Professional Carwashing & Detailing

Signs of the times

October 11, 2010
The use of signs to communicate is an age old business practice predating Roman times. From the commercial street sign to the bathroom door, each sign has an important function to perform in the operation of a business facility. Each sign also plays an important role in gaining consumer confidence and pleasing the consumer when he enters the establishment.

The purpose of a professionally-designed sign system is to stop traffic. American culture today is mobile and fast paced, demanding greater convenience than in times past. Recognizing these cultural attitudes and appealing to them can help owners capture a greater amount of passing consumers.

There are several types of signs that a conveyor carwash can use, including:
  • Street;
  • Building;
  • Menu;
  • Directional and traffic control; and
  • Instructional.
Each sign on the property should pull its weight in an effort to communicate in a productive and fun way. In addition, each sign should stay on point with the mission it has been assigned.

Site branding
It is necessary for conveyor carwash owners to pin all advertising to a specific site. Unlike creating a recognizable brand for a product available through a wide retail distribution network, wash owners must tie all advertising to the site where the products are available.

An effective signage program will target the consumer’s mind to create easy recall of the business and its location. A pictorial graphic along with the word “carwash” prominently displayed, more than any other sign element, will create individual identities by which the consumer can mentally recall your specific business and its location.

Content delivery
Each sign in your system should be designed to maximize the delivery of its content. Owners invest in theme architecture, paintings, sculptures, stylish furniture, landscaping and many other items to create a specific impression in the mind of each consumer that enters the business property. Many times signage fails to reflect the correct impression of the business with the most noticeable of all customer attractants: the on-premise business sign package.

Pictorial graphics used in your signs should relate to the business you are conducting. A car, water droplet, bubbles or the like, will communicate the conveyor carwash business well. Good strong borders will make the details of the graphic stand out effectively. The graphic should be designed with the minimum detail necessary to convey the idea of the design.

A correctly-designed sign will need to breathe. The correct amount of color contrast coupled with the correct amount of negative space, creates the greatest readability. The pictorial graphic should be broken apart and separated from the copy of the sign. The sign colors should also contrast with the environment of the business. In other words, no green if the sign is surrounded by trees.

In planning the appropriate sign design, placement, and size, one should consider the eyesight of the most visually-challenged motorist on the street. Clarity of the sign message with clean, clear contrast will assist the visually impaired driver.

Does your sign system convey in content and in style the desired message? For example, if you are trying to appeal to professionals with expensive cars, does the sign announce that this is a professional conveyor carwash that will take care in cleaning your expensive vehicle? If you are a volume-based conveyor wash and wish to appeal to the masses in a hurry, you must do so on the sign while continuing to convey the concept of quality.

Each sign should be examined to see if the sign program hit the mark with the best performance in mind. The sign must communicate to the reader in a form that he can see and understand. We must be sure that our signs communicate in the windshields, eyes, and minds, of the potential customers traversing our streets and entering the facilities.

The street sign
No other device or advertising method can match an effective street sign in attracting customers to your carwash. Each street sign should be fitted to the site to maximize the rate of attraction and sales production. Using known research data to design a street sign will give the business a competitive edge over those who fail to make these considerations.

The proper placement of a sign will indicate the entrance of the business and effectively communicate with the public. This must be done far enough in advance to allow deceleration and entry. This is vital to capturing all the clients available to a business.

When possible, a sign should be placed before the entrance curb cut, on lanes where the traffic makes a right hand turn into the wash. The exception to this rule would eliminate the approach line of sight to the motorists, allowing the time to decelerate and enter the wash. The appropriate approach line of sight must be maintained.

Building signs
Building signs should create an overall larger sign feeling. One way to overcome overly restrictive sign codes is to use the whole facility as a sign. The correct terminology for this use of signs is called sign centric advertising.

Building signs can often be much larger that street signs and should not be overlooked in the overall image of the wash.

Walgreen’s does an excellent job of using the whole site to brand the site. The bulk of this is done through the use of sign centric advertising. Applying the principal of continuity will give a larger than life feeling to the facility.

Every consumer has been trained to look for the best bargain for each dollar they spend. A correctly-designed menu will not only support the overall design theme of the wash, but present information in a way that demonstrates the best dollar value. Many consumers may purchase the same old wash because it is familiar. This will not help the objective of increasing price per ticket.

A correctly designed menu will aid each consumer in their decision by clearly displaying advantages. A great menu will demonstrate that spending more per wash is in the consumer’s best interest. A menu that offers too many selections or too many a la carte items will only make the consumer feel that a wash is trying to nickel and dime them to death. This may lead to a feeling of mistrust.

A clear presentation of the differences between the washes available, both in price and services, will indicate that the dealings of the wash are honest and above board, leaving the consumer with the feeling that this wash is a great place to entrust the care of his or her vehicles.

Directional signs
Not all cities will allow the use of logos on directional signs. If at all possible, graphic continuity should be an element of these signs.

The use of a professional architectural sign system, such as one might see at a national bank, will help ease congestion on the pad, and keep patrons moving smoothly through the facility. Be sure to use the directional sign to thank the consumer for their business as they leave the premises.

Informational signs
Informational signs may range from a legal liability disclaimer, to the announcement of a special sale.

These signs should be friendly in tone and consistent with all other signs on the premises. It is vital that the consumer not feel that any disclaimers are veiled threats, or are actual representations of what is likely to happen to their vehicle if they use this facility.

The use of custom screens, if the wash has auto cashiers, will also support the overall theme to be conveyed.

Tunnel signs
The use of tunnel signs to demonstrate the options purchased are great. To increase the effectiveness of these signs, consider using tunnel signs that light up with an international “no” symbol over the copy, to demonstrate that this option was not purchased. In this way, we leave the patron with the feeling that they could have had more.

Don’t be afraid to communicate the bottom wash as the bottom. Only by clearly stating the obvious, can you communicate the need for the consumer to alter their purchasing pattern to a more expensive option, in future purchases.

You should expect to update your sign system and graphic image about every seven to ten years. This update can be as simple as changing the features of a car to a more contemporary idea of the same image. Keep your image contemporary and relevant by refreshing these images. Many owners stick by sign mistakes made at earlier times, and lose revenue every business day because they once spent money on that mistake.

According to a study by a national sign company surveying over 5,000 small business sign users, replacing the sign definitely increases sales unless there are extenuating issues at the business. The U.S. Small Business Administration says the sign is the least expensive, most effective form of advertising.

Perry Powell is an independent sign consultant specializing in coaching business owners in the application and acquisition of site specific signage. Powell can be reached by phone at 817-307-6484 or by email at: