How carwashes can stand out with signage: Part 2 - Professional Carwashing & Detailing

How carwashes can stand out with signage: Part 2

With smart design, carwashes can utilize signage as an effective marketing tool.

In part one of this special two-part article, we discussed signage selection considerations and key factors to keep in mind before you implement design plans. You can find part one here.

For part two, we are delving deeper into design best practices as well as how to utilize your signage as an effective marketing tool for your new carwash.

Appealing to the masses

“Signage has the ability to create an [overall] atmosphere and a positive feeling as a customer is getting [a] wash. By capitalizing on strong, thoughtful design, you can create a great experience that keeps customers coming back for more,” says Mercedes Mannino, director of marketing for Cleaning Systems Inc. (CSI®). “Take a lesson from car dealerships. There is a reason why car dealers put big inflatable gorillas on their lots and cover the cars with balloons and streamers. Those tactics all create an ‘event-like atmosphere;’ and who doesn’t love an event? People like to have fun, and if they believe that a business is fun and attractive, they will be attracted to it.”

If you design your carwash’s signage to draw people onto your lot, she explains, you will wash more cars, and customers will have a more positive experience with your business.

Well-designed signage incorporates the right message, color, size, illumination (light) and appearance, notes Colleen Wolf, LED project manager for Signs Plus (; when installing new signs on-site, she continues, make sure to consider the following design questions:

  • Does the color of your sign “pop” against the color of your building?
  • Are the characters on the signage large enough to be easily read from a distance?
  • Is the sign message simple, direct and easy to comprehend?
  • Did you include your logo and your brand colors?

Furthermore, asserts Mannino, make sure to consider your primary audience when approaching your design. “Studies have shown that while the majority of millennials (ages 18 to 34) respond well to perceived creativity of graphics, simplicity is the factor baby boomers (ages 55+) respond [to most],” she states. “For most carwashes, it’s going to be about finding a happy medium that appeals to as many age groups as possible.”

Aim for signage that is creative and a strong reflection of your brand, recommends Mannino, but is still simple enough that the “creativeness” doesn’t overpower the customer’s ability to effectively engage with the content.

With well-crafted simplicity in mind, make sure your design execution is optimized for maximum effect, especially when it comes to targeting the all-important impulse customers.

“Studies have shown that with changeable copy signs and identification signs, darker backgrounds with lighter toned text and graphics are more effective at capturing and retaining the attention of [drivers],” explains Robert Norman, sign consultant (regional manager) for Stewart Signs ( “Avoid designs with low contrast such as similar tones throughout the signage.”

In fact, Wolf reports that Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA) research indicates having a strong color contrast can actually improve advertising recall by as much as 38 percent.

In addition to avoiding poor color contrast, adds Norman, don’t fill the entire space with text or graphics. Sufficient negative space, also known as white space, should be distributed around the signage elements to allow for clean and effective reading/marketing.

Above all else, make sure your signage is a professional, well-maintained reflection of your business. When designing your signage, Mannino suggests keeping in mind the following three key factors:

  • Size: Consider both the sign size and font size from the customers’ vantage point. Will they be viewing the sign from the road or from your driveway, or will they be up close? The industry standard regarding font size is one inch of height for every 10 feet of customer distance. For instance, if your sign is going to be viewed from 40 feet away, you need to have letters that are a minimum of four inches tall.
  • Color: Think outside the box, but color inside the lines. Color contrast is the key determining factor in sign readability and customer content retention. Choose bold text on contrasting backgrounds — dark text on light (white or bright yellow) backgrounds, or light text on dark (black) backgrounds work best. Don’t let your desire to be “creative” get in the way of effective sign design. No matter how much you might like Christmas colors, resist the urge to make a sign with green letters on a red background. While festive, the degree of contrast is so poor you’re doing customers (and yourself) a disservice in terms of legibility and their ability to effectively consume the sign’s content.
  • Font: You want signs that are a strong reflection of your brand, as discussed, but give careful thought to the fonts you use. Script and other complicated fonts that look great on paper may not work on signage. Choose bold, simple and easily read fonts for maximum impact to reach the greatest percentage of sign viewers. If you have a logo font that is less than ideal for signage, don’t sacrifice your signage’s legibility in the name of consistent branding. Instead, evaluate the logo itself, or choose a neutral font that works from a signage perspective but doesn’t “clash” with the other brand elements associated with the business.

Another component to smart design is to incorporate unique, eye-catching elements like LED effects.

Illuminating your signage potential

“Today’s consumers spend 70 percent of their time away from home. They spend an average of six to 10 hours a week traveling between their home and work,” says Wolf. “These commuters are a prime target for your outdoor advertising because your best potential customer lives within a five-mile radius of your location. They drive past your carwash regularly, either commuting to and from work or just running neighborhood errands.”

Since so much time is spent on the road, why not try to brighten your chances of reaching these commuters by incorporating LEDs?

LED signs attract attention and can promote your products or services and help customers find you. LED signs offer more value than typical identification signs alone because the message on your LED signs can be changed quickly and safely,” explains Wolf. “LED advertising acts like an outdoor salesperson for you, promoting your products or services 24 hours a day, seven days a week [and] 365 days a year. And, LED sign advertising is statistically proven to provide a higher return on your investment than any other form of advertising available today.”

Norman agrees, noting that although signage by and large is an ideal way for carwashes to market to their customers, LED signage specifically has proven to produce “exponential growth in revenue.” In a study conducted by the Small Business Administration (SBA), continues Norman, small businesses reported increased rates of 15 to 150 percent for annual growth in revenue after installing an LED display at their business.

“If even the lowest end of that study is considered (15 percent), a new business would do well to [install] LED signage to ensure their business’ sustainability and economic solvency,” Norman adds.

Nonetheless, having well-designed, appealing signage in general acts as a highly effective marketing tool, which is especially important for new carwash owners and operators.

Carwash signage marketing and retention strategies

Whether opening your first carwash or expanding your wash empire, choosing when, where and how much money to spend is not an easy decision. However with the ability to actively drive traffic, and thus revenue, into your business, investing in signage just makes good business sense.

“Different sources estimate the amount of traffic a retail business receives purely as a function of drive-bys is as high as 20 percent. That means up to 20 percent of your customers had no intention of coming in on any given day — their decision was made on a whim as they drove by [your] business,” states Mannino. “Obviously, signage has the ability to massively impact the percent of drive-by traffic you are able to capture. If your signage is eye-catching and attractive, you are much more likely to capture people’s attention as they drive by, whether they planned to get their cars washed or not.”

Although acting as a marketing tool on its own, implementing a strategic signage strategy to market to prospective, and existing, customers can help generate even greater revenue for your carwash.

“Signage should be the centerpiece for all marketing in a carwash business. This is true for any business with a brick and mortar location, but this is especially important in the carwash industry due to the dependence on local passers-by,” explains Norman. “Many carwash owners neglect the significant impact that effective signage has on the perception of their business, and these often result in failed [enterprises]. Promotional and marketing efforts should be ongoing and dynamic.”

Signage for carwashes is particularly unique in that it can market a changing and versatile set of products/services, continues Norman. “LED displays allow for high-impact marketing flexibility to meet the requirements of full-service offers, seasonal promotions and specialty services, [as examples],” he adds. “Changeable copy signs and identification signs can be used to promote more static service sectors such as automatic or self-serve carwashes.”

With that being said, make sure to remove any signage after seasonal or temporary promotions end, advises Wolf, because there is nothing “special” about an expired promotion, and drivers may eventually stop paying attention to your signs.

In addition to targeting impulse sales and new prospective customers, why not also utilize signage as a means for customer retention? “Signage takes many forms at the carwash; the classic trustworthy menu and extra service signs have been there for years,” shares Bobby Jones, art director at TSS Inc. “However marketing-savvy owners have opened up other areas to maximize product visibility and increase ticket sales.”

Today, carwashes are incorporating signage into their equipment such as arches, detail carts, vacuum booms and towel stands, says Jones; and this approach spreads your marketing strategy across the entire site.

“Why not advertise at the vacuum stand, [for instance]? You have captive [customers] who spends at least five minutes vacuuming their cars. Capitalize on the opportunity to mention your monthly unlimited wash plan or new extra service,” suggests Jones.

Regardless of your signage marketing approach, make sure to keep it fresh, advises Mannino. “Any business’ marketing efforts need to constantly be evaluated [for] effectiveness, and signage is no exception,” she asserts. “While main store signage might be too expensive to constantly update, consider your use of less expensive signage options like banners, pump toppers, posters, wind masters or sandwich boards with monthly promotions. People like to see what’s new; so if your signage takes on new, fresh twists with variable, seasonal promotional messages throughout the year, people will be more apt to engage the business.”

However above all else, make your signage your own, says Mannino. “Create custom designs that are a unique reflection of who you are as a business and a brand,” she adds. “Use the resources you have available, and then commit to building an awesome overall signage strategy that not only looks great but actively drives business and encourages retention.”

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