This annual list of the best sign franchises was revised and updated on April 25, 2023.
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Signs are all around us, from the big boards directing us around cities to the names on doors inside businesses. We need them to navigate the world, to make businesses work efficiently, and to let customers know that they are there. While more and more businesses are operating entirely online, there are still plenty of brick-and-mortar businesses that need signs on and near their physical building or facilities, and this has allowed franchises to continue in this space. However, the future for the industry is not a promising one.
Billboard and sign manufacturing is worth a total of $15 billion in the US, but the vast majority of this is spent on electronic signs and big business items, rather than the printed signs and banners that sign franchises specialize in. The franchised sign and banner industry is worth a lot less.
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The successful sign franchises emerged from the 1980s or 1990s to bring new computerized technologies to sign making. They provide a wide array of indoor and outdoor signage and display solutions to serve a wide variety of needs, functioning more like graphic design and print shops than the sign-making companies of yesteryear. Instead of printing paper publications, they produce a wide variety of signs, banners, and displays.
New technologies have allowed better, higher definition signs to be printed at lower costs, increasing the quality of sign making and so the services these businesses offer. But this is also creating a challenge for sign companies, as others in the printing industry are more able to offer sign services, encroaching on the signage business. The rise of digital billboards has also had an impact, as old-fashioned advertising boards are used less often.
Despite the growth of the wider economy, the 2010s saw a steady decline for sign and banner manufacturing franchises. Annualized market growth over the past five years has been -13.8%. The impact of the Covid pandemic doesn’t even show on a graph of the industry’s revenues, because it was already in such a steady decline. Work for essential services such as pharmacies and food and beverage retailers helped the industry to maintain its existing situation during the pandemic, but this was a situation of continuing loss.
A growing economy and increased marketing budgets could, in theory, benefit sign franchises. However, with so much business lost to electronic billboards, online advertising, and other print competitors, there is no expectation of growth, or yet of stabilization – market growth of -13.7% is expected in 2023. And with economic prospects currently uncertain, thanks to a range of negative factors in global markets, things look even more difficult. A slowdown in the wider economy will cut into advertising budgets, a key source of revenue for sign makers, and companies will be less likely to invest in other signage while being cautious with their finances.
Low barriers to entry make this a relatively easy industry to enter, but just because you can doesn’t mean that you should. A growing emphasis on digital signage and customization has put franchises at a disadvantage compared with their competitors. And while outdoor signage remains one of the most relevant forms of traditional advertising, the whole industry grows less powerful as online advertising continues to grow.
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The Top Sign Franchises of 2023
FastSigns has been growing quickly in recent years, adding 27 locations during 2019. And the company just recently announced it has acquired Sign Me Up Signs & Advertising, a chain with six locations in Long island, New York and one in New Jersey, all of which will be converted to the FastSigns brand. The company is also growing its international footprint, with plans to open as many as 12 locations throughout France and Monaco.
The company is all about raising business visibility through visual communications. The offerings include all types of signs and graphics, exhibits and displays, digital and interactive signage, printing and mailing, promotional products, point-of-purchase signs, and interior décor. Additional services include graphic design, surveying and permitting for signage compliance with local codes and ordinances, signage installation, visual communications content development, and comprehensive project management.
Founded by Gary Salomon and Robert Schanbaum in Dallas, Texas in 1985 and franchising since 1986, the number of locations has grown in recent years from 538 in 2012 to the current total of 761 (up from the previously reported total of 756), of which none are company-owned and 88 are located outside the US.
Signarama can make a wide array of both outdoor and indoor signs for businesses of all types. For outdoor signs, options include building-mounted signs, freestanding signs, banners, lighted signs, wayfaring signs, and promotional signs, as well as vehicle and boat graphics (wraps, decals, magnetic).
Indoor signage options include all types of office signs and various signs for retailers, including digital displays, banner stands, floor decals, wall graphics, retractable banners, and so on. Additional services offered include graphic design, installation, project management, large-format printing, and financing.
Founded by father-son team Roy and Ray Titus in Farmingdale, New York in 1986 and franchising since 1987, the number of locations reached a recent high of 727 in 2020 but has since declined to the current total of 689 (down from the previously reported total of 706), of which none are company-owned and 287 are located outside the US.
Image360 is all about collaboration and consultation from imagination to installation to meet the graphics, signage, and display needs of today’s businesses. Products include illuminated signs and message boards, banners and flags, decals and custom appliqués, custom art printing, event signs, trade show signs and displays, engraved signs and products, all types of interior signage and graphics, regulatory and ADA compliant signs, monument signage, roadside signs, building signage, storefront and window signs, vehicle wraps and decals, printed marketing materials, and promotional products and gifts.
Additional services include installation of signs/banners, booth lighting, bulk sign orders, changeable sign letter sets, custom digital printing, dimensional letter installations, and much more.
Founded in 1986 and franchising since 1987, the number of locations has fallen in recent years from 340 in 2013 to the current total of 293 (down from the previously reported total of 301), of which two are company-owned and eight are located outside the US.
4. SpeedPro Imaging
SpeedPro Imaging offers a wide variety of signs and sign-related products similar to the other companies on this list, but one of its better-known specialties is producing dramatic large-format graphics for wall murals and large displays.
Other products include window graphics/clings, banners, event tents, vehicle wraps, decals, flags, tradeshow displays, digital signage, floor graphics, table covers and table toppers, directional signage, stadium-size banners, elevator wraps, retractable banner stands, event graphics, point-of-purchase displays, and more.
Founded by Blair Gran in Alberta, Canada in 1992 and franchising since 2005 in the US, the number of locations reached a high of 185 in 2019 but has since declined to the current total of 167 (down from the previously reported total of 170), of which none are company-owned and 44 are located outside the US.
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The franchises on this list were ranked according to the number of units in the franchise system. If you are a prospective franchisee searching for franchise opportunities that meet or exceed certain performance benchmarks for sales, profits, and return on investment, please check out this list of America’s Most Lucrative Franchises.