The ISA International Sign Expo 2014 finished up this weekend, and by all accounts was a great success. I enjoyed talking face to face to partners, manufacturers and providers in the industry and meeting some great people. The experience brought up a couple of topics I would like to discuss today. Product Consistency and the Long Term Relationship with your manufacturer/supplier.
Although the Orlando show is slightly scaled down when compared to Las Vegas, it can still be a bit overwhelming for those new to the industry. One of the reasons for this is the ‘wow’ factor. Manufacturers want to put their best foot forward, and the good ones can back it up with a solid consistent product and experience long term. However, we should be careful of those who have a great looking product on the show floor, but supply a less than ideal product in reality.
Sometimes it’s easy to spot; choppy graphics and slow animations look sub-par even on a large 20 ft. LED sign. But it can be difficult to tell in many cases, unless you've been in the industry for a while. Super tight pixel pitches and flashy marketing material can sometimes make a supplier look better than they really are. It’s worth the effort to dig deeper, and really make sure you are able to get the same product quality long term.
While a super tight 6-8mm pixel pitch may get your attention at the show, the vast majority of LED signs are going to be in the 16, 20, or 25mm range. How does the manufacturer measure up with these more affordable pitches? Are they going to use the same materials and quality in the product you order?
To be perfectly clear, there absolutely nothing wrong with a high resolution LED sign, they look spectacular and a good manufacturer will offer these pitches along with their standard line. Putting the highest resolution out there just happens to be a significant trend at these shows, and can sometimes skew a person's objectivity. They key is providing you a consistent product regardless of the resolution, and supporting that product throughout it’s lifetime. Remember, your signs need to last longer than a 3 day indoor trade show; it’s going to be outdoor, in the elements 24/7.
Unfortunately this is an issue for some manufacturers, often many located overseas. You may initially get a similar product to the one you saw at the show, maybe even the first 2-3 months or longer. However, at some point you may start to see changes to the product that you were unaware of, changes to the components and the quality of the material that affect the stability of your product in the field. When these changes occur, who do call?
You may get general answers or apologies, but do you really have any pull with the production team or product managers in a factory across the pacific ocean? Not very much, and unfortunately you may have to pay the price for their mistakes with your own reputation and money. Fixing these issues can be costly, and not often timely as you wait for parts to ship from limited supply of spare parts overseas.
Consistency is extremely important in our industry. You want a partner who has the ability to provide this too you on a regular basis. And when changes are made, to inform and document those changes for you. One of the important factors that impacts the ability to provide this is location. As I mentioned in an earlier post, domestic design and engineering are fundamental to producing quality LED signs. Additionally, domestic support is key to providing you the tools you need to maintain happy customers and functional signs.
Being able to contact a US based representative, who reports to leadership in the US, who oversees production and design team face to face, in the US, is a benefit not to be taken lightly. Feedback and communication from the sign providers onsite provides priceless information for manufacturers to better their product and services. It’s difficult to get that level of communication from a factory thousands of miles away.
As I mentioned before, you, the sign provider bear the ultimate burden for your LED signs in the field and their long term operation. Your signs must stand up to the elements 24/7, and must be fixed in a timely manner when issues arise. The sign warranty plays a central role in this, and should be clear, underwritten, and backed up by real action, not just ink on paper. The industry standard is 5 years parts and “factory labor”. This usually includes parts replacement, and the labor for the factory to repair parts at the factory. It should not be confused with a real onsite, or service labor warranty that includes actual onsite service to the sign. A few manufacturers offer the extra onsite labor warranty, and I highly recommend it.
Everyone wins when you choose a quality manufacturer. You get a partner invested in your success. Your customers get a consistent product that will last, and when issues arise you both have a US based factory and support team ready to assist. Remember to keep your objectivity, don’t get distracted by the ‘wow’ factor, and take the time to do your research and dig a bit deeper. Make sure you're doing business with a company who cares as much about your long term success as you do.
I hope this post has been informative and helpful. As usual, 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 many 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.