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Light the Way | Illuminated vs. Non-Illuminated Signage

Illuminated signage impacts a business in many ways. Your brand’s marketing efforts and your bottom line are directly impacted by the ability to permit illuminated signage, and the restrictions municipalities impose on illuminated signage often trend upward. Is non-illuminated signage a feasible solution, or just the only option available?

Marketing Functions of On-Premise Signs

First and foremost, what are the real benefits of on-premise signage? Listed are the four key marketing functions of on-premise signs as outlined in On-Premise Signs as Storefront Marketing Devices and Systems by Taylor, Claus, and Claus (2005).

  • Communicating the business’ location;
  • Reinforcing advertisements and other promotional techniques as a part of integrated marketing communications;
  • Branding the location; and
  • Enhancing the image of the store or business.

Examining the four key functions brings us to the conclusion that illuminated and non-illuminated signs can perform all four functions. While both illuminated and non-illuminated signs fit the criteria. Illumination reinforces the sign’s ability to perform its intended marketing functions. In turn, a properly lit sign can increase your company’s competitive advantage.

Per an academic study completed by Taylor, Sarkees, and Bang (2012). 85% of a representative U.S. sample of on-premise sign users would lose sales if they did not have an on-premise sign. Additionally, the average reported loss across the entire sample was 34.5%. (Journal of Public Policy & Marketing; Fall2012, Vol. 31 Issue 2)

A Correlation between Illumination and Profit Margin

To determine the correlation between illuminated signage and an increase in sales volume we will use the survey and sampling plan developed by Dr. Charles R. Taylor of Villanova University.

The issues regarding the illumination of on-premise signs show that the percentages of businesses facing lighting restrictions are as follows:

  • Allowable hours of illumination 3%
  • Sign Brightness 8%
  • Type of illumination 24%

“Results indicate that lighted on-premise signs substantially impact the bottom line on many businesses. A sizeable majority of respondents (58%) indicated they would lose sales if government regulations prevented signs from being lit at any hour. For those who reported a sales loss, the average estimate was 21%. For the overall sample, including those businesses not reporting a loss, the average estimated loss of sales exceeded 10%.” (

The Bottom Line                                                   

If non-illuminated signage is the only option available, it will, in fact, benefit the business and help increase foot traffic. The issue is will it befit your business enough to be profitable. As you can see from the numbers above, for most small businesses 10% – 20% decreases in sales can easily deplete a business’s entire profit margin. Our fast-paced society relies on convenience and ease of use for many of the purchasing decisions made. Restricting a sign’s illumination or duration of usage. Can cause the sign to go unnoticed resulting in a decrease, or loss of sales for the business.

Beyond the Sign: The Challenges Facing Project Management

Project management often focuses on process.  As consumers, our biggest concern lies with the finished product. We place an order, wait patiently, and rejoice at its arrival. In the sign industry, this process is a little more complicated. Today we are going to focus on one in particular component that happens during the “patiently waiting” phase – Project Management.

Can a basic understanding of project management be useful to someone who is not a Project Manager? Most importantly, are Project Managers facing problems that affect the end results of your services, or products? First, we address issues Project Managers face to determine what actions eliminate complications within the process.

Unspecified Goals

Goals, when not clearly defined by all parties can cause delays, miscommunications, and inefficient planning. It is the responsibility of the project manager to establish and communicate clear goals from the conception of the project.

Changes in Scope

In some cases a project can be moving along smoothly and all of the sudden, BAM, POW, WHAM! The whole scope has changed, and all previous planning has been thrown out the window. It’s time to start from scratch with a deadline that is now right around the corner. What do you do? It is important to have a disaster/contingency plan for this situation. As a company, you hope for the best but prepare for the worst. Training your project management team to know what direction needs to be taken in such situations will keep you one step ahead at all times.

Poor Communication

Communication is the key to success. If we cannot effectively communicate our goals to a client or vendor the likelihood of their achievability is dramatically lowered. It is the responsibility of the Project Manager to provide direction at every step of the way. If direction cannot be provided it is up to the Project Manager to request any needed information from vendors, or clients so they can reassess the goals of the project, and provide clear direction.

Impossible Deadlines

Managing the expectations of your customers can at times prove itself to be difficult. Limited resources such as time can create a negative strain on the relationship if left unchecked. Complete transparency and honesty is the best way to combat this creating a healthy space for the client/vendor relationship to grow in a positive way.

Low-Profit Margins

This situation is unique, as not all projects will fall into this category. The importance of the above mentioned is even more crucial when dealing with projects that will yield low-profit margins. The room for error on this type of project decreases to nothing. Early identification of your goals and creating a proper timeline is the best way to avoid any possible issues that may arise.

It goes without saying that the role of project manager in the sign industry is one that is most important. A basic understanding of this role can be beneficial to all who work directly with project management teams. With understanding comes patience creating stronger relationships with vendors and clients.

As a company, if you can identify the issues your project management team faces up front. You can begin to address them in a more efficient and effective manner.

Beyond the Sign: A Sense of Urgency

National sign companies need to understand the urgency of their clients

Many times it is what a national sign company can do beyond the sign that earns loyal customers – like a sense of urgency.  This story of fulfilling a small but important request illustrates our commitment to legendary customer service.

Recognizing the Urgency

Recently, Scott, a project manager received a client request to get a temporary sign up at a location – FAST.  There was urgency in the client’s voice:  “Can you do this tomorrow?  We really need this up for the  weekend!”  Scott replied, “Let me get started and I will see what we can do.”  In a little over an hour, Scott had the answer – YES – even though this was a few days prior to Christmas.

The Foundation for Success

How so quickly?  Well, first of all, this specific request was for a temporary sign, so Scott could focus on a solution that was inexpensive and could be produced quickly.  Second, he called upon our network of partnered installation companies.  They know us well and know we are both serious sign professionals and appreciate the challenges they face.  They trust us.  And, when we and our clients need something, we know we can trust them.

Combining some fast and simple manufacturing with a reliable partner, allowed us to have the sign installed prior to close of business the following day.  As Scott said, “I never thought of not doing it for them.  They had an urgent need and we needed to find a way to do it.”

Appreciate the Small Victories

It is a small victory that often could go unnoticed and, while there may not be a celebration afterwards, there is a feeling of accomplishment in all victories.  We do remarkable things every day for our clients.  Our dedication to understanding your urgency and getting what you need done is why so many of our customers choose us year after year, but often decade after decade.

Three Types of Managers

When talking with one of our new managers, Derek, he indicated that he noticed three different types of managers at North American Signs. He provided details and insight on why each manager is vital to the company’s success.

Detail Manager

Managers having fun on Extraterrestrial Culture Day.

Derek started off describing what he calls the detail manager. As stated in the job title, their job is to pay attention to the small details that can easily be forgotten. He explained how important their role, ensuring neither the design team nor clients skip any steps. Derek described the role, “Much like the tortoise in the old fable, this manager is detail oriented.”

Fast Manager

In contrast to the detail manager is the fast manager. This is the type of manager Derek would describe himself as. He and other fast managers want to get the job done as quickly as possible. If clients need something done in a short time frame, he will ensure it is completed on time. He explained how important he and other fast managers are during those times because they keep everyone working fast and efficiently. Derek describes his thought process as, “I have to go, go, go and clean it up and figure it out later mindset.”

Wise Manager

The last type of manager is a wise manager. Derek described this position as a “Wise elder, guiding you, letting you make your own decisions and mistakes, but not letting you fall.” He said this person serves as the middle ground between the fast and detail manager. Always open to questions and concerns the clients and employees may have, this person is a great listener. Derek said they always have the bigger picture in mind and rarely get ahead of themselves.

Three Types of Managers: All Are Important

It is evident that the different types of managers all serve a vital role in getting each job done well. The different types of managers weigh each other out with their strengths and weaknesses. Derek wrapped up our conversation stating how much more efficient the work environment has become having each manager play role and some flexibility as circumstances demand.  It is possible to take on different roles when you understand the value of each type of manager.

Bullough’s Review on Sign Visibility

John D. Bullough recently published an informative article titled, Factors Affecting Sign Visibility, Conspicuity, and Legibility. It focuses on researched studies about different factors that affect sign visibility. Bullough breaks down sign visibility into two categories; conspicuity and legibility. His use of other research in conjunction with his own findings makes the article a scholarly and reliable source for designers, manufactures, and buyers.


One of the first topics Bullough touches upon is the size of the commercial sign. Focusing specifically on conspicuity, he asserts the size of a sign should be based on the average speed a car is travelling when passing a sign. Therefore, signs on a major highway compared to signs in small towns typically can vary in size. The highway signs are much larger because of the increased speed people are travelling at compared to a small town.

Bullough claims a way to increase conspicuity is through a border. A border adds contrast to a commercial sign, which in turn makes the sign more difficult to ignore. Adding a border is a great way to make the sign stand out in any environment. The suggestion of adding a border is a reason why this article is so informative. Bullough also recognizes other attributes which add to the commercial sign’s conspicuity such as a color and letter font.

Strong contrast on blade signs aids sign visibility
The lighting must contrast the rest of the sign to increase conspicuity.

Bullough then discusses the subject of luminance and how it relates to conspicuity. While many textbooks state the importance of lighting in gaining attention, he says to keep in mind a few things. First off, it is important to make sure the lit portion of the sign provides contrast to the rest of the sign. For the sign luminance to be effective, a contrast must occur. It is also important to ensure the luminance is not too bright and could lead to distraction. Lastly, flashing lights will make the commercial sign more noticeable.


Bullough moves on to discuss legibility by stating how much it influences the reader’s ability to process the information on the commercial sign. What he is saying is, there cannot be too much information on the sign or it will be illegible. Bullough cites prior research saying it takes about 5.5 seconds to read, understand, and respond to a sign. A sign requiring significantly more time to perform these three reactions is not very legible.

It was also found that the width of the individual characters on a sign play a large role in legibility. Bullough found one recommendation stating the stroke width should be 18% of the character height. It is important to stay close to this percentage because characters to wide or too small will decrease the legibility.

Both conspicuity and legibility determine a commercial sign’s visibility. Bullough does a great job explaining factors that increase and decrease the sign’s visibility. Careful attention to each of the conspicuity and legibility factors will lead to more successful commercial signs.

The People at North American Signs

2017 Group Picture

While conducting interviews with employees in various departments within North American Signs, we came across a common theme. When asked, “What is your favorite part of working at North American Signs?” The most popular answer was the people.

Long Time Employees

Thais Ladas worked at the company for more than 30 years, and has since retired. She saw many employees walk in and out of the doors over the years and enjoyed friendships with nearly all of them. “I love the people I work with and, you can imagine over the years, they have changed many times…it is nice to know that the bulk of the people that you’re working with are wonderful.” Though it was hard to leave North American Signs, she felt she was leaving it in the right hands. It was partially due to the employees that made retiring an easy and hard goodbye. Knowing all of her hard work was going to be taken care of was a relief, but not seeing all of her friends at North American Signs made Thais’ retirement bittersweet for everyone.

Fun People

While not everyone’s story is as heartfelt as Thais’, the same general answer came from the question, “What is your favorite part of working at North American Signs.” Some employees, like Bret, hesitated at first, racking his brain for the best answer. Bret concluded, “The people. I mean I enjoy the type of work, but I enjoy the people more.” Some, like Randy, enjoy the employees because of the comic relief they bring. “They got some great people here; we have a lot of fun together.” The people who make up North American Signs encourage each other to get things done through comic relief .

A Family

A couple employees even consider the people they work with as family. Brian described the employees he works with saying, “It’s like a family…I spend more time with the people here than I do with my own family.” After being with coworkers for hours on end, Brian and others start to consider the other employees family because of the relationships they form.

The family environment that exists at North American Signs also makes work much more enjoyable. Derek Tobolski said, “It’s a big family…we’ve went through some rocky times, some hard times, but at the end everybody seems to come together and I think that makes coming to work more enjoyable.” An enjoyable workplace is one of the reasons why many employees have been working at North American Signs for 10 plus years.

In conclusion, the employees at North American Signs are what make the company great. The culture is best described by the sign above the employee entrance to the building. “Through these doors pass the finest sign people in America.”

Interviews conducted by Iris Fry

Economic Value of Commercial Signage

When focusing on marketing and advertising, many companies under invest in their signage. Failure to spend both time and money on proper signage is a lost opportunity for any type of business. Unfortunately, many people do not realize the economic value commercial signage brings to a business. Signs have the ability to positively impact consumers and communities, increase business performance, and increase their own worth. All of these signage capabilities have been researched and published by the Sign Research Foundation.

Positive Impact on Consumers

commercial signage value, historical
North American Signs, once called South Bend Neon, has been helping companies boost sales with our signage for over 80 years.

Commercial signage positively impacts consumers and communities. Research states, “In a case study of 8 San Diego auto dealers, 68% of people surveyed said that the sign had been an important factor in finding the dealer’s location” (The Economic Value of On-Premise Signage, See executive summary). Without conspicuous signs, many consumers have a hard time finding businesses. This can lead to frustrated consumers and even dangerous driving behavior. Therefore, an appropriately designed sign positively influenced a consumer’s opinion of the business.

Business Performance

Commercial signage also has the power to increase a business’ performance. Repairing signs shows a 10% increase in sales for 60% of businesses studied (See executive summary). People perceive not only what type product or service a business offers but also judge a business by the curb appeal, which is largely influenced by the signage. If a sign is outdated or not taken care of properly, people are likely to assume the business is also outdated or not cared for.

On the other hand, if a sign is designed well, it can increase foot traffic. A survey performed by the BrandSpark Better Homes and Gardens American Shopper study found, “29% of American consumers report that they have been drawn into unfamiliar stores based on the quality of the store’s signage.” So a well designed sign grabs the target audience’s attention, and attracts consumers who might not have stopped in before.

Commercial Signage Value

Unlike many investments made by a company, a commercial sign does not necessarily depreciate in value. The value of a sign is reinforced every time it causes someone to engage in the business. In the article, The Importance of Signage of Repositioning Your Brand, the authors emphasize the key role a sign plays in a business’ advertising. “It is an advertising investment that you make once, and yet it continues to work for you…24 hours a day, 7 days a week.” Investing in a sign is a onetime purchase, yet it is constantly drawing customers into a business. It is reported that 29% of North American shoppers base where they shop on the information communicated by the store signs (see executive summary). A commercial sign can be a large investment, but its value grows with every customer it brings to the business.

Commercial signage has a large amount of economic value for a business. A well designed sign can positively influence consumer’s view of the business and increase the business’s performance. Lastly, the value of the commercial sign increases over time if it is well kept. It is an investment that grows in value by drawing consumers in. It is in any marketing team’s best interest to spend time focusing on the signage of the business. In doing this, they are bound to bring in more customers and increase the overall perception of their company.

How to Buy a Commercial Sign Infographic

This infographic provides an overview of commercial sign purchasing issues with connections to related materials.  It is based on information from How to Buy an Electric Sign by Noel Yarger and the associated blog posts at North American Signs.  We hope it is informative and helpful to everyone purchasing commercial signs.

Created using Visme. An easy-to-use Infographic Maker.

Gaining Attention: Visual, Motion, Flashing, & Time and Temperature Signs

The purpose of a commercial sign is to gain the attention of consumers. In order to maximize a sign’s purpose and value, there are various details that enhance the attention a sign attracts.

Visual Competition

In a highly populated area, sign competition increases dramatically compared to a more rural area. Though it is important to always buy a visually appealing sign, it becomes even more important when encountering competition. Referring to a sign specialist at an experienced sign company will ensure the sign will stand out from any competition.


Movement is a way to catch attention. Therefore, a commercial sign with any type of movement is more likely to catch a person’s attention compared to a stationary sign. It is important that a sign buyer is knowledgeable of the sign regulations in their town. Some areas prohibit certain types of sign movement. If this is the case, the sign company should know of a way to work around the regulations.


Flashing signs not only increase visibility, but are also visually pleasing to people passing by. They increase visibility by standing out from other commercial signs and grabbing people’s attention. The lights also make the sign easier to see, especially at night. People also tend to find flashing signs interesting and draws in their attention. It is said by Noel Yarger that incandescent bulbs traveling around a sign creates a sense

Time and Temperature Sign manufactured at North American Signs

of excitement and entertainment. If used in the correct manner, flashing signs can draw a lot of attention to a business.

Time and Temperature Signs

Time and temperature signs serve as an amenity to the public. Consumers may have a more positive view of a business that invests in one of these signs because of the service they are providing to the community.

Along with the generosity of providing a time and temperature sign, it also gains the attention of consumers. When speaking with merchants located across the street from a time and temperature sign, the merchants have found a pattern. Many customers who have trouble finding their business state they were so concentrated on the time and temperature sign across the street that they missed the business they were actually looking for.

Many businesses fail to realize all of the details that go into making a well designed sign. This is just another reason it is important to invest in a sign company that knows how to create the best sign for your business. Incorporating one or more than one of the above factors will increase the commercial sign’s value to the business.

National Manufacturing Day

In 2014, the International Sign Association (ISA) started promoting National Manufacturing Day. The National Association of Manufactures concieved the event, and ISA saw the value in the event for the sign industry. The event has grown into an annual affair for North American Signs (NAS), occurring every October. It has been a great way to show students in the community the benefits of working for a national sign manufacturer.


Mayor Pete Buttigieg gives Manufacturing Day Proclamation in 2016.
Students learn about sign manufacturing.

Manufacturing Day is a nationally recognized day where students of all ages can visit participating manufacturing companies. The goal of the day is to promote both careers in manufacturing, and “us”, as a national sign manufacturer. In mid September of 2014 Dee Mackenzie, our director of human resources, decided to add NAS to the Manufacturing Day website. Employees from the South Bend Regional Chamber of Commerce (SBRC) saw the entry and approached NAS about the event.

In less than a month, NAS worked with the SBRC to organize the event. We gathered 26 manufacturing companies and over 500 students in St. Joseph County to participate in the day-long event. As a result, the event had the largest concentration of participants in the country.

Positive Reactions

On Manufacturing Day in 2015, students were asked to answer a series of questions throughout the day. Before the tours started only 46% of participating students were considering a career in manufacturing. After the tours were complete, 88% of students indicated they would consider a career in manufacturing.

Following the most recent Manufacturing Day in 2016, a number of students who toured NAS followed up with feedback about their experience. Some found it fascinating to learn about the different materials and steps that go into making a sign. Others stated their appreciation for the opportunity to learn about a career field they had yet to consider. Overall, the students were extremely grateful to tour NAS and learn of all the different manufacturing jobs available.

Since 2014, the event has grown throughout the local school system with over 600 participants in 2016. Elkhart County manufacturing companies also participated in the day for the first time in 2016, and had many student participants as well.

Our current team also enjoys the opportunity to see students eyes light up and new possibilities appear.  Inspiring others creates its own rewards.

Manufacturing Day is just one of the many ISA opportunities NAS has participated in as a national sign manufacturer. The opportunity to influence students and show them a meaningful career in national sign manufacturing makes this a rewarding experience.

We look forward to hosting a new generation of students at St. Joseph County’s 4th annual Manufacturing Day held on October 6th, 2017.