By Roy Vice, VP-Construction and Development
The adage “you only get one chance to make a first impression” rings true in retail real estate. Signage – the first component that meets the eye – is a vital tool for communicating with shoppers, and has a major impact on a store’s or property’s aesthetic appeal and traffic. As vice president of construction and development at Levin Management Corporation (LMC), I frequently advise shopping center owners and tenants in our 95-property, 13-million-square-foot portfolio on how to incorporate signage that brands and distinguishes them. This role is an extension of my group’s work in construction management.
Why Signage is So Important in Retail Real Estate
Look at the Apple or Nike logo, those brand images communicate so powerfully that no words are needed. You know immediately what the company is and what it sells. Creative, attractive signage can define shopping centers and individual stores and help them stand apart from their competition, too (even if they’re not household names). But when someone opens a new store in a shopping center, signage may not necessarily be their top priority. Usually, the reason is not understanding how best to communicate visually in that unique retail environment. That’s where we come in.
When a tenant leases at a center we manage, we handle everything from start to finish. Among other services, our in-house construction department will offer suggestions about effective signage. We research the retailer’s creative and marketing strategy and present what we think is the best approach to physical communication of their brand within the center’s setting.
Let me give you an example. At The Shoppes at Flemington – an open-air lifestyle center in Flemington, N.J. – healthy casual restaurant chain Freshii recently joined the tenant mix. This chain is known for its fresh ingredients and eco-friendly practices. We recommended façade signage that we thought was interesting and really fit the restaurant’s brand personality. It incorporates Freshii’s logo against a background of green grass. Lifestyle centers, in particular, place a focus on presentation, and retailers always are trying to do something a little unique. Freshii’s signage is a real differentiator.
In Retail Real Estate, Effective Signage is More Than a Logo
Creating pylon and building/façade signage can be a complex process, in part because of municipal or zoning regulations. In some cases, where regulations are particularly strict, pylon signage may not even be an option. For shopping centers located close to the road, prominent tenant signage on the building façade is vital because it helps drivers see what retailers are located there. Large centers or those with obstructed visibility from the road, have special challenges getting their tenants seen.
For properties that are set back off the road or have a town-mandated buffer of trees it takes real creativity to develop signage that both meets town approval and effectively communicates with shoppers. At Post Road Plaza in the Village of Pelham Manor, N.Y., we worked with an architect who designed attractive and colorful monument signs that line the highways bordering the property. Each includes a single tenant name. Additionally, we have two tenants at Post Road Plaza – Dave & Busters and a soon-to-open national fitness chain – that occupy a combined 82,000 square feet at the back of the center. We wanted to implement incremental signage to create awareness of these tenants, and worked with an architect to present a comprehensive plan. The result: there are now two additional wall signs for them, as well as two new pylon signs.
New Trends and Traditional Approaches to Retail Signage
We are always looking for how we can improve on signage. Irregular, non-rectangular signage shapes, we’ve learned, attract the eye more quickly than the more traditional square or rectangle. Similarly, bright colors against strongly contrasting backgrounds enhance both appeal and legibility. Property signage must convey the property’s name and its major retailers. Remember, potential customers in vehicles can read only so many names as they drive past. For those centers with dozens of tenants we recommend listing only key anchors on the pylon. Signage also needs to work both during daylight hours and at night. Lighting is critical. Increasingly, large properties like Fairlane Village Mall in Pottsville, Pa., are incorporating digital reader boards in their pylon signage, which is a great way to communicate special events and tenant promotions to passersby.
We live in an increasingly visual world and retail signage will continue to grow in importance. It’s an exciting time to be helping retailers make that all important first impression.