Take It Outside...Current Trends in Out-of-Home Signage, Part 2
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Take It Outside...Current Trends in Out-of-Home Signage, Part 2

One area of importance that is often overlooked by the sign professional is the area of street furniture.

By Johnny Duncan

In Part I of Taking It Outside, we explored some of the many opportunities available for sign professionals in the realm of outdoor signage. We discussed the various options aside from traditional billboards and painted signs that are available to reach the eyes of your client’s potential customers.

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  • One area of importance that is often overlooked by the sign professional is the area of street furniture. Street furniture has been defined as a segment of the sign industry that includes the creating, manufacturing, installation, and selling or a combination of all of these for advertising space.

    These spaces can be found on displays positioned at close proximity to pedestrians and shoppers for eye-level viewing, or at curbside to influence vehicular traffic. This can include bus shelters, bus benches, newsstands & news racks, kiosks, public telephones, shopping mall displays, in-store displays, and convenience store displays and with new variations constantly being created.

    Seeking shelter
    Traditionally, outdoor ads have been posted for a one or two month time-frame with some ads being left up even after the promotion or advertising blitz has ended. Advertisers have longed for new methods of bringing their messages to the public in a timely fashion with the ability to change the signs regularly.

    Street furniture allows this and more. Advertisers have the option of changing their ads daily while reaping the benefits of the visual impact and reach that only outdoor signage can offer. They provide flexibility that allows ads to be rotated to new locations each month at the client's option. Copies are easily changed by the use of imprints.

    Shelter advertising, those little kiosks you see along city roadways, is a form of street furniture that can be used as a point-of-purchase medium. Locations are ideal, adjacent to supermarkets, convenience stores, liquor stores, restaurants, travel agencies, dealer locations, shopping malls, plazas and many other retail outlets. Your customer’s ad will typically be located where business is taking place.

    Shelter advertising provides the perfect venue to pitch to the corporation with multiple products and to all manner of retailers. Bus shelters, mall posters, airport kiosks, and now, even billboards can be fitted with enabling devices to allow changes in messages to attract customers to all of your client’s products. The newest features allow changes to take place automatically and are time-activated, thus eliminating manual change-outs.

    Going undercover
    Breaking into the shelter advertising segment of the industry can be a challenge, but it is well worth the effort for those sign professionals who are looking to diversify the products and services of their companies.

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    Connie Barry, President and CEO of Transtop, a transit shelter advertising provider in Minneapolis / St. Paul, offers this advice: “If your company hasn't dealt with street furniture advertising, it would be very important to have someone who is established in the business help you, because dealing with municipal franchises is very different from leasing private property for signs.” Although this little corner of the sign industry is saturated with competition, some portions of the US are still open to sign professionals who are willing to provide quality products and craftsmanship.

    Even if your community appears closed to new competition in the arena of street furniture, you can still provide services for those who already have a foothold. As Charlie Brock, General Manager of Foxmark Media of Chattanooga, TN points out, “Our company needs help in developing directory and other advertising displays that are tailored to lifestyle centers. These units will need to be suitable for outdoor use and provide a dramatic advertising presence for our advertising partners.”

    Even if you’ve never ventured outside of your world of signs, whatever that may be, possibilities exist in the outdoor market in the way of street furniture for you to grab a piece of the pie. Diversifying is a good hedge against a downturn in the economy and positions a company for future projects that may become available.

    Future opportunities
    The outdoor market is changing daily. New technologies, including building and vehicle wraps, 3D billboards, LED messages and many more, are giving the advertiser more options than ever before. Advertisers’ business dollars will go to the sign professional that can improvise and create. Staying abreast of new methods of design and being willing to diversify will put the wise sign professional ahead of the crowd.

    The future is wide open for the street furniture segment of the industry. As Barry states, “Having run a transit shelter advertising company for 22 years, I would say the next 5 ­ 10 years will see street furniture advertising grow exponentially. In this age of budget cuts for municipalities, it is a very attractive way for cities to provide a service to residents at no cost to the city or their taxpayers. It's a real win/win.”

    Brock sees much of the growth in the next five years in terms of new development by mall developers, to be in the form of "lifestyle centers" rather than enclosed malls. “These lifestyle centers are often a hybrid of outdoor and indoor centers. Thus, while we have traditionally focused on indoor units for enclosed malls, we will need to design and manufacture outdoor units which are specifically made for lifestyle centers or can be adapted to an indoor/outdoor hybrid center”, states Brock. “From the mall developer standpoint, these units need to be designed in accordance with the aesthetics of the center. From our advertiser’s standpoint, the units need to be in highly visible locations and need to provide high impact advertising throughout the day and evening hours.”

    There exists opportunities to provide for the new upcoming designs in street furniture. A sign professional should look into all of the aspects of the sign and what it will take to bring one to completion. Sign professionals may already have what it takes to provide the essentials for street furniture in terms of talent, skills, machinery and materials.

    According to Brock, “One of the challenges we face is working with our fixture suppliers, (who have predominantly made units for indoor use), to develop new outdoor units that can withstand the various elements for outdoor placement and will stand out in an outdoor environment.” Finding qualified companies to provide durable, lasting materials troubles many street furniture professionals. Doors can be opened for the sign professional willing to satisfy this need.

    Another option to being a provider of street furniture is to provide the maintenance for these signs. Whenever there are multiple units installed throughout the community, there is a need for maintenance of the signs. The installation company does not always provide the maintenance. “With street furniture advertising, the challenges of maintenance are different than other outdoor signs because they are street level”, says Barry. Some sign companies are willing to subcontract this task out to free them up for installations. Providing maintenance is one great way to learn the ends and outs of the business.

    With so many options available in the outdoor market, it is hard to determine where your niche may lie. A good rule of thumb is to keep all doors open and continue to hone your skill set until you determine which direction your talents and your interest may take you.

    In Part III of this series, we will address more opportunities as seen from the street.

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