Are they really foolproof? I think so. They work because they are common sense. We work with companies every day dealing with the permitting process, and it can be a challenge, especially if you don't know what's ahead. Keep in mind that everyone involved, the sign manufacturers, sign dealers, customers, municipal officials, all have the same primary goal — ensuring any signage incorporated into the town's landscape enhances the community and does not pose a safety risk. Yet, we all also have a responsibility to support local businesses, and in turn grow the community's tax base. Here are a few tips and tricks to help get you through the sign permitting process.
- It's time to do your homework. Understanding the sign permitting process in your community can save you unnecessary delays and headaches. Look at the sign code. Talk to other business owners who have been through the process. Look at the paperwork you will be required to file with the municipality so you can have any extra documentation prepared in advance. Do you need to provide engineering specs along with the overall design? Don't think you'll be able to walk in, fill out some paperwork and leave with a permit. The permitting process can take weeks, even months.
- Choose a good sign dealer partner. I chose the word partner for a reason. Your sign dealer should be your partner and your advisor in this process. Any sign dealer should have a basic understanding of what types of signs the community allows and what the permitting process involves. Ask questions during the sales process. Make sure the proposals they are presenting to you reflect "permit-able" signs in your community. A good sign dealer partner will help you with the sign permitting process. If they seem far more interested in making a "quick sale" instead of ensuring you'll have a sign that will work for you and your business — run.
- Choose the right LED sign manufacturer. The best LED sign manufacturers have built into their signs the recommended brightness settings, controls and other features to comply with recommendations from the OAAA, Outdoor Advertising Association of America, and ISA, International Sign Association. Sign brightness, particularly at night, is a concern for many communities. With automatic brightness controls built into your sign, you'll never have to worry about an overly lit sign offending passing drivers. Signs should also be programmed to "go black" in case of a malfunction, eliminating the possibility of signs displaying garbled or frozen messages. A quality sign manufacturer will have the same goal as your sign dealer: ensuring your sign works for you and enhances your business. They also have a good deal of experience dealing with the sign permitting process and may be able to provide necessary documentation to show how the sign meets the municipality's requirements.
- Take advantage of the experts. Organizations like ISA have developed many great resources to help companies during the permitting process. ISA has published research on the recommended nighttime brightness levels by lighting expert Dr. Ian Lewis of Lighting Sciences. If you are working with a community that limits signs to only alphanumeric characters, and do not permit images to be displayed, the American Planning Association's "Street Graphics and the Law" is a good resource that favors images over text on signs because they are easier for passing motorists to comprehend.
At the end of the day, working with the right partners and doing your own research will make a significant difference during the permitting process. Work with your local community to find common ground and ensure your sign enhances not only your business, but the community as well.
American Planning Association's Street Graphics and the Law: http://www.planning.org/apastore/search/Default.aspx?p=2435
International Sign Association's brightness recommendations: www.signs.org/brightness
Pearman is a U.S. sales manager for LED sign and digital billboard manufacturer Watchfire.