The Difference between CNC Vendors and System Partners

Sign Media recently posted a great blog for all Sign Makers, in which they go into the key differences between a simple CNC Vendor, and a systems partner. We’ve summarized the article below but feel free to read the whole article here:

In the sign equipment market, there are vendors and there are system partners. A CNC vendor’s role is to simply supply equipment and parts, however the role of the latter is to work with sign businesses for the greater good of the industry. This is the type of relationship that ideally every sign company should require of their suppliers.

The sign business has evolved to the point where traditional supplier relationships are not merely insufficient, but can even be detrimental to a sign shop’s operations and profitability. Not long ago, most sign shops expected not only vendors to provide the products but also the necessary technical support to maintain these products. These expectations are not always met, and even now Sign shops who purchase so called “off the shelf” routers often end up having to rely on third party support for maintenance and repairs. For vendors to be considered full business partners, they need to transcend their traditional understanding of customer-oriented service and develop more comprehensive knowledge of their clients’ goals and processes, while still able to deliver technical support as needed.

Not long ago, the sign industry was dominated by backlit electric signs, which required laborious work to create. Advanced technology then came along in Apex Routerthe form of CNC Routers. As CNC technology continues to advance, manufacturers offer many different features (multiple spindles, automatic tool changes, drill banks etc.) which allow router operators in small sign shops to begin enjoying the luxury of customization, a luxury that was previously only available to larger shops.

Empowered by sophisticated digital printing and cutting technologies to take on larger competitors in terms of their production capabilities, many of today’s small sign making businesses aspire to serve as one-stop shops for their customers. And there is no reason they cannot achieve this aspiration, provided they receive helpful guidance—which is where the changing nature of their relationships with vendors and suppliers comes into play.

In today’s market, with the high level of competition, sign makers cannot afford to be content with buying from vendors whose products are acceptable but whose training and support are limited or non-existent. Hence the need for a collaborative operational approach with a strategic business partner to be able to achieve a successful return on investment. In this sense, evolving technologies have led to a corresponding change in the role of suppliers, as it is essential for sign makers to consider both their current and future needs, well before the purchase of a machine and through its useful life, which in many cases will exceed 15 years.


Most buyers and sellers of sign making equipment recognize the need for training during installation, but what separates a vendor from a business partner is the business partner’s acknowledgement that training is a continuous process. This is for two reasons, process change and turnover.

Every shop experiences turnover, so sign shop owners need to be reassured that training can be provided new employees who join the business. In-house process change meanwhile, can be especially challenging without ongoing training relating to the equipment used in said processes. With the right training protocols in place, change does not have to be disruptive to a shop’s operations.

System Partner


Technical support is just as vital, especially with respect to ongoing maintenance of the equipment. The quality of support offered will depend on experience. Sign makers should review vendor’s service records, expertise and reliability as part of their due diligence research prior to a purchase. This support should not end after initial training and installation. A shop’s goals may change in a few years’ time, at which point upgrades or additional training protocols may become necessary.

System Partner




Close business partnerships between supplier and sign shop are integral to the success of both. While the quality of CNC equipment is certainly important, in the end a router is nothing more than a tool for helping a sign shop do what it does best, which is where both parties’ focus should be.


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