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Ask Signs of the Times

Here’s the Best Way to Explain to Customers Why Your Prices Are Higher

We offer readers our best counsel in this month’s “Ask Signs of the Times.”




As a small, family-run operation, we would like to grow the business. Is it wise to attempt to do so in the current socio-economic climate? If so, where/how do we start?

First, is the whole family behind this idea? You’ll need everyone on board for this to work. Next, how to grow the business? There are so many ways! You can add new products and/or services, such as doing your own routing as well as wholesale routing for other shops in your vicinity. Be certain there’s a current, growing market for the area into which you’ll expand. Also, the “current socio-economic climate …” Right now many sign businesses are experiencing labor and/or supply shortages, as well as other “threats.” Will those last forever? No, and for this reason you want your expansion to be able to withstand future pressures involving similar or other threats. Still like the idea? We suggest you meet with a financial professional who can evaluate your specific situation and advise you accordingly.

How important is it to pay attention to the fine print in advertising that uses phrases such as “up to, virtually, performance expectation, limited, -resistant, incidental,” etc.? Are these phrases promises or short escape clauses?

The short answer is they’re both. Manufacturers provide guidance in these areas but their choice of vocabulary may involve various degrees of “spin.” Let’s take “virtually” for example. It means “nearly” or “almost.” Interpretations of “nearly” or “almost” will vary, however, depending on point of view and self-interest. A primer that is “virtually” opaque may not provide as much opacity as a sign company might want, yet at what point does a primer cease to be, by definition, “virtually opaque” — with 10% of light showing through, 1%, .1%? Our advice is to use those phrases as guides but to look for warranties or guarantees — and reviews from fellow sign professionals — when possible.

Has anyone developed creative solutions to explain to customers about the rise in material costs?

The word “creative” is an interesting choice. Why would one need to be “creative” when doing this? We think a simple, straightforward and factual statement should work fine, if not better than trying to get creative. Even so, “household comparisons” can be helpful. Your customers drive, so they understand that fuel costs rose sharply last year. That higher cost affects every supply product delivered to you. Customers may not be as aware of the specific material shortages affecting sign products, such as the PVC used in many types of vinyl, but they must have heard about other shortages from news sources. So unless they’ve spent the past several months in a cave, they’ve heard about both raw-material and supply-chain issues. That said, if you feel your customer would be unreceptive to reality, you can always “hide” the higher price in your fabrication charges, like many sign companies already do for design fees (See ST, September 2021, page 50).

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