Signarama is the world’s largest network of sign stores and is part of a group of stores specialising in B2B services under United Franchise Group (UFG). It has been using innovation and technology to make sign and graphic solutions fast and simple for businesses since 1986. To understand the unique concept Signarama sells, we caught up with GirishChandarana – COO and SandeepCousik – Head of Production. Following are the excerpts from the interview:
How old is Signarama as a brand? Tell us about its global presence.
Signarama India is part of the global network of Signarama. It is a brand owned by United Franchise Group, which gives franchisee opportunity to people across the world. Established over three decades ago, US-based United Franchisee Group has a total of 11 brands now, with Signarama being their first launch. The Group is now present at over 60 countries and 900 locations with Signarama brand alone.
Globally, the company is promoting signage industry through entrepreneurs who are looking at setting up their own signage and graphic business under the brand name of Signarama. So worldwide, there are retail stores with Signarama branding, where anybody can just walk in, see different samples, get some printing done locally, get it manufactured and installed.
What challenges came in the way while bringing the brand to India?
Signarama India is a licence holder for the brand in India. The brand was brought to India in 2007 by our chairman Mr. Daniel Peavy, and his close college friend. They found it as an interesting concept and started to build on it. However, over the period they also realised that the Indian signage industry did not possess a retail approach. Instead of a showroom of signage or graphics, in India signage work is undertaken by people in industrial areas. Although this means presenting both a new brand and a new way of buying signage, we feel this is a great opportunity for Signarama to be unique in the marketplace and to provide signage customers a venue to see samples and speak about their order in a conveniently located showroom environment. As with most multi-national brands that have come to India, there are tweaks to the model we continue to make as the global brand is adapted for the India market.
How will the retail concept help the industry and customers? What will the concept entail?
The retail concept has been huge for the industry and customers globally. The idea is based on convenience for the customer. What better way to provide convenience than a retail location? In this environment, we also showcase signage options, which allows us to guide the customer to the best type of signage for their need, their budget, and the environment their sign will be placed.
The retail environment also provides a professional image for the brand where we can showcase and leverage the global strength of Signarama. In addition to the retail location, the concept also includes an outside sales force that is based at the retail location. This sales force reinforces both the professionalism of the brand, as well as the convenience for its customers.
Signarama India also supports its franchise network with a wholesale manufacturing base, as well as national and international project management. With offices across India, as well as a growing base of manufacturing hubs, franchisees can sell large signage projects with confidence knowing that Signarama India has the resources available to support their signage sale.
Our franchise format creates a convenient, professional experience for the customer, and our global and country brand provides support, resources and community for our franchisees.
How does Signarama work? Do you take up end-to-end execution of projects?
We do projects and project management for our customers, wherein we approach them and give them a solution in terms of being one point of contact. We take brand activity as a project and what they get is a standardised price and asssured quality. We take up everything from design to maintenance; we add value, manage, maintain and service. We believe brand is the first point of contact for anyone walking on the street, and therefore, it is very important to keep signages well maintained. This is what we communicate to our customers too and they trust us with their signage needs.
What makes Signarama stand out amongst the clutter? What innovative offerings and product categories do you offer?
There are some exclusive products that we are trying to work on and push. These products often get either neglected or the entire knowledge of the right product is not available. One example is Braille and tactile signs. Right now, these signs are just getting printed on foamboard or stainless steel balls are put in grooves onto plastic or metal the sheet. However, we are following the standard norms in the American Disability Act (ADA) and all our Braille and tactile signs are ADA-defined and regulated. Brands are also becoming aware and are looking at installing proper signs in their premises for the specially-abled. This is a separate product category that needs to be pursued by brands and government too is working towards this.
Another concept is project management. We want to become the single point of contact for businesses in terms of branding activity they want to do. We are not limited to a single country but we have the advantage being present across the globe. We did global branding activity for an IT major client and this helped in maintaining uniformity across the world. This is our USP!
There are some other things that are in the pipeline, such as, basic training concepts and models that we want to extend to our partners as well as the industry. We are trying to tie up with Skill India Programme for some states, through which we want to approach uneducated/educated but unemployed/semi-skilled youngsters in those states, and train them in various fields related to signage and graphics.
With digital signage booming, how important do you think it will be for your business in coming times?
Digital signage is important for us as it is going to grow rapidly in the coming years. We are promoting digital signage wherever customer requirements are involved. Digital signage is already a big part of sign and graphics industry but conventional signage is still going strong. There are certain things that cannot be done digitally, for example, fleet graphics. Therefore, digital will not eat away a bigger part in the existing business opportunities of print.
Are you offering any 3D signage solutions?
We are trying 3D printing for our Braille and tactile signs. The stainless steel balls that are being used right now are not so effective as even if one ball falls off, it becomes difficult for a visually-impaired person to read. Therefore, we felt that the base and the print should be moulded. Here is where 3D comes into the picture. We already offer 3D models but now we are trying to incorporate 3D printing in signage in a broad spectrum. Right now it is just in the initial stage but in due course of time, it will get into full-fledged printing format.
Do you think Latex and UV printing is going to become big in the coming times?
Definitely! UV and Latex are two platforms which are going to become important in the coming years. Some print platforms are already fading out . Now 3D printing is also coming in. So, these three formats are going to stay. We too are bringing in a lot of products with eco-friendly materials. Compared to 10 years back, we are actually more eco-conscious now and even the brands are asking for eco-friendly solutions in signage. Therefore, there is a lot of scope in this area.
From where do you source your raw materials? How much of it is indigenously produced?
Everything we need is sourced from within the country and there is nothing that we import. Whatever we are commercially buying comes from within the country. Since we are present across the world, we have the liberty to take techonologies and ideas from other countries and mould them as per Indian requirements. However, there is nothing in terms of products that we use from other countries. In fact, now the concept of make in India is getting a fillip and people are feeling proud about using indigenously manufactured goods. Government is also doing its part and a lot of OEMs are looking at making various products within the country.
How has the pandemic affected the signage industry? What impact has it had on your business?
The Covid19 pandemic has affected almost every industry and every expansion has been on hold. Same is true for signage industry as well. However, all is not lost as it has paved way for another opportunity in this industry. With the opening up of restaurants, retail outlets, malls etc., the requirement for safety graphics to ensure social distancing and highlighting ways of Covid prevention is increasing manfold. We too did this for Jubilant Foodworks and provided these graphics for many of their outlets across India, including floor graphics, floor markings, stand behind lines, ‘social distancing’ signs, ‘you are entering safe zone’ signs etc.
It has opened up the market but conventional brand related activities that we do have become limited to banking, non banking financial sector, healthcare, e-commerce etc. The big chunk of the business is not happening due to the pandemic. Therefore, it is a watch and prepare situation right now!
Another thing that we are doing presently is offering support to clients who have budget constraints. We are taking the lead in providing options of servicing and maintaining their existing signs so that they look new. That way, our clients can postpone replacement of their signage for another 6 months to a year or more. We want to be there for our customers and give them an option which might not generate large sales for us right now, but will build a long-lasting relationship with us. That is the right thing to do!
What kind of changes do you foresee in near future in terms of both signage solutions and signage industry growth?
We feel the main change would come from the entire industry and clients working together to adopt environment-friendly solutions. Besides that, there will be a lot of change in terms of opportunities. There could be a big shift as we expect smaller towns and markets opening up, not just for branding opportunities but also in terms of people opting for signage businesses. This change in mindset can also be attributed to the ongoing crisis that has made us realise and feel the challenges of migration.
However, this slowdown will not last very long. Things will get back to normal as signage and graphics is one industry which is needed by everyone. Every business needs a visible identity and signage provides it the same. Apart from that, the most important fact is that India is a very big market, and no matter how the global economy behaves, India can survive on its own.