The Price is Right – Or is It?

Increasingly comprehensive software is helping signmakers better estimate what to charge – and much more.
Increasingly comprehensive software is helping signmakers better estimate what to charge – and much more.

Pricing a job has always been a tightrope act for sign fabricators. Too high, you don’t get the job; too low, you get it, but lose money in the process.

These days, such businesses have a relatively new safety net at their disposal: sophisticated software programs that bring automated calculations into the what-to-charge equation, along with an equally important stable of features that increases users’ overall operational efficiencies. The result, ideally, is a true win-win: companies using such programs get the job, and make money doing so.

Two sign companies have shared with us how they harnessed this technology to benefit their bottom lines.

NABBING A $400K BOOST

Spectra Advertising (Concord, ON, Canada) is a fabricator of signage and graphics for a variety of clients in commercial, educational and governmental sectors. Robert Ascenzi, Jr., the company’s chief operating officer, points to V Sign Software, crediting it for helping Spectra net a $400,000 boost in revenues – from $2.5 million to $2.9 million – over its first year of use.

"The software has helped us in so many ways,” Ascenzi said. “One of the major ones is through improving internal communications. For example, it used to be that the order we did jobs in would get chaotic. One of the managers would put a proposal on the graphic designer’s desk and say, ‘This is job one.’ But then, a half-hour later, someone else would bring a job and say, ‘This is your top priority.’ Because V Sign is used by the company’s managers, all of them can see in what order the jobs came in. And if there needs to be a discussion about changing that order, everyone involved would be aware of that. Things are much more straightforward with V Sign.”

As for estimating, Spectra uses V Sign to divide the process into four basic sections: 

  • Materials: A list of all physical items needed to build the sign.
  • Labor: Users can create as many labor departments as they need to accurately reflect how their production shop is divided. Once this is built in the background, the users enter how many hours it will take to complete the project in each department. 
  • Machines used: This tab recoups the costs running the machines involved with creating the project.
  • Outsourcing: This where the program accounts for all the parts, subcontracts, engineering and everything else outside of the user’s four walls.

Based on that quartet of factors, the system automatically calculates the general overhead for the project and adds it to the bottom line. “The software helps make the pricing process much more transparent,” Ascenzi said.

..."It used to be that the order we did jobs in would get chaotic. One of the managers would put a proposal on the graphic designer’s desk and say, ‘This is job one.’ But then, a half-hour later, someone else would bring a job and say, ‘This is your top priority.’" – Robert Ascenzi, Jr., COO of Spectra Advertising

SIMPLICITY IS KEY

Another major software program serving the signage industry is the Ink.Works platform by Take2. Alex Artibee, accounts manager at D&R Signs (Houston), signed on as an Ink.Works client in March 2018. Since then, Artibee estimates that D&R, which provides signage for homebuilders, developers and commercial realty firms, has processed more than 16,000 work orders using the program at its three offices (the others are in Dallas and Austin).

“We do everything in-house, from initial consultation to final installation,” Artibee said. “Because of that, our former paper-based system was a nightmare. We would have to track down every copied order that went to each department in order to update them and try and make sure the job came out correct and everyone reached the finish line at an appropriate time. The work orders would get lost, damaged, [and] it was hard to read hand-written file names on them for the printers.” 

Ink.Works has helped put that collective chaos in the company’s rear-view mirror. “We use the program a lot for reference and file storage,” Artibee said. “The print files, cut files, spec sheets, employee notes and installation pics are all retained in the program’s chat logs for future reference, which has come in handy many times.”

Ink.Works has assisted D&R with automating factors, like its tiered coroplast pricing. “You can enter the quantity of coroplast and it will automatically change the price dependent on quantity,” Artibee said. “Other than that, we already had our pricing set up in QuickBooks, and Take2 helped us to import it to their program.”

Some specific elements of how D&R uses Ink.Works’ pricing tools include the following:

  • Item costing/pricing: This helps users quickly and easily define costs for an item, and apply them to their quantity breaks, while also setting margins in real time. 
  • Catalog building: If a user already has square-foot pricing in place, users can select this tool to build out their entire catalog with prices reflecting those values.
  • Bulk .csv importing: Customers who already have a .csv [file format for storing tabular data] of their products and prices where they’ve already done their cost math can quickly bulk-upload those documents to their account.

The right software program can help signshops make major strides in streamlining their operations, including estimating/pricing. So, if you haven’t already done it, now’s as good a time as any to investigate taking the leap and integrating such technology into your business.