COLLINGSWOOD — In Real Estate Land, all roads lead to the open house.
Just follow the signs with the arrows.
That's where Paul Schlimme comes in. He and his wife, Ann Marie Bauman, own Penn Jersey Signs, a business that puts up directional signs to model homes and apartment complexes on Friday and takes them down on Sunday.
"Builders have to work hard to bring people in," he said. "It's our job to position the signs so that people can easily follow them to the property without getting lost or confused."
Schlimme, 54, is a former sales manager for a home builder. Bauman, 47, worked in property management.
One day, workers the builder hired to install signs for an open house didn't show up.
"I thought, "Shoot, I'll do it on my way in and out of work,' " Schlimme recalled.
Two years ago, he decided to go into the directional sign business full time, working out of his home on a tree-lined street here. His clients include his former boss, Granor Price Homes of Horsham, Pa., as well as Orleans Homebuilders, Bentley Homes and K. Hovnanian. Penn Jersey's territory ranges as far north as Asbury Park, as far south as Vineland and as far west as Reading, Pa.
Most of the directional sign market is controlled by nationwide companies, the largest of which is Pittsburgh-based Weekend Signs.
Initially, Granor Price contracted with one of the major players.
"But they would go weeks without putting up signs and would still send us a bill," recalled Marshal Granor, a partner in the firm. "They simply could not manage things from so far away."
Next, the builder tried doing the job in-house, offering construction workers extra money to put up signs.
"If they had something else to do, the signs wouldn't go up," Granor said. "Or they would stop the trucks in places that weren't safe."
After Granor hired Penn Jersey to do the job, his headaches stopped.
"Paul does what he says he is going to do and he is always available," Granor said. "He answers his cell phone at two o'clock in the morning."
Placing signs is part science, part intuition. Post the arrows too far apart and motorists get confused.
Schlimme relies on a formula that combines Google maps with personal experience, placing signs about each half mile.
"Our people know these roads because we drive them all the time," he said.
Signage is an essential element in a successful open house, said Jennifer Santangelo of Westrum Development in Fort Washington, Pa. Penn Jersey installs signs for four Westrum communities in southeastern Pennsylvania.
"When we don't have directionals, we don't get traffic," she said.
Schlimme charges $89 to place 15 double-sided signs. For 50 signs, the rate is $179.
"It is a very cost-efficient way for us to do marketing," Santangelo said. "It gets people into our sales office who just happened to see the signs and follow them."
Sign companies also help builders and landlords to comply with local ordinances that allow directional signs only on weekends.
"If they stay up past the deadline, there could be a fine in some communities," Schlimme said. "If we see signs from a long-past election or an old Valentine's Day dance at the VFW, we take those down, too."
Penn Jersey services 50 new home communities and a handful of apartment complexes, most recently River's Bend in Carneys Point.
At Luxury Townhome Rentals in Bucks County, Pa., the company handles signage for three complexes owned by Heritage Building Group.
"Directional signs require a lot of hard work, a lot of attention," said Lydia Aleixo, president of Heritage property management. "We like Penn Jersey because if a sign gets knocked down or stolen, they respond immediately."
The company currently employs 20 people, all part-timers. Many have experience in the battered mortgage and home-selling business and want to pick up extra money.
Workers are paid by the sign. Three sign posters, where there are lots of new home developments, earn about $700 a week. The employee who serves a single small community in Lancaster County, Pa., makes $60 a week.
"We are lucky that we have been able to find good, responsible people," Schlimme said. "In our business, that is everything."
Reach Eileen Smith at (856) 486-2444 or firstname.lastname@example.org