The International Sign Association’s (ISA) Sign Expo 2018 returns to its East Coast home at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla., March 22 to 24. A recurring theme throughout all of our recent show coverage is that the various “silos” of print are merging, and print providers—be they commercial printers, display graphics shops, or, indeed, signmakers—are finding that they need to expand their product and service mix to serve as many of their clients’ needs as possible.

“Sign companies are definitely expanding,” said Brandon Hensley, ISA’s Chief Operating Officer. “They're expanding their offerings because clients come in and they want a lot of different things. So, in order to stay relevant, sign companies are saying, ‘I need to need to expand my offerings.’”

As a result, the educational tracks cover the waterfront of print applications that go beyond simple signmaking.

There is also an emphasis on helping smaller shops master some of the basics of running a business. New to the Sign Expo this year are two pre-conference workshops. On Wednesday, March 21, an Executive Boot Camp will guide executives on the more nuts-and-bolts business aspects of the enterprise. “Basically, we are doing high-level executive education for mom-and-pop sign shops and medium sign companies who have told us that they need better HR, better financial management, better sales, and marketing, that type of thing.” The Executive Boot Camp is being held in partnership with Florida State University. “After the one-day course, everyone that completes it will receive an executive certificate of completion from Florida State University,” said Hensley.

Also on Wednesday is a sales and marketing workshop presented in partnership with Idealliance. The SalesPro: Print (Wide Format & Digital) workshop will show attendees how to sell wide-format print to new customers, while also helping add value to the existing customer base. Everyone that complete the workshop will receive a certificate of completion from Idealliance and ISA.

Now in their fourth year, the Game Changer sessions have been increased from two to three, based on popularity and demand. These are more inspirational “mega-sessions” from speakers whose diverse life and work experiences can help us succeed as print businesspeople. Shannon Huffman Polson is not only the first woman to have scaled Mount McKinley, but also, after enlisting in the Army, became one of the first women to fly an Apache attack helicopter. On Thursday morning, Polson will offer leadership tips “in and out of the cockpit.” On Thursday afternoon, Jeff Henderson will offer an inspirational talk about his journey from drug dealer to celebrity chef. On Friday, Kim Lear will talk about “Leveraging Generational Diversity,” as Baby Boomers retire, Gen Xers take on leadership roles, and Millennials rise as a force to be reckoned with.

Again colocated with the Sign Expo this year is the National Sign Research & Education Conference (NSREC), which gathers academics and graduate students in urban planning, architecture, engineering, law, lighting science, marketing, and design to take a deep dive into the science of sign design and placement. “That's all the really practical end of signage,” said Hensley. “When you bring in planners and designers and they can mingle with the people who are actually manufacturing the signs, it’s always a win-win. They can have a dialogue about what's happening with real-life problems in the urban setting with wayfinding.”

The show also sees the return—after a few years’ absence—of the Ultimate Wrap Star vehicle wrapping competition on the show floor, again back by popular demand. “We're going to start with 32 competitors and whittle it down to our winner on Saturday,” said Iain Mackenzie, ISA’s VP of Meetings & Events.

Another staple of the Sign Expo is the ISA Innovation Awards, where judges select to be exhibitors’ most innovative hardware and software products. Winners will be showcased in the Lounge & Learn show floor features, as well as Hot Product Preview at 4:00 on Thursday.

Speaking of the show floor, as seems to be the case every year, the exhibit floor is the biggest ever. “We are looking at about 228,508 square feet, which is a 9% increase over Las Vegas in 2017 and a 14% increase over Orlando in 2016,” said McKenzie. “So we've expanded into part of the North Hall in order to accommodate the extra exhibitors.”

Throughout the show—at reception, on the show floor, and elsewhere around the convention center—are also examples of exhibitors’ products used for signage, wayfinding, and other practical and decorative elements of the show, part of ISA’s in-kind sponsorship program. “It enables us to showcase exhibitor products in real-life situations,” said Hensley. “We have close to 40 different products from 22 exhibitors. We're excited about that, and the exhibitors that participate in it love it.”

It’s not all work and no play. On Thursday night, ISA Rocks, the official ISA party, is back for its third year, and returns to B.B. King’s, which was a popular venue at the last Orlando show in 2016. “The first year, we had a total of just under 1,300 people and last year we has just under 1,900 of us,” said Mackenzie. “Not all at one time, but who came through the doors to participate at some stage. So that's exciting, and it's a venue which is central to pretty much all the hotels.”

Information about the International Sign Expo can be found at