Predictions can be slippery things and can even turn into egg-on-face when they don’t eventuate. However, identifiable trends verified by research can be of great help to businesses planning for the near and longer future. Andy McCourt weighs in for the Sign, Display and allied industries - backed by statistical research, a little opinion from experience and some street-level gumshoeing to expose boring signage.

Andy sign article Liqourland Store boring Black
Is Liquorland trying to bore its customers to death with supposed makeover signage such as this?
Andy sign article coles liquorland redyellow
How Liquorland should look - vibrant, eye-catching, fun and inviting

More about Liquorland and others further down...

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By Andy McCourt

The good news that wideformat printer sales are tipped for further worldwide growth (see report this issue) warrants further investigation.

The mainstay of wideformat inkjet output has always been printed signage. This is the end result – the bread & butter that every sign and display business needs to stay in business and provide jobs.

It may come as a surprise that, according to a research report by Mordor Intelligence (with inputs from Spandex, Avery Dennison and Orafol among others), the 2021-2026 forecast average global CAGR (Compound Annual Growth Rate) for traditional printed signage is just 0.19%. Don’t panic – geographic areas vary and Australia, New Zealand and Asia-Pacific are in what the Mordor report describes as ‘High Growth’ while N. America and Europe are ‘Mid Growth’ with S. America and Africa ‘Low Growth.’

However, the message is clear that some traditionally printed signages – such as billboards - are being displaced by all-digital technologies such as networked LED and LCD screens. In the same 2021-2026 research period, Markets & Markets forecasts such digital signage to deliver global CAGR of 11.2%, reaching approximately AUD$38.8 billion by 2026. Contrast this with printed signage’s forecast of around AUD$57.3 billion by 2026:- print is still bigger but growth is much slower.

Again, there are anomalies. High growth but low-digital markets such as India will continue to use more printed billboards as it always has done and why not? There is a magnificent allure to those great Bollywood movie banners for example. There is also the advantage that a printed billboard, once up, stays up with one constant message for its entire lifespan whereas digital billboards are in a constant change phase with perhaps five or six advertisers sharing the screen by rotation, thereby dilluting the ‘impacts’ somewhat.

Not all signage is suited to larger digital screens above 52-inches. Below this threshold, print still shines, as evinced by digital’s highest growth sector being the 52” (1320mm) and above screen size.

What is being measured?

Okay, let’s hypothesise that all ‘signs’ are 2D planar beasts. Wrong. Is a sign on a Tee-Shirt or uniform a garment or a sign? When a vehicle is wrapped in company livery – is it a sign or a paint job? Try wrapping a delivery van in an LCD screen – don’t laugh there do exist slab-sided vans and trucks using LED or LCD screens. Unfortunately the electronics and batteries take up a fair slice of storage space inside.

What about point-of-purchase displays, are these ‘signs’ or shop fittings? Exhibition SEG walls – are they ‘signs’ or part of the stand build? You get my point – much of what today’s roll, hybrid and flatbed printers can produce could escape being measured as ‘signage’ thanks to the versatility of these devices.

Object decoration is another area that might be classified as ‘premiums’ or ‘aids to manufacturing.’ For that matter, print & cut machines are great at adhesive labels in shorter or oversize runs – is that a packaging job and not a sign?

Diversification of product offering a good idea, cheapness isn’t

The message here is that digital inkjet devices and software, plus advanced finishing technologies from the likes of Kongsberg, Zund and others, can create a diversity of output that positions a ‘sign business’ far beyong the archaic perception of a bloke up a ladder with buckets of paint and brushes on long sticks.

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Sadly, boring signage has also affected Commbank

Diversification is relatively easy for anyone with modern sign manufacturing equipment, so long as the marketing drive and vision is there. It may even be essential to make that 0.19% CAGR a double-digit affair.

To conclude, there is evidence of apathy towards signage in the business community. A recent opening of a relocated Commonwealth Bank branch in Sydney has revealed hardly any printed signage, apart from boring black-and-white ATM wayfinding - not even a CBA logo in the corner. In the window is a large LCD display that is impossible to read when the sun is shining on it and changes when you have not had time to read the complete messages!

Another example, albeit in a trial phase, is Liquorland’s unbelievable push to turn its vibrant, recognisable stores into boring black edifices, gray caves that look like someone cut the sign budget by 80%. Liquorland is owned by Coles who is owned by Wesfarmers. Would they do the same to Coles supermarkets or the beautifully signaged Officeworks and Bunnings?

Thank goodness that our sign and display industry is highly fragmented and mostly SME family shops that have the skills and imagination to offer their end customers vibrant and commercial outcomes that drive business and information in a highly effective way.

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Wideformat printed mural at Friend's Burger

To end on a high note – a recent visit to a new burger shop showed what great signage and creativity can do. Friends Burgers of Willoughby, NSW is bright and entertaining from the moment you enter – even a giant wall mural of the Sydney skyline – with Friends Burgers logos on top of every tall building! Take a look at the interior shot below.

And the Wagyu burgers with fries were fantatstic too.

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Yes! New Friend's Burger bar knows how to attract with printed signage. Note floor graphic
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