How well does your store signage attract and inform customers?
Here are 10 less-is-more tips to help convey effective and useful messages
BY JULIE A. PALM
Sign, sign, everywhere a sign
Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind
Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?
—“Signs” by Les Emmerson, 1970
If there’s a single signage problem that plagues mattress retailers, it’s alluded to in that song written by Les Emmerson and made popular by the Five Man Electrical Band: too many signs and too much information packed onto them.
“My fundamental belief about signage: When in doubt, don’t. Signage should be very, very focused and, in my opinion, somewhat limited,” says Marty Walker, vice president of business development for EC Retail, a provider of retail environment and display solutions based in Marietta, Georgia.
It’s easy to let signs pile up. You introduce a new mattress line or have a sale: It requires new signage. Signs go up; old ones don’t necessarily come down. Plus, you want to tell shoppers all about that new line—every feature, every benefit, every warranty guarantee, every delivery promise. If you reduce the type size, maybe you can cram a little more on there.
“My personal opinion is that much mattress store signage is very crowded,” says Don Wright, senior vice president of product development and chairman of the board for Wright Global Graphic Solutions, a graphics and marketing company with headquarters in Thomasville, North Carolina. “Retailers try to put too much on a sign. You get the sense they think, ‘I’m paying for this information delivery system, so I’m going to put as much information on there as possible.’ But less is more.”
Which brings us to our first tip:
1 Edit, edit, edit.
Take a critical look at all of your signage. Is each sign absolutely necessary? Does it provide critical information or create a confusing distraction? Remember, most shoppers today have done at least some research online and walk in better informed than ever. And don’t fall into the trap of using signage as a crutch or substitute for well-trained retail sales associates. Your best sales tool is an RSA asking good questions, making informed suggestions and offering easy-to-understand product explanations. No sign takes the place of that.
2 Write tight.
Pare the number of signs in your store and then clean up the text on those that remain. “Keep it simple: Your sign’s message needs to be clear, yet one with too much information is often ignored,” recommends Katelyn Gray of SmartSign in a March 14 blog post on Shopify.com. “Use the five-second rule, which states that if you can convey the main themes of the sign in less than five seconds, you pass. If it takes longer, shorten your message or use a series of signs. To help simplify messages, Gray suggests writing in headline text. “Understand the first principle of print journalism: The punch line matters,” she writes. “Can you simplify your text? Can you take out prepositions and extra words?”
3 Be the conservative type.
On signs, san serif type typically is easier to read than serif. Italics and script might be pretty but can be illegible, especially at a distance. “This is an old printer’s pet peeve of mine: Just because you can use seven different fonts on a sign, doesn’t mean you should,” says Wright, whose company has its roots in the printing business.
4 Reinforce your brand.
If customers routinely reach your sales desk and ask, “Where am I?” or “What store is this?” as they prepare to pay, you aren’t properly using signage to reinforce your brand. “Too often, the last time a customer sees the store’s name is when they are outside,” Walker says. Strategically use in-store branded signage to promote your strengths as a retailer—customer service, retail experience, comfort guarantees, delivery, etc. Remind customers why they should buy from your store instead of the retailer across the street. “The typical sleep shop today really suffers because they don’t have a clear identity,” Walker says. “Signage is a great way to create that identity. Speak for yourself: Who are you? What do you offer? What do you stand for?”
5 Sell the sign.
If you have a particularly recognizable store sign, you can make it an integral part of your marketing efforts—a way to help consumers easily identify where you’re located. The International Sign Association in Alexandria, Virginia, points to the example of Jim Fisher Volvo in Portland, Oregon. In ads, it reminds people they’ll find the auto dealer “under the big blue Volvo sign.” No additional directions needed. Plus, when people drive by the sign, they remember the dealer’s commercials.
6 Be judicious. Mattress manufacturers spend a considerable amount of time and money to create brand messaging and signage for use at retail. This makes sense: They want to sell their brands. There certainly is a place for attractive and informative manufacturer-provided, point-of-purchase materials, but you don’t have to display every item a manufacturer offers you. You can work with your vendors to adapt their signage for your store or you can take their messages—particularly about brand features and benefits—and re-create them using your store colors and typefaces.
7 Size it right.
An attractive, effective store sign does little to draw consumers into your location if they don’t see it. The ISA estimates as many as 35% of the people driving by a store sign have never seen it before: Your sign could be just the thing to pull them into the store. The ISA has a handy guide on its website for determining the best placement and size of your main store sign for optimum visibility to passing cars. To find “The Right Sign for Your Business” guide, visit Signs.org, click on the “Sign Industry” tab and then the “Signs 101” tab.
8 Help all customers. When it comes to retail signage, we think first of signs that promote your store and its products. But Gray of SmartSign reminds us that there’s another class of signage—that used to help customers with disabilities shop your store more easily and comfortably. “Making customers feel welcome means all customers. … If your location offers accessible features but doesn’t make them known, you’re doing your customers a serious disservice,” Gray writes in the Shopify.com blog. “If your store uses a portable ramp with a doorbell or intercom, you will need to install an appropriate sign letting customers know they can request an employee to bring the ramp to the door. … Any permanent interior signs indicating bathrooms, elevators, entrances and exits also have to include Braille and tactile characters in legible fonts and contrasting colors, and they must be mounted at specific heights (typically 40 to 60 inches from the ground) for consistency and access.”
9 Try new technologies.
The cost of video signage is coming down quickly. If budgets allow, Wright recommends installing one nice video screen in your store. “Don’t use it to promote sales or even products,” he says. “Use it to promote an experience or your philosophy as a retailer. It’s a great way to talk about your company, your service, why this is the very best place to buy a mattress.” Wright also offers RetaiLive, a point-of-sale technology that can use smartphones and tablets to bring signs alive. For instance, Wright says, you could have a cutout of one of your delivery people touting your white-glove service. Through RetaiLive, a shopper could point a smartphone at the image and watch as that same employee stars in a video explaining more about just how quickly her bed will be delivered, set up and her old set recycled.
10 Test your efforts.
“It’s fun to have a new sign on the top of a window display that you feel is perfect—until you notice it is too faint to be seen through your tinted window or the font is too small to be seen by cars going 25 mph,” writes Bob Phibbs on a blog on his website, Retaildoc.com. Phibbs is a business strategist, customer-service expert, author and motivational speaker known as “The Retail Doctor.” Regularly drive by and walk through your store, examining each and every sign. Is it visible? Is the sign itself in good condition (no fading, tearing, flickering or burned out bulbs)?
The hierarchy of retail signage
Retail signage falls into three broad categories, according to Marty Walker, vice president of business development for EC Retail, a provider of retail environment and display solutions based in Marietta, Georgia.
This includes the sign (ideally attractive, lighted and clearly visible) on the outside of the store, but also signs inside. This type of signage typically features the retailer’s logo, tag line and signature colors. It should give a sense of your identity and philosophy as a retailer. “This is about showing who you are and what you stand for,” Walker says.
Walker describes this as “way-finding” signage that helps customers navigate the store. In a sleep shop or mattress department, this type of signage typically points shoppers to mattress brands, technologies and sleep accessories, as well as places such as restrooms and children’s play areas.
This is the signage that explains product features and benefits, pricing, warranties and other product details. “This,” Walker says, “is where signage tends to get out of hand as mattress retailers try to say everything and end up saying nothing.”
Julie A. Palm is a writer and editor based in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She can be reached at email@example.com.