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Self-storage owners frequently design and purchase their business signage with little thought. They fail to consider basic laws governing placement or to research the type of sign that really drives consumers to a site. But the cost of ineffective signage can be a daily drain on potential profit. Here’s how to make sure you aren’t needlessly losing—or even repelling—customers.

Perspective is the first consideration. Usually, a business owner will evaluate his sign by standing across the street and admiring it. But this isn’t really how your sign is going to perform. In reality, a potential customer will be driving five miles faster than the posted speed limit while chatting on a cell phone and navigating traffic. Your sign needs to cut through the clutter of the street and speak to a consumer whose attention is already challenged. This doesn’t happen by accident but through careful, thoughtful planning.

Form vs. Function

Many graphics professionals consider a sign to be a piece of artistic media. This attitude leads sign companies to develop products that are beautiful but not always effective. Since most business owners would rather attract paying customers than entertain the public, a different approach is necessary.

A business sign should be a “visual acuity device,” one that draws the consumer’s eye in the midst of a chaotic environment. The eyes are the pathway to the brain, so it’s vital that visual reception is positive. To make this connection, we need to understand how vision impacts communication.

According to experts on aging, by the year 2020, one-quarter of motorists will be older than 65. The loss of contrast sensitivity starts around age 40 with a continuum of visual decline, pointing to the need for signs that effectively communicate with the visually challenged.

An effective sign should target drivers of all ages, and that certainly includes the sizeable population of seniors. Introducing science to gain a competitive advantage is a sound business practice regularly employed by successful companies.

The Federal Highway Administration uses a guidebook called the Manual for Uniform Traffic Control Devices to govern the use of street signs on all roadways, which is why traffic signs look so similar from state to state. The manual is a site-specific, visual-based document, ensuring each street and highway sign is specific to its environment. It’s a culmination of research conducted by academics, scientists and traffic-safety engineers. Its assumptions are based on the visual ability of the driver, and much can be learned by studying its content about commercial signage. Other studies relate directly to the on-premise sign and show the impact of different designs and scenarios on the driving public.

Design factors that must be considered to target motorists are clean graphics, correct negative spacing, legible typefaces, landscape, topography, obstructions and speed of traffic. Obviously, you also need to consider the unique factors of your self-storage site.

Why Bother?

Is it really worthwhile to put so much effort and research into your sign? Yes! Statistics show that motorists will often not turn around to look for a place of business if they miss the sign on the first pass. In addition, the right signage can help increase revenue. According to a survey conducted by the University of San Diego, which studied 187 businesses and their signs, adding a pole sign boosts revenue by an average of 15 percent.

Ask your sign professional questions designed to reveal if he has the knowledge to truly assist you or if he’s merely a salesperson. You need someone who can conduct a thorough review of your visual representation and offer suggestions for improvement. If you want to maximize every promotion opportunity, take stock of your facility signage. A poorly executed sign will miss the mark and even detract from your business; but an eye-catching, well-positioned one could lead to a significant increase in your bottom line.

Perry Powell is an independent sign consultant. He aids small-business owners in their quest for science-based signs, which increase their bottom line. For more information, call 817.307.6484; e-mail perry@perrypowell.com.

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