The Economic Value of Signs

New scientific research sponsored by the Signage Foundation Inc. contains much good news for our industry. The report, The Economic Value of On-Premise Signage, shows a direct relationship between new signage and improvements in sales, profits, and the number of transactions.

The research, conducted by the Economics Center at the University of Cincinnati was released during SFI’s annual National Signage Research and Education Conference this fall.

The report contained two main elements: a national survey of companies and in-depth case studies featuring four types of businesses. The combined result is information that will be of use to sign companies to help their customers understand the value of signage.

Let’s look first at the highlights that came from the survey portion. Most of those interviewed—70 percent—had a single location, with the others ranging from a small local chain to a national company. More than two-thirds of those responding had one or two signs. The larger companies were more likely to have more signs at each location.

The survey asked whether companies had updated their signage in the previous five years; about two thirds of companies had. Those who had made changes reported significant increases—of about 10 percent—in sales, profits, and number of transactions. About six percent reported that they’d been able to increase hiring.

This provides a tremendous opportunity for us to educate our customers: new signs can lead to improvements in business conditions for a company. Of course, not just any sign change will do.

The study found that businesses that focused on “conspicuousness” were likely to report higher store sales, as were those who gave a high priority to the size and location of their signs. This is where our expertise certainly can come into play—creating signs that convey the right message with the right level of conspicuity can really add to the bottom line of our customers’ businesses.

The study reinforced the message from another 2012 study conducted by FedEx Office. That study found that three-fourths of consumers have entered a store or referred a friend because a sign made the business stand out. About two thirds reported they had made a purchase. That same study showed that bad or no signage deterred them from entering the store. And readability was the single greatest sign factor in whether a customer would try a store’s products or services.

The SFI-sponsored research also provided some interesting information related to both electronic messaging centers and video displays. EMCs provided some small level of positive impact on the businesses. Whether that impact might have been greater if business conditions were stronger is uncertain.

However, I found this statistic very interesting: a handful of those surveyed reported that EMCs had increased business by more than 40 percent. These companies had taken a more aggressive approach to managing their EMCs, updating information several times a week, providing design changes, and including community-oriented messages. They said they’d invest more heavily in EMCs with their next sign change. Others reported that they’d like to include more video, but couldn’t yet justify the cost expense in the current economic climate.

It’s important for the print industry to understand the impact that other types of signage are having in business, and at least be able to converse with customers on these topics.

The small business case study, featuring a shoe store that focused on running and walking shoes and apparel, provides some key opportunities for the print industry. The running store has four locations, and while consistent branding was important for exterior signage, each location presented unique design challenges.

While each of the four stores reports economic health, two stores stand out. They have the most complete and prominent signage, both on the exterior and inside. The store manager attributed this to the ability to communicate with a large number of potential customers. The signs provided an opportunity to be the “silent seller,” conveying the value of the product and service that set this store apart from its competitors.

The other three case studies focused on other types of exterior signage. However, as with EMCs, these case studies can provide important information that even the most niche-oriented companies would be wise to consider.

And that’s an important takeaway from all of this research. Our industry is broad and has many elements. However, when our customers come to us, chances are good that they may ask questions about dynamic digital signage, EMCs, and pole signs. They are looking to us as the experts on signage and it would be wise to stay current on what’s happening in the industry.

So I highly recommend getting a copy of this study, which is available on the SFI website: And while you’re at the website, look at other research initiatives that were presented this fall at NSREC.

We know that signs are an important aspect of business success. SFI has helped provide a way that we can prove that to our customers.