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What's that hanging from the ceiling of your store?

by webmaster — September 9, 2010

I’d like you to take just 10 minutes to take note of something you probably don’t pay much attention to, but that your customers notice every time they shop your store.

Look at what is hanging from the ceiling and the walls of your store, and ask yourself, “What does this say to our customers about our brand?”

Look at your signage and consider the questions:

  1. Why were these things put here in the first place?
  2. Are these items helpful and/or important to our customers?
  3. Are these items cluttering up or hiding the products we sell, or are we using these items to enhance the quality of the products we sell?
  4. Who paid for the production of these items—vendor/suppliers or us?
  5. Do these items connect with our brand?

As store owners and operators, it’s easy to sometimes get too close to your store, to arrive at a point where you don’t see what your customers see. You may have informational signage suspended from the ceiling that you don’t notice because you’ve seen it too many times and now simply ignore it. Maybe your customers ignore it as well.

Most retailers plan minor remodels every five to seven years to replace needed equipment and to “refresh” their brand. This may include taking down some of the interior décor and signage to replace it with something more contemporary. If your signage is supposed to be communicating to customers the attributes and competitive advantages that differentiate your brand, why would you wait that long to refresh it?

In the 1950s, 60s and 70s, store signage and décor tended to be more informational in nature; it showed customers where the milk was sold, or where the fruits and vegetables resided. And with no Internet and just three network TV channels, product information wasn’t widely distributed to consumers. Store signage provided an opportunity to inform. In most cases, vendor/suppliers paid for the signage as a way to help promote their own brands. Store décor was very simple then. In some cases, the walls were painted with cartoon-like characters to identify product departments. Posters were tacked to interior perimeter walls to promote certain brands that were carried.

As grocers, we’ve oven thought of signage in terms of our own nomenclature: by department. There are grocery, dairy, frozen food, meat, deli, bakery, floral and health and beauty care departments, so that’s what our store signage should say to customers. Yet with more and more retailers focusing on their brands through the development and usage of comprehensive brand strategies, perimeter and hanging signage is shifting from the predominantly informational way-finding resource it’s been in the past, to a new and more contemporary way of informing customers about the store brand.

One of our progressive customers, Affiliated Foods Midwest, is a large food distributor and co-op, serving member stores in a 14 state area. They recently announced new store formats available to their member stores, and elected to brand their store departments’ signage this way. Although it may be easier to place signage from the ceiling proclaiming “Customer Service,” it’s a more meaningful reflection of the brand (in this case, Season’s Marketplace) to state “Serving You” instead.

If you don’t have a brand strategy with defined standards for signage, you’ll soon find that others (particularly DSD vendors) will take control of your signage and use your foot traffic to promote their own brands, as seen here.

Granted, it’s not easy to consistently replace ceiling signage, but the placement of new signage each month can refresh the overall look of your store, and will help prevent your customers from ignoring all of your ceiling signage.

A great first step is to integrate new signage for all of your signature products, or to promote your own month-long promotions with fresh signage.

If you would like to have a complimentary evaluation of your store signage program, just let me know by emailing me at jlukens@dwgreen.com. Better yet, consider a brand strategy so that your entire store—not just your ceiling signage—effectively communicates what your brand is all about.

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