There you are, driving down the road one night looking for a certain kind of store. You spot the sign and get ready to turn in. Then you giggle. How in the world do they not realize how silly their sign looks with that one letter unlit? Or haven’t they noticed that section is flickering? They spent lots of money to design, build and install that sign – just to leave a bad impression due to poor maintenance.

Why Maintenance Matters

Noticing what’s wrong with other companies’ signs is easy when you’re their customer. The problem is seeing your own signs through those eyes, especially for managers who have so many other responsibilities. Problems with your signs may not rise to the top of the list if they’re noticed at all.

Some outcomes may be amusing, such as the “swimming pool supplies” sign that became “swimming poo lies”. Most aren’t that bad, but any broken sign distracts from a company’s efforts to put their best foot forward. People judge a store’s insides from the outside, so exterior signs that need maintenance tend to cheapen your company’s brand and hurt sales.

After all, why would companies who spend so much on TV and radio advertising, sponsorships, mailers, and coupons, then neglect the one thing that advertises for them every minute of every day — their signs?

Basic Options

There are two basic ways to handle maintenance needs for exterior signs and parking lot lighting. First and most common is with a Time and Materials Program, where companies report and pay for each problem as it occurs. The second choice, a Fixed Rate Program, operates more like an insurance plan, covering any and all problems during the contracted period for one set monthly price. Each program has its advantages.

Fixed-Rate Programs were very popular when leasing signs was a popular option, and before the financial meltdown of the mid-2000s. Changes since then have led to a shift toward Time and Materials Programs. In addition, the introduction of LED lighting has provided less frequent need for care. But that’s no reason to assume that Time and Materials Programs are still a company’s best choice. In fact, it may be time to reconsider Fixed Rate Programs as a smarter option for today’s signage.

Time and Materials Program

By spending money only when a problem occurs, a Time and Materials Program gives companies greater daily control of their cash. If a sign’s lighting fails, they can choose whether to spend on repairs now or put them off. A location manager can time a repair to avoid impact on a bonus, for instance. A company can measure benefits against current cash flow. They may also come out ahead for periods when they choose to leave signs unrepaired.

The downside of Time and Repair Programs may be less evident. Because each repair becomes an independent spending decision, reporting and repairs may be unnecessarily delayed. In that case, other sign parts may be exposed or run under duress, leading to additional repair costs in the long run. Final costs may be hard to anticipate per job, based on the availability of parts, hours required, and return trips to complete work. Costs can vary widely from month to month, especially if multiple signs need attention at once.

Fixed-Rate Program

By negotiating a no-surprises payment schedule across a contract period, usually 36 to 60 months, a Fixed Rate Program works well for companies who like to keep a careful eye on the budget and keep their signage looking its best. They may benefit from building a reliable process across multiple locations for reporting and repairs, covering all of their location signs for the same fixed monthly rate and an unlimited number of service calls.

Because every repair is already covered under a Fixed Rate Program, problems may be addressed more quickly. Fixed-Rate Programs can also be customized to include any scope of all-inclusive service – lighting, repainting, cleaning, etc. – with generally better overall pricing based on a company’s specific level of need. If companies hesitate to consider a Fixed Rate Program, it’s likely based on the hope that extensive repairs are unlikely, the company can handle unpredictable costs if necessary, and possible delays are acceptable.

Questions to Ask

As you consider which maintenance program is better for you, questions like these are helpful.

  • For what purpose were your signs originally created?
  • How critical is well-lit signage to sustaining that purpose?
  • How much delay is permissible in correcting sign lighting issues?
  • What’s your current experience with location managers and your signs?
  • What’s your business philosophy – a predictable budget or pay-as-you-go?
  • Will you spend more or less on sign maintenance if you switch programs?

Knowing what you spend on sign and exterior lighting repairs is important for any business, even if it requires a bit of digging. Signs can directly impact your image and sales. Keeping them in good repair is a recurring expense, hitting the bottom line year after year.

It’s probably time for more companies to take a fresh look at all their options, including the Fixed-Rate Program. Revisiting your signage maintenance program now may pay off for years to come.