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What Questions Do You Need to Ask When Purchasing an Exterior Sign?


Are you starting a new business, opening a new location for your existing business, or moving to a new location?  This may be the first time you’ve purchased an exterior business sign, or it may have been a while since you last purchased an outdoor business sign. Below is a great primer for anyone new to the sign buying process.  It’s a list of simple but very important questions to ask yourself before and during your sign purchasing process.

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Purchasing an exterior sign can be a new experience for many business owners.  It’s not something that you do every day so it’s a good idea to have some guidance to help you through the ins and outs of exterior sign purchasing.

Here are 10 Questions to Help You Get Started

1) Is the exterior sign style you are interested in buying allowed in the city or town where your business is moving to or located at?

Most towns and cities have Bylaws and Sign Permitting requirements. You can find these usually by doing a web search for Town of …Sign Permitting or Bylaws.

There are usually restrictions on the types of signs allowed, what size sign you can have, what types of lighting if any are allowed, and so on. For example in many towns, you are only allowed reverse or halo illuminated Channel Letters as an effort to reduce the amount of light overflowing the sign.

Obtain a copy of your town’s bylaws, specifically the sign section. Read and understand what the allowed types and sizes of signs you can have. Inquire with the Building Department or Inspectional Services on what the permitting process is and how long it takes to get a permit. It varies greatly from town to town and can be anywhere from days to months. Need permitting help? Express Sign & Graphics has lots of experience with Sign Permitting.

Understand that if you want a sign that is outside of the parameters allowed in the Bylaws, you may need to go through a process of applying for a variance. This can be costly and time-consuming so be sure it is a worthwhile endeavor and that your sign will have a great ROI by understanding how well your sign type choice will work for your business.

2) What types of Exterior Signs are in my price range?

There are many types of signs for outdoor use. Many lighted options such as channel letters, light box signs and pylon signs have costs in the thousands. Be sure that the ROI for the extra cost is worthwhile. In general, internally lighted signs offer a much better visibility and ROI than externally or non-illuminated signs.

Other signs such as carved signs with gold leaf can be expensive depending on the thickness of the material, the number of processes involved in making the sign (i.e. shape routing, v-groove and raised dimensions, multiple paint colors, etc.). Work with your sign provider to minimize costs. Also keep in mind that when we say Gold Leaf, we do really mean 23K Gold, and therefore the cost of gold leaf reflects the cost of gold leaf signs.

Try using a full-color digital print or direct to substrate print in place of multiple vinyl or paint colors to contain costs. The newer printers and inks provide long-lasting outdoor full-color prints when done properly.

Remember that you get what you pay for. When comparing pricing or vendors, be sure you are comparing apples to apples. Some sign companies might quote a lower cost by cutting back and using less expensive materials or materials with a shorter life span. At Express Sign, we strive to make the highest quality sign our customer can afford. The quality of your sign reflects the quality of your business!

Don’t be afraid to ask for a ballpark price from your sign vendor for different types of signs. Often pricing is as simple as a per square foot price so it’s easy to compare.

3) How long does it take to make the Exterior Sign you are interested in buying?

Many sign types can be done in a matter of days or a week. Others take several weeks to fabricate as there are several processes involved in fabrication.

Ask your vendor what their turnaround time is for the sign type(s) you are interested in. Be sure that they are capable of installing your sign or have a qualified sub-contractor who can do the installation. Also be sure they have sufficient insurance coverage to protect you from any issues arriving from the installation.

Ask your sign fabricator what situations might change that schedule (i.e. weather issues, product availability) and allow for some extra time in your schedule for installation.

Work with your sign company to coordinate permits, electrical work, construction completion, etc. to keep your sign project on schedule. Keep the weather in mind, specifically in the winter.

4) How long will the Exterior Sign Type you’ve selected last?

Different sign substrates have different lifespans. Remember, nothing lasts forever, specifically in advertising. Most companies don’t need a sign for more than 8-10 years. Name changes, logo changes, moves, mergers and other factors often create the need for a new sign anyway. More important to ask would be, can the sign be modified if needed, moved to a new location, or refurbished in time.

Remember you will have to do your part to maintain your signs lifespan. Cleaning your sign or awning, keeping electrical components in working order, repairing vinyl over time helps to make your sign last longer and work harder for you.

5) Can the Exterior Sign Type I’ve selected be updated if I change my name, etc.?

Consider whether or not you want to include your website, phone number, tenant names directly on a sign. If you do decide to have it, consider having that part done as an overlay, insert panel, or in vinyl to allow for changes when needed. This can save you money in the future particularly on dimensional letters signs or carved signs.

If you have a multi-tenant sign or directory sign, be sure that it can easily be updated. Again in winter it can be difficult to re-letter signs outdoors. In areas where winter weather is a consideration, removable panels that can be brought indoors work best.

6) What other potential costs involved in completing your outdoor sign project?

Many times your sign project requires additional work at your site. Be sure to have your sign vendor come on site to survey and be sure that you don’t need extra blocking or structure to attach your sign, that your electrical wiring is available, or accessible, that there is access for attaching your sign.

Ask what other vendors may be needed such as an Electrician, contractor, Attorney for special permitting.

Plan ahead so that your premises are ready to accept the sign.

7) What is the most visible location for my sign?

Location and visibility are critical to the success of your exterior sign project. Make sure your sign location is visible from as many traffic viewpoints as possible. Plan your lettering and graphic sizes to accommodate the length of view and speed of drivers if you are along a road. Plan for ease of view for foot traffic if you have it in your area.

Your sign should fit with your environment. A neon flashing sign in a historical area would look out of place and most likely would not be allowed. Plan accordingly.

At Express Sign & Graphics, we provide our customers with imposed scaled photos of how their signs will actually look in place. This is an important step to be sure your sign is the appropriate size, has good visibility and looks great before making a commitment.

8) What is my sign company’s experience fabricating this type of Exterior Sign?

Don’t be afraid to ask for references or referrals. Your neighbors and business partners may know the sign company you are dealing with and their capabilities.

You should feel comfortable with your sign vendor and their ability to explain different sign types, understand your requirements and work with you to get your sign project done on time and on budget.

At Express Sign & Graphics, we have a great showroom where you can visit and see photos of our work, view real samples and meet with our designers, fabricators, and installers to ask questions.

9) What can I expect for a Return on Investment on a large Exterior Sign?

There is no doubt that signs offer a great ROI on your advertising budget. No other type of advertising works in your neighborhood 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

ROI will be determined by the signs visibility, appropriateness for your type of business and overall design. Consulting with a sign professional and allowing them to offer you suggestions based on their experience is the best way to get the best value for your money.

10) Is this the most-effect type of Exterior Sign for my business and my customer type?

Keep in mind what your business is and how you want to be perceived by the public. Are you an accounting firm or attorney looking to attract quality clients? A boutique looking for hipsters? A grocery store looking to attract customers away from the competition? Your signs should reflect your business and provide an avenue for your business success.

Again, keep in mind the surrounding area where your business is located. Are there competing signs with similar colors/style? Is there a lot in the viewer’s eye to weed through for signs and other distractions. How fast are drivers driving? This again is where a sign professional can be a great asset in planning. They are experienced at what works and what doesn’t.

You may have many other questions for your sign provider. At Express Sign & Graphics, Inc., we have the experience to help answer all of your questions and get you on the right track. Our staff is available at our store Monday – Friday 8:30 am – 5:00 pm to help you.

With over 20 years of experience, the Team at Express Sign & Graphics is ready to assist you with getting your Property looking great!

We can assist you with a Free Onsite Evaluation of your current signage and Free Quotes and recommendations to help you get your signs looking tip top!

Give us a call at 978-250-9890 Monday - Friday.  Our Team is ready to help.



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Exterior Sign and Graphics

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