1 applies. 

It’s easy in the short-run to make the LED sign sale on price alone, but much more difficult in the long-run to dispatch a repair truck every week to the job site and deal with the wrath of the customer.

Customers, unschooled in LED sign science, and looking for a quick-cheap way to do on-premise advertising,  may think that there is such a thing as a “free lunch”. Perhaps, more likely, is that they believe that the LED sign industry has outgrown the “John Ruskin rule”. The customer may think that the LED sign industry is similar to the Wal Mart TV department where you walk in and all the TVs look alike and seem to perform the same. The select a LG or a Sony or a Vizio and take it home and plug it in and it works for years without problems. 

The LED sign industry has not been commoditized. We do not sell salt and wheat. LED signs are not all the same despite what the "Shenzhen Telegraph" may be pounding out. 

A simple example of the impact of this quality difference- if the LED modules last 100,000 hours (11 years) but the power supplies and the control system fail in 30,000 hours (3 years, or so) due to inadequate design then what good is the 100,000 hour warranty on the LED modules? The sign has failed in 3 years.  If the LED display does not have professionally produced content, and the messages displayed on the LED sign next to the 80,000 car per day highway can’t be read… what good is it, at any price. Not all LED signs are the same.

LED signs are workhorses. They electronically plow every day, all day, and many continue to plow all night long too. They have to be superbly engineered to live in the outdoor environment of “dust, dirt, heat and cold” while fighting the visual impact of sunlight on their performance during the day. Unlike your Vizio TV, which operates once a day for an hour during back-to-back reruns of Gilligan’s Island, the LED sign can be on 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, 365 days per year.  As these LED sign workhorses  plow their “electronic field”, they have to plow pretty, to deliver superb content, brilliantly illuminated  in a bid to satisfy the discriminating business owner.

My suggestion to Sign Companies selling LED displays is to learn the differences in brands and learn the technology. Don’t let your customer be deluded into thinking that the cheapest LED sign is the best investment. That is seldom true in life due to the TANSTAAFL rule or:

“There is nothing in the world that some man cannot make a little worse and sell a little cheaper, and he who considers price only is that man’s lawful prey.”

I       I like John Ruskin's quote. 

       - Mike Prongue

      The usual disclaimer: all posts, reflections, writing, and other mutterings of opinion are mine, and do not reflect the opinions or beliefs of Vantage LED, unless I specifically state. I provide "food for thought", one opinion amongst 300,000,000 in the USA. What is YOUR opinion? Email me at and tell me what you think.



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