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Leave the Sign OnProper signage is key to your marketing plan

February 1, 2000

9 Min Read
Leave the Sign OnProper signage is key to your marketing plan

Leave the Sign On

Proper signage is key to your marketing plan

Most expertswill agree that a business isn't worth a dime without the right kind of sign, andself-storage is no different. How else can a customer find your facility? In fact, becausestorage is a micro market in which a majority of customers come from within a five-mileradius, an effective sign can play a major role in attracting tenants. It's true that noteveryone driving by your facility is looking for storage space. But when the time comesfor that person to rent a unit, a good, properly placed sign at your facility may havemade the right impact on his memory, and you may just top his list of storagepossibilities.

The elements of signage may not be as simple as one might imagine. Unfortunately, thereare the inevitable wrestling matches with zoning boards; decisions over color, letteringand lighting; and problems of placement. Let's begin with the basics.


Careful thoughtshould be given to the name of a facility. An easy-to-remember name is the safestsolution. Make it easy for customers by using logic. For example, if your facility in onMaple Street, how about Maple Street Storage?

Jim Chiswell of Williamsville, N.Y.-based Chiswell & Associates, says he'ssurprised at the lack of savvy marketing some owners use when naming a facility. Choosinga name that ties into the community some way is an effective tool for attraction andadvertising, he says. "The sign is the final part of the directions to yourfacility," explains Chiswell. "If you have a unique facility name, such as'Speedway Self-Storage,'--the name of the street the facility is on--you could put acheckered flag on your facility. Or maybe name it 'Water Tower Self-Storage,' after the40-foot water tower in the back of your facility."

Also, make sure the sign is coordinated with the same information that a customer willfind when browsing the Yellow Pages. This way, they will make an immediate connection. Youwant your advertising dollars working for you, not against you, right?

Size Matters

Here's a simple one: How big should your sign be? Of course, bigger is better, but becareful of zoning regulations. No doubt they will play a role in how big your sign can be.Don't wait until after you've invested into an extravagant, monolithic sign beforecontacting the city department. Call the planning and zoning department and ask to speakdirectly to the sign inspector, who can give you the dimensions and other sign regulationsfor your facility's area.

Location, Location, Location

The key to the location of your sign is to put it on a visible streetfront, easily seenby driving motorists. Again, zoning ordinances will most likely dictate where the sign canbe placed. Look at nearby businesses to get some clues. If they have huge signs perched onthe street, chances are you'll have the same luxury.

If the facility is on a main street and set very close to the sidewalk, you may get bywith painting the name directly on the office or another structure. If the property restsalongside a freeway, a tall sign visible to those drivers may be a good promotional tool.

"I always put my sign right out front, if possible, on the busiest street.Hopefully I can put up a secondary sign--usually wall-mounted," says Daryl Flaming ofthe Tierra Corp., a multiple facility operator based in San Diego, Calif.

For a facility that's located near--but not on--a main drag, consider negotiating witha local business owner on the main street to post a directional sign on his property withthe name of your facility and an arrow to lead traffic in the right direction.

Another idea--albeit a sneaky one--is to post temporary signs, similar to those used byreal-estate agents promoting model homes or politicians promoting their campaigns. Thesetemporary signs can be strategically placed during busy weekends to pull in a nice chunkof business.

One word ofcaution, though: Temporary signs can infringe on zoning regulations. If posted illegally,the facility owner may receive a warning, possibly a citation. Nontheless, some facilityoperators post the temporary signs anyway, reasoning that a small fine is well worth it ifthey generate enough rentals. Be aware that some jurisdictions levy heavy fines onbusinesses that abuse sign ordinances. According to Martin Lorch, president of BPI CapitalManagement in Phoenix, one Arizona municipality charges $2,500 for each day an illegalsign is posted--including temporary signs, which are in violation of city code.

Another piece of advice: Don't post signs at the risk of offending community members.Remember that everyone is a potential customer. If you upset too many members of thecommunity, you may wind up out of business. Therefore, consider posting directional signson the weekend when they're less likely to be nabbed by zoning officials, then retrievethem before Monday morning.

Lorch encourages self-storage owners and operators to take any advantage of signagethat area authorities allow. "In the mini-storage business we have so few media inwhich to promote ourselves, so signage is very important," he says. "You need tomaximize the amount of sign you have. If the city allows you to have wall signs, put themup. If they'll allow you to put up signs on both sides of your property, put themup."

Sign Design

Keep the designsimple, with an easy-to-read typeface, a limited amount of information and a concisemessage. Remember that people have to read within the time it takes to drive by thefacility.

The words "mini-storage" or "self-storage" should be the mostprominent feature on the sign so customers can make an immediate connection. The onlyother information necessary for the sign is the phone number, and that's only if space andzoning regulations permit it.

Lorch says certain areas won't allow signs to contain any sort of advertising,including stating the facility has such amenities as climate control or security measures.For example, in one city, Lorch knows of a facility that was forced to rework a new signbecause it contained simple, descriptive words.

"They said you couldn't have any advertising copy, meaning you can have your logoand the words 'self-storage,' but you can't say 'all units alarmed orclimate-controlled" Lorch explains.

How about color? The right color can make the sign stand out bright as day. The wrongcolor can fade into the rest of the neighborhood. Generally speaking, yellow is often astandout color, but not if the rest of the street's signs are already yellow. Why not walkthe street of your facility and take an inventory of colors used, choosing one seldom ornot used? Stick to primary colors; pastels are too pale and earth tones are too mundane.To make the lettering stand out, consider using contrasting colors, such as black or redletters on a white background.

Although it's important that the sign be seen, Chiswell believes it should blend intothe surroundings somewhat, and likes signs with a solid background and white lettering,making it easy to read both during the day and at night. "I don't know if I'd put aneon sign in the middle of Nantucket Island, for example," he says. "But youdon't want it to be just another sign." Chiswell suggests driving in the area of yourfacility, especially at night, to get a visual landscape of the other businesses in yourarea. In some places, he says, it may be smart to offset the sign a foot or two deeperonto the property than others on the street. Even though it's not closer to the roadway,the visual appeal of being different makes the sign stand out from the group.

Finally, for franchises or facility chains, uniformity of colors and graphics play animportant role in customers' recognition of the business.


If zoning gives the green light on lighting, go for it. A backlit sign is a must toattract attention at night, and it should be lit from dusk to dawn. Electronic timers cantake the burden out of having to consistently remember to turn the sign on and off.

One bone of contention for neighbors, however, may be that a too-bright sign createslight pollution in the neighborhood. This shouldn't be a problem in commercially zonedareas, but in residential areas, cities can be strict on lighting. According to MelHolsinger of Tucson, Ariz.-based Executive Self Storage Associates Inc., one of hisfacilities near Tucson is restricted from using lighting because it is located on adesignated "scenic corridor." "We can't have a lighted sign, period. End ofdiscussion," he says.

A Sign of Change

Many business owners have found that using a reader board can draw more attention totheir location because people driving by look and read the messages displayed on theboard, especially if they're changed frequently. These changeable signs may be used topromote the business, such as a grand opening or special giveaways/promotions. They canalso be used as advertising for community events such as the Boy Scouts' Scout-A-Rama orchurch bake sales. It's also the perfect spot for offering holiday cheer, or announcing awedding anniversary or birthday.

Chiswell agrees and thinks reader boards are under-utilized in the self-storageindustry. They're a perfect way to promote your facility through advertising and get theattention of civic leaders in a different fashion, he adds.

"Fifty percent of the time, a reader board should be used to promote somethinggoing on in the community or some holiday," explains Chiswell. "Promotesomething for the volunteer firefighters, Girl Scouts or local church bazaar, etc. Whatyou're doing is soliciting community and civic organizations, using your name. That'sgoing to be brought up to their board of directors or committees and, all of a sudden,your name is used in a non-sales environment with all these people from the community andthey will discuss it."

Other Possibilities

A conventionalsign is not the only way to attract attention. Don't overlook the possibility of usingbanners for grand openings, special promotions, auctions, etc. But don't forget to consultyour zoning restrictions. And once you've used the banner for awhile, don't forget to takeit down. If it's faded or ragged, it reflects poorly on the facility.

Other attention-getters include illuminated awnings, an American flag flying highoverhead and an exceptional landscaping job, like freshly mowed grass, trimmed hedges anda lots of fresh flowers.

"You can't ignore the physical appearance of the facility as a sign," relatesChiswell. "I see facilities that are just gorgeous; some have won landscaping awardsand are very attractive when someone is considering renting. They know the facilitybecause they drive by it everyday."

The Price

Expect to pay at least $500 for a good sign. If you're shopping for an illuminated andextremely large sign, cost run as high as $20,000 or more.

Despite the costs, don't even consider using a homemade sign. You may save a bundle insupply fees, but you will likely lose on the rental side of things. Nobody wants to rentfrom an unprofessional-looking business.

Give 'Em Something to Look At

While tackling a municipality zoning board may be no fun, getting a good sign at yourfacility is of utmost importance, especially considering that the majority of your tenantswill probably be drive-bys. If you give them something to look at, whether it be anexpensive back-lit pole sign, or a clever phrase on your reader board, they may just beyour next customer when they're in the market for storage.

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