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Business Management

2000 Equipment Survey

This $4 billion industry annually invests about $250 million in equipment

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Many comics begin their routine, "Maybe I’m crazy, but…" Perhaps we are a little loco, but we shouldered the task of polling sign companies about the equipment they own and plan to buy. For our premiere survey of shop equipment, we culled results from 109 respondents for a 10% response rate after having mailed 1,000 surveys to commercial, vinyl and electric shops.

We also posted the survey on ST’s Signweb Website, which garnered 20 responses, but we eliminated them because they were incomplete. The two-page questionnaire we mailed asked respondents to identify their type of shop, annual sales, decoration methods and types of signs produced.

Then, from an equipment list, we asked them to check each piece of equipment they owned; categories included hand or power tools, digital or CAS equipment, office equipment and miscellaneous items, such as glass-working tools.

A quick look

Here are a few of the survey’s major findings: Most respondents (56%) purchased new equipment last year. A slight majority (52%) plan on purchasing new equipment in the next year. Sixty-eight respondents invested $2,541,000 for new equipment, with a median investment of $12,500.

Projected equipment expenditures for sign companies last year (based on a conservative estimate of 20,000 shops in the United States) is $250 million. Most respondents own a PC, color printer, cutting-plotters, drills and pick-up trucks. Two percent or less of respondents don’t own die-making, acid-etching or glass-working equipment or a superlarge-format printer.

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Size and income

Respondents reported their major income sources: 44% (48) indicated vinyl signs, 36% (39) reported commercial signs and 11% (13) said electric signs. Two franchises, which we considered vinyl shops, and seven shops indicating a mix of two or three categories, also answered the question.

Ninety respondents tallied $118.915 million in sales last year for an average of $1,321,278. Because this varies markedly from the median of $250,000, we eliminated the $50 million electric shop to arrive at a sales total of $68.915 million, with an average of $774,326 and a median of $200,000.

The mode, the most frequently occurring figure, is $150,000 (six respondents). Sixty-eight companies reported spending a total of $2.5 million on equipment, averaging $37,367, with a median of $12,500 and a mode of $10,000 (12). Projecting the $200,000 median to our conservative estimate of 20,000 signshops in the United States, we arrive at a considerable $4 billion industry, which annually invests about $250 million in equipment.

Average signshop

A search for an "average" signshop can be as frustrating as Parsifal’s search for the Holy Grail. Only the perfect knight was granted the vision, while innocent Parsifal reached the final stage without full enlightenment. Even with a perfect response rate, no survey could reveal a truly "average" sign company, because diversity characterizes what shops produce and their locales.

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However, we constructed a profile based on the responses of five commercial and vinyl shops who reported the median $200,000 sales figure. Our profile reveals a shop that spends approximately $15,000 a year on new equipment. Banners and vehicle graphics are the mainstays, with digital printing adding some diversity.

Our fictional shop will most likely house a 11/2-year-old PC, a drill, sander, circular saw and router. Outside sits a pick-up truck. Depending on this year’s sales, the owner leans slightly towards buying more new equipment next year. Of 109 respondents, 83% report having a PC, 35% a Mac.

Of the 99 shops that possess a computer, 29% (29) have both platforms, 63% (62) have only a PC and 8% (8) own only a Mac. The preponderance of PCs may be linked to that platform’s early adoption by the industry; most early software versions could be used only on PCs. Almost three-fourths of respondents reported owning office equipment: fax (73%); desktop color printer (70%) and copier (66%).

As for other computer- or CAS-related equipment, 70% house a cutting-plotter system, which ties in with the heavy preponderance of vinyl applications (25% of total decoration methods). Next comes scanners, which are possessed by 30% of respondents. Twenty-three percent (25) own a router, and 18% (11) possess an engraver.

Four shops just purchased a router, while 10 plan to buy one next year to "expand business" and to "make ADA signs." Sixteen respondents reported their router brand: Gerber Scientific Products’s Dimension (8), MultiCam Inc. (3), Porter Cable (2), Mark I Cam (1), AXYZ Intl. (1) and Vinyl Technologies (1). Three shops preferred to outsource routing projects, claiming the investment in a router would be too costly for their few pertinent projects. Gerber Scientific Products, AXYZ Automation, MultiCam

Inkjet (19%) and thermal-transfer (15%) printers top the list of printers owned, with electrostatic and superlarge-format models owned by 1% of shops. Hand and power tools Most signshops own at least a few hand and power tools. Seventy percent of respondents have drills, followed by table and circular saws (61%), wood sanders (53%), drill presses (45%), band saws (41%), radial-arm saws (38%) and scroll saws (35%).

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Vinyl shops were the least likely to own hand and power tools: 65% own drills, while 25%-40% own various saws and sanders. This fits the relatively low percentage of routed and sandblasted signs handled by this type of shop. With the diversity of signs they produce, commercial shops have well-stocked tool chests; most hand and shop tools averaged 65%.

Even though only 13 electric shops responded, 85% of them own drills and other power tools. Vehicles More than likely, a signshop will own a pick-up truck, which is owned by 58% of respondents. Approximately one-fourth of companies have shop cars and vans. Vehicle ownership greatly varies among the three shop classifications.

Electric shops usually own bucket and crane trucks (85% each, or 11 of 13). The eleven respondents own 28 cranes, for an average of 2.5 per company. Approximately 13%-15% of commercial and vinyl shops own bucket trucks. Commercial shops are much more likely to have crane and ladder trucks (8% and 27%) than vinyl shops (2% and 3%).

Paint equipment

Paint comprises an average of 23% of respondents’ decoration methods. Similarly, one-fourth to one-third of respondents have airbrush equipment. Spray guns topped the paint-equipment list at 43%, followed by airbrush kits (39%). Fifty-four percent of shops say they own a compressor, which probably powers tools, not just paint spray equipment. Spraypaint booths are owned by 23%.

Eleven out of 13 (85%) report owning airbrush and paint equipment, whereas approximately 40% of commercial and vinyl shops do. Miscellaneous It’s fairly rare to find thermal die-making, acid-etching or glass-working equipment in a shop, but 21% have notchers and punchers, and 22% have corner-cutting equipment. Twenty-six percent of vinyl shops also have corner-cutting equipment, possibly to shape extrusions and frames.

Wish list

Let’s hope that Santa’s sleigh has a flatbed attachment, because several signshops will be disappointed if they don’t receive hardware. Thirty-nine percent (43) plan on buying new equipment in the next year, specifically: digital printers (12), routers (11), computers (5), drills (2), cranes (2), screenprinting presses (2) and one each for a laminator, forming machine, ADA-signmaking equipment and digital camera. There was one request for a new location.

Recently purchased equipment includes: computers (13), digital printers (10), routers (8), cutting plotters (7), saws (2), drills (2), cranes (2) and a laminator (1).

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