A commonly used expression for setting up storefront signs is “hanging out your shingle” which goes back to the early days of our country when many professionals – including doctors and lawyers — worked out of their homes. They would often use a roof tile, or shingle, as the surface to post their name and the type of service near the front door. That way, passersby would know they were open for business.
If you are ready to “hang out your shingle,” you have a variety of options to consider. Here are five steps to take in selecting the best storefront sign for your new business.
Check Zoning Restrictions
The first and most important step is to check with your city planning office for any zoning restrictions or permits needed for signage for your location. Many cities publish helpful brochures with detailed information and photos of what types of storefront signs are allowed. For example, some cities specify size limits for your sign or prohibit signs that are illuminated. Other cities may limit the amount of information you can post on your sign to only include the business name.
As we discuss in our commercial real estate guide, if you are leasing your location, check your lease agreement and, if necessary, talk with the building owner about any sign restrictions and/or preferences. Knowing any size or design limits now will save you time, money and frustration later.
Suit Storefront Signs to your Location
Now it’s time to take a look around your neighborhood to see what signs work well in your location. You will want your sign to be in keeping with the look and feel of your neighborhood. If your business is located in a historic district, for instance, your sign should convey the feel of that time period. If you are in a fast-paced urban area, you will want your sign to convey that energy and sophistication. While you want your sign to stand out to your clientele, you don’t want it to detract from your building or its surroundings.
Speaking of your building, its architectural style – including its color, size and shape of windows, entranceway and simply the way it fronts the street – will give you insight as to the type of sign you will want for your business. Think about who will be seeing your sign. Will your patrons be primarily walking by your store? Then you will want to consider a sign that can be viewed by a pedestrian. Window signs or storefront signs that hang above the entranceway are good options.
Will your customers find you by driving by your location? Then the size and content of your sign must be visible and readable from the street. Depending on your business hours, consider how well your sign will be visible at night and what your lighting options are.
In addition to following your zoning guidelines, look at the readability of storefront signs outside similar businesses in your neighborhood. Walk or drive through your area at different times of day and night to see which signs work and which ones are hard to read.
Keep it Simple
A well-designed sign makes a strong first impression on potential customers and can reflect well on the character of your business. Avoid the temptation to put a lot of detailed information on your sign. If your sign is cluttered and confusing, your customers may pass right on by without knowing what type of business you have. A clean-looking sign with minimal information, however, conveys a sense of organization and professionalism.
Good storefront signs convey the name and purpose of the business as simply and as clearly as possible without obscuring the entranceway or architectural integrity of the location. Your city may, in fact, prevent you from featuring anything but the name of your business on your sign.
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Choose Best Design for your Needs
Storefront signs come in a variety of materials, sizes and shapes. They can be backlit. They can be part of an awning. They can hang over the entrance or be painted on a window. Signs can be one color or many colors. They can be made of wood or metal. To help you narrow down your options, here are the examples of seven popular types of business signs:
1. Painted Plywood Sign: Simple and personalized, this type of sign is affordable and creative. A 4’ X 4’ painted plywood sign can start as low as $70, not including installation fees. These signs are subject to weather damage, however, and may be need to be replaced frequently.
2. Painted Glass: If you are looking for a low-cost, yet attractive and distinctive option, use your store’s windows as the canvas for your sign. Depending on your design and its complexity, painted glass signs start around $150 and can run into the thousands. A possible drawback could be lack of visibility from the street.
3. Punched Metal Signboard: Durable and weather-resistant, these signs can offer a clean and modern feel or a historic flavor, depending on the design. A two-sided metal sign that is 18” x 24” can start about $75, not including installation. The addition of size, color and texture add to the price.
4. Metal Logo and Lettering: These three-dimensional storefront signs, and any shadows they throw off, add texture and interest. Depending on the size of the letters and the type of metal used, these signs generally start around $200, not including installation or custom design fees.
5. Fabric Sign: A budget-friendly choice, fabric signs can be colorful and unique; however, they do require upkeep and replacement. Vinyl, plastic or nylon banners can range from $3 to $9 per square foot. Expect to pay more for heavy-duty fade-resistant fabric and for hardware and installation.
6. Metal Sign band: Eye-catching and professional, these signs work well in a variety of locations. An average 4’ X 8’ metal storefront can cost around $400 including installation.
7. Awning signs: These offer the option of providing shade for your business, shelter for your customers as well as attractive signage. Costs for awning signs depend on the size and fabric of the awning as well as the hardware needed to hang it. According to the American Society of Heating and Air Conditioner Engineers, merchants with awnings may see up to a 25 percent savings in their energy bills.
Selecting a Sign Company
Now that you have an idea of what kind of sign you would like for your business, it’s time to contact a few sign companies that serve your area. Think back to the tour of neighborhood signs you did when you started this project. Which ones did you especially like?
Ask those store owners for the name of the sign company they used. Most business owners will be happy to share recommendations for both the company and the type of material that worked best for their signs. Ask about the initial costs as well as any maintenance expenses.
Some sign companies have particular expertise in certain materials or types of signs. Along with your neighbor’s recommendations, that knowledge of a company’s experience will help you narrow down your search. Make sure you contact companies that are knowledgeable in the zoning restrictions of your neighborhood.
The cost of your sign will vary widely depending on the size of your sign and the materials used. It’s important to get several estimates in order to make the best decision for your business. Here are some questions to ask when you contact a sign company:
- Will the sign company apply for any needed permits?
- Does the company offer design service?
- What are the cost differences among materials?
- How does more color add to my cost?
- Does the company offer installation?
- Is there an extra installation fee?
- What maintenance and cleaning is required for the sign?
- Does the company offer maintenance and at what cost?
- Inquire about company’s insurance for installation and if the insurance covers any mishap should the sign fall or hurt someone in any way?
- Does the sign company offer a guarantee or a warranty for the life of the sign?
- What about scheduling? How long will it take to get your sign ready and installed?
An attractive and professional storefront sign can be one of the best business decisions you make. When you put your business name out in front for all to see, it symbolizes that you are open and ready for action. Take the steps to make this decision one that reflects the quality and thought you are putting into every aspect of your company. Then “hang out your shingle” with pride!
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