Banks and Huntington Bank and Banking & Finance and Branches and Sign Companies

Local sign makers enjoy brisk business thanks to bank mergers

January 15, 2007

For three months, Luis Andrade churned Sky Bank signs through a high-tech machine that bends sheet metal into letters and logos.

He worked more than 15 hours overtime each week on the project, and he wasn't alone. His peers at Sign Craft Industries in Castleton built other types of signs for Bowling Green, Ohio-based Sky Financial, which in October bought Union Federal Bank for $322 million. In all, Sign Craft made more than 200 signs, a contract industry observers say was worth at least $1 million.

Now, the company's hoping to do it all over again, for the same 43 bank branches.

A month after Sky unveiled its signs, the bank agreed to be acquired by Columbus, Ohio-based Huntington Bancshares Inc. for $3.6 billion.

If the locally based sign company wins the Huntington contract, it could get another $1 million payday.

"It's amazing," said Dick Mullen, Sign Craft's executive vice president. "I just love banks."

Bank mergers have proven lucrative for local sign companies over the years. A string of mergers in the late 1980s and early 1990s wiped out the city's three big national banks--American Fletcher, Merchants National and Indiana National.

In the years since, the banking industry has continued to consolidate, spawning a flurry of additional name changes.

Usually, the changes aren't so rapid-fire as they'll be in this case. Huntington plans to replace the Sky signs with its moniker in the third quarter.

But officials with the banks aren't wringing their hands over the cost of pricey new signs. They're estimating that combining Huntington and Sky will yield $115 million in overall cost savings, making the expense of changing signs twice seem relatively insignificant.

Regulatory requirements would have made it difficult for Sky to announce a sale to Huntington while the Union Federal deal was in the works, said Mike Renninger, principal of Carmel-based Renninger & Associates LLC, a banking consulting firm specializing in mergers and acquisitions.

"Kind of like Dominoes, you need to get one deal out of the way first to make it work," Renninger said.

When Sign Craft won the right to build Sky's signs, company President Greg Beyerl gathered many of his 47 employees and asked whether he should hire temporary workers to help.

Sign companies typically are eager for work relating to bank mergers, but they also realize the business is temporary.

The employees decided to take on the challenge, along with the overtime pay, by themselves. The company also handled design and permitting issues, which often arise when signs are switched.

Sign Craft officials would not say what Sky paid for all the channel-letter signs, pylon signs, monument signs, directional signs and interior signs, but other sign veterans estimated the cost at $1 million.

Sky probably paid about $25,000 per bank branch for the signs, said Tim Overmyer, president of Argos-based Vanadco Signs. He said some fixtures could be recycled, but most will be worthless "unless you can find some other company named Sky."

"Huntington has a whole different format," Overmyer said. "I would guess they would just change them all, and that's going to be expensive."

Overmyer's company made signs for Huntington in the early 1990s when the Ohio bank bought locally based Railroadmens Federal Savings and Loan. That was Huntington's most recent local acquisition until the Sky deal, which boosts Huntington's local presence to 63 offices and 120 ATMs.

The Huntington-Sky merger, expected to close in the third quarter, would make Huntington Indianapolis' third-largest bank.

Huntington would continue to own the Sky name and would require the old signs be destroyed, said Sky Regional President Mike Newbold, a veteran Indianapolis banker who will remain in that position for Huntington.

Meanwhile, Sky will continue to advertise in print and on radio and TV, Newbold said. The bank also is continuing a promotion offering free cruises and resort vacations for opening new checking accounts.

Andrade, the Sign Craft employee, may be ready to take a vacation of his own after making all those signs and earning all that overtime pay.

"I hope some more banks change their name," he said.

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