SIGNS - your Silent Salesmen

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Maybe you don't need signs.

  • If you know the price, and all the features, of every product you sell …
  • if you always tell each and every customer that walks in the door all that information about every product you sell, regardless of whether or not they ask …
  • if all your staff does the same, including the kid who started last Thursday …
  • then you probably don't need signs.

Signs tell our customers something about us:

  • They tell what we do.
  • They tell our policies and reduce misunderstandings.
  • They tell our services and the prices we charge for those services.
  • They reduce the chance that we'll have to do something over.
  • They spell things out, in black and white or in color.
  • Signs tell people where to go - by setting aside departments.
  • They say something about our staff.
  • Signs can help customers visualize something that's not easily explained, such as the APS concept.

Signs can tell a customer more than just a price - they can spell out features, benefits, the value that your store adds and reasons to buy from you They help separate one type of merchandise from another, guiding both you and your customers

Sign8x10.JPG (16947 bytes)Signs can help prevent misunderstandings. Is there a store anywhere that hasn't had a customer hit the roof because his or her 8"x10" enlargement cut off the detail at the ends - or because the 8x12 you made instead didn't fit the frame? It's not our fault that Oscar Barnack chose an 35mm aspect ratio that was different from the glass plates used in the 19th century - but counter personnel have been "paying for that sin" ever since! The sign here was easy to make. We made an 8"x12", trimmed off an inch from each end, and mounted the trimmings next to the 8"x10" which remained.


Whenever an enlargement is ordered, staff are instructed to point to this sign and say these exact words: "Of course, we make all 8x10s as 8x12 prints."

If the image isn't clear on your monitor, here's what it says:

All 8"x10" enlargements
from 35mm or APS film
are really 8"x12".
Why? Because negatives are 1 times
as long as they are wide. If one side is
magnified to 8", the other one becomes 12".
We can trim 2" off the long end if you like.

    Traditionally, retailers have used many ways to make signs

  • magic marker
  • paint brush
  • stencils
  • transfer letters
  • draftsmen's pens
  • the Brother P-Touch labeler

But for the small businessperson today, there's really only one way - the computer. Most signmaking programs don't require much in the way of a computer. Even an old DOS machine is capable.

What's really important is a good printer and the right software.

While I've made signs with high-end software like Corel Draw or Adobe PhotoShop or PageMaker, there are many good cheap graphics programs - perfect for signmakers. I once received a copy of Print Shop Deluxe free with an ink cartridge & paper purchase for my Hewlett-Packard ink jet printer. Printmaster Gold usually costs under $30, less when you can find a rebate. Either is an excellent choice.

A good printer is essential. Color ink jets are readily available under $200, and OkiData now has a laser-type page printer in the same range. Ink jets offer the advantage of full color, but per-page cost is high because of the high cost of consumables. Lasers and LED array printers like the Okidata give pure black images of extreme clarity. New ink jet printers from Hewlett Packard (about $400) and Epson (about $800) will make prints up to 11"x17", and handle even bigger paper.

Signs can say why your store is a better place to buy. For example,  you may be selling the Yafujikon 377 for $199.99 while the highway stores offer it for $127.88. Your sign should look like this:


Our Deluxe Yafujikon 377
outfit includes all this:

  • Quartz-date back worth $30
  • Infrared remote worth $20
  • Carrying case worth $29.99
  • Extended warranty (4 years, not 1), worth $39.99
  • Film and lithium battery worth $15.27

Total value of extras $135.25,  free when you buy at
Fawn's Camera Hall


Make your signs reflect the personality of your store

Signs from your vendors often include celebrity spokespersons - Canon signs have featured Andre Agassi, Kodak signs featured Bill Cosby, Cybill Shepard, etc.

When your signs feature the staff of your store, it helps make your store look like a bigger, more enduring entity. During an enlargement promotion, I used a poster-sized photo of myself holding some enlargements, with a cartoon-like balloon saying "Blow yourself up - buy 2 enlargements, the 3rd is FREE!"

Step-by-step guide for making a major sign

  1. The poster-sized sign at the top of the page (repeated below) was created using Adobe PhotoShop LE. The full version of PhotoShop is expensive; LE is often bundled free with low-cost flatbed scanners.
  2. Take a portrait of Lab Technicians Cindy and Heather against a white background, leaving plenty of room on the left side for copy.
  3. Scan the logotypes of each of the film manufacturers. These were found in various sources: ads in the photo magazines, co-op ad slick kits. The Kodak logo was taken off a photofinishing envelope.
  4. Adjust sizes and layout the ad to fit.
  5. Write the text "whatever film you take it with, it looks better when we process and print it at Chris'." PhotoShop is not the ideal page layout software, making the text fit was the toughest part of the project.
  6. Print on the largest inkjet printer we have access to. One of our part-timers has a Hewlett Packard CS1000E at her full-time job. I saved the image as a JPEG and took it on a floppy disk to her office, allowing me to make an 11"x17" print
  7. To make an even bigger print, I had a friend make a 35mm color negative on his film recorder and ordered a 20" x 30" color poster from our outlab. We then mounted it in an aluminum frame whose speckled-gray pattern closely matches the countertops in the store.

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