Signs of Success

By Bob Nieman, CLA Member posted 02-27-2017 12:20

Is Your Store’s Exterior Signage Doing All It Can for Your Laundry Business?

Your exterior signs serve as a type of silent salesperson for your self-service laundry.

They draw attention to your business and help differentiate it from the others down the street or within your strip center. In fact, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration, signs serve as a primary link between a business and its customers.

For a small business, such as a vended laundry, the investment in exterior signage clearly is not insignificant. Signs – depending on location, design, size, material and delivery timeframe – can cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars to well beyond $10,000.

With that said, for businesses with limited promotional budgets, signs can be a cost-effective form of marketing. The SBA reports that the cost-per-thousand, a common method used to measure the cost of reaching a thousand potential customers, is much lower for signage than other common types of advertising, such as radio, television or print. Signs can be an essential component of a laundry’s overall marketing strategy. A sign that contains a business's logo can help reinforce its brand. Signs also are used to draw attention to promotions and to convey information about the business. And – because an exterior sign is visible 24 hours a day, 365 days a year – its impact is non-stop.

Still not convinced? Recent surveys have discovered that:

•    Nearly 76 percent of consumers said they had entered a store or business they had never visited before based simply on its signs.

•    Nearly 75 percent indicated that they had told others about a business simply based on its signage.

•    About 68 percent of consumers believe that a business’ signage reflects the quality of its products or services.

•    Nearly 60 percent of consumers said that the absence of signs deters them from entering a store or business.

•    Roughly 60 percent of businesses reported that changing the design or enhancing the visibility of their signage had a positive impact on sales, number of transactions and profits, with an average increase of about 10 percent.

Laundry owners have two main options when it comes to exterior signage: ground-mounted or building-mounted. Ground-mounted signs can take on a variety of shapes and sizes, and are typically mounted near a road to attract the attention of passing motorists. Building-mounted signs are attached to the place of business and may be useful in areas where foot traffic is prevalent, such as a downtown shopping area.

No matter what type of signage you utilize, if your customers and potential customers can’t read your signs, their effectiveness will fall flat. To avoid this, here are five key factors to consider:

1. Check the local sign code. Local sign codes are going to define the size of the allowable signage. These local codes should be read carefully. The devil most definitely is in the details.

The last thing you want to do is spend a lot of time and money creating a sign, only to have to throw it away and start over because the sign doesn’t meet your local zoning restrictions. This is why, before doing anything else, you want to make sure you understand the zoning requirements related to your sign.

Every community has some form of requirements governing signs on display. The zoning commission can help you identify which rules apply to your business. You will find requirements related to width, height, color, font size, materials and message display (as some communities restrict message content).

You will even notice that these restrictions correspond to various parts of town, because zoning laws are created to help keep a consistent look and feel for residents throughout the various parts of communities. Knowing these facts in advance will help you save time and money up front and also help you avoid potential fines and expensive rework. To find out about your zoning laws or where your commission is located, check with your local Chamber of Commerce, or do a few Google searches.

2. Check the sign addendum attached to the lease. Landlords are very particular about their property. They often define what type of signage is allowed, how that signage is attached to the building, the colors allowed, etc. The sign addendum is usually very general, but should always be considered in the design process.

3. Use a bold font. Serif or script fonts might look nice on letterhead, but they are often difficult to read on exterior retail signs.

4. Use bright and contrasting colors. It’s amazing how great a sign can look in the “mind’s eye,” but then be rejected immediately during the design process. Some colors and color combinations just don’t work in a particular situation. Contrast between the sign and the building also is an important consideration. For example, a set of red channel letters mounted to a red brick building would be a marketing disaster.

5. Consider any architectural elements. Are there awnings, columns, contrasting brick work, any building feature that could reduce the size of the sign or create installation problems? It’s much easier to deal with those obstacles during the design process than during installation.

Although a creative, attractive outdoor sign can greatly help your laundry business stand apart from the competition, signage options can vary as greatly as laundromats themselves. As a result, we’ve called on several successful store operators to share their thoughts on their own exterior signage:

Ross Dodds
Wash On Western
Los Angeles, Calif.

We have light boxes on the side of the building and one road pole light box, which is shared with two other units. These were recently upgraded with new graphics.

Customers do notice changes to signs, and it often will make them think something else might be new in the business, too.

It cost $3,000 to upgrade the signage. That’s very cost-effective, and it provided a big change in appearance. I think that channel lettering signage can look a bit more clean and professional; however, it can be costly. In my opinion, channel lettering isn’t worth the price, if the entire plaza in which you’re located doesn’t have that type of signage.

All in all, outside signage is one of the most important ways to promote your business. If your sign looks rundown, why would anyone think the inside looks any better? And, if you’re a new owner of an existing store, upgrading the exterior sign is a quick, easy and relatively cheap way to show the community that you just bought the place and that it’s being run differently now.

Daryl Johnson
Giant Wash
St. Ansgar, Iowa

Daryl_Johnson_2.jpgAt my stores, we mostly utilize back-lit, LED channel letter signage. When we purchase or build a store, we typically will replace the signage with our logo and sign, and then it will be many years before there is a need to upgrade or replace it.

Our signage is a simple block lettering that has a very classy and timeless look that is easy to read from a distance.

If I have any regrets about our signage, we recently signed a store and were limited to a specific size by the landlord. I feel that this particular sign is too small. I typically will install as large of a sign as reasonable, with my default being bigger over smaller.

Most of our signage will cost between $2,000 and $3,000. I love my signage, especially the fact that it’s LED-lighted, which makes it very inexpensive to operate.

Signage is almost as important as your equipment mix. Your sign is an invitation to your customers to come into the store. If you don’t ask them to come inside, how can you sell them anything?

Poor signage that is in disrepair will act as a repellent to potential customers. Your signage is your first impression – and, as we all know, the first impression is incredibly important.

Our next sign project I hope to complete this year is to install a digital video screen sign on one of our street signs. I think that will be the most effective invitation to a potential customer, as it will give us the ability to change the presentation as we choose.

M. Lee Williford III
The Wash House
Wake Forest, N.C.

Lee_Williford_1.jpgWe install both box signs and channel letter signs on our storefronts, as well as box signs on pole signs wherever appropriate and allowed. We also have our logo displayed on each entrance, as well as a small series of pictographs communicating things such as “No Smoking,” “No Pets” or “Wet Floors.” We currently don’t permit signage in any of our windows.

With signage, consistency and repetition are the keys. With more than one location in the several towns we serve, having consistent signage repeated inside and outside is important.

A word of warning: be sure to use a quality sign designer, manufacturer and installer. Once an exterior sign have been created and installed, it’s quite difficult to change.

Typically, our signage costs between $1,500 and $3,000 per sign. And it’s money well spent, because a sign is an opportunity to communicate your brand to your customer. Often in our industry, store owners advertise what they are – “Coin Laundry,” “Drycleaners,” “Washerette,” etc. But I think it’s more important that we communicate, through proper branding and exterior signage, who we are. Branding is a key factor – in fact, the first step – to valuable exterior signage.

Tod Drescher
Laundro Magic Inc.
Boston, Mass.

The exterior sign on my laundromat was terrible. It was really bad and was one of my first priorities when I took over the business almost a year ago. But that’s when things got complicated.

The original sign was an aluminum one with faded and peeling letters and graphics. I also had a blade sign that came off of the building – basically, it was a sheet of plastic with the old store information on it. I’ve been working on upgrading the signage for more than a year, and I just recently got a sign shop to design new signage and do the installation.

However, dealing with the city of Boston was a whole other can of worms. It took me several months to get to the right person to talk to about my store’s signage. Then, I was told that, if I chose to replace the lettering, it would need to be much smaller and I would not be allowed to list the services I now provide, such as wash-dry-fold and alterations. In a nutshell, I found dealing with the city and trying to upgrade my old, sad-looking exterior signage to be very frustrating.

If I had my choice, I would love to install a neon sign – something very cool, edgy and visually appealing. Unfortunately, this type of sign isn’t currently allowed due to the fact that my laundry is located in a residential area.

I think exterior signage on a laundry is a critical aspect of any store, as far as your ability to draw customers into your business. It’s the first thing people see before they walk in and check out your equipment and layout. If customers see an old, dilapidated sign, who knows if they will even bother taking that next step to come inside and see what you have to offer.

James Whitmore
Sunshine Express Laundry Center
Gloucester, Mass.

My stores feature illuminated sign boxes, which have LED backlighting that I installed last year. In addition, three years ago, all of my outdoor signs received fresh faces and graphics.

I believe our signage, which costs about $3,000 per sign, draws the eye to our buildings – and then the views into the buildings speak volumes. However, the next time I upgrade these signs, I will choose brighter, edgier colors and less content overall.

Exterior signage cannot be overlooked. It reminds the people in your community that you’re there.

Duane King
LMARIES Laundromat
Bowling Green, Ohio

At LMARIES, we have a large, double-sided, lighted sign at the road and across the front and side of the building. The building sign is 15 years old, but we keep it looking like new.

The road sign is very close to the road so it calls attention to our business 24 hours a day. Of course, if it was larger, that would be nice. The larger the better.

Our outdoor signage cost me $1,200. I used the existing signage from the previous tenant and just replaced the pans with my logo. It’s very simple to maintain; I just need to replace the bulbs or ballast every other year or so.

Signage is definitely a bargain. For the cost of the exterior signage, you get 24/7 advertising for your laundry business. Even an expensive sign that costs $20,000 or more becomes a pretty good deal when you consider the fact that it’s working for you all the time, year after year.
A nice sign can be inviting to potential customers.

Grant Gose
American Laundry Cleaners
Silver City, N.M.

Three years ago, I put up signs with letters that are three feet tall, made from the stainless panels I had removed from old washers. I cut the letters out with a plasma cutter and screwed them to the building with stainless concrete screws. It took me about 12 to 14 hours to sign both of my stores – and about $30 worth of screws.

I’ve considered spacing the letters farther out from the building and back-lighting them with LED rope lights; however, at this point, they are highly visible and I don’t have to paint them. Basically, they are maintenance-free. Of course, I understand that many laundry owners probably couldn’t be able to duplicate this in their markets without excessive permits and “official help.”

I used to paint my old signs every five to six years. But then I changed the name of the business, and I couldn’t find any sign painters. It’s a lost art. Plus, vinyl signs last only about three to four years, and I can think of better places to spend that $4,000 to $5,000 sign budget.

For me, the jury is still out on whether or not exterior signs are that important for my business. In fact, I ran one of my laundries for seven years with no signs at all – and I couldn’t tell any difference in my overall business. But, then again, I operate the only two laundries in a county of 30,000 people.

Ed Ellis
1 Clean Laundry
St. Cloud, Fla.

Ed_Ellis_1.jpgWe’ve rented an LED street sign for the last two months to catch the attention of drivers going past our shopping center. Above the entrance door, we have the standard “Coin Laundry” sign, made of gas tube channel lettering.

However, this year we’re planning on removing the “Coin” portion of the sign, as we are a hybrid store. We’re also going to replace the gas tubes with LED bulbs.

In addition, at the front door, we have a sandwich board sign, which helps to promote our wash-dry-fold service and any daily specials. We don’t have any pylon presence at the street; the city allows us to use a portable sign for only 60 days per year. The sandwich board is pointed facing the fitness center located in our shopping center, as the majority of gym members have disposable income and, therefore, are a great source of new drop-off laundry customers.

What’s more, in the parking lot at one of the islands, we have a large banner sign. The banner has been effective at drawing the attention of other patrons in our shopping center.

Other than the channel letters above our entrance, which came with the building, my signage is relatively new. I began renting the LED sign at the street last December, the sandwich board is one year old, and I got the banner a few months ago.

I like the fact that my signs are drawing a lot of attention to a business that is traditionally invisible until someone needs it. If I had a negative comment, I would say that I don’t like the channel letters because of the energy they consume and because they spell out “Coin Laundry” when we really accept both coins and cards.

I like to draw attention to my store from as many angles as possible, and signs allow for that. You never know which form of promotion is going to resonate with a prospective customer.

Marty Mullican
Owasso Express Laundry
Owasso, Okla.

Marty_Mullican_1.jpgWe have large, custom-built, LED backlit channel letters. And we keep it simple with just the word, “Laundromat.” We also have an LED-lit “We Do Drop-Off Laundry” sign in our front window.

We like the simple clarity of it all – “Laundromat.” Its main purpose is to help people find our store for the first time while driving – which means while paying attention to traffic and likely following directions from their phone’s GPS. Therefore, it was critical for us that the exterior signage could easily be read from the street we’re on, from a distance and at any angle. Our letters are back-lit white, which really stands out at dusk and dawn – better, we believe, than any other letter colors.

In addition, LED backlighting means it’s virtually maintenance-free – with no burned-out bulbs – and very inexpensive to operate.

For our laundry business, we think we hit the right mix with this signage. For us, keeping it big, bold and simple was key.

For our business, exterior signage is somewhat important. However, I feel it falls below our focus of always being clean and safe; having working machines; great parking; and having a helpful, friendly staff.

Our exterior signage is designed to bring first-time customers in and to remind those just passing by what we are and what we do. But, clearly, it’s the value and experience inside the store – not the signage outside the store – that keeps our customers coming back.

Larry Vladimir
Bakers Centre Laundry
Philadelphia, Pa.

Larry_Vladimir.jpegBakers Centre Laundry features a 22-foot sign in the front of the store that is LED-illuminated with blue and white letters. We have the word “Laundromat” prominently displayed with our logo to the right at the top. Below that, our sign reads, “Wash & Fold – Dry Cleaning,” in slightly smaller letters in white LED bulbs.

The business also is on three pylon signs throughout the shopping center with just the word “Laundromat.” I strongly believe in keeping the signs generic and as large as possible.

The sign, which is three year old and cost approximately $13,000, is attached to light sensors, so it turns on automatically and can be seen from more than a block away.

We used a well-known sign company with a great reputation that I have known for many years, and I would highly suggest all laundry owners do the same. This company obtained all of the required sign permits and helped us with the design. That’s important.

Your exterior sign is extremely critical in terms of identifying your services and helping you to create an image for your business. Keep it as simple and as large and as well-illuminated as possible.

Ken Weddig
Hilltop Laundry
Kewaskum, Wis.

I have a six- by six-foot lighted sign on the state highway that runs by my laundry. In addition, I have a 60-foot canopy sign that I designed for the front of the laundry, which also serves to protect our customers from the rain and snow during bad weather.
Both of these signs have been upgraded within the last five years and look brand new. They are big and bright and can be seen from a great distance.

The canopy cost $6,000. The lighted highway sign came with the laundry when I bought it, and I reworked it for under $300 – adding new facing, wiring and ballasts. During winters in Wisconsin, the snow sometimes collects on that highway sign, so I will have to use a swimming pool brush to knock off all of the snow.

In general, I think both types of signs do a good job of promoting my laundry, as I am located on a hill and potential customers can see one or the other from a long distance. I have 22,000 cars a day that go up that hill past my laundry.

Chris Markeson
Westfield Center, Ohio

Chris_Markeson.jpgWe have traditional lighted signage as my store. However, we also recently added graffiti signage to a blank wall of our building, facing an intersection. This edgier type of signage fits the neighborhood and is eye-catching.

I should have added it sooner. It cost only $700. And, after all, not everyone uses Google or Yelp to find businesses.

Ken Barrett
Washin’ Coin Laundry
Pell City, Ala.

When was the last time you used the phone book to find a business and looked it up on a map? Months? Maybe years? Probably soon to be decades.

The next question: what percentage of your customers drive by your laundromat sign and think, “Hey, I better turn in and wash that laundry I’ve got sitting in my trunk.”

Ken_Barrett_1.jpgMy point is that most people who are looking for a laundromat will search for one on their phone, click the map link and then head your way.

Therefore, the value of your exterior signage is in the last few hundred feet of that potential customer’s journey. They know they’re getting close. They know your store is up ahead on the right and, at this point, have abandoned the phone instructions. They are now looking for that sign pointing to exactly where your laundry is located.

Of course, as a leading professional in your industry, you have thought of this ahead of time and your sign is as big and as clear as your budget, your city’s planning board and your landlord will allow. It might be a simple “Laundromat” sign or it might contain your branded logo. And, of course, your storefront should be easy to spot, because these customers have already seen photos of your laundry online during their initial search.

The signs at Washin Coin Laundry locations vary in size, due to the city regulations, but all except one are backlit. One of the older signs has been upgraded to LED bulbs – however, this sign needs a new face, as the letters on the current plastic facing are beginning to flake. This sign is mounted to the roof of the building, which is not allowed under the new codes – but, as long as it’s already there, I am allowed to keep it there. It’s a generic “Laundromat” sign. Also, below, on the building face, is a sign with the company logo, which is not lighted.

In 2010, when the sign for my Washin’ Anniston store was installed, the cost was around $3,600. It features a simple square box design. However, most recently, I spent more than $10,000 on signs for another store, Washin’ Oxford. I’ve been able to reduce the cost slightly, because my sign company had a blank face in stock; so it’s always good to ask, as discounts are available.

I also utilize double-sided pylon, or post, signs. The frames were repaired, painted, and new LED lights and faces were installed. We also added the local high school mascot to the top of the sign, which faces the high school stadium across the street.

With regard to laundry signage, my preference is toward the box-type signs over the individual letter or logo-shaped signs – although I understand that this is sometimes dictated by your lease. I like box signs because they allow additional information to be added, such as drop-off laundry or drycleaning services.

In my experience, a laundry’s exterior signage is an important part of the storefront. It’s that final thing a customer looks for as he or she pulls into your parking lot. Therefore, using pictures of your exterior signs on Google Maps and social media will help customers find your store more easily, while building brand awareness within your community as well.

Gene Sanguinetti
Duds ’N Suds
Reno, Nev.

We have a channel letter sign that spells out our store’s name on the front corner of the building. There also are 40- by 72-inch, lighted, vinyl signs on each side of the building. And we have vinyl pylon signs at the major corner nearest the laundry.

The building signs were re-done about six months ago, and the pylon signs will be re-done soon.

I like that these signs reinforce our brand, while letting potential customers know what they will find inside. They are crisp, well laid-out and visible for a block or more.

Thus far, I have no regrets over our signage choices. At roughly $11,000, they are expensive, but they perform their purpose well.

To me, exterior signage performs a few different tasks. It helps new customers find my business. It sets the stage for what customers will find inside my store. And, perhaps most importantly, it reinforces our brand. Our brand is very important to us – we are proud of our reputation, and our signage reinforces that.

Exterior signage is definitely no place to cheap out. Done well, it is worth every nickel invested.


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