What’s Your Sign?
If you’ve got a shop, you need a sign.
We don’t mean an astrological sign, either, which is still the first thing some shop owners offer up when we ask them, “Where’s your sign?”
Whether you’re a Leo, a Taurus, or a Gemini, your repair shop needs a sign.
Your sign announces to the world that you exist. If a customer is looking for you, your sign tells them they’ve found the right place. If a truck is having trouble and looking for a place to get repairs, your sign tells them you can help.
We were able to corner Fullbay Co-Founder and Executive Chairman Jacob Findlay for a few minutes to get his perspective on signs and why they’re so important to a shop’s marketing plan and overall existence. To kick things off, he told us a scary story…about a store without a sign.
The Store Without a Sign
“I was driving cross-country with my family,” Jacob recalls, “and I knew we were about to pass the shop of a customer.”
He remained on the lookout for that shop, eager to see it after corresponding with the owner. He knew he was in the right neighborhood, and on the right street, but there was no sign of the shop. He ended up passing the establishment several times before realizing the shop was there—it just didn’t have any sort of signage. There was no way for potential customers to see it from the street, nothing telling them they were in the right place.
The shop was chasing customers away without even realizing it: a FedEx survey from 2012 found that 52% of potential clients aren’t inclined to enter a business if it doesn’t have a sign. Think about it—would you wander into a random building that had no identifying marks? Probably not.
An Industry-Wide Problem
Unfortunately, the signless store was not a one-off. Poor signage has become a calling card of the heavy-duty repair industry, and it’s a calling card Jacob dearly wants to swap out.
He understands why it happens. “The people running the shops are usually former techs,” he says, who are probably thinking more about getting the job done than advertising. They focus on the quality of their work and building relationships with their existing customers, who then hopefully spread the word about them when they hit the road.
Techs-turned-owners may also be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of work that it takes to maintain a business—work besides the actual work being done on the trucks. Think invoicing, ordering parts, making appointments, handling payroll. By the time a shop owner has time to breathe, he’s going to pour himself a cup of coffee, not worry about whether he has enough walk-in business.
But a sign doesn’t just affect your walk-in business. Shop owners may also put a lot of trust into Google Maps, figuring that once a customer inputs the shop address, their phones will guide them the rest of the way.
Jacob points out that Google Maps can only get you so far. If someone knows your shop is there—just like Jacob knew the shop in our opening scary story was there—but they can’t find you, odds are they aren’t going to spend a lot of time hunting down your entrance. They’ll check it out, figure Google Maps was wrong, and leave.
Bam, one paying customer lost.
Take it from Jacob: signage is important, so invest in a good one! After all, “You’re not making more money by not having signs.”
Mind Your Local Regulations
We also spoke with Jimmy Wall, General Manager of Donahue Truck Centers in California. Jimmy echoed much of what Jacob said, but went on to add that you can’t just fling up whatever kind of sign strikes your fancy. Donahue has locations in several cities and across four counties—and every area has its own regulations and requirements about signage that the individual operations must grapple with.
Make sure you look into your local laws to see what, if any, limitations your city wants to put on you. Your sign might only be allowed to be a certain size, or have a certain amount of text on them, or be permitted a certain amount of lighting, or type of imagery, and so on. You may even need to get a permit (don’t believe us? Check out San Diego’s signage permit instructions).
We collected some best practices around commercial repair shop signage, as well as a few things you’re best served not trying. Keep reading!
6 Do’s of Signage
Do hire one designer for everything. Matching messaging is one thing. Asking one designer to piggyback off another’s work is challenging—so why add that to your To-Do List? There are design stores that will create logos, signs, and more for you for a good rate. Get it all done in one swoop and embrace consistency.
Do make sure your messaging matches. If you have a website or any sort of Internet presence, make your signage, colors, and messaging cohesive across your digital and tangible advertising.
Do create a logo that can be an icon. A lot of people are going to see your logo from a distance, so make it bold and simple—the more it stands out as an icon or from the road, the better.
Do make it simple. People aren’t going to slow down to see what your sign says. “You want them to see it, know it, and move along.” They’ll store the information and remember it when they need to.
Do make it visible. Don’t hide a beautiful sign behind foliage or on a wall that no one will see. If you’ve got a sign, put it in the spot where the most people will see it!
Do familiarize yourself with types of signage. Yes, we talked a lot about your primary signage in this article, but there are other types of signs to look into. Think about informational signs (your services and operating hours, for example), payment signs (as in what types of payment you accept), and any promotions you’re running.
Pro tip: If you have a facility of any size, directional signage is a nice investment. These are often brief signs that just tell customers where they are and/or where to go.
For example, Donahue has a sign just outside the shop. It says, in English and Spanish, “All trucks stop here,”
“Customers would just roll continuously into our parking lot,” Jimmy tells us, adding that they would sometimes end up where trucks rolled out of the shop. “We really don’t want customers beyond that line for safety.”
Keep internal signage clean, in-your-face, and simple.
6 Don’ts of Signage
Don’t pack in too much detail. If you’re driving by a sign, you aren’t registering all the information on it. “When I see a sign that says ‘Truck Repair’ I know immediately who they are and what they do,” Jacob says. Don’t throw in too much detail or extra language—people can’t process it while they’re on the move.
Don’t put a price in your name. “When I was in college, there was a place near me called $5 Pizza,” Jacob recalls. As wonderful as a $5 pizza was to starving college students, as the years crept by it was no longer feasible to sell an entire pizza for just $5. What happens if your name is $1.99 Oil Change and your starting prices are $10? Angry customers happen.
Don’t get too crazy with art and fonts. Clear, legible lettering and minimalistic (if any) graphics are the quickest way to ensure a customer sees you and knows what you do. Yes, that calligraphy lettering looks beautiful, but don’t make people try to decipher it.
Don’t misuse your real estate. Jacob recalls seeing a sign on the side of a building that got hit with full sunlight each day. After a few years of this, the once bold, snazzy-looking logo had faded to a pastel wash. Figure out what environmental hazards await your signage and plan their location accordingly.
Don’t expect it to last forever. Even if your sign is in the perfect spot and impeccably maintained, there will still come a time when it needs repair or replacement. Don’t skimp on this. If potential customers see a shabby sign, they’re going to assume the rest of your business matches it.
Don’t add special effects just because you can. Jimmy recalls an incident where he had to decide between adding lights to a sign or not. He opted against it; the sign was in a facility that shut down in the evenings; it was also located within an industrial park that largely went quiet after the work day. A lit sign might be cool, but it also likely wouldn’t be driving much attention after dark because no one who needed them would be in that area.
A good rule of thumb when thinking about lighting is to imagine who is looking at your sign after hours. Is it facing a freeway or a busy road? Then yes, you want people (potential customers) to see it even if they’re zipping past it at night, so fire up that (city-approved!) lighting.
Here’s Your Sign
Your sign is absolutely the first thing customers see of you—whether they’re spotting it from the road or pulling up to your shop. By making it easy to read and bold enough to stand out from a distance, you’re making it easy for prospects to find you.
Those prospects will hopefully eventually become customers. If so, your sign has done its job!