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The Case of the Revise-O Proviso

A customer’s endless terrible design changes force a sign company into a difficult decision.

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“YOU ARE NOT going to believe this,” said Alfonso Reyes, designer for Greater Hampshire Signs & Graphics in Portsmouth, NH, as he stood at Priya Singh, the shop owner’s, open office door. “Or by now, maybe you will,” he added.

“Not Karl from the Exeter B&B again?” Priya said, though she already knew it was. Alfonso’s nod confirmed it.

“He wants to change the plus sign back to an ampersand,” Alfonso said. “And he’s making noise about adding ‘Established in 2023’ again, too.”

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

Priya sighed and shook her head. What had started as a straightforward main ID wall sign for an old and large home’s conversion to a bed and breakfast in the nearby town of Exeter, had been taking so long that it had moved well past breakfast, lunch and dinner, and was headed for bedtime. Already open for five weeks — sign for the opening be damned — the owner, Karl Yarlsberger, kept changing his mind about the fonts, wording, colors… basically everything about the sign.

Prior to the second revision, Priya made it clear that further changes would be subject to charge. Karl agreed and offered no complaints for each change thereafter. “You said yourself this sign will build my brand for years to come,” Karl had said weeks before to Priya. “We have to get it right…”

“We have to get this thing done so we can all move on with our lives,” Alfonso said, interrupting Priya’s reverie. “And before the sign gets any more ugly.”

He was right. Karl’s original concept overpowered the readable space with copy. He had to be talked down from using florid Renaissance all caps for the main copy. First he wanted “Bed and Breakfast” then “Bed & Breakfast” then “B + B” and now he was back to “Bed & Breakfast” — despite Hampshire Signs’ recommending “B&B” to save space.

In one meeting, Priya and Alfonso talked Karl out of adding his name and “proprietor” to the top left corner. And now he wanted “Established in 2023” added to the bottom right corner. While the myriad changes were being paid for, Priya had never contemplated a customer making so many changes, while also feeling no pressure to identify his now five-week-old business with a sign.

On top of it all, every revision accommodating the customer had made the sign, well, uglier. No two ways about it. The first version had been decent, the second, acceptable. The rest produced a steady succession of terrible, just awful and truly horrifying.

“Have we ever turned down a sign project for being too ugly?” Alfonso asked. “This is easily the worst sign we’ve ever had in design.”

“And worse it may be,” Priya replied, paraphrasing a quote from Shakespeare’s King Lear. “And yet, the worst is not so long as we can say, ‘This is the worst.’” Alfonso shrugged.

Priya then asked him to make Karl’s latest changes and to prepare another set of proofs for a meeting in two days. When that meeting at Hampshire Signs arrived, Priya asked Karl how business was going.

“Oh, you know, slow at the start,” Karl replied. “But it’s funny… The few guests I have hosted all asked first thing if this was the Exeter Inn, even though their GPS brought them and the address matches.”

“Well, that sort of underscores the importance of having a sign,” Priya replied. “A readable sign,” she quickly added in an attempt to head off any further changes, especially more copy in the already tight space.

“Yes, I’m glad you brought that up,” Karl said. “I’ve been giving a lot of thought to it… What do you think about using Olde English script just for ‘Exeter Inn’? Don’t you think the name just cries out for ye olde script?”

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The Big Questions

  • What would you do if you were Priya? Can a sign company limit paid customer design revisions, and if so, how? And have you ever returned a sign project because the customer insists it be ugly?
Jeffrey C.
Clearwater, FL

I don’t think they are educating Karl enough. Having the right amount of copy and in the correct font is more important than “having” a sign. With a new customer you have to guide them into all of the different aspects of their sign. To get the most impact from it. Show Karl some photos of other B&B’s and pin down what he likes. Then work from there.

John H.
Madison Heights, MI

Our solution, which we routinely use and is almost always accepted: Charge for design fees with three revisions up front. Each revision after that is an additional cost based on hourly or flat rate per revision. We explain that these costs would be included in the cost of the sign anyway. Doing this up front assures you will get paid for your time in the event the job is canceled or put on hold. It also limits the customer’s changes if there is a cost associated with it and helps get a final decision quicker.

Only potential downside (which has not happened to us in the last five years) is that they own the drawings. They can now shop around. Most people do not do this. They don’t typically have time to connect with another vendor and start a relationship again. If the prospect is legitimate, they should not have an issue with this scenario. In the end, they will not be paying more for the design build, you will be covered, and the job will move quicker.

Denis L.
Perrineville, NJ

Priya is charging for the revisions and advising against changes. She should keep making the changes. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Mike C.
Murray, KY

The customer should pay the real cost of his changes. If he is affecting the shop’s schedule, he should be charged more or told that his project must be delayed to fit into a future schedule opening. If the customer desires an ugly sign after you have made your suggestions, you must give him the sign he wants. It is his sign, not yours.

Karen W.
Greensboro, NC

This happens more often than you think. Clients now use online tools to design their logos, fonts and colors, without any thought to how it will look in real time, creating a problem for the [sign company]. Understandably, the customer doesn’t know to consider clear readability from a moving vehicle at 25 to 70 miles an hour either. It’s like looking up your symptoms online, deciding your diagnosis and treatment, and expecting your doctor to follow the internet’s unprofessional opinions. Yes, we have made some ugly signs that the paying customer insisted on having, but those never go on our social media….

Bernie M.
St. Paul, MN

I would talk to him until he understood a correct design. Show him other projects.

Joseph L.
Port Chester, NY

Ha, the answer here is simple and may deserve its own article. Something we must learn to do more often is simply say NO! Shops with reasonable experience simply don’t have the time to bounce through revisions. SAY NO! And after the first revision, an amendment to the invoice should have been sent so the owner knows they’re impacted from the changes. Recently, my sales rep fought with nine strip center stores and the center owner who wanted to be in every design decision even though he wasn’t paying. I SAID NO, respectfully, you’re not paying and I set a time limit of one week to get deposits or pricing is changing. I didn’t care at that point if we lost the work. I got nine deposits and the project is in permitting now. Learn to politely SAY NO!

James D.
Valdosta, GA

I have one of these customers right now — 28 proofs on a dentistry sign.

Rafael C.
Mexico

I made up a phrase with a client I have [but] I want to omit his name: “Lo unico que no cambia?” (Is that everything [for the] changes?)

Stephen R.
North Charleston, SC

Just be honest that the layout is not going to read well and may not appeal to a lot of younger people. Make his request, get paid and move on. You are still getting paid for your time so, to me there is no problem as long as the customer keeps paying.

Ashley L.
Salisbury, MD

One of the biggest challenges for me is when a customer makes a good design ugly. In my case, I try to guide them using phrases like “I don’t recommend that” or “I suggest this” and explain why. Most of the time I can persuade them into accepting a better design. However, there does come a point where I let the customer have their way. If they are truly set on having an ugly sign, then so be it. As long as they are paying for the design time it is theirs to waste. I just won’t advertise that I made that sign.

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Rolf L'mao is Signs of the Times' mascot. Contact Rolf at editor@signsofthetimes.com

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