Billboard Mastery Podcast: Episode 85

How To Find A Wooden Sign Contractor

Wooden billboards have been around for over a hundred years, but finding someone to build these time-proven signs grows more difficult every year. In this Billboard Mastery podcast we’re going to review the different places to find contractors who can build wooden signs including tips on building them properly.

Episode 85: How To Find A Wooden Sign Contractor Transcript

Wooden billboards have been around for over 100 years. They're good moneymakers, they're very simple, very basic. Great tools to develop a side hustle of income or even your key main job. But the problem with wooden signs is it can often be very, very tricky to get them built. This is Frank Rolfe, the Billboard Mastery podcast. We're going to talk about trying to find wooden sign contractors and how to get these old fashioned wooden signs built in a modern world. Now the first thing you have to remember is that the billboard industry has grown up a lot since the 1920s. Back then all billboards were made of wood. The only exception were sometimes signs that appeared on the roofs of buildings.

Those were made typically out of metal angle iron, welded directly to the infrastructure of the building itself. But if you had a billboard on a highway or a road back in the 1920s and the '30s and the '40s, it was going to be made out of wood. And not until we built the interstate highway system in the '50s was there enough traffic and enough money to even think about building signs out of more durable material, typically metal. They can be metal pipes, angle irons, and then finally, as we all know, it went up into the monopole structure. But what happened is over the years, the wooden sign went from being the dominant product, the most common way to build a sign, to something that was very much in the minority. As time elapsed, monopole signs became the norm, and a lot of the companies that built wooden signs simply went out of business. And on top of that, you have the simple fact that a lot of those aged sign builders who were building the wooden signs in bulk back in the earlier decades, they just grew old over time, and those businesses ultimately just shut down.

So today, when you want to build a wooden billboard, which is basically telephone poles placed in a line, 2x4s on top of that, and then pieces of plywood nailed on top of that, which you then stretch the vinyl over, how do you find people who do that kind of work these days? Well, here are three types of groups you can find that typically do build wooden signs. The first, people who build those signs we all see along the road that say, land for sale. I know you've seen those on property. It can either say land for sale and a phone number, or it can say coming soon, some type of shopping center, hotel, or apartment complex. Those are all wooden signs, built exactly the way they were built back in the olden days. So you've got to track down who built those. How do you do that?

Well, one easy way is just to call the phone number on the land for sale sign. That's the guy who built the sign. He can tell you who the contractor was. You call him up and say, hey, I hate to bother you, but who built your sign that says land for sale? And he'll say, oh, I used Tom Smithers, and here's his phone number. Now you have a prospect to do that. Also, you can call some of the sign companies out there like FastSigns and Kinkos because they also often do vinyls or vinyl lettering for signs like that. And they'll know who came to pick up the signs or bought the vinyl signs from them. And that will lead, again, back to someone who actually builds wooden signs.

Now another option is just to find people who install telephone poles for utility companies. Because the hardest part of building a wooden sign has always just been getting the poles in the ground. Nailing up the runners, or those 2x4s that are horizontal, and the plywood on top, that's never been that big a challenge to find someone who can do that work. It's really all about installing those big, heavy poles. And those guys who do that for utility companies, they have all the equipment to do it. They have the post hole digger, the auger on the back of the truck, and they've got the little crane that drops the poles in.

So talk around, call utility companies, say, who puts in your poles? Not all utility companies have someone in-house that does that. And they'll be able to tell you of options. Or you can call electricians and say, hey, who do you use to put in the telephone poles when a customer has a private property telephone pole that breaks and falls over? If you can get a handle on those kinds of people, that will get the biggest part of the job done.

Finally, look out for people who build fences. Because you've probably noticed there's a lot of large fences, privacy fences, people are now building. The fence is maybe 10 feet high on wooden telephone poles. Once again, they have the equipment to dig. They have the equipment to pick the poles up, put them in the holes. They understand how to do it. They understand how to put them in alignment so that the fence is straight. Call those contractors and see who they have who might be able to build a wooden sign. And typically, you'll end up with a handful of ones who can. Here's some other tips you need to know about building wooden signs. The first is, it's all about how straight the poles are. So the most important thing, if you're going out and checking on someone's performance in building your wooden sign, is you need, if you put a string down those poles, that they're perfectly in alignment.

Because if you don't have them in alignment, that's where all of the stress comes from. If they nail up the 2x4s horizontally and they don't all be in a perfect line, that causes you points of stress. And additionally, when you get done with the final sign, it will always have some kind of bend in it. This wrinkle looking thing. So make sure that those poles are straight. Also remember that the higher you go with the poles, the more likely you are to have the poles break in a windstorm. If you grab a pencil and you held it at the end where the eraser is, and then you push up or push down on the pencil to the point that it snaps, that's what goes on with wooden telephone poles. And the higher you hold that pencil towards the point of the pencil, the less pressure you'll have to push to snap the pencil. Because the pencil, in that case, acts like a lever. And the telephone pole that the sign sits on is no different. The wind is what pushes like your hand did. And the higher you go up that pole, the greater pressure you're putting on the weakest part of the pole, which will make it snap.

In the metal sign business, going high is typically what most people prefer, but in the wooden telephone pole business, you kind of want to go as low as you can while still being clear of obstructions and enough off the ground that no one tries to put any graffiti on it. Also, you can reduce the risk of pole snapping by putting cables at the top of the pole. So how that works is, if you mount a cable between the top of the pole and the ground, and the wind blows hard, that helps take the pressure off the pole, pushing force towards the fulcrum where it will snap. So it's a way of reducing the pressure. Or you can put braces along the bottom of the poles. This can be in the form of a second row of poles, or it can just be two by fours, which are somehow affixed and tethered to the ground to lower, once again, the pressure in the event of high winds.

Finally, when you drill the holes and you put the poles in, sometimes you can't put in concrete. And you can't put in concrete because you can't get the concrete truck to that area. The truck that puts in the telephone poles is not very heavy, but concrete trucks are very heavy. And it may be impossible, if you're not on a hardened road, to get something down in that field without it getting stuck. In those cases, what you should do is just pour bags of dry concrete down the hole. What will typically happen is the moisture in the earth will mix with that concrete and eventually harden it. At least it gives you a shot. Some people instead try to put sand down the holes. And the problem is sand never has any compaction hardness whatsoever. Those poles, over time, when the wind blows, will tend to bend in the earth. And pretty soon, your sign will not work for you very well at all.

Now, wooden signs are great. They are a very economical way to get into the billboard business. But you've got to know how to do them properly. And hopefully these tips will help get you started. This is Frank Rolfe, the Billboard Mastery Podcast. Hope you enjoyed this. Talk to you again soon.