ProjectingsignsLaCrosseattractpedestriansPosted by Errin Welty, Economic Development Specialist

Although businesses usually spend a great deal of time thinking about product offerings, sales and marketing, they often neglect the number-one sales tool available to them: their storefront. In some cases, businesses are hesitant to invest money in a property they don’t own, while others fear the time and cost of a renovation project. However, the front door is the most visible form of marketing, since it is seen by literally every customer who visits. By focusing on and investing in four key elements of external storefront design, business owners can boost customer traffic, sales and marketing exposure. A 2014 study found that business owners who strategically invested as little as $3,000 in storefront improvements saw an average 10 percent increase in first-time customers and 20 percent increase in revenues as a result of the improvements. Below, in order, are the five most critical elements of a storefront for business owners to address as part of a business makeover. Local programs can help support these initiatives by enhancing the design of their own spaces, advocating for regulations that make it easy for businesses to make necessary improvements, and providing design or financial assistance to businesses hoping to raise the bar.

  1. Transparencywindowsignasbrandnonretail-300x225Invest in glass. Although windows are one of the more expensive components of a storefront, they are easily the most critical element of an overall design. Businesses should aim for 60 to 70 percent transparency (clear glass) on the first floor, especially at eye level. Being able see into a business reinforces to the customer that initial perceptions regarding goods or services offered were correct, and also makes the customer feel safe walking into an unfamiliar business.
  2. Signage. Not only is signage important from the purely practical sense of helping potential customers to find you, but your sign and its quality are the primary symbol of your brand to the outside world. A 2015 study found that 68 percent of customers believe signage reflects the quality of goods and services provided, and 76 percent relied on signs as a primary factor to determine whether or not they would enter a business. A critical aspect of sign design often overlooked by businesses is the need to develop a signage plan for each type of customer likely to approach the business. For instance, a horizontal sign band above the transom featuring large lettering is important for automobile traffic, while projecting blade signs and window lettering are equally important because they allow pedestrians to find your business.
  3. Lighting. Especially given Wisconsin’s long, dark winters, a well-lit storefront serves as a beacon of activity and also provides 24/7 marketing. Even when the business is not open, a lit storefront keeps working to draw positive attention and increase brand awareness.
  4. Merchandising. A well-merchandised window that changes with the seasons serves to catch the interest of individuals and create a reason to visit for both new and returning customers. Think of a storefront window display as a prepaid billboard for your business, and treat its content the same way you would if you were paying a monthly rate for the advertising space. The merchandise doesn’t have to be expensive or elaborate, but should be colorful and eye-catching, and should convey a message to the outside world.
  5. SandwichboardasmerchandisingPortlandORIn communities that allow it, outdoor merchandising offers additional ways to engage with the street, regardless of the type of business. Successful strategies might include outdoor displays, sandwich boards or outdoor seating. While it may be obvious that outdoor seating increases restaurant sales by adding tables, adding outdoor seating to any type of business can boost traffic by making the business more inviting (boosting retail sales by up to 20 percent, several studies have shown). Additionally, encouraging people to sit outside your business will help it look like a popular destination, in turn enticing more potential customers to visit. Examples of effective non-restaurant seating might include a salon that adds an outdoor waiting area, a bookstore with a reading space, or a running shop with a stretching station or post-run seating with shade. While these improvements can have a dramatic impact on business profitability, successfully implementing these enhancements often requires the cooperation and support of the local municipality.