Mojodiv

Outsourcing Opportunities for ADA Signage

Bill Schiffner is a freelance writer/editor based in Holbrook, N.Y. He has covered the imaging industry for 25 years and has reported on many evolving digital imaging technologies including wide-format printing and newer electronic digital signage. He was the editor for a number of imaging publications and websites. He can be reached at bschiffner@optonline.net.

ADA signage has become an integral part of the sign industry since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. Experts say that every sign company that offers interior signage should be providing some type of solution for this lucrative market.

However, many sign shops tend to shy away from this area because of all the federal and state rules and regulations involved in creating ADA signage for different types of locations and environments, as well as in different states. That’s when hooking up with a good ADA sign wholesaler is a perfect option.

Ideally, the easiest way for most sign shops to dive into this business is by purchasing tactile ADA signs from an experienced outside vendor—and possibly leaving some visual aspects of the signs for in-house production—until the shop becomes more comfortable and established in this market.

Even if a shop decides to farm out the ADA fabrication side, they should still try to be somewhat schooled in the ADA sign federal guidelines as well as their own state’s requirements. In many cases shops can supply their own artwork to ADA sign providers in order to have some control on the quality aspects of the job.

So, if you still are on the fence when comes to outsourcing projects to an ADA wholesaler and still have some questions, we spoke to a number of companies that specifically address this market and polled them on some things to look for and consider when choosing an ADA wholesale signage company.

Partnering Up

“Sign shops usually have a lot of irons in the fire," says Derrick Anderson, owner at ADA Central Signs in Cairo, Nebraska. "Having to be fluent in ADA regulations isn’t always the most cost effective use of sign shop staff time. Having a dependable outside resource to go to for ADA signage allows shops to retain or expand their customer base in a cost effective way.”

Anderson says that using a wholesale partner that has some flexibility is an important but underrated point. “End customers vary and so do their needs. A lot of wholesale companies won’t do one or two signs anymore, so when the customer comes back two weeks after receiving their order with a couple of additional signs that they forgot to ask for; well, it can be a big hassle with some companies. Some clients have very specific sign types and designs in mind before they come in; and some customers don’t have any idea whatsoever of what they need. Finding a company that is interested in helping shops keep their customers happy is worth the extra effort,” Anderson explains.

ADA Trends

“Over the past year or so we have seen a large demand for metal ADA signs,” reports Chris Bayer, owner of CAB Signs in Brooklyn, New York. “Metal signs are generally much more durable than the plastics that most ADA companies are supplying. Metal materials commonly used include aluminum, brass and stainless steel. Most are made with a brushed matte finish to comply with ADA specifications. These signs are made with applique and raster braille. We also have seen a great demand for custom coloring. To this point we have a Matthews paint mixing station that allows us to mix many custom colors.”

Bayer points out shops can add services such as photopolymer that they do not make in-house. “Sign shops don’t need to have special equipment or supplies. Outsourcing allows shops to work with vendors who are both knowledgeable and capable of manufacturing ADA signs to meet a customer's specifications. By farming out this type of work, the sign shop gets to focus on what they do best.

"Often, working with a wholesaler can be as simple as emailing an art file and requesting a quote. The key factor here is finding the right vendor. This would be someone who has the capabilities that their clients need. After working with a vendor there is a certain trust factor that builds. You get to know what to expect from them,” Bayer adds.

Hank McMahon, president of SignMojo.com in Chattanooga, Tennessee, says he's seeing a number of interesting trends in this market right now. “The first trend is that there are more options than ever. Every customer wants options in the form of more colors and more sign collections to choose from.

"We recently expanded our room number products to include various sign shapes and sizes to provide our distributors with more options," Bahyer says. "We’re also seeing a shift toward wood grain patterns and nature-inspired patterns. Another trend is a surge in online ordering. ADA companies should make all their products available online to make it easier for local sign shops and their end-user customers to buy any time day or night. Our distributors are always busy, so allowing them to place orders any time of the day is huge. We receive a lot of orders after 5 p.m. local time, and we get lots of weekend orders from our online store,” he adds.

Keeping up with Rules and Regulations

McMahon also notes that creating ADA-compliant interior signs can be complicated because of all the rules and regulations that must be adhered to. “There are so many rules and regulations pertaining to ADA signage," he says, and not just the federal ADA guidelines. "The IBC (International Building Code), the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) and the ANSI (American National Standards Institute) all have standards that must be complied with. In addition, there are states that have strict state and county codes and many of these codes are consistently being updated. For this reason, Signmojo has a Regulations Compliance Team that is continuously researching guidelines to make sure that our signs are compliant and manufactured in a timely manner.”

“In all we have 13 different departments that somehow all have to come together with their part of the product within 10 days probably thousands of times every month. It’s a real challenge on the manufacturing front. When you add in the complexity of the ADA, the IBC, and NFPA, we have a wealth of knowledge necessary to succeed in this business.”

Outsourcing Benefits and Questions to Ask

“One of the many benefits to signs shops in regard to outsourcing is that, if they do their homework and are willing to learn some basic signs, then they don’t have to invest in the equipment necessary to make high-quality tactile ones,” says Sharon Toji, president of ADA Sign Products in Long Beach, California. “They can put their money into sales, design and customer service instead,” she adds.

Toji, who also offers professional ADA consulting, says shops should be able to get a few sample signs that demonstrate the qualities of the product that the wholesale company sells. She points out that in terms of the tactile elements, even though you aren’t blind yourself and almost definitely don’t read braille, you should be able to pass your fingertips over both the raised characters and the braille and not feel as if your fingers would be sore after reading a few signs. “Both the characters and the braille dots should each be distinct from other characters and dots, and you shouldn’t be able to feel the ridge of a raised border or frame or any other detail when your fingertips are passing over the braille.”

Toji says it's a good idea to ask the wholesale ADA company what kind of translation software they use for creating their braille. “If you are in California, make sure that they are using the California font," she says. "It's actually legal through all the states, but if you have any doubts about the braille, you can always ask for a printed translation and that they should be able to provide certification from a braille transcriber.”

Toji adds that you should be cautious of wholesale companies that promise unrealistically fast turnaround times. “Companies that promise miracles are often skimping somewhere," she says "On the other hand, if you are ordering standard items like restroom signs or exit signs, the wholesale company may have those on the shelf ready to ship. Lastly, question prices that are rock bottom. Again, what will be skipped in terms of quality in order to get miraculously low prices and miraculously fast turnaround?”

Other Things to Consider

McMahon says that sign shops should look for a wholesale partner that offers a fully functioning website that shows a huge breadth of customizable product and colors with short lead times. “A signage partner should be well versed with ADA sign rules, and should offer an ADA compliance guarantee," he says. "In addition, the signage partner should offer an easy to use quoting system for large projects. Many quotes are complicated and hard to read. Our quoting system, SignSpec, is a world-class online quoting system where we customize each sign with your text and color options, and allow you to review and place your order online quickly and easily.”

He suggests looking for a company that offers a guarantee equal to the life of the building. “Not many companies offer this but we do. Having a ‘Life-of-the-Building" guarantee provides the sign company the assurance that he is representing a high-quality product that has been engineered to look as good the day it is installed as the day it is taken down. A short lead time is another strategic advantage for our customers. We ship 86 percent of our orders in 10 days or less. Most end users think we throw a bunch of plastic into a machine and it comes out shrink wrapped in an hour where the reality is so different. It takes a lot of machines, people and skilled hands combining to make the product.”

McMahon points out that there are many local customers who need a lot of handholding and installation services when it comes to ADA signage. “This plays right into the strong presence of the sign shop that has the capability to assist with placement, needed sign types and compliance strategies even though they might not actually manufacture the ADA sign product. The local sign shop owner can leverage our expertise to their advantage and make a lot of money without investing huge sums in ADA manufacturing capabilities,” he adds.

Multiple Programs Available

ADA signage wholesalers say there are multiple programs available for shops to choose from. Toji says that her company offers several unique programs that assist shops that just want to broker signs, as well as programs for creative designers with varying capabilities in fabrication.

“First, we are one of the companies that can provide thermoformed tactile signs and sign components. These signs are the perfect answer for clients who are tired of replacing signs where characters and braille dots get picked off, “melt” away when gradually exposed to moisture, or are so carelessly manufactured that they literally fall off the signs. On top of  that, they are very easy for people to read because it is simple to make rounded or domed Braille dots and beveled or rounded shapes on characters strokes. They are true one-piece signs that cannot delaminate or be taken apart.”

She points out that for the “blue and white” client or any client who just wants a very simple standard color combination of light and dark, they have an extensive choice of standard signs in their online catalog. They offer 11 standard color combinations, with a dark on light and light on dark choice for each. There are three standard typestyles as well, a choice of radius or square corners, and besides that, some size choices.

“For the sign shop that has some capabilities—and particularly for one with an in-house designer—we have a really unique opportunity with our ‘Pieces and Parts’ modular system. It is particularly suited for any project with a large number of room number signs.” Toji says the system has, as its base, seven different sign shapes to use for room numbers.

“The designer can use the room number shapes independently, or can pair them with backplates, decorative layers and insert pieces to create a completely unique system. In addition, the pieces can be backed with digital prints or back-painted with any color desired, although we do recommend adhering closely to requirements for dark/light contrast.”

Their company offers one more asset that no other wholesale company can boast, the consulting services of Sharon Toji—otherwise known as the ‘ADA Sign Lady.’ She says her sign shop clients in the field often call her to tap into her extensive knowledge of the history and intent of the ADA standards. “When you deal with ADA Sign Products, you have a unique ‘buy one, get one free’ opportunity to get it right, the first time,” she concludes.