Professional Carwashing & Detailing

Stand out through signage

What does the sign outside your building tell customers about your services?

January 3, 2013

The promotional marketing sign outside your carwash — how often do you think about it? According to the experts we interviewed for this article, signage is one of the most important ways to attract new customers and keep your carwash location top-of-mind for all customers and prospects. While a catchy sign is key, this topic of the industry is more than meets the eye.

Use variables

According to Joshua Wortley, a reputable sign consultant who serves as the business/military division manager for Stewart Signs, there are many factors to take into consideration. First, said Wortley, the carwash owner or manager must decide how the sign will be used.

“Are they planning to show only text, or text and graphics? Either of these options has its own needs,” explained Wortley. “If they are planning to use it primarily for text, the sign consultant should be able to analyze traffic speed and count, along with the preferred location of the display to maximize exposure and return on investment the display produces.”

Graphic and text signs require other considerations, such as quality of resolution of the sign in comparison to the viewing distance of the customer. “In layman’s terms, the impression of quality of how the display looks is directly related to the distance the viewer is from the sign. The further away the customer is while viewing the display, the better it will look,” added Wortley.

In general, a sign strategy will require operators to do their homework and know their location and its buyers. Combining several strategies after obtaining this trending knowledge can help operators stand out from the crowd with signage.

Sign science

According to Perry Powell, a commercial sign and image consultant with more than 18 years of experience in the signage industry, the most critical factors of signage are “an interactive set of considerations which working cooperatively create a higher rate of attraction. Those factors are the minimum required legibility distance (MRLD), Cone of Vision, Placement, Message Design, Media and Content.”

As vehicles approach a sign, pointed out Powell, motorists are inundated with colorful messaging and other distractions, making the quality and your sign strategy even more important. “The sign must compete effectively with other vehicles, traffic signals, obstructions, landscaping as well as other signs,” he added.

Powell equated sign success to perfecting a science. First placement, so as to thread the needle with the lines of sight, at the appropriate angle within the cone of vision are necessary.

“Next,” continued Powell, “the sign must be readable at that distance (MRLD). This complex formula determines the appropriate letter height for the copy. One standing inch of letter height should be used for each standing inch of height.”

When placing a sign, Powell suggested that operators keep in mind the short amount of time they have to get customers to act. A customer must see the sign, read the sign, comprehend what he is reading, decide to act, turn on turn signals, change lanes, brake and maneuver into the property. “All of which happens at 51 feet per second of travel at 35 mph,” he added.

Staying inside the lines

Carwash owners should know that there is more to putting up a sign than having some employees build and place it somewhere on the property. Zoning and potentially applying for a variance could be needed. If you are interested in placing a new sign at your location, it is wise to first contact your local zoning office.

“[The zoning office] will determine their zoning. They will also use their linear feet of frontage to determine the allowable sign size and height, determine if LEDs are permissible in the area as well as any applicable restrictions,” educated Wortley.

Once owners and operators receive this information, the process of choosing a sign that fits within their allowance begins. “Or, if they should find that the local government does not approve of what they want, whether because of size, LED or another reason, [the carwash might] apply for a variance within their local government.”

A reputable sign company can help in the process. But, while assistance is available, carwash professionals should stay mindful of the laws and be ready to support their investment in signage and their business’ interests. Local officials are hired to make decisions based on the betterment of the area and its citizens. However, carwash owners and operators have the opportunity to educate these individuals and state their case for attractive signage.

According to David Hickey, vice president of government relations for the International Sign Association, while the sign industry works to educate these local officials on the benefits of visible and effective signs to businesses and communities, it is much more effective for business owners in the carwash and detailing industry to get involved and make your concerns known on important issues.

“After all, you represent local businesses that employ their constituents, pay sales and property taxes and provide a valuable service to the community,” stated Hickey. “Your business deserves to use attractive, recognizable and effective signs to let people know where you are, what you do and how you can be of service. Local officials will listen to the needs of owners and employees from their neighborhood carwash establishments when it comes to sign codes, especially if the argument is framed from an economic perspective.”

Take advantage of the new and improved

Just like many other aspects of marketing and promoting your business, there have been proven techniques that work and some that do not. While a sign consultant or company can help advise your carwash along the way, be sure to consider the new technology available in the product category to best fit your unique needs. There have been several advancements over the years in carwash signage, such as beveling, electronic message, light emitting diodes (LEDs), etc.

Wortley stated digital signage has come a long way in improvements to technology and also to the barrier of entry for the consumer. “Premium digital signs now have advanced features like a Dynamic Matrix, which allows for each pixel to share LEDs with adjacent pixels, quadrupling the effective resolution of the display,” he noted.

Additionally, economical LED signs are available to more consumers at a lower price point. “Unfortunately, there have always been ‘cheap’ LED displays, but the cost of ownership has been high because of frequent need for service and/or the display dying prematurely,” explained Wortley, adding that LED manufacturers can now build high quality entry level signs that allow for two to four lines of text and offer graphics capabilities at a better price point than ever before.

So what is next for signs? Hickey suggested that digital dynamic displays are the next big step in point-of-purchasing (POP) advertising. “Networks of LCD or Plasma screens are the latest visual medium being used to inform, direct and even entertain customers,” asserted Hickey. “Digital dynamic signage is becoming increasingly popular in applications such as advertising, wayfinding, public information, brand building and enhancing the customer experience.”

So what is new in signage? A lot. And, what is most important? Everything.

In many ways the signs outside and inside of your facility are among the most important sales and marketing tools you have available. After you decide how and where you would like to deliver those company messages, signs must convey the following information in order of importance, according to Powell: Type of business; business model; value proposition; name and address.



See the sign factors

Besides the obvious factor of being placed where a sign is most visible to passing motorists, there are several other factors that carwash owners and operators should consider in order to have a more effective sign.

  • Illumination: Most businesses use illuminated signs to advertise their location and services at night. A sign that is easily seen at night can be critically important to the success of a business. Even when a business is closed for the night, it can benefit from the advertising impact of an illuminated sign.
  • Color Contrast: Visibility and color have been the subject of several studies, and nearly all of them have concluded that the background color and the color of lettering and symbols plays an important role in achieving optimum visibility, conspicuity and legibility of signage messages. Contrasting colors lend power to visual communications. For example, black letters on a yellow or white background is the optimum color combination to be legible from a distance, while light blue letters on a white background ranks much lower.
  • Monument Signs: If you are in a jurisdiction that only allows monument signs (ground signs usually four to eight feet), be advised that these kinds of signs can be easily obscured by bushes, parked vehicles, snowbanks, etc. Staff will require extra vigilance to ensure that your monument sign remains visible to passing motorists.