How to establish a comprehensive signage maintenance program

by FM Media
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damaged neon signage above a hotel

Signage is often left out of maintenance budgets, leading to unexpected costs down the line. Alan Hadley lays out a signage maintenance program so you don’t get caught out.

Did you know that signage portfolios can cost companies upwards of $10 million a year? Maintenance costs contribute significantly to this overall cost, and yet signage maintenance is often overlooked by decision makers, creating ongoing headaches for facilities and maintenance managers. 

What’s the deal with signage? 

Signage is one of the most important aspects for how a business showcases its physical brand presence. Signs identify your business and represent your brand values in an increasingly cluttered marketplace. As a result, the condition of your signs says a lot to your customers about your company. 

A clean and well-lit sign says that you are open for business and are proud of your brand. It will enable the customer to easily identify and locate you. An unmaintained sign on the other hand, can have a damaging impact on your brand. A company’s physical brand presence will appear dated or subpar if signs are dirty or broken. This is why maintaining signage effectively is so important. 

What’s involved in an effective maintenance program for signage? 

There are several moving parts and complexities when it comes to maintaining signage. To avoid a signage maintenance program becoming overly reactive and chaotic, there are seven key things to keep in mind when designing your approach. 

  1. get involved at the planning stage
  2. allocate budget to signage maintenance
  3. employ a preventative and proactive approach
  4. treat signs like an asset 
  5. think about: clean, repair or replace?
  6. audit and track, and
  7. build the right team.

Here’s how to implement the seven steps for a comprehensive signage maintenance program. 

Get involved at the planning stage

Too often maintenance managers and facilities managers are left out of the planning process when it comes to building a signage program. Decisions are made about which signage to install and how, with little consideration for how it will be maintained and the associated maintained costs over each sign’s lifecycle. Signs can last up to 15 years, requiring maintenance at multiple junctures in that time, so a long-term proactive approach is crucial. 

A poorly designed sign can cost up to five times as much as a well-designed sign due to spiralling maintenance costs. A sound signage program will consider the balance between the capital costs of procuring a sign and the revenue implications of regular maintenance and unplanned repairs. Choosing a higher-quality product from the outset can cost less over the entire lifecycle of a sign. 

Things to consider include: 

  • utilising high quality materials that are suitable for the conditions, are proven in the market and are under warranty (for example, in beachside areas materials which are less vulnerable to salt and moisture are preferable)  
  • employing the correct construction methods to ensure longevity 
  • the number of people needed to maintain the sign (some are a two-person job which will cost more)
  • whether signs are easily accessed or opened, and
  • whether specialist equipment will be required to lower signs to ground level or reach signs.

When maintenance requirements are factored into the signage design process, it not only reduces the headaches for maintenance and facilities managers down the line, but also significantly reduces costs. 

Allocate budget to signage maintenance

It’s unfortunately extremely common for signage programs to be rolled out without the right budget (or sometimes, any budget!) being allocated for repairs and maintenance. This is a serious oversight that can be avoided if the maintenance manager or facilities manager is given a seat at the table as early as the planning and design stage. 

Without the right budget from the outset, maintenance managers and facilities managers essentially have their hands tied behind their backs. With the right planning, it becomes much easier to predict what budget will be required for maintenance, while reducing those costs over all. 

Employ a preventative and proactive approach

Too often maintenance is an afterthought and becomes reactive, as other functions in the business haven’t factored it in from the beginning. By involving maintenance and facilities managers in the process early on, the entire process becomes much more proactive. 

Other ways to move from a reactive to a proactive position include: 

  • Treating signs like assets. Maintenance should be factored in to an asset management approach where the asset is understood over the entire lifecycle. 
  • Treating maintenance as a given, not an aberration. Signs can last up to 15-20 years. It makes sense that in that time there will be maintenance requirements.
  • Building in consistent auditing and assessment processes to identify maintenance and intervene in maintenance issues early, and
  • undertaking thorough reporting and review processes.

Treat signs like an asset 

When signs are understood as an asset – a resource with economic value – it transforms how signage is maintained. Signs have value, and when they’re understood in this way, factoring in maintenance becomes a much higher priority. 

One factor to consider here is utilising an asset management database. When the details of each signage asset are recorded in a database it avoids problems slipping through the cracks, saves time and creates efficiencies. For example, often a technician will be sent to the site to identify a signage issue, following a report, and will then need to return with the parts to finish the job. If the issue is identified in the database before it is reported, then it avoids the technician needing to make two trips. In some cases, issues can actually be troubleshooted without the need for a technician, simply because there is more data available to identify the exact problem. 

Your asset management database should include details on each signage asset including: 

  • location
  • photo
  • components 
  • age
  • materials
  • maintenance history 
  • dimensions 
  • original supplier 

Clean, repair or replace?

Maintaining signage involves cleaning signs, repairing broken signs, replacing components, or replacing the entire sign when required. The best way to assess what is required for the particular sign at any given time is to have in-depth records around the sign’s age, condition and work history. 

Maintaining a regular cleaning schedule will ensure that signs never fall into disrepair or look poor, and will actually prolong the life of a sign. The costs are also less over time as certain issues won’t snowball such as accumulated grime or moisture. 

Another thing to consider is that every sign has a life expectancy. Repairing rather than replacing signs once they are beyond their expected lifespan will tend to have diminishing returns. Investing in old assets not only tends to cost more but can also pose safety risks such as through structural or electrical failure. Again, sound asset management practices will be useful here to enable you to identify when a sign is past its ‘use by date’. 

Audit and track

Often people onsite may realise a sign is broken or doesn’t look great, but won’t report it. They may not know who to go to, or don’t believe it’s their responsibility. This means that issues are left unaddressed and can fester. A proactive approach where signs are regularly audited and that data is tracked in an asset management system will ensure that issues don’t slip through the cracks. 

Build the right team

As is the case with any complex project, having the right team in place is really important. Maintenance and facilities managers shouldn’t have to operate in a silo when it comes to maintaining signage. A great signage program will bring together brand managers, property managers, facilities managers, maintenance managers and procurement. You will also need to build a relationship with technicians, signage companies and people onsite. 

A great way to ensure you have the right team in place is to work with an independent consultant, to handle the process end-to-end and be one point of contact for all involved. 

Lessons and next steps

Keeping signs in a pristine condition is challenging, especially if you have a very tight maintenance budget. By gaining a seat at the table from the outset and designing a proactive maintenance program, it can lead to much better outcomes, fewer headaches and fewer costs. 

Alan Hadley is director at SignManager.

Photo by Freitas Junior

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