Do Signs Economically Benefit Nonprofits?

A good wall sign appreciably helps Goodwill Industries

By Richard Bass

Signs have value. This has been demonstrated by such publications as “The Signage Sourcebook” and Signs of the Times magazine, and through educational opportunities like the International Sign Assn.’s annual Signage Symposium. On-premise, or place-based, signs add value to a business and its physical location.

I have previously written about on-premise signs in commercial retail businesses/locations and their economic benefit to the businesses they serve. This article addresses a nonprofit enterprise, Goodwill Industries.

In Sarasota County, FL, Goodwill Industries is headed by the Rev. Donald L. Roberts. I’ve known him for many years, and he’s (among other things) politically active, knowledgeable and a prudent businessman. And, as will be demonstrated, he understands the power of signage.

Goodwill Industries operates primarily on donations from the general public — items no longer needed or wanted. Donations are dropped off at numerous Goodwill receiving centers. Locations are chosen based on demographics; heavily populated areas mean more donations. Based on demographics, Goodwill can project the volume and value of such donations.

Based on the business model Roberts developed, one Goodwill location was underperforming. Why? You’ve probably guessed — it was a signage issue.

The subject property is a former bank site, an out parcel of a shopping center, located at one of the most heavily traveled intersections in Sarasota – the junction of Bee Ridge Rd. and Cattlemen Rd. More than 100,000 vehicles travel this intersection daily.

The four quadrants include a hospital and medical office complex, a general office complex, a national chain motel, numerous out parcels, Home Depot, Wal-Mart and another 300,000 sq. ft. of retail space.

Roberts believed inadequate signage hindered visual conspicuity for the donation station, which also serves as Goodwill’s bookstore. Donated books received throughout the service area are transferred here for resale.

As an analyst (appraiser), I’ve found determining cause and effect difficult to isolate, time-consuming and expensive. Is a given business’ poor performance due to its signage? Or is it caused by one or more other factors, such as traffic patterns, competition, poor management or myriad other obstacles retail businesses face every day? An analyst segregates these factors, analyzes them and, if possible. isolates the factor that’s negatively impacting the business.

Known as a knowledgeable and prudent businessman, Roberts singularly cited the lack of conspicuity. Simply put, donors couldn’t find this drop-off station, and buyers couldn’t find the Goodwill bookstore. On the other hand, other “typical” Goodwill locations, with conspicuous, legible signage, attracted sufficient attention.

Roberts asked his staff to obtain the necessary zoning approvals to either add signage or move existing signage to a more visible location. In this instance, this meant moving the sign from one side of the building to another. A year later, zoning/permitting issues still precluded any changes.

Using his political connections, Roberts called a county commissioner and said, “I want to take you for a ride.’ He drove the commissioner to the subject intersection, up one road and down the other.

He asked, “Where’s my store?” The commissioner couldn’t find it.

Roberts said, “See, that’s my problem.”

The sign code requires signs to be placed on the “front” of the building. An extensive tree canopy, however, blocks the Goodwill building – and the wall sign from the traveling publics view.  Sarasota County also has an ordinance that prohibits tree removal.

With the commissioner’s assistance, a permit was obtained to relocate the existing sign from one side of the building to the other. The sign was relocated from the north face (Bee Ridge Rd. frontage) to the east face (Cattlemen Rd. frontage) along the building’s only narrow-view corridor. Although far from ideal, visibility significantly improved.

How did this “relocation” affect donations? Were retail book sales affected? Here are the facts:

  • Typical monthly donations before the sign relocation: 309
  • Typical monthly donations after the sign relocation: 424
  • Resulting percentage of change: 37%  increase
  • Typical monthly book sales before sign relocation: $4,160
  • Typical monthly book sales after sign relocation: $5,215
  • Resulting percentage of change: 25% increase

I’d like to take credit for the detailed analysis required for such detailed accounting the cost benefit analysis: data culled on traffic counts and patterns; research and analysis of competition; and regional, county and local economic factors. But I can’t.

Under Roberts’ business model, Goodwill keeps detailed, weekly, accounting data. Based on comparative analysis, the sign relocation’s impact was easily tracked. Examples include: Week one of the sign relocation, donations increased by a

  • Week one of the sign relocation, donations increased by a nominal 2.77%; sales increased by a modest 6.53%.
  • Week two of the sign relocation, donations increased by 36.9%, and sales increased by 28. 17%.
  • Week five after the relocation, donations increased by 44.97%, and sales increased by 25.76%.
  • Annual comparative analysis (2003 to 2004) indicated a 45.5% increase in donations and a 22.8% increase in book sales.

Factors considered in the analysis include “seasonality,” because Sarasota has a four-month, seasonal, population boom and general background growth.

I concluded:  “Nonprofit, retail-oriented businesses receive an economic benefit from signage. * Inadequate, non-conspicuous signage fails to identify, inform and direct clients, patrons and customers to the business location.” Even inferior signage has an economic benefit.

How would this Goodwill location perform with adequate, conspicuous and legible signage, as shown at some other Goodwill locations? Also, how would the community benefit from increased Goodwill sales, which help rehabilitate citizens and provide high-impact social services that result in good jobs, good homes and good neighbors?

What “benefit” does such a restrictive sign code actually achieve, and how does an inflexible, time-consuming and costly permitting process affect a community? I wonder?

Richard Bass is the principal of Bass & Assoc. (Sarasota, FL). a licensed appraising firm. He is a pioneer in using accepted appraising principles to assign value to on-premise signage.

Wade Swormstedt

Wade Swormstedt

Wade is Executive Director of the Foundation for the Advancement of the Sign Industry. Formerly he was Editor and Publisher of Signs of the Times magazine.

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Posted in Sign Codes, Sign Questions Answered, Signs' Advertising Value, Visibility and Legibility.