They make the ‘For Sale’ signs that adorn commercial real estate

From our print edition

By Brett Johnson
Whippany | Oct 31, 2017 at 1:12 pm

Office space available. Land for sale. Space for lease.

Behind each and every commercial real estate deal is one of these bold-font phrases printed on prominent signage. And if that sign is in North Jersey, Morris Sign Co. probably is behind it.

Michael Hoehn said that all but a quarter of the commercial real estate signage that dots the North Jersey landscape was put in by Morris Sign Co.

Hoehn is an owner of the fourth-generation family business, which has had a longtime focus on commercial real estate.

The company has established such deep roots in this industry that work involving the sector is approximately 80 percent of its business.

Morris Sign Co., Hoehn said, has connections to all the national commercial real estate firms with a presence nearby, as well as a history of working with smaller local businesses.

These firms have never let up in their demand for signs, allowing Morris Sign Co. to thrive — even expand to neighboring states — at the same time that the internet opened new avenues to marketing to customers.

“When people are looking for space, they actually drive around or just look around in areas they want to be in; signs are a visible marketing tool for that,” Hoehn said. “There’s an importance in visibility.”

The company’s roots date back to the ’30s, which means it made the transition from exclusively hand-painted signs to primarily computer-generated graphics. It also survived succession of ownership across multiple generations and business mergers.

Hoehn, who now runs the business with his brother, Chris Hoehn, is proud of its having weathered such change.

Despite being so industry focused, Hoehn said the company wasn’t significantly hurt by the long-lasting effect of the housing market crash a decade ago.

“People always need signs,” Hoehn said. “If the market is slow, firms are most anxious and competitive, so they want signs to bring visibility (to a real estate project) quickly.

“If the market is doing well, they want to get signs going quickly, too, to buy or sell fast-moving properties.”

Hoehn added that his company has discovered the potential to pivot from commercial real estate clients in a way that brings in even more business.

“The good thing is that we can also branch into other markets from the real estate industry,” he said. “Projects come to us when someone sells a building and the buyer wants a sign; they call us first for it. We’re doing a lot more of that today.”

Even with the Whippany-based company being the go-to sign makers in the northern New Jersey region, Hoehn said there is ample competition among sign shops.

But, he feels as though his company has the edge when it comes to commercial real estate signage, which sometimes requires permits to install or may be in an area with buried gas lines or other equipment that makes sign installation tricky.

By having enough experience and know-how, Morris Sign Co. has acquired a lot of commercial real estate firms as customers. And, with each customer in this sector it adds, the more competitive it gets.

“It allows us to offer services at a lower price than others by having our guys go out to install up to 15 signs in a day, whereas other companies may only have one client that they have to travel to install just one or two signs,” he said. “And, ultimately, we can also do things quickly, and that’s needed in the also highly competitive commercial real estate business.”

Name: Michael and Chris Hoehn
Company: Morris Sign Co.
Position: Owners
Sector: Real Estate

Price points

Ever wonder how much that “for sale” sign itself sells for?

“Most companies buy in bulk a batch of 50 signs with the message blank until they put it up,” Michael Hoehn of Morris Sign Co. said. “When they’re ready, we put the message they want and install it. If they do that, they’re probably paying around $300 for a two-sided sign. Otherwise, they’re probably paying around $500.”

But given that these products can vary greatly — from banners running 300 feet long to building signs posted four stories high — Hoehn said it’s hard to come up with pricing outside of specifics.

“There are a lot of variables that affect the price, in terms of the design, sizing, location, wording and everything else,” he said.