Shop Owner Coach™

What do you offer, and what image or words will prompt a customer’s desire to inquire about a particular service?

Signs are everywhere. Some communicate their message effectively, while others fall flat – and some are just downright confusing.

The Five Man Electrical Band sang in 1971: “Sign, sign, everywhere a sign blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind.  Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?”

Comedian Bill Engvall’s video “Here’s Your Sign” referenced the topic as well, and there is something about a sign that causes us to take note of its message, for better or for worse.


What type of customer would this sign draw?


Is your shop signage sending the message that you want?

Do your signs look fresh? Does any element of the sign require attention or does it have peeled paint, or faded or cracked vinyl? Is your sign legible from the roadway while potential customers drive by at speed? Poorly maintained signs send a message that maybe your shop doesn’t really care about the details – and you know just how important the little details are when you repair a vehicle!

When a customer, vendor or tow truck pulls into your driveway, is there directional signage pointing them to where you want them to park?

Your sign needs to communicate its message clearly. In doing so, it becomes a simple and effective communication tool.

Primary Purpose

When we think of signage around our shops, our focus typically goes to (and then stops at) the primary sign used to identify your shop. But think for a moment about how many signs you actually have around your business. From the credit cards you accept to the exit sign above your door, you are displaying a lot of information.


Step one, avoid clutter. Considerhow muddled YOUR brand becomes when one of your suppliers hands you a sign to put up at your shop. In an effort to bolster a shop’s credibility, the shop owner or manager will often hang many national-branded signs. While these brands are relevant to you and your team, what do they mean to your customer? In almost all cases, your customer has no idea what brand of part, transmissions, engines or fluid service chemicals you use. 

A perfect marriage of the shop’s logo with a national brand.



Nealey Auto Service in Edgewater, Maryland, has some of cleanest, most impactful signage.

You can count on one thing though, they rely on YOU to choose the best brand for their application. Their trust is in you and your shop’s judgment; in essence, the brand their mind sees when it comes to parts is your shop’s name.

It is important to develop your brand to stand alone, and then you can weave the program group and supporting brands of companies you work with into your shop’s identity.


In our marketing classes, we talk about a number of branding failures, then illustrate the success stories of shops we’ve worked with throughout the years.

You don’t have to be a national brand to look like one. Nealey’s Auto Service and Garry’s Automotive have very clean brand imaging, and you’ll notice that Garry’s leverages its relationship as a NAPA Auto Care Center as its main sign. Garry’s Automotive is the primary brand which is supported by the NAPA Auto Care Center brand.

Remember, your shop’s sign should be clear and highly visible to current and potential customers from the roadway at posted highway speeds. Check out the U.S. Sign Council ( for tips and best practices regarding color combinations and character sizes for the best legibility. 



Signs like this help customers, vendors and delivery drivers quickly find their way around your lot.

In 2006, Jay Walker-Smith, president of the marketing firm, Yankelovich, estimated that the average American was exposed to 5,000 ads per day, 10 times as many as in the 1970s. According to Red Crow Marketing Inc., the current figure is now somewhere in the range of 4,000–10,000 ads per day.

Your current and future customers are accustomed to seeing a ton of marketing messages each day, such as the best cold-brew coffee or sources for home repairs, all the way to the best money management firms. Each message is a mental cue that is designed to create a craving that is solved by the acquisition of the product or service being advertised. 

A relevant question to ask yourself is, what do you offer, and what image or words will prompt a customer’s desire to inquire about a particular service? Rather than just “We Sell Brakes,” a sign with an image of a family loading up the car for vacation might include the words “Road Trip Ready? Ask your service advisor how we can help you get your ride ready for vacation fun!”

Developing a ‘lot plan’

Of course, just having the right signs won’t help if they’re not in the most advantageous location. Creating a lot plan – a layout of your buildings, walkways and parking spaces on a piece of paper – is a good first step. On the plan, you’ll see dedicated placement for customer and employee parking, and drop-off areas for customer vehicles and parts. Having directional signage to guide your customers to a designated drop-off spot goes a long way toward alleviating any confusion when they first arrive at your shop. 

And, most critical is a parking location for vehicles being dropped off by your towing service, which prevents the tow operator from simply dropping the car in your bay, slowing your shop’s production. From the lot plan layout you can determine the best placement for directional signage. A lot plan is also a great tool for internally communicating your expectations. 

Look at your entire shop from your customer’s point of view – what are they seeing? Then, add or remove signs that enhance your shop’s brand and image, and improve your customer’s experience. When you employ signs as a marketing tool you will add more approved services, increase billable hours and boost your shop’s profitability.

A simple and effective night drop off sign.

Types of Signage 

Informational – Hours of operation, services you offer, etc.

Promotional – Menu items, specials, seasonal services

Directional – Like a lot plan

Point of sale – Method of payment

Branding – Continuity of your message; control your message

A sign’s main purpose is to communicate information designed to assist the receiver with decision-making based on the information provided. 

You should have promotional signage too, which is designed to persuade receivers of the merits of a given product or service, and doing business with your shop.