Seven Steps to Signs That Pay


Often business people buy signs as an afterthought. They wait until their budget is nearly cleaned out and attempt to get away with buying the cheapest sign they can get away with. These are signs you can’t afford. If you are not confident that your new sign will pay for itself then your are about to waste your money.

The purpose of a sign is to attract new customers, brand your site in the minds of consumers and create impulse sales. A sign is often the only visible cue that a business exists! Therefore, it should be the predominant feature of your building.

Consider the case of Frenchy’s Bistro opened by a husband and wife in the mid-1990’s. It is located on a four-lane road with lots of traffic in Southern California. After healthy growth, revenues leveled off at $250 thousand and wouldn’t budge. They attracted a local clientele from the immediate neighborhood and were known as “that restaurant next to the paint store.” Their signage was so poor that they were not bringing in hungry passing motorists.

A friend suggested a better sign. They selected a V-shaped sign, internally illuminated, to mount to the side of their building. The result? Their sales grew 16% in the first year. Sales in the second increased 32%. By the forth year, they expanded into a space next door and grew a total of 322% or over $823,000.

TIP # 1 Spend time and money to ensure you have a sign that makes a positive impression on your marketplace. Your sign should be conspicuous, reflective of your company’s look and feel, and remain easy for your customer to recall.


Your signage should be your first consideration in your marketing and promotion plan. Why? Consider these facts: since 1997, a group of 488 Southern California businesses collectively polled their 7,200 first-time customers asking how they found out about them. Here are the results:

Your Sign 46%

Word of Mouth 38%

Newpaper Ads 7%

Yellow Pages 6%

Radio Commercial 2%

Television Commercial 1

o Signtronix Survey, 2003

Clearly two conclusions jump out: their signs were effectively speaking to potential customers and signs are the most effective form of advertising for the small and independent business person.

TIP #2 Don’t be so concerned about how much you can save on a sign, but how you can bring in more paying customers.


Your sign should be sufficient height and size without being obscured by objects such as trees, lampposts and so on. Its content, both text and logo, must be legible. It must stand out from its background. Keep this chart in mind when selecting the size of your sign(s):

Speed of traffic Legibility Distance Size of Letters Needed


55 mph 440′ 12″

50 mph 400′ 10″

45 mph 360′ 9″

40 mph 320′ 8″

35 mph 280′ 6″

30 mph 240 4″

25 mph 200′ 3″

TIP #3 A sign has less than two seconds to capture a consumer’s attention.

Consider simple and direct messages, highly visible letters, easy to read type styles, illumination and contrasting colors. Most readable background colors are white and yellow. Most readable letters are black, dark blue and red. Use of a border can help your viewer absorb your information 26% faster.


That’s “too much information” and “too many messages.” We are barraged by thousands of messages daily. Not only have we become good at absorbing lots of data, we are good at tuning out obnoxious messages. Often a good, crisp presentation is best. You don’t need to inform your clientele of everything you can do, you just want to capture their interest to the point that they come in. Maximum should be three to five words. Leave 30 – 40% of your sign area blank.

TIP #4 Distill your message to where you make your point with as few words as possible. If you can’t fit your message on a bumper sticker, you have too many words.


A well-placed and attractive sign communicates to your ideal clientele the true flavor of your business. Well designed indoor signage reinforces your image. Sure you want to stand out from the crowd, but be sure to temper the information above by maintaining harmony with your setting. You don’t want to look like a pair of brown shoes in a tuxedo store! Consider the other signs near your business. Some of the beach communities prefer sand-blasted wood signs. Some areas featuring lots of restaurants will be predominated by lighted dimensional signs. Often you can stand out by having a simple but elegant sign, a great design or materials no one else is using.

TIP #5 Select a design that reflects the key strength of your company that your customers most value. Use an outside designer or good sign company to help you achieve this.


Now that you are ready to have your masterpiece produced, there is just one more gating factor: municipal code. It is always wise to find out what is required before going for that sign permit or charging ahead with manufacturing your new sign.

There are at least two sets of criteria to be aware of. Often business parks, historical areas and other developments will have their own sign criteria that are stricter than the city’s. Be sure to check with your property manager or the city itself to find out if there is a sign criteria or “architectural overlay” before relying strictly on the city’s requirements. Part of the approval exercise may include sign off by your landlord or property manager.

The second item is the city itself. You can avoid a lot of time and frustration by calling their planning department in advance to find out what is required. You do have the option of appealing the local sign code, called a “variance,” but be prepared for long waits and lots of work and frustration.

TIP #6 If there is one best area to plan ahead, this is it. Cities are getting stricter about what sort of sign they will allow outside. It is best to find out what they will accept early.


Time and nature is the great enemy of outdoor signs. Imagine going to a restaurant and noticing that their sign is full of bird nests. Makes you wonder what else they are not maintaining doesn’t it? There are many new materials coming on the market today that exceed at weatherability. Some manufacturers today are guaranteeing for life their plastics against fading or cracking. LEDs are much more lasting than neon and use less power.

TIP #7 While a great sign will bring customers, a poorly maintained one will drive them away. Make sure the materials to be used in your new sign will last as long as you need them to. Inspect your sign(s) regularly for cleanliness, aging and operability.

And remember: If they don’t see your sign, they won’t spend a dime!