Business Sign BasicsYou know in your gut you need a sign on your place of business to stay in business. Well, we’ve got the statistics to prove it:

  • 29% of shoppers in a study for the University of Cincinnati said they were drawn into a store just based on the quality of the sign. In the 18-24 age group, the number rose to 55%.
  • 49% in the same study said they had driven by a store because the signs were too small or hard to read.
  • 40% of customers at convenience stores, 20% at supermarkets and 25% at sit-down restaurants did not intend to stop at those places when they started driving — they were drawn in by signs or just seeing the store, according to a study by the Institute of Transportation Engineers. 

A study for the Small Business Administration calculated that on-premise business signs are the cheapest form of advertising when figured on a cost-per-impression basis, coming in at nearly a tenth of the cost of the nearest competitor  — outdoor billboards.

So how do you go about selecting and placing signs on and around your location? Some of the key factors:


Signs are best viewed without clutter behind them or obstructions in front.


Keep the message simple and peg the size to the passing traffic in front of your business. At 55 mph, a driver needs to see a sign from at least 440 feet away to grasp the message; at 40 mph, 320 feet; at 25 mph, 200 feet.


A driver scanning the road ahead has a limited field of vision to the right and left. For the best visibility, a sign by the road should be at a 90-degree angle; perpendicular and parallel signs need to be bigger to have a chance at getting noticed. For instance, at 25 mph, a perpendicular sign should be 25 square feet; a parallel sign, 50 square feet.


Keep it short and clean: the text should be three to five words in length; white space 30 to 40% of the sign. Best contrasting colors: dark blue, black or red text on white or yellow. At 55 mph, letters should be 16.5 inches high; at 40 mph, 12 inches; at 25 mph, 7 inches.


For visibility at night, signs may be lit from within or without or be made of reflective material. One general rule of thumb: Text must be four to 10 times brighter than the background. Local codes also determine the size, placement and brightness of business signs; your sign shop should know  those requirements.

Sign companies offer a long menu of choices. Some of the typical business sign types:

  • On the building, wall-mounted signs lay flush, projecting signs can be a single “blade” design or v-shaped, material covered awnings can be lit from within, canopy signs look like movie theater marquees, and up top there are roof signs or lettering added to the parapet, the area just below the roof. “Dimensional letter” signs are individual letters cast of plastic or metal and mounted to the wall.
  • Around the building, you can choose monuments (those tombstone-style markers favored by office parks) or signs elevated on pylons or poles.
  • Outdoor LED screens and other digital signage display a changing message (announcing a sale, for instance) and can mount under a conventional sign.

Don’t think of your sign as one of your building fixtures. It’s a key element of your effort to brand your business. Ideally, your sign starts with the design of all your branding and fits seamlessly with your logo and the rest of the elements that will make drivers hit the brakes and stop at your place, especially when they had left home with something entirely different in mind.

Resource:  For a more extensive introduction to business signs, take a look at this handbook developed by the New York State Small Business Development Center and the Signage Foundation for Communication Excellence.

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