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Channeling Your Energies

(September 2009) posted on Tue Aug 25, 2009

Channel-letter fabricators and equipment vendors weigh in on market trends.


By Steve Aust

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Channel letters have long enjoyed being among the most reliable types of electric signs available. According to the 2008 Electric State of the Industry report (see ST, July 2009, Table 7, page 71), nearly 96% of responding shop owners manufacture channel letters, and the sign type represents 25.3% of these shops’ revenue – neck-and-neck with cabinet signs for respondents’ leading revenue stream.

Of course, channel letters serve as an apt barometer for electric-sign manufacturers’ migration from neon to LEDs as their lightsource of choice. According to the 2008 Lighting Survey (see ST, March 2009, page 76), respondents cited usage of LEDs for 60.6% of their signage applications. Among those surveyed, two-thirds increased their LED usage versus the prior year. In turn, the groundswell of demand for LEDs for channel-letter applications has triggered the number of LED manufacturers to mushroom. This hyperactive market has spurred the companies to attempt to match or surpass their competition by delivering better products at increasingly competitive prices. Fabrication-equipment and plastics manufacturers have also taken steps to improve their offerings to yield better productivity. No company has been immune from a long-lingering recession, but numerous industry sources point to a prosperous future for channel letters.

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Wholesale manufacturers

|2288| (Watertown, SD) has produced wholesale channel letters for 20 years. Current owner Mark Stein purchased the company from his father, Clint, in 1989. In addition to channel letters, Esco produces sign cabinets, message centers and formed signfaces, among other sign types. Jenny Wika, the company’s channel-letter supervisor, said the shop now fabricates at least 80% of its channel letters with LEDs. The customers typically make the choice. Esco has decreased the number of frontlit channel letters it produces with neon.

“The end users are becoming much more knowledgeable about available lighting technologies, and they’re aware of the energy savings LEDs can provide,” she said.

According to Wika, LEDs’ ease of use and performance (particularly with respect to white, the most-ordered color) makes them a logical choice for this application.

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“With the wider viewing angle of new-generation LEDs, the color and depth of a sign are less important than they used to be,” she said. “As long as you follow the manufacturer’s instructions for installing the modules, and use an appropriate product for your application, [LEDs] can handle virtually any size, return or stroke.”


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