10 Ways to Upgrade Your Store’s Signage


If your retail establishment’s signs are looking a bit worn, or perhaps it’s been a few years since you’ve modified or changed out your signs – interior or exterior – now might be the perfect time to consider an upgrade. After all, a company’s signage can play a critical role in bringing customers into your operation, and help ensure those customers will stay for a while once they’ve arrived.

As a quick refresher course on signage benefits in general, keep these points in mind:

  • Signs serve to showcase your company’s brand and identity;
  • Signs can attract customers to your store, helping them decide to open your door (or, alternately, to drive right past);
  • Signs reinforce your store’s primary message;
  • Signs serve as interior wayfinding communicators – to indicate various departments, products and tools, as well as specific store areas (dressing rooms, returns, restrooms, etc.);
  • Signs can help you communicate standard short-term messages – sales, holidays, etc.; and
  • Signs can be pivotal in communicating critical non-standard messages – when the Covid pandemic hit, for instance, utilizing signage was crucial for indicating social-distancing guidelines, new delivery/order-pickup options and mask-wearing and handwashing policies.

What follows are 10 ways to upgrade your store’s signage when you’ve decided the time has come.

1 Use vibrant colors: Don’t hesitate to utilize bright, vibrant colors in your sign’s design (beyond your brand’s standard colors). By their very nature, bright colors tend to draw the eye more immediately than do bland colors. But be sure to keep in mind two color basics: Avoid colors that might visually fight with the standard color(s) of your brand or logo; and don’t use too many colors in any single sign – after all, it’s a sign, not a box of crayons.

2 Use complementary colors: Colors that sit directly opposite each other on the color wheel – a circular arrangement of color hues – are natural complements: red with green, orange with blue, yellow with purple and so on. This free online Color Calculator, from Sessions College for Professional Design, mimics the color wheel and enables you to quickly see which colors work together and, just as importantly, which do not.

Color also comes into play when it comes to your sign’s message: Avoid dark-colored type on dark-colored backgrounds. This might sound commonsensical, but you’d be surprised how many signs are out there with illegible messages because of this mistake. Ditto for signage sporting light-colored type on light-colored backgrounds – your sign’s message will all but disappear.

Plus, keep in mind that not everyone has good color vision – 1 in 10 men are color blind to some degree, and 1 in 255 women exhibit some form of colorblindness, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology. Want to get a quick feel for how accurate your color vision is? You can take a free online color-hue test from X-Rite (a company that specializes in color-measurement technology) – you’ll be tested on 40 color hues and then be provided with a color-acuity score.

3 Go bigger: Alas, there is no definitive size-to-attention formula, but it stands to reason that a larger sign will get more attention. By even just slightly increasing the dimensions of your signage, you can generate quite a bit more message space. For instance, if choose to increase the size of your sign from 12 x 14 inches to a sign measuring 18 x 36 inches, you’ll more than double your available message space (648 square inches vs. 288 square inches total) – that’s a lot of additional space for images, graphics, larger type and, of course, impact.

4 Don’t be a square: Most signs are produced in the form of squares or rectangles, so a different shape – triangles, ovals and other custom shapes – will garner attention. One note of caution, however: Make sure that your message will fit within your preferred custom shape without minimizing the size of your typeface or any image you’re using; and, of course, you don’t want a custom shape to distract from the message itself.

5 Embrace the highs and lows: Installing signs above eye level can draw customer attention, particularly if those signs are large and colorful. As a bonus, if your dealership has high ceilings, signage placed high will also serve to fill up “visual dead space” and add some dimensionality to the dealership’s interior.

But keep in mind that the floor can be a place for signage, too. Many consumers have become more aware of floor graphics because of all the social-distancing signage used for Covid. Of course, floor graphics can also be used for in-store sales, promotions, directional signage and more.

Nor are floor graphics only limited to indoor environments: Street and sidewalk decals available that have been specifically engineered for outdoor use on smooth or rough surfaces. These are weather- and abrasion-resistant, and they have a non-skid, textured finish – as a result, parking lots, sidewalks and entryways are fair game for whatever message you want your customers to see.

6 Take a road trip: If your business has a company vehicle – car, truck, van, etc. – make sure it’s carrying your brand or the company’s primary message. In this case, the “signage” can take the form of partial vehicle graphics or even a full vehicle wrap. The Outdoor Advertising Association of America reports that nearly 30 percent of surveyed shoppers indicated that an advertising message on a vehicle or other outdoor media caused them to visit a store within a week of seeing the ad. You can typically repurpose a design you’ve created for a store sign or window and slightly modify it for a vehicle-graphic design.

7 Go soft with fabric: Having your message printed on fabrics for banners, flags, open-house messaging, and other applications is another way to have your signage stand out. You’ll be impressed with the different aesthetic that fabric will bring to a sign – especially the vibrancy of the colors. An added fabric bonus: If you need to ship your signs, fabrics are lightweight and foldable, which can come in handy; the latter also comes into play for storage purposes.  

8 Get glossy: Consider adding a glossy finish to your signage for a gleaming, lustrous look. In some instances, you can even pinpoint a specific area on your sign for the glossy effect, helping one particular item or piece of the message stands out. Another option: a matte finish, to provide your signage with a softer “flat” look, which will also stand out in its own way.

9 Use interesting, unique images: Have you been relying on the same image or graphic in your signage for the past several years? Maybe it’s time to change things up and generate a new look – even if it’s just for temporary promotional or sales signage – by using images that are visually striking and different. Another point about images: There’s nothing worse than after having designed a sign with a carefully crafted message, having it printed and installing it, and then seeing another store or company using the same image. And, of course, if that image shows up on a competitor’s signage, it’s even worse! Avoid this “image nightmare” by regularly keeping an eye on your competitor’s signage. Also, remember that you should only utilize images you own the rights to, are in the public domain, or that you create yourself.

10 Black & white: As noted earlier, very colorful signage will catch a shopper’s eye, but you can also do so by going for a black-and-white or monotone look. This is likely something you would want to pursue only occasionally, but it will provide your signage with some significant impact. Going this route can be particularly eye-catching if you’re utilizing historical images or trying to get across a message of a simpler time. Perhaps you’re celebrating a dealership anniversary with a series of “company timeline” signs, or you’re showcasing the company’s founders through the years; for these types of applications, a black-and-white solution can really move the needle on your message.

Some final words of signage wisdom: In a poll sponsored by the Signage Foundation, consumers indicated several major factors that typically made a sign hard to read. These seven key factors typically affected a sign’s legibility and, hence, its effectiveness, respondents said:

  • Letters were too small (83%);
  • Placement of the sign makes it hard to see (71%);
  • The sign isn’t sufficiently lit at night (64%);
  • The color of the letters doesn’t stand out from the background (60%);
  • The letters use a fancy font (48%);
  • The letters are spaced too closely together (36%); and
  • The sign looks very similar to other nearby signs (34%).