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Maggie Harlow

10 Tips for Retaining Sign Buyers

Maggie Harlow elicits the help of April Ernst Leftin of Atria Senior Living for advice on winning and keeping ‘serial sign buyers.’




April Leftin

APRIL ERNST LEFTIN, senior housing project manager for Atria Senior Living (Louisville, KY), is what I call a “serial sign buyer” — I mean that in a good way — in the senior housing space, and someone with whom I’ve had the pleasure of working for 15 years. Recurring clients are treasured by every sign company, as they are hard to find and often harder to keep. The businesses that are going to repeatedly buy large volumes are sought after by local and national competitors, so winning their business is a big deal — but keeping their business is even a bigger deal!

In our franchise group, we often talk about best practices for winning and retaining these clients, so I decided to sit down with April and learn more from her side of the transaction. What are the critical behaviors and habits that sign companies need to win her business time and time again?

Here are April’s top 10 tips for winning and keeping “serial sign buyers” like her!

  • Be responsive. What does this mean, specifically? Ask your client! April’s rule of thumb is a response within one business day, but getting a response in an hour is her favorite type of response.
  • Give your client an update if they are awaiting one. Bad news is better than no news. Even if your update is “we don’t know yet,” that is better than no update at all. Let them know you are on the job.
  • Understand the design intent. Be sure you use their branding guide and pay attention to the details you know matter the most to them, whether it’s kerning, color or white space.
  • Roll with the punches. Big companies often make sudden, (maybe) nonsensical changes to projects. Stay calm, do your best to solve the problems and help them navigate any added costs, delays or changes.
  • Be clear on expectations. Provide work-back schedules so clients understand how your schedule impacts their plans. Keep them updated on what the next step is, and when to expect it. Convey urgency and consequences of missed deadlines.
  • Assign a dedicated contact (if you can). One contact helps keep the flow of information clear, and you can enlarge the team as needed to report to that single contact.
  • Communicate changes! Changes to timeframe, from estimate to invoice, or how a sign will even be attached or made could be impactful for the client! Never leave them surprised.
  • Save the day! Often your client is reporting to many other people and they may need you to be a problem-solver extraordinaire to help them look good. That’s your job — make your client look like the hero.
  • Organize your communication. Determine what works best for client updates (text, email or phone calls?) and how the information should be organized (weekly calls, spreadsheets, daily logs of updates?).
  • Hold a post-project autopsy. Internal conversations with your team about how to improve processes, as well as conversations with your client, will help you perform better each time a project comes in.

Recurring clients aren’t the only answer to a profitable and successful shop, but they can be a steady base of business, as well as a spike of massive revenue just when you need it. Taking care of these very special clients is a skill that you should never stop improving.


Maggie Harlow is the CEO of Signarama Downtown Louisville (Louisville, KY), one of the largest and most prestigious locations for the global sign franchise. Contact Maggie at



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