Signs & Wonders

By Mark Kakkuri

On the retail floor at Poway Weapons & Gear (Poway, Calif.), signs are displayed
prominently — enabling customers to easily navigate the store based on their interests.

We often take it for granted, but in a physical store, simple, framed signs with words such as “entrance,” “information” and even “restrooms” can make a customer experience exceptional. It’s true for exterior signage as well. The key is to provide clear information and direction to your customers (or, let’s say, potential customers). Whatever store experience you offer customers, don’t make it one that leaves them looking around for something to show the way.

Consider: Signage might be one of the oldest forms of marketing and yet still one of the most effective. Hundreds of years of history demonstrate the importance of clear signage — an altruism based on the fact customers are looking to be informed as they search for, approach and enter a place of business. Ever been in a place of business where it wasn’t clear where the business was located, what door you were to enter or where  — once inside — anything was? “I wonder where the service counter is?” is just one small step from “I’m not going to do business here.”

Take A Self-Audit

Here’s a challenge: Have a trusted friend review all the signage associated with your place of business. Ask them to find directions to your business online, drive to your location and enter your store and look around. Ask them to be hyper critical on how easy it was to find the store, navigate the parking lot, enter the building and get where they needed to go once inside. You may be able to fall back on the store employees always being ready to assist a customer (and they should!), but think through these four simple signage courtesies to make your business a welcome place to a newcomer.

1. See your place of business from the customer’s viewpoint.

This is difficult, especially when you and your current employees may have a long history of running the business. But find a way to see things from the customer’s point of view. (Maybe even ask a trusted customer to help you out!) Ask them to view your place of business from as many angles as possible — from the road, a parking spot, as they walk in the door, etc. Walk with them as they traverse the facility, pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of signage. Don’t be offended if they point out something may be lacking; take it as an opportunity to learn from their honest feedback. Is the store difficult to find or to get around? Also ask what’s abundantly clear. This is your time to learn how your own business is doing in signage.

2. Ensure specific areas of the facility are clearly identified.

A typical store may have areas dedicated to specific business functions — i.e., sales, service, returns and repairs. A sporting goods store may have additional category areas — ammunition, holsters, knives, apparel, etc. In any case, you’re probably familiar with the location of every last item in your store. Just keep in mind the customer has far less familiarity, and the lack thereof slows down the whole sales process. The idea for your establishment, then, is to provide as much familiarity (and therefore, comfort) to the customer as possible — all within the few minutes they’re spending in your facility. The easiest way to do this is with good signage.

Again, here’s where a trusted friend or customer is helpful. Ask them to provide feedback not only on how they learned where the various areas of a store are located but also on how they were able to traverse back to the main entrance.

Your store may be housed in a small facility, one easy to navigate, but it doesn’t remove the courtesy you should extend to those who are unfamiliar with it. Make sure anyone who walks in knows what’s where, and how to get there and back.

3. Use signs of various builds and placements to inform and persuade.

Generally, signs fall into two categories: permanent and temporary. Permanent signs are for areas in a facility always in existence — restrooms and exits, at least (and be sure to follow local zoning laws for these); but could include cashier or check-out, waiting area or VIP lounge and so on. Permanent places deserve permanent signs: acrylic with vinyl or framed posters or placards made with durable materials meant to last a long time.

Temporary signs are for (surprise) temporary messages — a sales event or a special promotion, an announcement of a new product or service. While these signs should be well designed, they aren’t permanent and thus can be in the form of banners or flags — easily moved or taken down.

Hanging a large screen TV/monitor on a prominent wall can serve as another form of helpful signage. The messages here can be customized to the day and could include streaming news or other helpful content.

“I wonder where the service counter is” is just one
small step from “I’m not going to do business here.”

Whatever signage you use, make sure customers are able to see it and understand it quickly. Don’t let any signage degrade; keep everything in top shape. Remember, you’re trying to communicate a professional business image and help remove doubt from a customer’s mind.

4. Use signage to communicate in concert with your brand.

Your customers probably already have a preconceived notion of what your business is all about. They formed it consciously or subconsciously as they investigated you online and even viewed your facility from the parking lot and inside the store. Good or bad, they have some notion of your brand. Hopefully it includes a clear recollection of the name of your business, its purpose and maybe even its brand mark and colors. Whatever those are, all company/facility signage should work in concert to help your customer not only know more about you, but also how to get around your facility.

Key guidelines for signage design include using similar fonts to your logo or brand mark, using the same color scheme and keeping the message simple. There’s a reason why the best signage has been a single word or a very short combination of words. Simple messages are more memorable. They get the idea across quickly and effectively. Even a clear and legible sign with “RESTROOMS” can bring a measure of comfort to someone in your facility. Literally, they know where to go.

For this sign and all the others needed by your facility, make them all appear the same (same type, colors, style, size, etc.). Get a sign company involved if necessary and whatever you do, invest in making your customers as comfortable as possible while they’re in the building.

Key Questions

Take a look around and consider if your signage is doing its job. Do they all appear to be working for the same company?Are permanent and temporary places marked with the appropriate type of signage? Are any in disrepair or worse, simply incorrect? Make sure to review your facility signage regularly, asking customers their thoughts and how your facility signage can better serve them. Whatever you do, don’t let your signage leave them wondering.

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