Activity Feed Forums Sign Making Discussions General Sign Topics When your Supplier turns into your Competition?

  • When your Supplier turns into your Competition?

    Posted by Jeff on July 17, 2023 at 2:59 pm

    I do not want to name names because i am not trying to single out one supplier, because the number of them doing this is growing! Over the past 6-12 months i have received either emails, flyers or seen advertising online. Suppliers “i buy from” creeping more and more over onto our side of the fence!

    as a sign maker we buy vinyl, sheet material, fixings and stuff like that. we then do the fabrication and assembly of all the parts and apply the graphics to create the signs and sell them to our customers.
    but these same suppliers are now offering routered flat-cut letters and graphics as a service. folded pans as a service. composite sign blanks with rails, clips and posts. etc. etc. etc.

    My question is, “How long before these same big suppliers decide, let’s just add the vinyl to the sign and sell direct to the end user?” it is happening in other industries where the small guy is stepped over by the big companies and all i can see is the move being made on us!

    Maybe i am ranting, but still… 🤨

    Jeff replied 1 year ago 6 Members · 9 Replies
  • 9 Replies
  • Hugh Potter

    July 17, 2023 at 3:29 pm

    I generally make a point of nt using suppliers who are also competition in this way.

    It’s also a big bug bear of mine when suppliers have their vinyl prices on the website for all to see, rather than behind a log in only. I remember a client telling me that I can’t charge £45 a mtr for some wrap to flood a 3050×1500 compo panel… they’d seen it was only £15 a mtr on the website when they looked up the material I suggested. . I told them they’d be best to buy it themselves then, along with a vinyl cutter and software etc.

    I then called the supplier and had a moan at them, as even with my discounts, it was barely a couple of quid less than they were showing online. I was not happy and cut my spend immediately. I won’t say who it was as, it was one of two and I don’t want to name the wrong supplier!

  • Andy Thorne

    July 17, 2023 at 3:36 pm

    Unfortunately this trend has been growing over the last 10 years or so. We are a trade only supplier and have been for 35 years this year but have always refused to do vinyl, printing or installation (except organising Hiabs for monoliths but you would still need your fitters on site) as we have always felt this makes us a sign company if we do. There are at least two metal suppliers that offer the services you mention (and for that reason we will not buy from them unless there are no other alternatives) and many “trade only” suppliers who will do the graphics and fit (i’ve been told of at least one that does so for end user too!). I suspect these services have been requested over the years by sign makers that either don’t have the facilities to do themselves, don’t want to or are happy to work this way.

    • Hugh Potter

      July 18, 2023 at 10:35 am

      Argh, Andy, I really should think of you guys more often; though in honesty I don’t get a huge amount of fabricated signage work, I can sometimes go 6 months without even mention of anything fabriated!

      I visited your workshops maybe 8-10yrs ago, possibly more; you know how the times flies!! I was both very impressed at the set-up, and grateful for the tour.

      You laterly made me a 6m post and plank sign (iirc), along with a small post & plank sign I could as display. That same sign is bolted to a low wall outside my current premises, has been for some 6-7years. think it’s testament to your workmanship that it still looks bloody good, only a teeny bit of coating corrosion around the bolt heads on the feet (flanges)!!


      • Andy Thorne

        July 18, 2023 at 12:56 pm

        Thanks Hugh. We know we are certainly not the cheapest out there but we do pride ourselves in providing high quality and long lasting signs and it’s great to hear you testify to this.

        You’re more than welcome to pay us another visit to refresh yourself what we can do for you, to talk through a project face to face or just say hello for a coffee if you’re passing (i’m sure the coffee hasn’t improved mind!)

  • Graham Scanlan

    July 17, 2023 at 4:18 pm

    Totally agree Jeff, we supply printers / acm / Foam PVC, vinyls etc other than cutting panels down to size for customers we do not cross the line into sign fabrication or print, that’s our customers job. We have a few competitors in the Northwest that offer trays and cut out lettering. We like to think we’ve got it right, we don’t stand on anybody’s toes and our website is linked to our customers accounts so they see their own prices

    Just takes a little more investment and thought

    We actually have a local sign maker trying his hand at supplying the above materials while still making signs, and offering trade printing, routing.

    • Hugh Potter

      July 18, 2023 at 10:45 am

      I think the issue with the signmakers offering a trade service on routed work, is that they get sold these £50k+ machines and don’t really have the work to run them as much as they want to, I know several small firms like this. They then tout trade cutting out to cover the cost.

      I do offer trade print on my latex, but I never advertise it, just do my retail price with a big discount for some of my peers / friends who I have worked with over the years, or know from here. Often the case is that they have too small a premises or just not enough demand for £25k of print / lam / cut equipment; much as I was in that position for many years. I am strictly confidential with their clients work, only dealing with the sign firm. I’ve even had their customers approach me for a quote, unawares that I do their printed vinyls anyway, I’ll always politely turn them down, too busy etc. and suggest whoever it is that’s already doing their stuff. Trust has to work both ways!

      I wish all my local sign firms had the same morals I work by, or maybe if I had theirs, it would be me in the flash new motor every 2years!

  • RobertLambie

    July 18, 2023 at 1:32 am

    This is definitely a grey area.
    I will give you a couple of different actual instances I know of…

    Many moons ago a trade supplier of media and consumables extended their product range into supplying machinery, then extended again into trade print etc.
    A very dry, slow month or two hits them and their rep or reps, decide to contact their trade customers “customers” direct. Offering the same product/service but making more margin than when selling to their trade customer. Of course, the end user is delighted, he now pays much less than before for the exact same product. The sign company is now pushed out of the picture and losses their customer and is oblivious to why and how their customer no longer uses them. Keep in mind, they aren’t approaching customers that order a couple of things, here and there, the target is end users buying lots of repeat products. so the hit the sign maker takes is significant.
    Who is to blame here?
    The sales reps with little to no morals, or the actual company?
    Would the company even know this is how the sale/customer was achieved?
    Or, were the Reps under pressure from their bosses for perhaps, not hitting targets?
    Whoever is to blame, it wasn’t the trusting sign maker.

    A slightly different scenario but the same thing…

    again, a number of years ago, 3M had a series of Social media advertising posts running on Facebook, Twitter etc. They were advertising “DIY Vehicle Wrapping Kits” direct to the end user.
    These kits were sold with 5 metres of vinyl, a squeegee, scalpel, heat gun etc. the basics to install wrap vinyl.
    The advert was pushing “HOW EASY” their vinyl was to fit and basically that you could wrap your own car bonnet, roof in carbon fibre or whatever. (I forget the exact details but it was something along those lines)
    It turned out it was an American division of 3M running the ads, but their “targeted audience” was the UK, hence why it popped up in my news feeds. I know this because someone at 3M UK called me stating the U.S. division had contacted them to highlight “my public quizzing of their new campaign” and how annoyed they were! (like I give a damn) 😏
    I told them this goes further than just stepping on the toes of the sign makers and vehicle wrappers, it was actually stepping on their UK distributors, such as Wm Smiths and Spandex. Because this was a manufacturer targeting the end user. I can’t remember if they pulled the advert or the argument just fizzled out.

    My point is that these instances go back a number of years. So it is not new, but that doesn’t make it right either. One thing is for sure though, it is definitely on the increase!

  • David Hammond

    July 18, 2023 at 6:01 pm

    One supplier purchased a CNC, and I got a quote off them, gave the customer a price based on that. Customer placed the order, sent the artwork to the supplier “we can’t cut that”

    Went to a supplier I’ve used previously who just does trade CNC work, a bit of advice and tweaks and the job done.

    I use @graham-scanlan as a main supplier, and I like to think we have great relationship. Some of my orders are comically miniscule, then some are more significant. On hand for advice, understands what I do, my business, and supports me, that’s what I want from a supplier.

    I’ve heard horror stories of people using alternative suppliers, who are trying to be everything to everyone.

  • Jeff

    July 20, 2023 at 11:14 pm

    Thanks everyone for your replies, its interesting to read that i am not the only one thinking this and coming on here letting off some steam! 😂
    It is good to see two trade suppliers responding with their views and making valid points. 😎
    @andy-thorne @GrahamScanlan

    Maybe more signmakers should trade exclusively with trade suppliers that share our views and work with us rather than target us! 🧐

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