Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Digital Signage Sales 101: China, Stack 'em Deep, Sell 'em Cheap

- Mike Prongue

In a prior life, long ago and far away in 2011, when I dropped that envelope into the mail box I knew it was real. The address on the label was a Chinese Visa Processing Center in Houston, Texas and this Florida Boy was actually going to the 2012 LED China trade show in the city of Guangzhou. After the trade show the plan was to visit our LED sign manufacturer in Shenzhen.


Doing business directly with a Chinese LED sign supplier is an adventure of astounding proportions. Since this is the 21st Century, by my calendar, it’s obviously impossible to visit the early days of the California Gold Rush. But, my imagination can take me there and it had to be like doing business with a Chinese LED sign supplier.


First you have to get there. “There” is only 9,500 miles away from Pensacola, Florida and would require flying to New York City, then on to Anchorage, Alaska, to Taipei, Taiwan, then to Hong Kong. You cross the border into China and find some way to get to your destination. We were doing the trip “on the cheap” so we rode a train. It was a great social experience but unless you want to drink warm Tsingtao beer on a crowded train for 3 hours.  I’d recommend taking a direct flight!

 The trade show, LED China, was amazing. Every aspect associated with an LED lamp was on display. You could talk to every Chinese manufacturer of LED signs, and see products on display from LED snowmen for your front yard to the most leading-edge LED applications you could only dream of! It was an awakening to the true scope and enormity of the LED industry that we are a subset of!


But alas, the glitz and glamor of the trip was behind us and we took the train back down to Shenzhen to meet our Chinese project manager contact who had always been our primary “face” of the company we purchased from. A nice enough fellow, with Americanized language and habits he was, and he picked us up from the lobby of the Marco Polo Hotel near the train station. 


Actually it was his “Girl Friday” who found us, sipping yet another Tsingtao (this time ice cold) in the lobby of the upscale hotel, and she ushered us to his waiting car. The city of Shenzhen was a welcome sight- modern, clean, with a great transportation infrastructure and the persistent air quality problems found in Guangzhou were not to be seen. The air was so bad in Guangzhou that there was actually a creosote-smelling film on the interior of the lobby windows. This was not the case in Shenzhen, a modern city, the first Special Economic Zone in China. It had exploded into a modern city of 10 million people, from the previous rice paddies, in less than 25 years.


We ate lunch at a local restaurant, tucked away on the second floor of a non-descript building overlooking a busy street, the first authentic Chinese meal we’d had since arriving. After lunch we were whisked off to the “factory”.


Clean, efficient, austere, coordinated, machine intensive, labor intensive and a developing force were my first impressions of the facility. If you wanted it, tell the man what you desired and for a price they would do it!

 Would you like?

  • Your company’s name on each printed circuit board?

  • Your company’s name and logo on each LED cabinet?

  • Your choice of cabinet locking mechanisms?

  • Your choice of controller or computer?

  • White, gray or black cabinets? Any color you like for extra.

And if you wanted a better price, they never said “no”! How they arrived at a better (cheaper) price was the “trick”. For the price point we were offering to purchase their LED signs at, I wondered if they would provide cardboard cabinets in the future to meet that price point!


They would definitely “Stack ‘em Deep, Sell ‘em Cheap” for you once the wire transfer was complete. There was no doubt they could make them!


The conversations and negotiations with our Chinese host never touched on the subjects of “quality”, “failure rate” and “promises not kept”. I suppose for the dollar per square foot we were offering for their LED sign product, they thought we were not concerned! Perhaps we were not!


Any sign company back in the good old USA, who were actually purchasing these signs for their customer should have been waking up in a cold sweat right about then!


In the LED Sign Industry, the holy grail of reasonableness regarding LED sign selection is called "The 7 Key Elements of Digital Signage".  This list is embraced by the Digital Signage Federation and the list makes a lot of obvious sense:  Hardware, Software, Connectivity, Content, Operations, Design and Business (


The Chinese supplier, granted evolving as they were, did not really meet the threshold of any of these 7 Key Elements. The hardware had high failure rates, the software was complex, the connectivity was simplistic, there was no provided content, operations were whatever they wished to do or say, the design was cookie-cutter, and the business plan was essentially “wire us the money”.


So, that is reality. Will China someday perform like the high-quality USA LED sign manufacturers? I don’t know what the future holds. But I do know what the present delivers.


While China was a tremendous learning experience for me, what I really learned was we have it pretty good here in the USA. Not only for our freedom and way of life but also for the products we manufacture.  Sure, it can be argued that all American-manufactured LED sign products include some globally acquired parts. So do our automobiles, the Boeing 777 Dreamliner and many other “USA Manufactured” products. That is the way of the world these days.


But what some USA LED sign manufactures add to the "7 Key Elements" is strong partnering. When these factors combine you can rest comfortably knowing you are delivering a 5 star product to your customer!


These comments are my personal perspective and do not reflect the opinion of Vantage LED, Inc. or SignVine, Inc. or any other person or organization. If you have constructive feedback please email me at  - Mike Prongue

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