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Store Front: Use Signage to Your Advantage

Posted: April 17, 2013, 6:30 p.m. EDT


Signage can help attract customers, get product into consumers’ hands and build a brand identity.
By Keith Loria

With competition getting tougher and online pet stores slashing prices, it is necessary for brick-and-mortar pet stores to attract local customers. That’s why having a great sign is so important for the store’s exterior—because it can grab the public’s attention and alert them to what’s inside.

Once inside, signs are equally vital. They act as a virtual salesperson, directing customers to where they need to go, and helping to convey and maintain a consistent brand image.

Despite being so important, signage still is overlooked sometimes. Savvy pet retailers use signs as an extension of the company’s overall marketing program.

"Whether you’re selling products, making a big announcement or presenting an important meeting, nowadays there is almost no more cost-effective way to make sure your message stands out [than with signage],” said Evan Bloom, a marketing consultant and owner of Sir Speedy, a 5,000-square-foot printing house in Westbury, N.Y.

Exterior store signage
Exterior signs not only grab customers’ attention, but also help convey the store’s brand image. Photos Courtesy of Best Buddies Dog Boutique and Bakery
And there is no shortage in the type of signs available.

"There are so many materials to produce signage on these days,” Bloom said. "From point-of-purchase displays and wall graphics to hanging posters and banners, we can even print onto decals specifically designed to be applied to the floor and withstand heavy foot traffic.”

Getting Noticed
There are many factors that go into determining the most appropriate signage for a store’s exterior, said Evan Swartz, vice president of sales for Sign Expo Tribeca in New York City. These include location, local laws governing the size and location of signage, whether traffic is pedestrian or vehicle and the time of day that most customers visit, he said.

Planet Dog reported taking location into account when designing the sign for its company store in Portland, Maine. The store sits on a busy corner close to a highway. To capitalize on the nearby traffic, the store’s sign features large bold letters that spell out Planet Dog and is lighted so it can be viewed from the road.

"This encourages customers, including tourists cruising to other parts of Maine, to think about stopping at the store the next time they are driving through Portland,” said Jim Williams, Planet Dog’s store manager. "We also have placed a large ‘Dog Tag,’ which has our logo on it, on one side of the building where it is visible. There is a smaller ‘Dog Tag’ that hangs over the front doors under the lettering.”

Like Planet Dog, Jack’s Pets uses lighted signs to draw in passers-by. The company switched to LED exterior signs on all of its 29 pet store locations throughout Ohio, Northern Kentucky and Indiana during the fall of 2011 because LED lighting is cost efficient and allows the signs to be on 24/7 with no need for timers, said Rick Billups, vice president of marketing and merchandising for the chain.

Ultimately, exterior signs need to grab potential customers’ attention. To that end, industry sources said a large, colorful and captivating sign or awning is essential.

"For outdoor signage, we usually recommend big—as big as local regulations permit—and bold,” Sir Speedy’s Bloom said. "Generally you are talking about vehicles traveling past the location quickly, so the sign needs to be very easy to read.”

Interior Importance
Inside the building, signage plays several roles. For starters, a typical pet store carries several brands of pet food, supplies and accessories for a variety of animals. Signage can help customers quickly and easily navigate the shop without relying on paid employees for directions.

"Interior signs are most effective for finding point of sale and product demonstrations,” Swartz said. "Each aisle of your store should be clearly marked with signage to detail what items can be found in that location.”

Once a customer finds the right aisle, signage plays another important part. It can be used to point the customer to new products, a sale item, units that aren’t moving fast or a more profitable brand for the store. Insiders recommended colorful signs or banners to accomplish this, as people tend not to look much further than the first thing that catches their eye.

David Handmaker, CEO of the printing company Next Day Flyers with locations in Rancho Dominguez, Calif., and Saddle Brook, N.J., which specializes in indoor signage, said these products can make or break a store.

"Indoor signage can direct retail buyers in the direction of higher-margin products and encourage the purchase of additional products they wouldn’t have considered otherwise,” he said. "Point-of-purchase displays have the potential to lift overall retail sales by over 23 percent.”

Bringing a Brand to Life
In addition to attracting new customers and helping get products into shoppers’ baskets, signs help pet specialty retailers create a consistent brand and image.

"This is the first and often the most seen marketing tool,” Bloom said. "Once a customer is drawn into the store, there should be a flow of consistent imagery and branding.”

Signage at Best Buddies Dog Boutique and Bakery in St. Pete Beach, Fla., is designed to reflect the shop’s boutique vibe, said owner Alan Ronay. The store uses a large sign on the face of the building that is front-lit with channel elements.

"We have a similar sign, about half the size as the one outside, directly inside behind the front counter as you walk in the door, to reinforce the brand,” he said. "We worked with a professional sign company to achieve the goals of visibility, readability and brand recognition. When you see our sign, there is no question that you are walking into a dog boutique.”

All of the signs at the store carry the Best Buddies logo featuring three dogs with the store name. This allows the personality of the store to shine through, Ronay said.

Planet Dog also uses its signage to reinforce its brand.

"The Planet Dog company store brings the corporate mission to life by creating an experience that showcases our thoughtful and innovative products, educating our community on pets’ well-being and celebrating that lifestyle we share together,” Williams said. "It is a platform to highlight all of this and our signage is a critical part of that.”

Because the Planet Dog store has high ceilings and large glass windows in an open setting, large banners are hung throughout the store. Some banners feature large photos of dogs outside or at play. Some banners feature simple words such as Beg, Sniff, Snuggle, Drool, Romp, Woof and Wag.

"In addition, our walls feature photos of dogs playing with Planet Dog products, reinforcing our brand,” Williams said.

Store signs
When designing a sign, keep the message simple. Too much information can confuse customers.
The company changes its storefront and window banners and signs monthly to reflect changing seasons or communicate themes. Recent themes include Christmas/holiday, Valentine’s Day and pet wellness.

Stand-Out Signs
When designing a sign, retailers should keep the message simple, Bloom advised.

"There needs to be enough signage to put information into the customer’s mind without information overload,” he said. "Messages should be clear and to the point. We don’t want the customer to have to think too much and have to figure out what we are selling.”

If customers walk in and seem confused or unsure of where to go, the store probably does not have enough or appropriate signs, retailers said. Shops with too many signs are distracting, and customers make their stays short and are unlikely to return.

Jack’s Pets’ in-house graphics design team works with a sign company and a commercial graphics printer to determine the best design for its stores. Its signs are meant to convey the significance of the human-animal bond, Billups said.

"We wanted to make sure our customers felt at home in our stores by incorporating these images,” he said. "The images we’ve chosen help to reinforce how important we feel the relationship is between pets and their owners.”

To maintain consistency, Jack’s uses the same graphics in all its locations, adjusting size according to ceiling height and wall length.

Healthy Pet, which opened last summer in Austin, Texas, in a high-end strip mall, consulted with a marketing firm on its signage.

"I sought their counsel more for help with design and artwork than for placement or product suggestions,” said owner Trevor MacKellar.

Healthy Pet has LED back-lit signage with the store name and logo across the exterior of the store. Inside, it recently added vinyl decals along all the bottom windows. The decals promote some of the shop’s call-to-action features and promotions.

"I wanted to stand out from some of the other stores inside the complex that do not have LED signs,” MacKellar said. "When I decided to add the vinyl decals on the exterior windows, I wanted something that was durable but also removable in case I wanted to change up messages.”

The store also features waterproof signage above its dog wash and registers promoting the Do-it-Yourself Dog Wash station at the back of the store.

"The Dog Wash signs have significantly boosted dog wash sales. I noticed that increase immediately,” he said. "The community we are in cares a lot about supporting small business, so those two signs have really helped highlight that key element of our business. These signs are paying for themselves daily.”

Dave Ratner, owner of six Dave’s Soda & Pet City locations in Massachusetts and Connecticut, hired a worker specifically to create store signs, which always are changing due to sales and new products. In his experience, signs are useless unless they give a customer a reason to buy.

"If you have a sign showing there’s a sale on a dog food, unless you tell the customer how much it regularly was and how much it saves, the sign is useless,” he said. "Figure out the benefit that you want to convey on a sign and play up that part.”

Another tip is not to tape a sign to a product, such as a bag of dog food, or else a customer might wind up taking the sign home, Ratner added.

Low-Cost Alternatives
As a whole, signs are becoming more cost-effective to produce, insiders reported. The new digital equipment and materials available have opened up many affordable options such as large-format, digitally printed posters with inexpensive display hardware.

Rather than spending a lot on fonts and size, Swartz recommends paying particular attention to colors, which might be equally valuable and can say more than one might think.

For example, he said, red expresses power, passion, love, heat and strength; yellow is bright and optimistic; green stands for growth and nature; and blue represents safety, truth and dignity.

"Many financial associations, such as Barclays, use the positive hues of blue to communicate a safe and secure place to [put] your money, ” he said.

Signs of the Future
For pet retailers operating with a larger budget, more expensive video displays, illuminated displays, animated displays and 3-D signs can help grab a customer’s attention. Digital displays and interactive signage are very effective at getting people to stop and take notice, as well as spend more time in the store, experts said.

"Signage has the ability to be very interactive, from a simple QR code driving someone to a mobile website that allows for more detailed information of the product to touch screen interactive displays,” Bloom said.

New technology also gives printers the ability to print directly onto rigid materials. This allows for a big labor savings and in turn lower prices for the pet retailer.

Of course, newer isn’t always better. Best Buddies prefers old-fashioned signage to the newer options, Ronay said.

"We like to keep things simple and timeless,” he said. "While we have seen other stores use animated displays and LED boards, we prefer to stand out by not being flashy. In a world where everyone is vying for your attention, our calm and understated signage reasserts calm.” 

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