Trendspotting

The dual views needed for noticing sign industry shifts.

Recently, I bought two plane tickets I’d been tracking online for a couple of trips. I was waiting for the two-months-out window when prices supposedly drop. Google Flights told me to wait; prices were high compared to what they should be. I clicked “track prices,” dealt with the resultant flood of emails and did just that: I waited. And waited.

Somewhere around 55-ish days out, I checked again. One flight had dipped drastically. Sure, the choice options weren’t available, but I saved $200-400 over what I’d thought I’d be paying. But the other flight, well, ouch. Prices had steadily climbed, and the ticket cost about $300 more than it would have if I’d had more foresight. Google, oddly, told me the time was right to buy.

What happened? For one thing, luck. Airfares are notoriously unpredictable. Secondly, lack of perspective. My pricey flight was between two smaller airports, including a tourist destination at the peak of the season. I wasn’t experienced using Google’s price prediction or I might have trusted it less. Flight prices did go down, but for discount carriers I won’t use.

Call it being too focused on the details to see the bigger picture, and a little bit of bad luck. It reminded me of trendspotting in our industry, and our ongoing work here at Signs of the Times to put together dozens of conversations and interviews into guidance about signmaking and the industry as a whole.

One year, I decided we simply must cover flexible LEDs after seeing them from half a dozen vendors at a show. But, like my plane ticket, my timing was off. We struggled to find sign companies using the technology that year. We’ve also made good calls – we started our Makers of Tomorrow award just as maker culture was beginning to change the sign industry, and just as growing a pipeline of future leaders was (and is) on everyone’s mind.

It’s not all prescience. Sometimes, we get lucky. But when we examine the sign industry from a zoomed-in perspective (what’s happening today, where are sales, what products are popular) as well as from a 10,000-ft. view (what are industry executives’ shared challenges and concerns, what interesting new technology today will be a revolution tomorrow), the odds of accurate trendspotting go up. It’s part timing, part experience and part luck, this business of predicting the future. And nonrefundable, too.

Signs of the Times October 2019

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