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Commercial Break

The ongoing search for a more precise sign industry term.




WHILE DOING MY stint administering our Sign Contest several years ago, I found that a number of entries to the “commercial sign” categories were internally illuminated. These should have been “electric sign” submissions because, for us, “commercial” meant non-electric. But I could understand the entrants’ confusion: Many electric signs are for commercial businesses.

I decided to do something about that confusion, but all I could come up with was renaming our contest categories “Internally illuminated” and “Non-internally illuminated.” Not very exciting, though it did clear up most entry problems. Still, I wondered if there were a different term, one word or a short phrase meaning “non-internally illuminated.” And how common is “commercial?”

And so I included that question in this year’s Big Survey (see page 30), but the result was hardly definitive: 53% use “commercial” and 47% use another term, most often — you guessed it — “non-internally illuminated.” I drilled down within the data to try to find regional differences, some explanation.

More of our respondents chose “commercial” than “other” in Canada, the Northeast, Southeast and West. More chose “other” in the Midwest and Southwest. So much for a regional explanation… We promise to keep looking! And if you have a thought or suggestion, send it to

Meanwhile, if you love sign industry data, read on! And if you want to contribute, we survey the Signs of the Times Brain Squad each month and publish the results throughout every issue.

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What’s the Brain Squad?

If you’re the owner or top manager of a signage and graphics company in the US or Canada, you’re invited to join the Signs of the Times Brain Squad. By taking one five-minute survey each month, you will receive access to some of the industry’s freshest data on sales — including your fellow members’ comments on what’s selling and what isn’t — and can make your voice heard on key issues affecting the sign industry. Sound good? Sign up here.


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The Sign Industry Podcast is a platform for every sign person out there — from the old-timers who bent neon and hand-lettered boats to those venturing into new technologies — we want to get their stories out for everyone to hear. Come join us and listen to stories, learn tricks or techniques, and get insights of what’s to come. We are the world’s second oldest profession. The folks who started the world’s oldest profession needed a sign.

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