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If It Comes to Cincinnati . . .

Activity indicates the sign industry is doing well.

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Marge Schott. Larry Flynt, Charles Keating. An "apologetic" Pete Rose. All Cincinnatians. And, when Cincinnati (we're in Ohio, by the way) makes the national news, you'd think we have race riots 24/7. If it weren't for our Marvin Lewis-led Bengals (Who Dey!), the Queen City would seemingly be more royal screwup than royalty.

I receive Roundup, the monthly newsletter of Fellers, the self-proclaimed "largest vinyl supply company." The company was called Ameriban seemingly forever, but owner Frank Fellers changed the company name to his surname earlier this year.

Fellers is the only company I know whose owner is the company logo (OK, maybe KFC). Lanky Frank and his white cowboy hat identify the company. And that company logo is conspicuous (he's 6 ft. 5 in.) at many industry tradeshows.

As I looked through a recent Roundup issue, I suddenly saw a new office listed for Greater Cincinnati. So I and three ST staff members visited regional manager Dewey Jones' warehouse in early September and thoroughly enjoyed his openness about the company and the sign industry. Bottom line, Fellers doesn't open a new office until business overwhelms the adjacent two-person office. Fellers has opened other offices in Raleigh, NC; Marietta, GA; St. Petersburg, FL and San Antonio this year, bringing its total to 43.

Dewey's most interesting statement involved the Fellers HQ in Tulsa, OK. If the phone isn't answered in 30 seconds, a bell sounds. If another 30 seconds passes, a second bell sounds. At 90 seconds, Frank emerges from his office . . . Dewey's admiration for Frank as a leader is self-evident (although we and the International Sign Assn. [ISA] wish Frank admired certain tradeshows and advertising).

Dewey also mentioned a customer, a nearby Speedpro franchise, whose debut nearly coincided with his in May. Ironically, the day before our Fellers visit, I received an e-mail from Speedpro product research manager Lance Barnett, who politely indicated my coverage of Canadian sign franchises hadn't mentioned Canada's largest, Speedpro.

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The two Speedpro websites clearly show this Calgary, Alberta, Canada-based company's expansion into the United States. The Cincinnati facility is a Speedpro Imaging Centre, as opposed to a Speedpro Signs franchise. The company website lists 27 Canadian Speedpro Signs stores (three more in the United States) and 13 Speedpro Imaging Centres (11 more in the United States). And 2006 has been an expansion year, with seven new Imaging Centres, six in the United States.

Clearly, Speedpro's emphasis is its Imaging Centres, which offer digital-imaging production up to 52 in. wide at up to 1,440-dpi resolution. Speedpro president and founder Blair Gran's website summary suggests minimum production capabilities of 100 sq. ft. per hour at a minimum wholesale price of $6 per sq. ft., or $4,800 in daily sales, based on an eight-hour day. However, the website also suggests capabilities to double that production and triple the price.

The turnkey locations range from 1,800 to 2,400 sq. ft., and drive-in bays are optional for vehicle-wrap production. With a tagline of "We cater to the discerning customer," the company website specifies its ability to print giclees (fine-art reproductions), which are produced with Roland DGA Corporation (Irvine, CA) Hi-Fi Jet Pro II FJ-540 pigment inkjet printers.

Interestingly, the website emphasizes marketing. For store personnel, it lists a sales manager (owner) and then a marketing assistant before it lists a graphic designer. The website states, "We cannot understate the importance of aggressive implementation of the marketing program." Also, "Independent sign companies are, in effect, our customers, not our competition" because Gran said most sign companies need assistance in fully understanding all aspects of digital imaging.

Vinyl suppliers aren't new. Sign franchises aren't new. Neither Fellers nor Speedpro are new. And each pins its entire existence on the two most prevalent (and competitive) components of commercial signage: vinyl and digital imaging. Competitors notwithstanding, each is thriving, as seen through their respective growths. Enough to extend their reach to Cincinnati.

Assuming their respective growths aren't simply stolen marketshare, the sign industry must be prospering.

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By the way, I leave tomorrow morning for Myrtle Beach, where business must be good enough for the only two-time ISA Chairman of the Board, Ebbie Phillips, to warrant the lavish grand opening of a new facility at Tyson Signs.

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