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Maggie Harlow

What to Know Before Selling Signs and Components to Other Shops

Tips for companies who are thinking about adding a wholesale business.

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Lloyd and Wendy Graves of Louisville, KY. Lloyd runs their Signarama retail store, while Wendy recently launched inSIGNia Wholesale as an adjacent business.

IT’S A COMMON STORY among retail signshops: an owner becomes good at a type of fabrication, or invests in new equipment, and the decision to do some wholesale work seems like an easy one! Making investments in staff and keeping machines busy and productive are worthy goals, and wholesale business can make that hill faster and easier to climb. But is it right for your retail sign company?

For Wendy and Lloyd Graves of Louisville, KY, the move to adding electrical signage got a jump-start — thanks to COVID! They had been contemplating the idea for 18 months, and the “pause” of the pandemic gave Wendy the window she needed to launch inSIGNia Wholesale adjacent to their award-winning Signarama franchise. Her vision? “I made it a point to ensure I would be transparent with all jobs and deadlines for each client I took on,” she said.

If you are considering bolstering your bottom line and productivity with wholesale business, Wendy has some great tips to guide you!

  • First and foremost, research! Know the market, understand wholesale pricing, and be prepared to learn how to win a different kind of client.
  • Recruit from among some friendly competitors, and see if any would give you a chance to do work for them and get their feedback.
  • Price check on aisle 2! Get some competitive pricing and do several cost analyses to be sure you can make money at wholesale-discount levels.
  • Devote some staff or your sales bandwidth to test the market, and see what your potential clients want and are open to considering.
  • Know your strengths! Wendy said, “Service and quote turn time are my biggest strengths.” Her customers tell her this is of great value to them.
  • Focus on the product you have the most leverage with! Choose a product for which you have distinctive skills, unique equipment or an affordable way of getting done. Wholesaling commodity products like decals or engraved signs can be harder to make a profit on!
  • “We are a process-driven company,” Wendy said. Try to build the additional business with clear processes for both your team and customer.
  • “How can I trust you?” This will be a key question your clients will have, if you are also in retail. For Wendy the key was clear separation of the entities. “Lloyd and I established from the beginning [that] I would run the wholesale and he, the retail. We don’t share quoting systems; he doesn’t know what I quote.”
  • To grow both sides of business, prepare your team. “If you don’t have the heart of a teacher, the machines, team members and processes, you won’t be prepared,” Wendy said.
  • Lastly, own your capabilities! “Honesty is key; don’t lie to win the bid,” Wendy said. Win the client’s trust for the long term, not a short-term gain.

Building your business through wholesale work could be a great move for your sign company, but it is not the right path for every shop, so do your due diligence and prepare yourself for the journey!

Maggie Harlow is the CEO of Signarama Downtown Louisville (Louisville, KY), one of the largest and most prestigious locations for the global sign franchise. Contact Maggie at [email protected]

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