How to Reduce Costs for Your Sign Project

Kona Impact sells signs…a lot of signs. From foam core displays to semi-permanent building signs to temporary banners-we sell them all.
Our goal is to always provide quality signs at reasonable prices in a quick and timely manner. This guide is a way to help you develop win-win relationships with your sign supplier.
The most important thing to consider is the costs for a sign company.
These are:

  1. The time is takes to go over the signs project with a client.
  2. Design time to make and set up the files for printing.
  3. Materials, including the vinyl, laminate, substrate, ink and shop supplies.
  4. Time to assemble or make the sign.
  5. Installation time and supplies.
  6. Billing and customer support after the project is completed.
  7. Shop overhead.

So, you should immediately get over the idea that any sign can be made cheaply! Even for a 2” by 2” sign, you’re at least looking at 30 minutes of time to go over the project, design it, set it up and make it. I don’t think I’ve seen many projects that can be done in less time. Even if you don’t count materials costs, you’re still looking at a half hour of shop time, which in Kona Impact’s case, makes it a $36 sign!
In the sign business, we need to bill for all of #1-7 above, so how can you help reduce these costs?
The first thing is to upfront with the sign shop. Tell person you speak to what you want to do and what your budget is. Most sign shops have set fees, so telling your budget should not increase your costs. If your budget is clearly out of range for what you want, you’ll know so right away and will not waste anyone’s time—yours or the sign shop’s. You can then look for another provider or adjust your project to meet your budget.
Ask the sign shop how you can reduce costs. Remember: time, materials, installation and overhead are the main variables.
Win-win Concept
Saving on Time/Labor
If you are able to do the design work (ask your sign shop for formats and setup), you can save a lot of money. Professional graphic design costs in Kona, Hawaii, the home of Kona Impact range from $75 to $125/hour, so if you can do the work, you should see a lower project cost. That said, make sure you understand what your sign shop needs: most of the files you download from the internet are not print-quality file and will make for a less-than perfect sign.
Don’t mico-manage the project. Signs are meant to be simple and readable from a distance. The more you put on the sign, the less any element will be emphasized and readable from a distance. Let a professional designer make your sign effective and get out of the way. Every change you make costs money, money that your sign shop should be getting from you.
Offer to do the install if possible. Installs often take travel time, vehicle mileage and the time of two or three sign shop employees. If you are thirty minutes from the sign shop and the install takes 30 minutes for three employees, you’re looking at 4.5 hours of billable time (1 hour travel + 30 min. install x 3 people)
Ways to Save on Materials
This is not the best place to cut corners if you end up with an inferior sign. For example, while wood is great for building a work bench, it is, for the most part, a horrible substrate for a sign (a painted sign being the exception). It’s porous, warps, rots and is a great home for termites and other creepy-crawly creatures. Ask, but then trust the answer from your sign supplier, if you have a creative solution to your sign materials.
Talk with your sign shop about materials. You might find that a banner will meet your temporary sign needs at a more affordable price than a metal sign. Coroplast (a corrogated plastic) is very inexpensive and might work for your project. Your sign shop will be able to suggest alternatives, many of which you are probably unaware, for your project.
Another option is to ask the sign shop if they have any remnants that might work for your project. You might need to make a smaller or bigger sign, but sign shops (like carpet stores) love to use remnants whenever possible, and they are likely to give you a better deal if they can use something on hand.
Likewise, stick with common pre-cut sign material dimensions. If you want a 13” x 18” aluminum sign, it will have to be cut just for you, but a 12” x 18” sign is a stock material, which will save the shop time and material costs. Want a circular sign? Be prepared to pay extra, as circles are hard to cut! Ask about signs that can use stock or pre-cut material to save on costs.
Another way to save on materials is to use what your sign shop has in stock. If you want a specialty vinyl, that will need to be ordered just for your project, be prepared for higher costs, as the excess material is unlikely going to be used. Sign shops don’t mind making special orders, but keep in mind, these will add a lot of your costs.
The Big Picture
Your sign shop as a business that wants to make money;  the time you take for design or production is time that can’t be billed for another project. Your goal and the sign shop’s goal should be aligned on this point: get the project started and completed with the least amount of time and material inputs.
You can, of course, have any amount of time you’d like for your project, but we seldom see clients that want to pay for all that time.
Communicate with the sign shop about your budget, needs, time frame and willingness to adjust the project to reduce costs.