It was early one morning when Chris Brown, a FASTSIGNS franchisee in Cincinnati, was dropping off some “Now Hiring” tear drop feather flags to a local account of his, Koch Foods (pronounced Cook). While he was there, he noticed that the property was undergoing some renovation, so as any good sign franchise owner would do, he asked about the plans for the new landscaping and entryway taking place.
After a few minutes Chris was introduced to the plant engineer and the two of them walked the property together. Chris listened as the PE explained what was happening when truck drivers don’t know, or can’t find the right entrance for them to turn into for their specific loading dock. He explained that many trucks end up jack-knifing when they can’t back out of the driveways. The PE envisioned some sort of entryway signage with large numbers – 1,2,3 and 4 along with the address. For example, drivers could be told by dispatch to pull into entry 4 at 4100 Port Union Road, hence solving the problem.
Chris then mentioned that the tear drop flags he just dropped off, although a great marketing tool, were probably not the best fit for the “Now Hiring” message they were trying to convey to the public. Chris recommended a sign with an electronic message center that could advertise a host of hiring options. The PE agreed and asked Chris if he could provide those types of signs, to which Chris replied, “Yes we can.”
At this point Chris was about to venture into new territory; he was new to the really large monument design and fabrication world but knew deep down that it was something he could do. Chris had a good understanding of channel letters, wall signs and had produced a few smaller monument signs, but this was going to be his first large, multi-faceted internally illuminated EMC sign project -- and Chris was up to the challenge.
Preparing to be prepared
Chris returned to his office and began looking for someone to help with design and setup of the files he would need for this project. Chris saved nearly every magazine with articles on sign fabrication he could find, and as a result had a deep, extensive collection of old Sign & Digital Graphics magazines with tons of ideas and resources. He started looking for some ideas on design and happened to find an article I had written some time ago on the subject. He looked up my website and decided to give me a call. I remember the morning that I answered the phone because the first words out of his mouth were, “Are you the designer who wrote an article in Sign and Digital Graphics magazine about monument signs?” Well, if there was ever a way to wake me up and get my attention in the morning, Chris’ approach worked. For nearly an hour we talked about our backgrounds, experience and the opportunity he had with the Koch Foods project. He asked me if I would like to jump in and get involved and of course I said yes. So, the process of gathering the details needed for a sign design presentation began, and I instructed Chris on where to start with the site survey.
Chris knew that the city had certain ideas as to how large the sign could be, and how far back from the curb it had to be, rights of ways, utility easements, etc. He gathered the code details and prepared an outline on the allowable sizes for the main ID and for the directional signs, as well as any set-back or brightness/frequency rules for operating a sign with an electronic message center. The city was very restrictive of the directional sign sizes, so later on in the process a request for larger directional signs was presented to the city and a variance was submitted and approved.
Site survey & estimating
Chris understood the importance of listening to his client and paying attention to the underlying needs that his sign solutions must address. He figured that this project, being his first of its kind, required even more detail management than normal, so Chris staked his claim at the job site and took measurements of everything he could think of that might be important. I sent him an electronic “mini” version of my yet-to-be-published survey book so he would at least know exactly how to take the photos and get the measurements needed for me to create scaled design drawings and illustrations.
After the survey, Chris and I discussed the options. We decided to put together a design with a 3’ x 8’ message center and four large directional signs that were also internally illuminated. I created an initial set of concepts, along with a neat and tidy presentation packet for Chris to use in order to test the waters and find out what his client was going to like or dislike. At this point Chris needed to calculate a price to fabricate and install the signs he was proposing. On a trustworthy recommendation, Chris chose McHenry Industries as the fabricator who would be handling the job. They requested a detailed set of files for estimating, which I quickly provided. They came up with a price range for Chris and he used this info to prepare his presentation for Koch Foods.
Chris arrived at the plant and made the presentation, and it went so well that when he got back to his office there was an email from Koch Foods asking for an electronic version of the proposal so that it could be sent to the corporate office. This was very good news. Chris promptly did so and a few days later he got a reply requesting some changes and a few size comparison options such as an increase in the size of the main monument sign with the EMC. They wanted the main cabinet to be 13’x13’ with a larger EMC than was originally recommended. At this point Chris had their confidence and trust, so they released to him the Koch Foods Brand Standards that I would later use to create the final proposal/illustration files… so I got to work.
After a few back and forth reviews to finalize the logo and directional details, I prepared a final illustration packet that gave Chris the tools he needed to make the final presentation and close the deal.
It was right after Christmas when Chris got the deposit check and signed proposal/agreement in the mail. Once the permits were issued, Chris was off to the races.
Chris’s shop did not have the capabilities to produce a project such as this. He knew he had to have a fabricator that would make him look good, and McHenry Industries of Youngstown, Ohio, offered exactly what Chris and the project needed. Sales associate Ron Hinderliter took the project on and handled it as if it was his own. Ron reviewed the presentation and requested from me the necessary production files so that they could begin fabrication. I made sure the production files covered every aspect of the project for fabrication and left nothing to be assumed or guessed. My associate Mike Burke is an expert at creating extreme-detail production files so I invited him to bring his expertise to the project as well. His drawings left nothing to the imagination – every detail was addressed.
Chris wanted to make sure that everything went smoothly because it was his name on the project. Hence he did not sit back and wait for the signs to be built; he stayed in the loop and in the trenches. Chris consulted with Ron throughout the process, making sure that they had everything they needed and that there were no questions on their part. He helped verify and document colors per the Koch Foods Branding Guide, and double checked nearly every detail so that there were no mistakes, no kinks and no speed bumps that might slow the production process. He made sure it all went according to plan, which it did, flawlessly. Ron and his team crafted the sign cabinets and completed fabrication on time, and within budget.
All of the steps taken in the beginning of the job made this part of the process go very smoothly, which is always welcomed. Few things are worse than when saddles aren’t large enough for the pipe and the client is standing there, watching it all happen. Chris knew that the client’s confidence can be either solidified or destroyed by what happens on-site during the installation process. If all goes well, the client feels relief that all is good. If a major issue occurs during installation, then the entire project can come into question as to “what else went wrong that wasn’t seen” and Chris was fully aware of this. Chris’ up front attention to details, his excellent communication skills and his commitment to making this project come out perfect was significant to why it did go so smoothly. He hired professionals who made him look good, he watched his expenses, anticipated problems and worked his plan flawlessly.
In the end, Chris was able to hang his hat on a successful sign project, and he solidified his reputation with his client as the go-to sign provider for Koch Foods. Chris now looks for new, similar opportunities around his area and has a beautiful portfolio piece, as well as a solid reference from Koch Foods for any and all future jobs he decides to bid on. The only question remaining for Chris is, “What’s next?”