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The science of signage

October 11, 2010
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When it comes to designing carwash signage, there’s more to it than meets the eye. There is a science to choosing signs for any business, but especially a carwash site.

Whether an owner is up against town regulations, a difficult plot of land or financial limitations, the most important aspect of choosing signage for a site is understanding the methodology behind the selection process.

Line of sight
The single most important factor when implementing a new sign at a carwash site is the vision of the driver on the street, according to Perry Powell, an independent sign consultant who specializes in carwash signage.

“Most people take photos of their sign standing in front of the business, but if we back up to the street — the correct amount of distance from that sign — does it work?” Perry asked.

Placement on the site and the height of the sign are crucial when trying to attract passing motorists.

Perry explained that if an owner does not give a passing motorist enough time by visually communicating the message correctly, at the correct distance, the owner is actually asking the consumer to turn back 40-50 yards after they pass the carwash.

Perry stressed that every carwash site is different, so there is no general set height or distance from the street.

Each location should be individually assessed by a professional consultant to determine what formula will work best for that particular site.

Kenny Pitts, assistant manager of Banana Banner, Inc., a sign company based in Virginia, said that the trend today seems to be to bring a site’s signage closer to the ground.

“We have a much more streamlined, fast-moving society and people seem to like their signs at ground level as opposed to on top of posts,” Pitts said.

Janay Rickwalder, director of communications for the International Sign Association (ISA) ranked placement as the most critical aspect of signage at a site.

“The sign needs to attract from the flow of traffic and quickly identify the type of business,” Rickwalder explained. “Signs need to be located where and when the customer has navigational or process questions.”

Impulse plays a role in many customers’ decisions to purchase a wash, therefore, the sign needs to give a potential visitor enough time to recognize the business and make a conscious decision to enter the site before it’s too late.

Pretty picture
Looks certainly aren’t everything when it comes to signage, but the attractiveness of a sign does play a part in a consumer’s decision process.

Rickwalder stated that signage is all about making connections and signs are a strong source of communication. Color and shape do play an important role in connecting consumers at both an emotional and rational level.

According to Perry, signs create Top of the Mind Awareness (TOMA), which means they should not only identify the business, but subliminally plant a seed about the business in the consumer’s mind to be recalled when the individual realizes he needs the service. A professional looking sign can accomplish this.

Pitts cautions owners from “cluttering up” their signs. According to him, keeping it simple is usually better. People won’t bother to read the sign if they are distracted by too many things trying to grab their attention.

“Try to say as much as you can with as little as possible,” Pitts said. “With images, for instance, you can convey a whole message in just a graphic.”

Building with a brand
A recognizable name or logo is something that can provide comfort and build trust with consumers.

The design of a sign helps differentiate one carwash from another and communicates this point of difference in a split second, according to Rickwalder.

Pitts agreed that the name or brand on a sign can be extremely important for a business.

“It seems as though whenever people are buying from us, that’s the big issue [name recognition].”

Along the same line as name recognition, a logo can go a long way to make a business memorable and create an identity.

“Logos are key in making those emotional connections with consumers and providing a strong point of difference,” Rickwalder stated.

“An identity does many things that are critical to the success of any carwash,” Rickwalder explained. “First, an identity differentiates one carwash from the other, which allows them to clearly own a place in consumers’ minds.”

Pitts said that sometimes his sign customers will come up with a catchy saying or rhyme, but more important than that is securing name recognition.

If a customer doesn’t pick up a card or know the contact information, an owner at least wants him or her to remember the business’ name to share with others.

Building on a budget
According to Powell, if a carwash owner wants to change the financial nature of his business, he can’t do it without a sign — it is the core.

“Most of the time, simply changing the sign will impact the revenue of an existing wash in double digits,” Powell explained. “That is, if it’s done right and it is the right prescription for that particular site.”

According to Rickwalder, effective signage must be considered part of the complete picture of the physical layout of a site.

“In a recent survey, 50 percent of new customers indicated that the reason they stopped was the sign,” Rickwalder said. “Signage is the least expensive form of advertising, working for you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. In fact, just adding one new sign can increase business up to 25 percent.”

A carwash owner can create successful signage at his or her site by first understanding what remedy is right for the site. The best way to find this out is through the help of a sign professional.

“A $5,000 sign correctly designed at a site, if that is what is dictated for the site, is certainly more effective than a poorly designed $50,000 sign that won’t perform,” Powell said.

According to Powell, it isn’t the amount of money an owner throws at a signage problem, it’s how appropriate and well-designed the sign is for that specific site.

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