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Step 1. Why buy a sign ? Do you really need it ?

Ordinarily, my initial advice when it comes to signs to to contact your local zoning office to determine if you can have a new sign.  The reason for that question is as a precaution so that someone does not remove their existing sign before it is determined that a new sign can be installed.  Often, people make assumptions based on past experiences or circumstances that lead them to believe that a new sign will be allowed without doubt.  This can be a very bad assumption.  People often get confused about signs being “grand-fathered”.  My temporary advice at this time is NEVER remove your existing sign if you have one until you are 100% positive of a new sign being allowed.  I will write more about that later.

As imporatant as my advice above it, I do not think that it is necessarily deserving of the title, Step 1.  Buying a new sign is not any different than buying almost any other product.  It is never wise to buy anything without thought being given to why the purchase is being made.  This is especially true when it is considered that most new signs demand an investment into the thousands of dollars.

Signs have to serve your organization, school, church or business or they might not ought to be purchased.  I have had clients that for unusual reasons did not especially need a new sign.  Situations like that are rare.  A sign can prove to be a very valuable asset.  To make sure that you maximize the potential of your sign being so, you need to understand what it is that you want from your sign.

Signs do a number of things.

  • They serve to identify a building, facility, school, etc.
  • They serve to advertise. They advertise a business, an organization and even products.
  • They serve by inviting people inside a building.

If your sign is needed to identify a building and nothing more, then the size and design of your sign might be very different that a sign that needed to invite people into your building.  Identification signs are examples of signs that serve to simply identify. We have all seen many examples of identification signs.  The simple, small green aluminum sign in front of a school is one example of an identification only sign.  Why does a school need an identification sign ?  Simply put, so that we parents that haven’t had our morning coffee do not drop our kids off at the wrong school !

Let’s consider a differnt sign that we are all extremely familiar with that is different from an identification only sign.  Every American is familiar with McDonalds Golden Arches.  McDonalds signs are indeed identification signs but they are also advertising signs.  Most of the signs that we encounter every day fall into this very broad category. Does McDonalds need a sign at every location where they have a restaurant ?  You bet !  No McDonalds franchise owner would not dare to open a new restaurant without his sign being installed.  Typically, the sign for a McDonalds is installed as early as possible during the construction of a new facility so that it can start doing what it does best as soon as possible… advertise.  McDonalds corporate offices understand the return on investment afforded by a sign.  They demand in their agreements with their franchise owners not just that they have to have a sign, but also the signs, size, colors, placement, illumination specs and every other associated detail of the sign.  When considered that some McDonalds signs cost several tens of thousands of dollars for just the installation portion of the sign, it is obvious there is a big commitment that has been decided without consideration of not having a new sign.  A new sign is not an option to a new McDonalds owner.

I remember well many years ago when I received a phone call one day from a professional football organization.  Spending money on signs was treated like every other expenditure to them in that they did not spend the money on them unless they had to.  I can understand and respect that. However, they had failed to ask themselves whether or not they actually needed a sign.  Had they asked themselves that simple question, they would not have put off the expense of ordering new parking signs.  They had not ordered a single parking sign and their first game at their new stadium was within a couple of days. They had tens of thousands of cars headed downtown to park near the new stadium and there were no signs in place to advertse the parking lots.  When game day arrived, the signs were in place but the organization was unhappy with the rush charges that came along with that sign purchase.  It saddened me to have to charge extra but my employees were unwilling to stop snickering long enough to work on the signs without bonuses in their next week pay checks.  The value of a parking lot sign that advertised the location of the lot was suddenly almost invaluable.

I do not share that story to make fun of the football organization’s oversight.  We all do things like that.  I have received many calls from new merchants that invested in new facilities in strip shopping centers without bothering to read the fine print in their leases that related to signage.  The thought process was of course I will get a sign when I am ready to open.  This is very common.  Then, just before opening, the store owners decides it is time to order his or her new sign.  Imagine the shock when they discover that the specs in their lease translate to a sign that cost two to three times what they expected.  A shopping center management company is always concerned with the aesthetic appeal of their tenants’ signs.  They specify the size, color, construction and often, the supplier of a new sign.  I have had the misfortune of having to explain to a new shop owner on many ocassions that their new sign was requiring an investment totalling thousands when the store owners was anticipating a sign that cost a few hundred dollars. They had not asked themselves during the planning phase whether or not they needed a sign.  The sign’s priority was suddenly upgraded as their gand opening date neared.  They needed not just a sign.  They needed a very specific type, size and color of sign.

Churches and some businesses use the category of sign that was listed as a third consideration.  Marquee or message signs invite people into a building, a facility, etc.  A sign like this quite often is called to serve all three functions.  It identifies the organization.  It advertises what is happening at the facility and it serves by inviting passerby people to come inside and participate or join in with what is happening or taking place.  One simple message, “Come inside”, and result is the membership of a church growing enormously.  This has been proven itself to be true over and over again for churches in every town in America.  There are many studies available to support this fact.  I will assume you do not require convincing of this truth.  Contact me directly if I am wrong.

Marquee type signs also serve to communicate.  This is not so very different than the football organization’s parking lot signs.  A message is desired to be communicated.  Marquee signs are a convenient tool to do that.  They are easy to use and allow for a new message as often as someone is willing to place the new letters in the signs letter tracks.  Do you need a marquee sign ?  Maybe not.  You might be able to accomplish the same thing by talking congregation members into standing along the street 24/7 holding up cardboard signs.  Trust me, if you have to provide an ocassional drink or sandwiche, a new marquee sign will prove to be less costly and troublesome.

Once you understand that you not only want a new sign but are conveinced that you need a new sign to serve your organization, business, school, etc. you are ready to proceed to step 2.  Be convinced before you do.  Pause, discuss the matter, debate as necessary and reach a concensus.  Understand that not everyone will understand at first that a new sign is necessary.  I have seen many committes and boards comprised of people that lead lives that do not give much thought to a sign’s value.  I have seen committee members that owned businesses that required one type of a small sign and they failed to understand why a larger, more expensive sign was necessary.  These considerations are all easy to discuss if everyone is first committed to the idea that a new sign is needed.

Step 2 ?   Now we are going to discuss that call to your local,planning office.  Remember rule 1.  Do NOT remove your existing sign.  You could find yourself without a sign of any type.  If you decided that you did need a sign, discovering that a sign that was removed can not be replaced can be very upsetting. It is unnecessary too.

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