The International Sign Expo returns to Las Vegas’ Mandalay Bay Convention Center on April 8–11. The past few years, the Sign Expo has been growing by leaps and bounds, driven on the one hand by dynamic digital signage and other new technologies, on the other hand by new wide-format print applications for signage, and on the third hand by an improving economy. The result has maxxed out the exhibit space.

“We’re going to be staging 215,000 square feet, the largest show in ISA history,” said Brandon Hensley, ISA’s Chief Operating Officer. “We probably have upwards of 20 companies on a waiting list. We have expanded the floor twice and just don’t have any space left.” That is, as they say, a good problem to have.

Although—as the show of hands in the lede above indicates—technology has something to do with it, Hensley attributes the growth to favorable business conditions. “I think it’s the economy,” he said. “Right now, sign companies are extremely busy. They’re getting some push on margins but at the end of the day, they’re really busy.” A lot of sign shops also see this as a propitious time to invest in new capabilities, albeit incrementally. “They’re saying, ‘OK, my pipeline is strong right now, my business revenues are up, so maybe now’s the time to take a leap and move up in printer size or branch into dynamic digital,’” said Hensley.

In addition to the host of new exhibitors, ISA has added some new features to this year’s Expo to complement the usual session tracks that cover project management, architecture, sales, regulatory issues, and C-level topics. One is more of a focus on panel discussions, rather than talking heads and PowerPoint slides (Our Cary Sherburne would like that!) “We’re trying to have a group discussion and an open dialogue,” said Hensley. “We think that instead of just having a talking head up in front of you—and some subjects require that—that it’s nice to have a panel. We’re always pushing for the event to be experiential.”

This year, ISA is offering two “Game Changer Sessions,” that feature bigger-name speakers. One is David Kepron, retail industry expert and author of Retail (r)Evolution, and the other is Ken Schmidt, Former Director of Communications for Harley-Davidson. Kepron will also be signing copies of his book.

The show floor will include another new feature called Lounge and Learn, a series of 30-minute sessions on the show floor that will comprise “quick and dirty” educational presentations.

ISA’s partnership with Graph Expo continues, and the Las Vegas show will include the second year of the partners’ cosponsorship of the Print Application Center, which will consist of live demos, hands-on workshops using unique applications, and other education sessions. (The Print Application Center also appears at Graph Expo in the fall.)

And Wednesday will see the third annual Dynamic Digital Signage Day, a suite of sessions aimed at educating sign makers about the latest technology, business, and application trends in digital signage which, like it or not, is playing a larger role in signage today.

“While a lot of sign companies don’t appear to be actively engaged in [dynamic digital signage], their end users are asking for it, so they need to have the tools,” said Hensley. “The issue is trying to understand the business model.

“All of the sign companies out there are going to have to have dynamic digital in their portfolio,” he added. “No one is going to say, ‘All right, I want you put up a static sign, and, by the way, can you point me at another vendor to do the digital signage?’ So they’re going to be losing business to that.”

ISA is also looking to the future in another way, and is introducing a new program this year aimed at doing something about the “graying of the industry.” Just like a lot of manufacturing industries, sign industry professionals are obviously aging, as we all do (it beats the alternative, however). So “we’re trying to bring new blood and new buyers into the industry,” said Hensley. To that end, ISA has launched the Expo Elite program for people new to the sign industry. If you are under the age of 35 (or have been in the sign industry for less than seven years), you can be nominated by an employer, coworker, or other colleague. ISA will pick the top 10 newcomers, pay for their hotel, and give them each a $250 stipend to attend the show. More information is here; the deadline for nominations is March 6, so act now.

Colocated with the Sign Expo this year is the brand new Mimaki USA “Print with Compassion” program, a series of educational and hands-on training sessions that will produce—using Mimaki products—real-world objects and materials that can be used by local communities and organizations throughout the U.S. (See the official press release elsewhere on WhatTheyThink.)

Information about the International Sign Expo can be found at