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Failed Bar Can’t Pay for Required Sign Removal

Thus, a request for a freebie in “The Case of the Salvage Operation.”

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THE PREDICAMENT SOUNDED like something straight out of Bar Rescue. Let me see if I can get its narrator’s voice right:

“R.U.O.K., a new bar in Bismarck, ND, opened in 2018 to a burst of better-than-OK sales. Its signature drink, the Ezry with Zima, tapped into the combination of ironic throwback drinks and no-waste/sustainability trends at the time. But even before the pandemic shut everything down in 2020, R.U.O.K. was well past the question hidden in its clever name. By the time bars and restaurants reopened, customers were being lured away by new competition — U-Doggie’s, a craft beer and hot dog spot catering to local college students, located only two blocks away.”

ABOUT REAL DEAL

Real Deal scenarios are inspired by true stories, but are changed to sharpen the dilemmas involved and should not be confused with real people or places. Responses are peer-sourced opinions and are NOT a substitute for professional legal advice. Please contact your attorney if you any questions about an employee or customer situation in your own business.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Created by ROLF L’MAO, Signs of the Times’ mascot. Email him at editor@signsofthetimes.com.

Illustrations by Karina Marga Cuizon

“Already in debt nearly a quarter million dollars, the bar was losing $7,500 a month. It was time to pull back the doors, bust open the books and make a call for help,” as the narrator says, “To Bar Rescue. …” But Jon Taffer didn’t answer that call — he has so many — and he’s only one man! And so, unable to embrace Taffer’s solutions, R.U.O.K. quickly found itself D.O.A.

My company, Dakota Electric Signs, also located right here in Bismarck, designed, fabricated and installed the signage for R.U.O.K., both the exterior wall ID and a smaller interior variation behind the bar. We’d been given a fairly free license in the design process, and though that meant multiple revisions, we’d arrived at a pair of custom signs everyone really liked.

The ID consisted of a 12 x 6-ft. channel letter set on a frame of 2 x 1 x .125-in. aluminum tube, surrounded by .080 aluminum sheets. We used .125-in. aluminum for the back and white acrylic for the faces, covered with UV digital prints to tint the programmable LEDs within. The sign for the bar back used the same letter-font design but carried out in exposed faux neon LED.

I was sad for Walt, the owner of R.U.O.K., a good guy it seems if not a great business mind. But I was glad I hadn’t leased the sign like that poor sap in the Signs of the Times Real Deal scenario some time ago (see ST, March 2023).

Only thing is, and the reason I’m telling you this, Walt reached out to me this morning. The terms he had to accept in the liquidation of his place include removing the signs. He asked if I could do it but told me upfront he couldn’t pay me. Obviously, I could take possession of the signs upon removal.

I had estimating put together the team and time commitment we’d need and its retail dollar value, so we’d know our opportunity cost. The figures weren’t too terrible were we to follow through, but we already had everyone scheduled out for the next three weeks solid, plus more lining up. R.U.O.K.’s signs have to be gone four weeks from today.
I brought up the matter in this afternoon’s sales meeting for thoughts or ideas.

My thanks again to Russell Toynes, Studio Dzo (Austin, TX) for this idea. — Rolf L’mao

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The Big Questions

  • Would you remove the signs at no charge? Would the signs have any value? Do you feel a sense of obligation to customers in this situation? Or do you treat it purely as a business decision?
Linda S.
Greensboro, NC

We would just remove the signs as a sign of good faith for a good customer. Everyone is at the risk of business loss with the perfect set of circumstances. Empathy. Eating the cost in some cases is good business. I would then see if we could reuse any of the product at any of our six locations.

Justine B.
Rice Lake, WI

In this situation, if the customer was nice and followed directions when they ordered the signs, didn’t cause any other issues (going back on approved proofs, didn’t pay on time, changed things at the last minute or pushed harder to get their sign sooner) then I would probably make time to have these removed, keep them and see what we could scrap out of them, when we have more time to do that. And do that at no charge. But, that’s also because we live in a small town and everyone is somehow related to everyone. If the person is not a kind person, I would tell them no, but if they are a nice person and treated us right when we made the signs, we would most likely make the time and remove them. Kindness counts.

Harold J. P.
San Juan, PR

This is something we do on a fairly regular basis, both for the tenant and for the landlord. Our philosophy is we do not make money when our customers do not make money. So no, we do not charge for removals when a tenant is going out of business. Whether we are doing the job for the tenant, or directly for the landlord, we do not charge. We also do not reuse/salvage old signage or components. All components are decommissioned properly and either disposed or sold for scrap. We do not subcontract any work, so it is somewhat easy for us to do at no charge. We do this for landlords to maintain good relationships, including future referrals and just making it easy for us to work at their properties in the future. We strongly believe in good Karma. 🙂

Tracey K.
El Cajon, CA

This is a tough one. If we had the time and it wasn’t going to take more than a few hours, we would possibly do it for free. Then there is the question of what to do with the signs once they are removed. They are more than likely trash with the exception of any parts that could be reused.

Jeff T.
Lynnwood, WA

It’s the relationship that matters most. If the bar owner was a good business partner, paid his bills before, said thank you and appreciated all your team did for his business, then I’d direct our staff to help out. Especially if there was patronage between your businesses or, as sometimes happens, you are now friends. Salvage what components you could, off-hours if need be, and leave the rest for disposal on-site. With luck, your ex-bar owner buddy might re-surface or at least will tell his business owner friends you and your company did him a solid.

Gary T.
Port Saint Lucie, FL

My response would be pretty simple. “Sorry that you fell on hard times and are going out of business but I, too, have a business to run which I wish to keep open. Custom signs rarely have value to anyone but the business that commissioned them. As such, I will not be able to do the work for free but I will gladly provide a quote for removal. Of course, should you decide to proceed with us doing the removal, the invoice will need to be paid in full prior to our trucks leaving the shop to remove the signs. Let us know if you decide to have us remove the signs. Best of luck on your future endeavors.”

Rocco G.
Pennsauken, NJ

A custom sign has very little value beyond the original customer. Yes, the sign can be disassembled and the metal sent to the scrap yard. But the amount of money that you’d get in scrap doesn’t usually come close to covering the cost to remove the sign and break it up. This is especially true since you would have to juggle the schedule to fit it in and probably pay some overtime. And even if everything lights 100%, is it ever worthwhile to put used components into a new sign? That’s a firm no as far as I’m concerned. We’re in business to make money and removing this for free is a losing proposition.

Don B.
Cypress, CA

Remove at no charge to the bar owner. Dispose of the removed signage at our cost.

Matt H.
Lawrence, KS

Honestly, it depends on the client, how nice they were through the process, do I think it may lead to more business. I have removed signs as a favor to some clients because of extenuating circumstances. We are all human and sometimes we need to take care of each other.

Dan W.
Tucson, AZ

No, I wouldn’t take the old signs down for free. Between storage of the sign and the fact that any components would have to be sold as “used,” this would never be worth my while. I’d suggest he have a go at removing them himself. Not in business to lose money.

Mike C.
Murray, KY

I would offer to do this for my customer when it was the best time for our company in the coming weeks.

Michael B.
East Brisbane, QLD, Australia

If the sign was neon it would still work for 20-30 years so would have value as a collectible, making the cost of removal less of a financial burden. If space permitted I would accept that offer.

Mike F.
Victoria, TX

I would go pick up. You can always use [the removed signs] to show your work or find the bar patron who will miss the bar the most and resell to them. Someone would be willing to put them in a man cave or in the next bar.

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