By Whitney Stohr- Executive Director — Selah Downtown Association
Here’s the scenario: You’re considering opening a business. You spend hours perfecting your business plan, locating the ideal space, securing necessary start-up funding, finding insurance, building hype around your new endeavor… With everything there is to consider when launching a new business, business signage should be an item you can quickly scratch off your to-do list, right? Not so fast…
Choosing effective signage is extremely important for your business. Good signage let’s people know where you are located. It can draw in new customers. It can set the entire mood of your business, and let potential customers know what your business is all about before they even step foot inside.
Here are eight important things to consider when selecting signage for your business.
- What are the applicable local codes and city ordinances?
The last thing you want to do is invest a chunk of precious start-up funding in signage that you later come to discover is a problem given local city codes and established ordinances. Do yourself a favor and schedule a meeting with your local planning department or permitting officer — whomever it is overseeing city codes and ordinances related to buildings and signage. Ask them to explain the existing ordinance and what permits are required for different types of signs. This may very well influence your decision on business signage and how you choose to move forward.
Also ask if the city has adopted any design standards for business facades, which may include signage; or if a local organization, such as a Main Street Program or local Chamber of Commerce, have developed suggestive standards. While these design standards may or may not be required of new businesses in the downtown area or business district, following these guidelines can help your business conform aesthetically to surrounding businesses and historic buildings. While embracing these design standards may require additional work and investment initially, a downtown area or business district that is aesthetically pleasing and appears welcoming to visitors has a direct impact on business success, and every business in the district plays a role.
- What type of first impression do you want to make?
Your signage can set the tone for your business. It is the first impression people have of your business, and that impression is set before they even step foot through the doorway. This is why business signage is so important. Consider what type of sign, and what design, will reflect well on your business and the work you do or services you offer. Spend time thinking about this question: If you were to walk down the street past your building or storefront, had never heard anything about your business and were not familiar in any way with it, what type of signage would draw your eye and leave you feeling curious and interested to learn more about the business?
- What type of sign is appropriate for the neighborhood or business district?
Wherever your business storefront is located, it is important to consider the context of the surrounding neighborhood or business district and select signage that is appropriate for that specific environment. Existing design standards, either adopted officially by the city or developed as guidelines by a local business organization, can provide helpful guidance. But also, stroll around the neighborhood. Get a feel for the environment. Take time to notice the signage on other buildings. Is there a common design theme? Common color pallet? Is the signage typically new and shiny, or does it have vintage appeal? Are the signs affixed to the buildings as flat, wall signs, or do they protrude over the sidewalk? Are they lighted signs? You yourself can answer all of these questions simply by spending some time in what will soon be your new business home.
- Does the building or surrounding business district embody a certain historic character?
Are you opening a new business in an historic building? Will your business be located in an historic district or neighborhood? If so, take historic context into account when selecting your signage. Our local communities have a rich history that many residents don’t even know. In making decisions about your business, you can highlight local history and incorporate historic elements into the design of your building’s façade, window displays, and even your signage. Residents will appreciate your nod to local history. It can even be a conversation starter. So, learn the history of your building, your street or neighborhood block, and think about creative ways to incorporate history into your signage. Perhaps you can install a sign similar in appearance to historic signs that once decorated the building. If remodeling has been done on the building and remnants of the original materials have been stored away, maybe some of that material can be used to create a custom sign. There are many options, but the idea here is to, first, respect the history of the place, and, two, think outside-the-box in doing so.
- How can you make your sign attractive and eye-catching without being over-the-top?
Spend time thinking about this question. Remember: Your business signage may be the first impression you give people about what you do, who you serve and your degree of professionalism. Think about what the type of signage you use will say about your business. You may prefer classy, flat signs attached to your building above the entrance, or simply the name of your business on the awning of your storefront; perhaps you’re considering a monument style sign at the entrance of your parking lot, or even a tall, detached sign in front of your business along the street or sidewalk. Each type of sign serves a different purpose and can be effective in different contexts, but each type of sign also makes a different first impression.
Other things to consider are the size of the sign, the text and font for wording on the sign, and appropriate colors. To make a good first impression and to be memorable in the mind of potential customers, your signage should be eye-catching. Text should be highly visible and clearly stated. Any images on the sign should add to the design and not detract from the wording or make the sign appear “too busy.” Get creative! Have fun designing your signs, but keep in mind its actual purpose: to help people identify your business location.
- Does your sign highlight the purpose or mission of your business?
If someone was unfamiliar with your business, would your business sign give them an idea of what it is you do? Think about the type of information commonly included on signage—most likely the business name, and perhaps a logo or other type of image or sub-text. How will your signage let a potential customer know what type of business you’re in or what it is you sell? Think about it: If someone is walking down the street and passes your sign, will the image of your signage as a first impression of your business embed in their mind in such a way that they recall it when the time comes that they’re looking for the type of products or services you offer?
- Does your sign have longevity?
Business signage can be costly, but the simple truth is that you get what you pay for. If you take the time to design good signage and are willing to spend the money to purchase a higher-end sign, you will reap the benefits. However, because signs can be so expensive, for the sake of your budget, consider the potential longevity and hardiness of different types of signs when making your final decision. Consider the type of material used, how different types of signs fare in the weather, and any impact the location of the sign may have on its estimated lifespan. Choosing a sign with a longer lifespan can save your business money in the long run and reduce the amount of time and additional funds needed to maintain or repair the sign.
- Make the investment.
For the reasons discussed, it is extremely important that your business signage is well-designed, professional and maintained. You want to make a good first impression on any potential customer that happens to pass by your business. You want your business to be memorable. And for that, a good business sign is essential. However, it is no secret that signage is also a big investment for a small business, and especially a business just getting on its feet. Signage is expensive, certainly; but, it is also worth the investment. Make the investment in good signage as it is really an investment in the future of your business.