Perry Powell Consulting


More Info

Effective Sign Communications.

by: Perry Powell

First and foremost, it is imperative that your sign can be seen by the passing public. This means that it must compete effectively with it's environment and stand out from all that surrounds. The sign must be conspicuous in order to complete the next stage in effective communication. IT MUST BE READ!

Many sign companies and business owners collaborate in designing signs that look good on paper, eighteen inches from your nose, but fail to deliver the goods unless you are standing directly in front of the sign. This is not how most consumers see the sign. They see it in the street, while fighting traffic, putting on mascara, having lively conversation with their spouses and children, and gabbing on their cell phones.

Failure to consider these human factors will ultimately result in a sign which under performs. Under performance can be directly linked to lost capture rate, sales and dollars. The highway department maintains highway safety standards and tracks the performance of their sign programs by studying the human factors and crash rates. If crash rates are high in a particular area of the highway the solution most often utilized is more signs!

Scientific research data, which many of your federal and state tax dollars have paid for, along with studies funded through the corporate sector, have given us a very specific method of designing signs which are interactive for the environment in which they are placed.

This environmental/human approach allow us to create signs which give a business employing it a strong competitive advantage. After employing this method, one wash owner recently reported that a location, which had a nice sign that had been replaced using this method, had received an increase in revenue between 50 – 60% after twenty years of marginal performance. While these results may not be typical, they certainly point to the need for re-considering current business signage.

The science of signage cannot be conveyed in an article as brief as this but we can examine some of the common mistakes which are made as well as, suggestions for correcting them. Let's begin with a series of questions and comments.

Why must my business have a sign?

Signs are our introduction to the passing motorists. It is our hand shake with the public. Without signs there is no announcement to the passing motorist that we are ready, willing and able to serve their needs. There is an old saying in the sign industry, “A business with no sign is a sign of no business!”

Signs are necessary to institute site branding. Unlike products which may be distributed through many different outlets, such as soft drinks or candy, car washes must be purchased at a specific site where the equipment is located. Failure to brand that specific site with bold, beautiful and informative signage will negatively effect the impact of the business to capture the traffic and will also reduce the penetration of any other advertising we do.

Can my sign be seen or does it blend into it's environment?

Recently while driving through Louisiana, I almost missed the exit where I knew there was a Starbucks. The sign, which is green and white was camouflaged nestles in a stand of pine trees. I was at the exit divided line and had to make a bold maneuverer to make the exit. This practical example shows how we must consider the readers vision and prospective in order to effectively communicate. The failure to design a sign which stands out and is not obstructed will cost dollars every business day.

Does my sign convey my business model and value propositions?

Each business has a particular business model it needs to convey to the public. The most creative way to do this is to develop Value Propositions. Value propositions should be designed to communicate, in creative ways, the way the business differentiates itself from other business in its competing area.

Unique items such as “Free Vacuums” or “Hand Washed” should be included, correctly, in the street and building signs. It is important that the public be able to discern the business model from the street.

Effective design will allow a business to communicate effectively without looking like an over crowded business card. Including too many items such as phone numbers, addresses or other non-advertising items make the sign crowded.

Keep it simple stupid! Use terms the public outside the industry is likely to understand. Pretend you are not familiar with the industry. Does our sign really convey the concepts they are meant to convey to the public who has never been schooled in the car wash vernacular?


I asked an individual, not in the car wash industry to tell me if they knew what an express car wash was? Response: “It could mean that it is not a real car wash much like a certain hotel chain express means lesser quality than the same name without the word express. One is a hotel while the other is a motel.”

This response shows how industry thinking can become myopic and we begin to communicate in ways which outsiders, our consumers, fail to understand. The problem is systemic within the industry. We fail to correctly define terms we use. Some words have more than one meaning.


Express: Is it stay in your car or fast or both?

Hand washed by people in a conveyor or in an old service station bay with a hose and a bucket?

Our signs, menus, and employees need to speak the commonly understood language of non-informed consumers.

Can the sign be read at an appropriate distance to allow safe entry into the business?

Sign copy must be one standing inch of letter height for each 25 feet of distance to be read. The formula for determining the reading distance is:

Velocity (W * .033 + DT + MT) = Minimum Required Legibility Distance OR

MPH OR FEET PER SECONDS {VELOCITY} (How many words to be read) (.033 Time it takes to read one word) + DECISION TIME 4.02 SECONDS + BASIC MANUEVER TIME 4.00 SECONDS.


THUS: 44(13 WORDS AND SYMBOLS * .033 + 4.02 + 4.00) = 385 FEET MRLD.


The sign requires minimum 16.11 inches of copy height to be read and responded to by drivers. This is not the only consideration, in the copy size, but gives us and idea how precisely the size of copy and therefore the sign cabinet should be planned.

Do my local regulations prevent me from properly communicating with the public?

In this day of ever increasing sign codes, it is important to capitalize on every opportunity a sign code may leave open. A thorough examination by an expert can yield new ways of thinking, about the potential sign, to overcome the prevailing sign code. Science should be the underlying foundation of the design. Neither the sign code or the art employed in the creative side of the design should empune the science dictated by the site.

Sign codes may force creative use of sign area. When signs are reduced to sizes too small to be read effectively, there are a number of ways to compensate. First, one must consider using science to present a hardship to the local board of adjustment. After one skirmish with a local board where I explained the scientific reason we needed our sign illuminated internally, the board afterward suggested to my client that they may hire me to rewrite their sign code. Pleading for a larger sign is no match for using known scientific data to accomplish the mission.

When all else fails, changing the sign shape to a shorter and longer ratio will allow for larger copy size in a smaller sign area. Placement vertically, as well as, horizontally along the street to avoid obstruction by things natural and unnatural is also a critical part of the proper sign placement.

Setbacks imposed by the city may also reduce sign effectiveness and must be appropriately considered.

The set back from the drivers center of vision measured to the leading edge of the sign may also reduce the readability of our sign and must be adjusted for in the sign design.

One of the most creative ways to overcome restrictive sign codes is to use architecture to create larger signs that the codes allow. Recently, a car wash owner was denied the right to have a street sign on the basis that a billboard existed on the property prior to use approval. After discussing the options, we presented a new architectural feature to be added to the building, A wing wall projecting from the building toward the street was approved as an architectural feature. After the approval, we then applied for a new sign permit using building signs on that feature. The strategy worked and fantastic building signs made up for the sign code.

Adding large colorful features to a building and strategically placing signs on the feature can give the impression that a larger sign, than otherwise allowed, is in use.

Careful and thoughtful consideration of your sign program is a necessary part of succeeding in business. Whether a new sign for a new site or a replacement for an existing site, utilizing all of the strategies necessary to crate the sign best matched to your site and business model is good business

Perry Powell Consulting - Neuro-Marketing, Car Wash Signs Consulting, Car Wash Menus Pricing Consulting, and Electronic Message Signs
P.O. Box 101508 Fort Worth Texas TX 76185 Ph: 817-307-6484