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Getting a Graphics Makeover

How four businesses ramped up their curb appeal with signage upgrades courtesy of FastSigns.

Makeovers-they’re all the rage today. Home makeovers, car makeovers, yard makeovers, city makeovers, fashion makeovers, and so on; you name it, it’s being made over. The purpose of each makeover, of course, is to have a better looking 'something' when it is done, whatever that something is.

So why not treat a business to a "graphics and signage makeover" and see how it can have a beneficial impact upon a company's revenue stream? That is just what sign-shop franchisor FastSigns International decided to do.

The franchise giant asked its 425 franchisees across the US and Canada to nominate local businesses that needed more than just a sign or two-what companies really needed a total graphics makeover but, for some reason, had never done so? Four finalists would be chosen, and each business would receive a free signage and graphics makeover paid for by FastSigns. The goal was to quantify the value and impact that signage has on a business, and determine if the increased visibility and a fresh look would translate into more sales.

'Signage is one of the best uses of a company's advertising dollars and allows even the smallest business to gain attention,' says Larry Lane, president of FastSigns. 'A sign makeover is a cost-effective way to give a business a fresh, new, and updated image, which can potentially increase the customer base and, most importantly, sales.' Of course, the resultant publicity couldn’t hurt FastSigns either. And FastSigns and its franchisees could then use any results for the makeovers as great case studies for prospective customers, and further show the need for good graphics and signage.

All the makeovers focused on ramping-up the curb appeal for the business-including the company's sign, vehicle, and other graphics visible from the street. In all, 25 businesses were nominated for the graphics makeovers; most were small businesses-restaurants, retail establishments, business services, etc.-that were locally owned.

In determining the winners, FastSigns' corporate judges looked at various criteria, including: multiple elements that could be changed (store front, windows, vehicles); geographic location; the potential for a dramatic difference in appearance; and a reasonable cost factor. They finally whittled the nominees down to the four makeover winners:

* All Occasions Florist in Dallas;

* Wrap Shack in Windsor, Ontario, Canada;

* Lutz Plumbing in San Francisco; and

* Morkes Chocolates in Chicago.

'In all of the makeovers, the changes to the signs and addition of vehicle graphics translated into more visibility and increased sales following the installation of the new graphics,' says Audra London, corporate communications manager for FastSigns. And, she adds, 'more visibility and a clearer understanding of the business through updated signs and graphics has led to more sales and new customers.'

Business is blooming
When All Occasion Florist won the signage and graphics makeover, Chris Taylor, owner of the Arlington and Dallas, TX FastSigns, worked with his new customer on updating the store's signage. 'We tried to choose those elements that we felt were most visible and most in need of replacement, with the hope of making the largest impact on the public.'

This makeover's biggest challenge was 'designing a graphics package that would be effective and that would satisfy the customer,' says Taylor. The FastSigns corporate office executed the majority of the design work, 'and our store worked with the design to make it fit the actual applications.'

The original exterior comprised a not-too-colorful sign and a glass storefront with neon signs and mismatched type. Feeling the storefront needed a boost of color and pizzazz, Taylor and crew chose to redesign the company's sign, add a window graphic, and wrap the delivery van-all with full-color photographs of flowers (utilizing stock photography images) that would draw customers to the store.

Taylor's shop printed the vehicle wrap using its Mimaki JV3 onto 3M Controltac 180. The window graphics were printed onto Avery Graphics MPI 2010 3.4-mil matte calendered vinyl, also with the JV3 and Mimaki solvent inks.

Taylor and crew opted to replace the fascia sign panel with 3/16-in.clear Lexan, with a digitally printed image mounted underneath. They used the shop's HP Designjet 5000 and HP UV inks for this part of the project, printing the graphic on HP backlit film.

The vehicle graphics and window film were laminated with 3M luster laminate, using a GBC Falcon 60 laminator. The backlit panel was mounted using optically clear Seal Optimount film from Neschen Americas, also with the GBC Falcon. In all, full graphics production took approximately 4 days.

With some vehicle installs already under their belt, the two-man team from Taylor's shop installed the vehicle graphics in just 6 hours. The window graphics and replacement of the fascia sign panel took an additional 4 hours.

In the end, says Taylor, 'the customer was delighted,' and the florist reports that the new signage is the 'best salesmen he's ever had.' The numbers seem to back that up: All Occasion Florist reports that sales increased 15% in the 9 months after the makeover.

Wrapping up sales
The Wrap Shack in Windsor, Ontario, has offered healthy fast food since 1999. Sales, however, began slowing in 2004 when chain restaurants multiplied around Windsor. Wrap Shack's 2-color logo sign, unadorned windows, and plain delivery truck were no longer doing the trick.

FastSigns owner Jackie Raymond nominated Wrap Shack, which it had done some work for in the past, for the makeover 'because they are a small-business owner like us, and they were struggling to compete with the large fast-food franchises.'

Although FastSigns had produced a few outdoor signs-such as Windspinnners and A-Frames-to attract customers to Wrap Shack in the past, Raymond suggested that the makeover take things up a notch. She suggested a jazzier logo, an illuminated sign, and window graphics to attract the foot traffic in the plaza. In addition, she recommended eye-catching images for their delivery truck. With help from FastSigns corporate design team, a new logo and vehicle graphics were approved by Wrap Shack after a few minor tweaks.

Using its Seiko ColorPainter 64S, FastSigns output the full-color graphics in less than 8 hours. The vehicle graphics were printed onto Avery MPI 3000 and the window graphics imaged onto Avery MPI 1005. For the illuminated sign, Raymond's crew printed the graphics onto Sahara 2.5-mil self-adhesive clear backlit vinyl sourced from Mondrian-Hall. Total print time took approximately 7 hours.

The backlit film for the main exterior sign was applied to the acrylic face and mounted onto the illuminated box in just an hour. After some trimming, the new images were installed onto the window in about 2 1/2 hours.

Also part of the complete vehicle-graphics package: cut vinyl generated by the shop's Gerber Fast Track 1300 Plotter (the plotter was also used to cut out the printed vehicle graphics). Once the truck graphics had been weeded and taped, applying the vinyl onto the truck took approximately 9 hours.

Post-makeover, food sales at Wrap Shack went up 24% during the first 9 months after install, versus the same time period the previous year. Wrap Shack owner Gary Stitt says that the new look clearly tells customers what his establishment offers. In addition, the vehicle graphics really increased the shop's visibility in the area, he reports, with customers mentioning that they see the graphics from the road.

Raymond’s Fast Signs shop also benefited from the graphics makeover: Before taking on the project, the shop refrained from doing vehicle wraps because it didn't have a place to install the graphics indoors. Since then, however, the shop has moved into a new location-twice the size of its last shop-complete with a heated drive-in bay, which is important since the winters in Ontario are cold and rainy, reports Raymond. The shop is now installing full- as well as partial-vehicle wraps on a weekly basis.

Sprucing up the pipes and faucets
Lutz Plumbing had been a customer of Dave Skromme's FastSigns shop in San Mateo, CA for a number of years. 'We made their previous signs for their business frontage, vehicles, and a small perpendicular banner on their storefront,' says Skromme. But FastSigns had been somewhat limited in what they could do for Lutz because the plumbing company had been 'very clear about the colors and styles of signs they wanted-such as the small orange text they wanted on their white vans-which was not necessarily what we would have recommended.'

After being chosen for a makeover, however, Lutz decided it was time to showcase the showroom and its high-end fixture business. Skromme suggested that the company replace all of its existing signage, add more graphics to the front of their business, and wrap the company vehicles.

When redesigning the graphics for the store, 'The biggest challenge was getting high-res images and approval from the fixture manufacturers themselves. This process took several months of polite nudging,' says Skromme. In addition, the unusually wet San Francisco spring forced delay of the outdoor install.

Skromme's crew used its Seiko ColorPainter 64S to image onto 3M Controltac for the graphics for the two company vans; Kapco PSA 3.2-mil gloss white vinyl with permanent adhesive was used for the outdoor signs and the garage-door graphics. All the images were protected with 3M 2-mil cast laminate 8519, applied with a GBC Titan 165 laminator. Printing and finishing took approximately 8 hours.

The Kapco gloss vinyl was overlaid onto Alumalite (from Laminators Inc.) for the replacement signs over the doors. In addition, the imaged self-adhesive vinyl also was applied onto the garage doors. The change from the gray-on-gray exterior to a storefront with 4-color product images was designed to catch the eye of passersby and customers alike.

One particular challenge that FastSigns faced was that it was forced to schedule installation of the vehicle graphics around when Lutz needed the vans for deliveries. The solution, says Skromme, was to be flexible and execute the installs as the vans became available. Because Skromme's team had little experience at the time with vehicle wraps, each van took 15 to 20 hours. After this successful vehicle wrap install, however, 'Our confidence level improved, as well as our ability to understand how much labor time was involved for scheduling purposes.'

Sales rose 18% in the first 5 months after the new graphics were applied. Lutz Plumbing's owners report that the new graphics 'inspire trust and support the company's full-service plumbing services.'

As for Skromme's shop, it gained valuable experience during the vehicle-wrap install. Now, says Skromme, the 'before' and 'after' photos of the makeover are prominently showcased in the shop and on the company's website for customers to see.

Sweet success
Chocoholics everywhere crave those sweet dark morsels-whether milk or dark, truffle or kiss, bar or nugget. Palentine, IL-based Morkes Chocolates has been making premium, hand-dipped, old-fashioned chocolates like these for nearly 90 years, but the company's storefront and street presence was lacking.

When deciding who to nominate, 'We went through the list of businesses that we worked with in the past 6 months, and decided to approach Morkes with the concept,' says David Becker, owner of the Arlington Heights, IL FastSigns. Becker's shop had previously worked with Morkes on a variety of other P-O-P and general store-decor graphics.

Owner Rhonda Morkes immediately bought into the idea and in collaborating with her, Becker realized that a potential mobile advertisement-the company's white delivery van-was hidden in the back of the parking lot. Since the company produces sweet treats, wrapping the van in shots of irresistible confectionaries would tempt even the most distracted passing motorist.

Although the Arlington Heights shop owns an HP Designjet 5500, it is not designed to produce vehicle wraps. 'The HP 5500 uses water-based inks, which will not last outdoors over the long-term,' says Becker. 'Also, the vinyl media used, 3M Controltac with Comply, isn't compatible with the HP 5500. We needed to utilize a solvent-based printer.'

As a result, Becker outsourced the imaging of the vehicle graphics to the Fastsigns in Maplewood, MN. Using its Mutoh Toucan LT, the Maplewood shop printed the graphics onto Avery MPI 1005 EZ. After drying overnight, the images were laminated with Avery DOL 1100 with the shop's GBC Titan 165 laminator.

When it came time to install the vehicle wrap, however, the temperature was well below freezing. So Becker's shop installed the graphics inside a local garage; it took 2 days to wrap the van. With the van now wrapped in enticing eatables, it was moved from the back of the parking lot to a much more prominent position adjacent to Morkes' busy street, to act as a colorful-and mobile-billboard.

Then it was time to provide the front of the store with some color and curb appeal as well. Since there wasn't much glass to decorate, Morkes and Becker decided on large stand-alone banners. Again, Becker chose the outsource route: He had display manufacturer Orbus print two 16-ft full-color banners and mount them on the company's Wind Dancer outdoor banner stands, with bases to weigh them down. These banners now sit on either side the building.

Consequently, sales rose 16% during the first 9 months after the graphics were installed versus the same timeframe the previous year. The increased awareness is a direct result of the new graphics, according to Morkes.

Since this job, the Arlington Heights FastSigns decided to increase its wide-format imaging capabilities-Becker made the move to solvent wide-format printing and bought a Mimaki JV3 printer. And the purchase has paid off: It has generated more vehicle-wrap business, including two Toyota Scion XBs it took on last summer. And Morkes is also coming back for more-the chocolate shop added a new logo and has also updated the van.

Peggy Middendorf is managing editor of The Big Picture magazine.

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