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Sign Maintenance: 5 Reasons, 5 Actions

Sign maintenance and repair are key to keeping your best image in front of your customers. So you invested in a sign and it is working for you. Have you looked at it with new eyes recently?

Why?  Research shows that shoppers value the information on signs.

5 Reasons:*

Shoppers notice signs.
Shoppers use signage. Is yours attractive?

Risk of Missed Business:  54% say they have failed to find a business due to poor signage.  A sign that is dark makes the business seem closed – at that time or for good.

New Business Opportunities:  33% have been attracted to a store because of signage.  To attract new customers, an attractive sign is a necessity.

Make a Good Impression:  38% say they make quality assumptions about a business based on their signs.  What does your sign say about your quality?

Be Noticed: 64% reported that dimly lit signs made the sign difficult to read.

The Next Generation: those in the 18-24 age group report being drawn into businesses and making quality assumptions based on signs at higher levels that the general population.

So what can you do?

5 Actions:

Get Bright Lighting – be sure your signs have new lamps, tubes, or LEDs and look bright and inviting.

Upgrade to LEDs – reduce energy consumption and improve brightness while reducing maintenance costs with an upgrade to LEDs.

Order a Sign Wash – soot, dust, and bugs all contribute to a dingy look and decreased brightness.

Paint the Sign – a fresh coat of paint can brighten the look of a sign just as it can a room.

Update Your Faces – plastic and paint fade and discolor over the years.  A small investment in new faces provides a bright new look.

And a Bonus Tip:

Finally, set a weekly or monthly reminder to take 5 minutes to really look at your signs and be sure they continue to be your best sales tool – attracting shoppers, impressing them with your image, and greeting them with something as bright as your smile.  Sign maintenance can be simple, but consistency provides ongoing benefits.

*Data from Kellaris, 100,000 Shoppers Can’t Be Wrong; and Kellaris, Viewing Signs through the Eyes of the Beholders; available at the Sign Research Foundation.

Sign Research Foundation Updates

SRF Logo
The Sign Research Foundation serves communities and the greater economy through research on the unique commercial and social value of signs.

Announcements from the Sign Research Foundation that deserve your attention:

NSREC 2017

The National Sign Research and Education Conference 2017 will be held in Las Vegas on April 19th.

Session topics include the role of signs in cities, the future of cities and updates on current research.

This is your chance to get the latest insights and network with leading sign researchers.  Come for a great day with great information.

For more details, see the SRF Events page.


NSREC Scholarships

Need some financial assistance to attend?  The SRF is offering financial help to attend NSREC 2017.

Fifty scholarships are available to a diverse range of professionals including urban planners, code officials, city or downtown managers, and graduate students in urban planning, architecture, design, art, marketing/business, engineering, law, and other related disciplines.

The application is available at SRF Scholarships.


New Website, New Name

The SRF recently released its new website and rebranding of The Signage Foundation, Inc. to the Sign Research Foundation.  The reason for the change is to clearly communicate the primary mission of providing research on signage for the betterment of society.



Of course, your support allows the research and education efforts flourish.

So. there are many ways to get involved with the Sign Research Foundation.  Join us.


Sign Code Champions

Finally, ISA is looking for Sign Code Champions.  You can apply now.  More information can be found at the ISA website.

The Commercial Sign and Pre-Attentive Processing

What do we mean by the pre-attentive processing of a commercial sign?  The idea of a “commercial sign” you probably get.  A sign that identifies a company or goods and services. Pre-attentive processing refers to the workings of the senses and mind prior to a realization of what we are experiencing. The combination holds significance for our branding strategies and the commercial signs we utilize to attract business.

Pre-Attentive Research

And yet there is too little research in this area. For background on visual attention modeling, see Richard Morre’s background narrative.  With new technology we can track eye movement and attention to areas of a scene.  So we can now evaluate the effectiveness of a commercial sign’s ability to attract attention.

Populating the scene used in the research with other features designed to draw attention allows for comparison of the sign both within a given scene and across scenes.  Research demonstrates that areas that include a human face or high contrast tend to attract the most pre-attentive processing time.  Motion is another obvious way to attract such attention.  Application of these methods to streetscapes is beginning to allow us to understand how we react to a scene and the attention a commercial sign attracts.


commercial signs on streetscape
Where is your eye drawn, even before you realize it?

While driving we prioritize our attention and processing to keep us safe and moving towards our destination.  Priorities include the road, traffic signals, other vehicles, and our movement relative to them all.  A secondary task is observing the buildings, people, and commercial and non-commercial signs along the way.  We often switch between the two quickly and can observe a commercial sign, return to process a piece of primary information, and then process the sign we saw. It is the moment of – “Oh, wait, I wanted to stop there,” that we have all experienced.

The design of the commercial sign and the competing environmental factors, determines the amount of attention a commercial sign will receive. As we learn more about pre-attentive processing, we can use this to both improve the safety of our roadways and provide commercial signs that improve businesses.

Secondary Commercial Signs

Secondary commercial signs are more important to the overall success of a site than most people realize. These signs support your primary sign. They

Bright awnings attract attention.
Awnings can increase conspicuity.

often add information or catch the eye.  Examples of secondary signs include window graphics, entrance and exit signs, and sidewalk signs. These signs can significantly improve your site recognition and therefore your sales.  A survey of business owners and managers showed that they believed that adding signs along with other improvements directly impacts sales.

Secondary Commercial Signs Improve Conspicuity

Secondary signs often catch the eye of passers by.  As they scan their environment while driving or walking a secondary sign gives you another chance at being noticed.  Adding a sign at eye level or even knee level captures the attention of people that miss or are not at first interested in your main identification sign. Creativity comes in handy when codes are restrictive.  For instance, awnings can help create an atmosphere and draw attention as much as an additional sign.


Getting to the bottom line, one study found that entrance and exit signs at the driveways improved sales at a site by 5%. If you can expect a 5% sales increase simply by adding these inexpensive signs at your driveway, shouldn’t you do it immediately?  Almost all businesses managers make more expensive investments for much smaller returns.

Downtown signs
An opportunity for secondary commercial signs.

In this picture what opportunities do you see for secondary signage?


Maybe window graphics, sidewalk signs, or a blade sign perpendicular to the building?  Even a small awning might add a splash of color that would attract attention.

Secondary Commercial Signs for Your Site

Spend some time looking at your site.  Approach it with fresh eyes.  Maybe in a zen way.  Look at it as a new pedestrian or motorist a few times.  What catches your eye?  Do you get more than one chance to notice your site?  Especially, how many times is your eye drawn to it? The opportunities to increase your revenue with secondary signs may jump out at you.


The Essence of Commercial Signs

The essence of commercial signs is to communicate an invitation to an audience to enter a transaction.  Breaking this down into component parts can yield new insights for your commercial signage. For this first article in a series, we start with the phrase “communicate an invitation to an audience.”


commercial signs can be blocked by landscaping
Trees grow and obscure signs.

The first step for any communication to be effective is to obtain the attention of the audience.  The target audience for your communication must be able to get the message.  They must see your commercial signs; they must be visible. Visibility of commercial signage along the roadway can be impaired by many objects including trees, landscaping, buildings, telephone poles, utility boxes, other vehicles, and even other signs.  Proper planning and placement is key, but also proper maintenance of landscaping elements can maintain the best visibility for your commercial signs. (For more on sign placement see Sign Placement.)


After ensuring visibility of commercial signage, the signs must also attract attention or conspicuity.  Conspicuous signs are more than visible, they attract attention – the opposite of camouflaged.  Historically sign designers achieved this with color and lightings, design, and placement.  Motion and flashing lights were popular in the days prior to such restrictions on signage.  Without these in your toolbox, the other attributes take on even more importance.

Reaching your target audience is key.  Commercial signs do this at a very competitive price.  The people near your store are the only people that can walk in the door.  Ensure you are seen and noticed (visible and conspicuous) and your chance of success rises.

Now, your particular target audience is likely a subset of those passing your door. So use your commercial signs to communicate with your target audience.  Be aware, however, that there may be other audiences that are valuable to reach – for instance future customers.  Your commercial signs are an opportunity to communicate with everyone near you.  They provide exposures to your product and location.  You want them to think of you first (top of the mind awareness) when their need or desire for your product or service arises.

Reaching your target audience requires proper visibility as well as all the factors that make your sign conspicuous.  A little thought can yield big returns.

Three Most Reported Signage Failures

The three most reported signage failures can reduce the effectiveness of your signage.  Avoiding these issues increases your marketing success.

What are your guesses? Hard to read? Too dim?
Actually, research on consumer perceptions identified the most reported reasons that signs fail to function properly.  Here are the top three – starting with number 3.

3. Not sufficiently lit at night (64%)

Insufficient lighting reduces visibility at night.  With the added challenges of night driving, dimly lit signs should not be an issue.  Unfortunately signs are sometimes not maintained.  Checking your signs regularly for any outages and properly repairing them can eliminate many issues.  Some cities believe minimally lit signs are more attractive.  Forcing minimal lighting for aesthetic concerns can easily cause safety issues, not to mention the damage to the business climate.

2. Poor sign placement (71%)

Trees grow and obscure signs.
Trees grow and can obscure signs.

The second most reported issue was poor placement.  Sign placement is best addressed when the sign is being installed, although the overgrowth of landscaping often leads to signs that have poor visibility.  Extreme setback requirements in city codes also contributes to poor placement.  Carefully consider placement and landscaping when positioning a sign.  Also consider obtaining a variance if you face a setback requirement that impacts the readability and safety of the site.

1. Letters that are too small (83%)

The number one reason reported for signage failure are letters that are too small.  This can be the result of a large number of underlying issues.  Trying to communicate too much and choosing a hard to read font both relate to the design of the sign.  Most cities have maximum sign size regulations.  These can force smaller letter sizes.  Understanding this early in the sign design process allows you to consider a different design or the time to obtain a variance.  Especially where traffic safety is compromised, a variance should be considered.

While other issues can arise, eliminating the three most commonly reported signage failure issues significantly improves your sign’s visibility.  Without proper lighting, visibility, and letter size your signs will fail to reach your audience.

This data and for more information see The Signage Foundation research by Kellaris, 2013.



Marketing Functions of Signs

Signs serve multiple marketing functions that are easily overlooked by Business schools and retailers. Signs serve as communication, enhancing, and branding the site. This article is about the different marketing functions that on-premise signs serve for a business.

Communicating the Location

Signs tell people where a business is located. When placed on a highway, signs serve as a great waypoint for consumers. It tells people where to exit, how far to go, and exactly where the business can be found. Highway signs are important for the impulse buyer as it sparks a reason to go shopping.

The results of the following study by a sign company in 1997, as modeled in the graph below, show where 165 independent merchants acquire their new customers.

marketing functions statistics

Of the 2,475 people that purchased an item from the stores, 50% said they initially entered the store due to the sign. That number might have been higher if the number of people who entered the store without a purchase were included. So signs are an important instrument to let people know where to find the business.

Enhancing Store Image

Enhancing the store image is another key marketing function for a business. The outside of the store has to be just as appealing if not more appealing to the eye than the inside. Signs can help enhance the storefront by giving it a welcoming feel. McDonalds uses red and yellow to display a family friendly restaurant, as well as a sign that compliments that feeling. A business’ storefront might be different depending upon the type of business and the psychological feeling the business owner hopes to elicit from his or her customer base. Sign designers create sign specifications that evoke those psychological feelings. Since decision making is largely emotional, proper design impacts sales.

Branding the Site

Branding is essential to any successful business. It comes in the form of symbols, logos, performance, packaging, and names. Signs are a good way to make the brand of a company memorable. Take Apple as an example. It is a popular brand that most people in the world recognize. Whenever a person sees the sign they know what that logo represents. The sign is part of what differentiates businesses. Without them people would not know what store they are entering and what to expect inside. If a business wants to cater to their destination shoppers, signs are the best way of doing it.  Therefore, the sign attributes are key to branding the site.

Marketing Functions Summary

There are many ways that signs help with marketing efforts. Three especially relevant functions are Communicating the Location, Enhancing Store Image, and Branding the Sight. The marketing value of signage does not end there. Reference to my other blog, ” 3 Benefits of Business Signs” for more ways signs can benefit a company. So consider a sign for your next marketing effort.  And design it to attract your customers.

“Data and text retrieved from On-Premise Signs as Storefront Marketing Devices and Systems

The Two Most Effective Business Signs

The two most effective business signs are carefully tied into the overall business and look of a site as Signature Building signage and Sign Centric integrated site design. There are many forms of signage, but these two have proven to work the best over time. This article will detail the two types of signage.

Signature Building

signature building sign
The sign incorporates almost seamlessly into the building facade.

The signature building business sign was initially mastered by the gasoline services and fast food restaurants. This type of signage originated from Las Vegas and the outdoor advertising industry. Las Vegas uses thin skin signage to cover an entire building and became popular in the fast food industry. Almost all fast food chains use the thin skin signage to cover an area around the building. Some McDonald’s restaurants use red, some yellow, and others both. It is a great way to grab the attention of the impulsive buyers and families with children. The company uses signature building signage to get customers to instantly recognize them.

Sign Centric Design

Sign centric business signs are similar to signature building signs in that they both try to get their customer’s instant recognition. This particular type of signage creates a visual impression for the entire site, not just the building. It creates a stronger more often recalled message to the consumers. Sign centric signs come in forms of cabinet signs, building mounted signs, ground mounted signs, and other types of signage that represents the entire business site as a whole. Many times the sign centric design is the first thing consumers notice on a business. That is why it is important for businesses to have some sort of cabinet sign.


These two forms of signage when coordinated with national multi media advertising, increase gross income by 15% to 40%. They both benefit the consumers in making the market more competitive.  The company is able to reduce prices because of the signage gross income advantage over their competitors. Fast food chains tend to utilize both types of signage to get full recognition by the customers. It is part of the reason why some fast food is less expensive than others. The better the signage is, the more customers they get, the less expensive the food will be.

Effective Business Signs Summary

The two most effective business signs are Signature Building and Sign Centric Signs. Individually they impact the business in different ways as explained in this article, but together these two types of signs can dramatically improve the business. Together the the signs have proved to increase gross income from 15% to 40%. Every retail business should consider having either one or both types of signage to improve sales and profitability.

“Data and text retrieved from On-Premise Signs as Storefront Marketing Devices and Systems

Sign Lettering Psychology

Sign Lettering describes what kind of personality a business has, what the environment is like, and the quality of the product or service a business provides. A business must choose the correct letter lighting, colors,  and style for the company sign, otherwise the business is misrepresented by its sign and that can cause a decrease in sales and angry consumers. This article will be discussing a very important part of the sign; the lettering.

Sign Lettering

For a sign to be effective, design is as important for the single letter as it is for the entire panel, both for legibility and psychological inference. A single letter can have a thousand meanings in the western world. Different slants represent different perceptions people perceive when looking at a sign. For example, an upward slant is often associated with positive attributes, such as exuberance, enthusiasm, and ambition, while a downward slant may indicate negative attributes such as grief or worry. The list below shows the different meanings to letters:

  • Upward slant– associated with positive attributes, such as exuberance, enthusiasm, and ambition
  • Downward slant– indicates negative attributes such as grief or worry
  • Straight up and down– do not convey any emotions
  • Backward slanting– cold calculating manner or nature
  • Forward slants– generally associated with emotional attributes
  • Right slants– indicates generosity and self sacrifice
  • Extreme right slants– indicates nervousness and extreme emotional nature
  • Thin letters– associated with spirituality and refinement, simplicity, modest tastes, or high sense of honor
  • Thick letters– indicates materialism and self-confidence
  • Rounded thick letters– relates to voluptuousness or sensuousness
  • Compressed letters– associated with exclusiveness or reservedness
  • Large and extended– indicates friendliness, good entertainment, or an amiable attitude
  • Low Capital letters– indicates humility, simplicity or modesty

Sign Lettering psychology

Figure 1:


The above sign has many good attributes. The sign shows enthusiasm and ambition with its upward slant. The serifs are a bit whimsical and fun while the straight up and down balances this with less emotion and implies they are very businesslike.  Based on the sign lettering, the business conveys a set of attributes that it demonstrates once you enter the restaurant. That is known by the thin and cursive letters. Lastly, the business is modest or displays simplicity or humility with its Low capital “B”.

As you can see, the lettering on a sign says a lot about a business. Picking the right lettering is important to show people what the business is all about. It is also important not to use lettering that misrepresents the business as that can be detrimental to sales and attitude of consumers.

“Data and text retrieved from On-Premise Signs as Storefront Marketing Devices and Systems

3 Benefits of Business Signs

When it comes to effective marketing, nobody teaches business owners about the 3 benefits of business signs. Signs play a key role in most businesses. The three benefits signs have on businesses are branding, increased sales, and information to consumers.


Business signs are one of the most effective means of marketing your brand. Brand Identity consists of brand name, logo, symbols, packaging, product or service, and image-based characteristics. All of which can be enhanced by signs. In a survey conducted for a retail business out of 2475 customers interviewed, 1234 of them said they entered the store because of the sign. That is nearly 50% of all their customers. The storefront is important to accommodate for a number of psychological factors.For example, McDonald’s uses bright colors on their signs to grab the attention of children. Children are most attracted to bright colors. In most cases when families go on vacation, they let the children choose where they want to eat. McDonald’s takes advantage of that by displaying a family friendly restaurant with their signs. That is the first of the benefits signs have on companies; another is sales.


A study shows that a small directional sign showing motorists how to enter a parking lot can expect a 4% to 12% increase in sales.

Benefits of Business signs

The table above shows how different signage affects different businesses. Fast Food chains look to grab the attention of impulse buyers, therefore monument signs on the premise would increase the likelihood of a customer stopping by. Sales could go up by at least 9.3% depending on location and brand. A large pole sign (typically close to highways) increases the distance at which people can see them. One of these signs will increase Fast Food revenue by 15.6% while it increases Pier 1 Imports sales by 8.6%. Pier 1 Imports signs work to encourage customers to come back when the need arises. An example of a sign working for a business is Frenchy’s. Frenchy’s owner installed a V-shaped, internally illuminated sign with colorful graphics. The cost of the sign was $10,045. During the next 12 months after installation, the restaurant had an increase of 16% in sales, resulting in annual gross revenue of $323,640. The year after that, revenues increased another 32% making the gross income $427,204 for that year.

Take a look at how a sign benefits different industries:

Business Signs Benefits

This chart explains how a 7% increase in sales can increase the profit margin by over 200% in some industries. Profit margin is measured by taking all of your costs (fixed and variable) and subtracting those from the total Income (revenue). As you make more sales, the fixed cost stays the same while the variable costs of purchasing the material go slightly up. The gap between the total costs and the total revenues made from the extra 7% increase in sales is what makes you a larger profit margin.


Modern Americans are busy people who feel tremendous time pressure. They are often forced to make quick decisions as to where to purchase the goods and services they need. Marketing Communications helps consumers differentiate one company’s products from another. This is done by promoting the existence of the products, providing directions on how to get to the place to get the products, and by putting an image in the consumers mind about the product. Signs are good for this, because you can use signs to put a creative image in the mind of consumers telling them that your product is better than the competitors and available close by. Directional signs are there to tell the consumers where to get the product and how to get there. Signs also benefit the impulse buyer who does not necessarily need to buy the product but is interested after seeing the sign. Out of 1000 adult Americans surveyed, 75% of them said they made an impulse purchase at some point in time.

The benefits business signs have are exponential to their cost. Branding, Sales, and Consumers are three benefits signs can have on your business. Signs play a big role in our society today. Use them to your advantage!