For 10 years I drove by a small house that had been converted into a business, yet I never knew exactly what kind of business it was. The house sat next to a highway, and the conversion to a business had been done very well; they put in a parking lot, lighting and signage. There was no doubt it was a business. The problem was that its large, beautiful sign used a font that was impossible to read from the road.
For the longest time I thought it was a tattoo parlor because it had an Anglo font with flames around it, which reminds me of how biker tattoos are represented on TV. It’s actually a bar. I had to drive into the parking lot to figure it out. To me, that sign is a complete waste.
Artistry over message is a problem I see often. I see examples of this on vehicle wraps all the time. You may notice a delivery vehicle that is completely wrapped with beautiful artwork and pictures, but you can’t make out the business name. Another major problem is lack of information on the signs. Signage needs to convey more than just a business name. The sign needs to let people know what type of business is being advertised.
Let’s use a fictional company’s building sign as an example: Smith’s Doghouse. Driving by, I have no idea if it is a pet store, grooming salon or doggie day care. There is smaller lettering under the name that says, “custom-built doghouses,” but going down the road at 40 miles per hour, I can’t read the small letters, which is a shame because I was looking for a custom-built doghouse and had assumed the business was a grooming salon.
Have you seen the air freshener commercial that talks about being “nose blind?” The premise is that because the house always smells bad, the occupants get accustomed to it and do not notice the stench. I think something similar happens to business owners when it comes to their signage. They know what they are conveying, so even if it gets obscured a little bit because of the design, their mind still sees it perfectly. Awesome designs, neat logos and consistent messaging are so important, but we must remember we are not big national brands. If I say “AT&T,” everybody knows the company I’m talking about and what they do; but I guarantee that in the beginning they used their full name: American Telephone & Telegraph.
I’ve struggled with my sign for 16 years. In the beginning, we were just a grooming salon. Our sign said “Platinum Paws” and had a box with a logo and the words “pet salon.” You really could not read the small words in the logo box from the street. Luckily, our grooming was in high demand and word-of-mouth traveled fast, so really all the sign did was let people know exactly where we were. As we grew, we added more services, but our sign never changed.
I added “holistic pet food” to the logo box, but those letters really did not gain any attention. Even after 16 years in business I still have customers walk in and say, “I didn’t know you had pet food; I thought you were just grooming.” At one point I even removed the word “grooming” because we book a year out. I was trying to cut down on the phone calls and walk-ins looking for a grooming appointment we could not service. You would think these walk-ins would be great for boosting pet food sales, but they usually were unhappy we could not give them a grooming appointment, so discussing pet food was not on their radar.
I knew I needed to do something about my sign, so I finally changed it. The strip center I am in was doing some major upgrades, so it was a perfect time to do it. The old sign only covered half the business front. The new sign still says “Platinum Paws” with a logo box, but now it also says “Pet Food,” in letters just as big and bold as the rest. I have already seen new business because of the sign. For micro-independents, promoting what you do is equally as important, if not more, than building your name.
B.C. Henschen is a well-known champion for pet owners who want the best in their pet’s food. He is the Association for Truth in Pet Food (ATPF) consumer advocate, and is a past director with the World Pet Association (WPA). Henschen is a popular speaker at industry events and meetings. A certified pet care technician and an accredited pet trainer, he is a partner in Platinum Paws, a full-service pet salon and premium pet food store in Carmel, Ind. His knowledge of the pet food industry makes Platinum Paws the go-to store for pet owners who want more for their pet than a bag off a shelf.