In such a short period of time we've seen a lot of Electric Sign Component manufacturers, distributors, and suppliers fold and go out of business or get gobbled up by others.
ISA or International Sign Association in strong armed/mafia form gobbled up all independent state Sign Associations...they're still there, but they all have one voice to follow now. When this all happened it was an entertaining little civil war as it was happening. You didn't read about that part of it because well....those voices were silenced and there was no platform at the time for those in those smaller associations to voice their opposition, no way to be heard and you sure wouldn't read about it in any Sign Brochure Rag (Magazine)
Principal LED buys Transco(Neon), then buys Ventex (Neon / LED), then buys Aries Graphics (Neon/LED Wizard), recently buys Sloan (LED).....now I hear they bought property in the land of Oz...
A lot of smaller Sign Suppliers are no longer around. If you're on the West Coast then you know Interstate Electric just folded up very fast practically overnight and POOF!....gone.
Tubelite & Denco merged as one company, and just now Grimco gobbled up TubeLite & Denco.
So what does this all mean?
Well this usually happens during a bad economy, businesses merge to survive, and most of the time when they consolidate the outcome means it's Big Business....not good for the consumers, those consumers.....is this very industry.
Like with most laws of the marketplace with less competitors, it mean less choices, options, and of course higher prices....higher prices because, well....why drop prices when there are less competitors out in the marketplace to compete for your business. Lesser options of where to buy and what to buy, lesser options like what electric sign components are in our marketplace.
Competition brings better options and components into our marketplace, but at this point there is no drive or incentive for a component manufacture to build better products. In fact, I've already seen this retard, and I've been seen sub par products in the LED Modules being produced and made available. Many won't notice, many don't even know what they're even buying. Many are just "WOWED" at the new "10 year product / 5 year labor warranty" and think how wonderful!
The real fact of the matter is at this point the only real hard part is getting to the 5 year period.
Beyond that it's just a matter of the manufacturer handing you a few bags of newer LED modules, patting you on the back of the head and telling you to go away.
Ask yourself, would you ever use your warranty for anything beyond the 5 years or just refill your client for a new retrofit? How many business signs actually last that long before becoming rebranded? I would say the chances of a sign lasting longer that 10 years is fewer than a rebrand or s business just seising to operate.
So users have the Wow factor of the 10 year warranty. They are also may not know....they are being charged more for this warranty because it's sold as a premium service. 10 years "sounds" better than 5, what users don't know is that the 5 year warranty is probably the better product in some cases, the 5 year warranty product company just hasn't caught up to the 10 year scheme yet. It is a scheme, just read the warranty yourself.
Here's what happened in a short period of time.
LED technology has gotten better, and of course less expensive. But the choices for what sign module producers choose to specify and putting together has been garbage.
Well, there is less competition now, less choices. With fewer Sign Suppliers now there are less choices.....you have Principal LED, and Principal LED...oh and.....Principal LED.
What I'm seeing right now is more eco modules and less premium modules. What I mean in eco modules is...Constant Voltage LED systems, and inefficient chips (higher power needed for more light), along with very poor bins of white (sorting process). In fact, these days, the 6500 whites look dirty and inconsistent across a say...30 module string.
In premium modules it's the opposite.
Up until not too long ago most of the industry was going to CC Systems or Constant Current. You pay just a tiny bit more...but it mean longer life, and consistent lighting from the first module on a string to the last. The chips being used were more efficient (more light for lesser power). You have to remember, when it comes to LEDs, the more power the greater the heat, the greater the heat the shorter the life. These days, you may not get catastrophic failure like th old days where diodes outright fail and turn off, but you'll get faster lumen maintenance or degradation, and in a lot of cases depending on chip quality...color shifting.
In premium modules, the white rendering is better. A 6500K white will look white on a premium module. Do your own comparison, put LED modules in channels and put white acrylic faces on them and do a comparison. What you thought was 6500K from one module manufacturer looks really gray, or green, or blue compared to a quality module using quality chips.
When we were doing the Electric Sign Industry benchmark testing The Great White Hope & Project Tightey Whitey, etc.... everyone in the industry was able to see the differences of the Bins, the chip quality in light produced for power out in and what was failing and what was not.
Project Tightey Whitey (6500KLED Modules) & The Red Light District (Red LED Modules)
The Great White Hope (6500K LED Modules)
Project Border Security (Blue Neon & LED Flex)
Before you ask on those whites....
YES, those are ALL 6500K modules. Not so white when you compare huh?
I would gamble to say half this industry won't care when reading this. Most think it's just about building, billing and profiting and living our lives the best we can with greater worries about real life outside of work....as it should be....I get that.
In some ways I've always had some Nerd traits in me, and that's why I'm writing this.
The bottom line is, there are only a few LED Modules I would say are "Quality", and you won't really find them in your local now shrunk Sign Supply options.
Right now you're paying more for less under the guise marketing scheme of a "10 Year Warranty" and most deceivingly you're buying a product from a name that once actually produced good products but using that "name" to sell a product because you know that "name". They're taking advantage of your ignorance and lack of caring/understanding
You won't read about any of the information put here in our supposed Sign Industry News Magazines because they have been nothing but Brochure Rags where all you have to do is either purchase advertisement space or become one of their contributing "Writers" which they have always been desperate for since they aren't from this industry they only want to sell to it.
So become a writer/contributor and through the backdoor, promote your product....indirectly.. Who is going to discuss the shrinking marketplace and degradation of product quality. No one like to name names there.
You won't read about any of this in any Webinar, Seminar or Newsletter from our Sign Associations, because just like Brochure Rags....Advertising and Booth Space Sells.
I've sat in Association Boards, money dictates all decisions like you wouldn't know and most in them are sheep....except for the "Lifers" who have been there since day one if they're still breathing and they not only sit on one board but even multiple across state lines in different associations. It's a good way to get influence and sell it, most importantly it's a good way to push yourself and own agenda across the industry. The good doers are short lived realize it's not for them, and leave after a short time.
Maybe if nothing else I awake from this hibernation I've been on for some time and take some small steps of my own and put out for our Great Trade some revised Benchmark testings on LEDs & Neon. I can see another Great White Hope IV (White LEDs), Red Light District II (Red LEDs), & Project Border Security II (Neon & Flex LED). To show where this industry has improved....and where it's failing.
It's not just about LED modules where I have involvement, it's our whole industry.... where to buy, what to buy is shrinking....and what you are told and what you read, is believed...the opposition is not there....but it's here.
In just a short time with the test market shrinking news of the Denco/TubeLite/Grimco the social media posts by them and ISA is about cracking open Champagne bottles....but if you read the comments if they haven't been turned off yet is about users being concerned about lesser competition and lack of future "option"
The future of this industry and where it goes will be interesting....
Maybe Stay Tune!!