5 Things: Five questions to ask before buying a digital billboard

by Darrin Friskney, Watchfire Digital Outdoor

If you are considering making an investment in digital billboards during 2012, perhaps the single most important decision impacting your return on investment will be from what manufacturer you buy. Before signing on the dotted line, here are five questions to ask digital billboard manufacturers:

1. Are you a stable company with referenceable customers? Can I see some of your boards that are a few years old? Many digital billboard manufacturers claim to have low prices, but there are many more important factors to consider before making a decision. Ask about the company history, how long they’ve been in business and their experience with digital billboards. A company that has a successful history stands a better chance of being around for the lifetime of your billboard. Find out if the manufacturer makes its billboards in the United States or overseas, and where they source their LEDs. Finally, ask to see some of their digital billboards in operation and to talk with customers who have experience with the manufacturer that spans several years. It’s always a good idea to visit the facility where the billboards are made and to compare engineering and manufacturing.

2. How are your billboards built? The engineering, construction and materials used in the manufacturing of digital billboards all can have a significant impact on the quality and durability of the board, and on the cost of ownership. Look for billboards with the Green Leaf mark from Underwriters Laboratories, which certifies products for their compliance to a variety of energy-efficiency requirements. Learn about how the billboard cabinet is manufactured. Does the company use sheet metal or heavy-walled, extruded aluminum, which weighs less, is more durable and can reduce the cost of installation? Are the modules coated front and back in silicone gel to prolong the life of LEDs and to protect against moisture? Does the manufacturer rely on more than three LEDs per pixel? If so, that’s an indication of low-quality LEDs, and a shoddy product.

3. What kind of warranty do you offer? A solid warranty is a good indicator of how confident the manufacturer is in its products, and how confident you should feel with the manufacturer. Typically, a longer warranty means the manufacturer performs extensive testing on the product and will stand behind their billboards should anything happen in the future. Look at the company history to determine if they will be around to fulfill their warranty over the expected lifetime of your billboard. Ask to speak with customers who have had their billboards serviced so you can determine how the warranty process really is implemented.

4. Do you have a dedicated service department? A dedicated, long-standing service department is another indicator that a manufacturer supports their products. Don’t assume that a company has a service department to answer questions and take care of any issues that arise. Find out if the manufacturer has a customer support line and what kind of support is provided. For example, will the support group help both before and after the sale, what are the service hours, what’s the average time to get a problem solved? Ask if the company stocks its own parts and how long it takes for parts to be delivered. Finally, does the company keep records of your service calls to make troubleshooting easier and quicker?

5. How easy is it to operate your billboards? Since the value of digital billboards is in the flexibility of the medium and the ability to change ads quickly and frequently, it’s important that the billboard comes with easy-to-use scheduling software. Find out if the software is included with the billboard or if it is available only at an extra cost. Talk with customers to find out if the software is intuitive and what kind of training is needed. Ask to try out the software when visiting the manufacturing facility. Learn about the artwork library that comes with the software and if there are extra charges for using this.

Taking the time up-front to ask the right questions can ensure you’re making the best choice when selecting a digital billboard manufacturer to partner with your business.

Darrin Friskney is director of digital billboard manufacturer Watchfire Digital Outdoor. He can be reached at darrin.friskney@watchfiresigns.com.

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