Signs, Signs--Everywhere Signs. So How Do You Stand Out?

neon sign
If you have an old classic neon sign that has been there forever, hang on to it if you can, but neon today is costly and not a green alternative to signage. (Erie-LaSalle Body Shop, Chicago, IL)

I walked into a beautiful reception area at a body shop one day and was immediately impressed.

With high-end furniture, a big walnut counter and one of those glass wall fountains, I thought, "Wow." But as I was leaving the shop a short time later, I was surprised to see their sign out front.

Marketing studies show that consumers are easily persuaded by a first impression, and this shop was not impressing anyone with its battered old sign. It was crooked, rusting in a few spots and the paint was fading. Not a good image for a company that specializes in returning vehicles back to their pre-accident condition, because this sign looked as though it had been in an accident itself.

It got me thinking: how important is signage when it comes to the collision repair industry? Every business that sells anything should have a sign, but since most shops' work comes through insurance companies, can't they save a little money on this aspect of their business?

Signs have many functions, but Point of Purchase (POP) signage is designed to advertise a product at the location in which it is displayed. Experts say effective signage is a vital component of any company's marketing plan, too many of which concentrate on other things more intently, such as broadcast advertising, direct mail, social media and other forms that cost a lot more than engaging signage.

If you decide to go with a pole sign that has a bulletin board on it, you will need to come up with compelling (or funny) messages. (Hoffman Auto Body in Boise, ID)

If you're looking for signs today, there are a plethora of options to choose from, including illuminated and non-illuminated signs, vinyl graphics, monument signs, channel letter signs, pylon signs, illuminated cabinet signs and even the old "A" frame sandwich signs that are mobile and ideal to place out on the sidewalk in front of your shop.

Marketing experts often use terms like "drive-up appeal" and "engagement rate" and many of them say that signage is the most valuable investment any business can make. Studies claim that building (aka wall) signage is the most important in attracting customers, with digital LED signs gaining the most awareness and visibility. Pole (pylon) signs are becoming more and more popular with body shops while monument (ground) signs are also good. But in the end, it all comes down to your available real estate and the local restrictions in your city or town.

According to the Small Business Association, the most effective signage will consistently create a lasting memory for a company's products or services in the minds of consumers. A good sign reinforces a recollection and extends the overall recall of other advertising efforts and bringing in new clients and affecting their buying decisions.

A major problem that body shops encounter is that they don't update or change their signs. If it works, why change it, right? From Walmart to REI, almost every major retailer updates their signage every 10-20 years, so they obviously see value in it. And yet, some shops have a 25-year-old sign hanging out there looking like something that was pulled out of the Titanic.

Some shops might be perplexed by all of the different signs to choose from. Back in the old days (pre-1980's), there were only a few options when it came to signs. If you had the money and wanted to make a big impression, neon was the only way to go, and it was the rage for 40 years.

In the fifties and sixties, body shops invested in expensive neon signs to attract customers away from the other shop down the street. Having a neon sign sent a message that said "We are successful." But neon is costly, so after a while, only big retailers like car dealers had neon signs. In the eighties, consumers viewed neon signs as garish and tacky, so body shops began finding cheaper alternatives. Now, of course, they are back in vogue, like everything else.

But unless you have an old neon sign and you simply need to update it or rehab it, neon may be too pricey for you. Since it also burns electricity and you're striving to be a greener business, maybe neon is not your best solution.

Roger Henson, the owner of ABC Marketing in Silicon Valley, CA, has placed numerous signs of all types for a wide range of companies by working with sign contractors and companies such as Clear Channel Outdoor. Henson's strategy when it comes to signage is "get your name out there without being too aggressive."

"I had a client who was an auto glass company, and he had signs on all of his trucks, painted on every one of their parking spaces, six on his building and 2-3 banners hanging from everywhere," Henson said. "It became offensive, and he even got a few bad Yelp reviews as a result. When it comes to signs, you can indeed have too many, and if they're too big or too bright, people don't like that."

For body shops, Henson would suggest using all of the newest signs that are available on the market today to tell your message and leverage your brand. "Why not use some digital signage in addition to the old painted letters on the side of your building?" he said. "It all comes down to your budget and your goals with your signs. You want good signs so that people can find you easily, but you also want signs that people will remember."

A new, updated sign utilizing today's newest technology can create a positive and professional image. (McGrath Collision Center, Cedar Rapids, ID)

Ed Attanasio

Ed Attanasio is an automotive journalist and Autobody News columnist based in San Francisco.

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