On-premise Signs: Key Elements in Revitalized Communities

Local jurisdictions throughout the U.S. increasingly recognize storefronts and signage as essential elements in renewing their downtown districts and spurring economic growth.

FASI regularly shares news items from across the nation cataloguing the efforts of various cities and towns to upgrade the appeal of their central business districts. Given the growing number of municipalities these days launching facade-improvement programs which provide grant funding for new signage and other storefront restorations, one might have the impression that signs suddenly are enjoying greater popularity with local officials. But in reality, this trend stems principally from the widespread and burgeoning need to rehabilitate once-vibrant commercial districts suffering from economic decay.

An essential catalyst driving this trend is the contemporary Main Street Movement which highlights the substantial contributions that attractive storefronts and signage make to the prodigious task of economic development and neighborhood revitalization.

In 2014, the University of Wisconsin (UW) published An Analysis of Downtown Storefront Improvements (Bill Ryan, Amy Greil, Dayna Sarver, Joe Lawnisczak and Errin Welty). This collection of 24 case studies illustrates the beneficial impact of storefront improvement projects completed during a 15-year period. This sampling expands on a more extensive, 1986 study conducted by the University of Wisconsin-Extension and entitled Economic Effects of Storefront Improvement (Robert N. Dick, Bruce H. Murray and Ayse Somersan).

The 1986 study was particularly significant because it was based on interviews with 89 owner/managers of retail businesses to determine the overall impact of storefront improvements. While more than two-thirds (67.4%) of those interviewed had refurbished their building facades (i.e. siding), approximately half (48.3%) also indicated they had upgraded their storefront signage. As a result of these upgrades, 70.4 percent of the owner/managers reported their sales had increased and 62.9 percent indicated they believed the exterior improvements were responsible for their sales improvements.

In the 2014 UW case studies, 80 percent of reporting businesses experienced increases in their numbers of first-time customers, while more than 90 percent of existing businesses reported sales increases following their renovations. For those case studies from which data was available, average sales revenue increased by 20 percent. Furthermore, the renovations exerted a positive carry-over effect in the form of higher rental income reported by nearby property owners and other retail businesses which did not participate in the facade-improvement programs.

In terms of sign-specific data, the 2012 What’s Your Sign? study by Federal Express and Ketchum Global Research reported the following findings:

  • 76 percent of consumers have entered a store simply because the sign caught their interest.
  • 79 percent remembered that business at a later time.
  • 63 percent were deterred from entering a store by sign misspellings.
  • A complete absence of signs deterred 58 percent.
  • 68 percent think a store’s signage is reflective of the quality inside.
  • 90 percent are more likely to try out a business if the sign is easily readable.

Similarly, the 2011 BrandSpark/Better Homes & Gardens American Shopper Survey of 7,000 consumers in all 50 U.S. states reported that approximately one-third of respondents affirmed the statement, “I have been drawn into unfamiliar stores based on the quality of their signs.” More than one-third of respondents agreed with the statement, “I have made quality assumptions based on a store having clear and attractive signage,” while more than half of all respondents agreed “I have driven by and failed to find a business because the signage was too small or unclear.”

These findings clearly demonstrate that the on-premise sign represents an indispensable element which plays a crucial role in the prosperity of communities by driving traffic to commercial districts. Signs are responsible for creating the positive, first impressions which imply quality and convey the character of a retail district and its individual businesses. Today, municipal officials increasingly are developing awareness that the place-making qualities of storefronts and signs are essential to preserving the economic vitality of their communities.

Viewed in this context, it’s important for city planners and local officials to recognize that the power of signs transcends their role as strictly a promotional tool for local businesses. In a larger and more crucial sense, signs represent the calling cards of Main Street USA. They are the heralds which proudly announce that a particular city or town is a desirable place to visit, shop and conduct business. In this respect, on-premise signs play a role of importance at least equivalent to the gateway signage which many communities across the nation have installed at their city limits to boost visitation and tourism.

Bill Dundas

Bill Dundas

Bill Dundas, a 40-year veteran of the on-premise sign industry as a fabricator, installer and journalist, is President/Executive Director of the Foundation for the Advancement of the Sign Industry (FASI).

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