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Business Management

Finding Flow

A project-management company manages subcontractors, contracts, track records and financial accountability.



In the sign industry, or any human enterprise, people sometimes disparage co-workers. Fabricators complain about brokers, who criticize designers, who assail fabricators. It can be an endless cycle.

The point is, nobody operates in a vacuum. No segment of the sign-supply chain can claim more importance than others. Without salespeople or brokers, architects and designers would have nothing to delineate. Without architects and designers, fabricators wouldn’t know what to build. Without steel mills and chemical plants, building materials wouldn’t exist.

Regardless of what you do best, you’re simply one link in the sign-procurement chain. Unfortunately, many corporate sign buyers see the actual management of sign projects as the weakest link in that chain.

While there may be many reasons why sign projects are mismanaged, this article will examine how one company manages larger projects and how you might benefit from some of its advanced techniques.

Making sign buying easier

Claiming to be a "full-service" sign company doesn’t mean much to today’s Web-enabled clients. Sign buyers from large companies already know that a single company probably can’t handle all aspects of a large job and thus subcontracts many pieces to smaller, more specialized sign companies. In fact, many feel that subcontracting assures quality, fair pricing and adherence to a project schedule.

Rarely impressed with large production facilities, a fleet of cranes or a big staff, large clients typically appreciate well-defined contracts, flawless track records and financial accountability when problems arise.

Thus, to manage various subcontractors and relay project information to clients, corporate buyers frequently turn to sign-project-management companies that specialize in expediting the sign-buying process.

One such company, Corporate Graphics Inc. (Walnut Creek, CA), focuses on this process. According to Leotie Pratt, art director for Cost Plus World Market (Oakland, CA), a large-scale sign buyer and one of Corporate Graphics’ clients, "They have the expertise and materials readily available for any type of sign on the market today."

The key term here is "readily available." Corporate Graphics doesn’t manufacture anything. In-house, it manages front-end sales, design and project schedules for numerous, independent sign companies nationwide. Armed with a network of qualified manufacturers, the project-management service offers all signs products and, as Pratt adds, "fulfills functions I no longer have time for."

By focusing its expertise and technology into one specific niche of sign-project management, Corporate Graphics has maintained steady growth despite troubled economic waters. In addition to smoothing client communication, project-management companies provide a constant flow of work to qualified vendors.

"By ‘qualified,’ we mean the guys who can work within our established and proven system," says Patrick McCormick, president of Corporate Graphics. "Price is important, but it’s not necessarily the determining factor. We eliminate some potential vendors due to technical inaptitude or inconsistent quotes. We pay our vendors fairly and on time. We expect them to perform to our standards, not their own."

Consistent project management demands a common set of standards. Because many independent sign companies see other subcontractors as "competition," standards can become vague, especially in regards to pricing and, to a lesser extent, fabrication methods and scheduling.

"That’s the problem," says McCormick. "Multiple standards, by definition, mean there is no standard."

When multiple projects occur simultaneously, logistics can quickly become byzantine.

"Imagine trying to apply the standards of three designers, five fabricators and 20 different installers for 100 projects across the country," says McCormick. "It can get out of control pretty quickly if everybody is not on the same page."

Therefore, Corporate Graphics has developed and implemented technology-based tools that enable a networked company to perform as if it, and all its vendors, work from one building.

The enticement of uninterrupted work attracts many clients. McCormick notes, "If a guy just wants to weld all day and avoid customers, we enable him to do that. We can supply some of our vendors with 100% of their workload."

A walkthrough

Let’s examine how teamwork, communication and, most importantly, accountability — key elements in today’s large-scale sign projects — form the basis of a modern, large-scale, sign project.

Trained personnel visit the job site to collect traditional survey information and take numerous digital photographs. Depending on the extent and duration of the work on-site, these pictures may also include 360



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