Houston, We Have a Solution

By Steve Aust

National Signs (Houston) celebrated its 20th anniversary earlier this year, and EMCs have comprised a significant portion of its business throughout the duration. Al Ross, the company’s founder and CEO, said electronic displays currently represent 45% of the company’s signage repertoire. He said much of the company’s success in this market stems from following the “blue ocean” postulate: go where your competition isn’t.

“A lot of sign companies go after the high-profile job, such as a big stadium or shopping-center display board,” Ross said. “Although we can handle that type of project, it isn’t our focus. We prefer to have our sales team call on smaller businesses and show them how messageboards are a very cost-effective way to promote their business.”

He said effective design is paramount to developing an effective message-center sign. “Too many shops are concerned about how big of a box they can install on a monument or pylon sign. A good EMC has to balance the size and color of static and dynamic messages, as well as good color contrast, brightness, legible typography and a strong, structural foundation. Most customers live within 20 miles of a business location, so a sign does a much better sales job than a TV or newspaper ad.”

As an example, he cited a 10 x 20-ft. electronic display National Signs fabricated for a Houston Toyota dealership. The city recently trimmed the allowable square footage for freestanding signs on certain types of roads from 300 to 225, and the messageboard itself may only occupy 100 sq. ft. To enhance the marketing effectiveness, the National Signs design team developed an additional cantilevered “arm” that’s not part of the signs’ square-footage limit. Also, the display was installed at a subtle, 10° angle towards oncoming traffic to aid visibility; the sign’s components were engineered to accommodate the curvature.

The shop builds its EMC signage exclusively with Time-O-Matic’s Watchfire® displays, primarily 19mm-pixel configurations. Ross said, “The vast majority of our customers are having their displays seen by motorists driving at a high speed on a highway or major roadway. For these applications, this is more than sufficient. We’ve had a few owners of tech-oriented companies insist on 12mm-pixel displays, because they want to invest in newer technology, but that’s not the norm.”

He continued, “As long as smaller-pixel technology remains 30 to 40% more expensive, I think 19mm displays will remain the industry norm for several more years to come. And, I think monochrome displays will be obsolete within two years because prices have dropped on full-color, LED displays.”

In addition to reducing permitted EMC square footage, Ross said Houston also enacted a somewhat draconian five-minute requirement before an image can be changed. However, he takes an optimistic view: “I was part of a sign-code committee the mayor assembled, and I had to work hard to convince the committee not to expand it to 15 minutes. And, that still provides an opportunity for 12 different messages per hour, which is sufficient for most enterprises.”

Overall, Ross sees EMC-sign use growing rapidly in the near future: “As business owners get more tech-savvy and more zeroed in on advertising cost-effectiveness, on-premise LED message centers will become a more important part of their marketing programs.”

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