Hello shoppers...


When the song "Signs" was released by The Five Man Electrical Band in March of 1970, as the B side to "Hello Melinda Goodbye," nobody at the time cared much about the tune, or which side of a 45 it was on.

But when it was re-released (as an A side) in 1971, "Signs" shot to #3 on the pop charts and became an instant cultural phenomenon and hippie favorite, joining a growing list of anti-establishment "Right on!" songs that long-haired freaky people embraced, albeit often prone in their parent's basements, stoned out of their minds.

Today, the harmless little diddy (remade by the band Tesla in 1990 and sampled by other artists for other songs since then) sounds like the relic it is - an indictment of "the man," who, at the time, was anyone over 30, and Richard Nixon.

Yet the song carries a message that's more accurate, technically (if less pertinent socially) than it was 40 years ago: There certainly are a lot of signs.

Most signs - those that are intentionally placed for us to see - fall into three general categories: Signs that inform us, signs that warn us and signs that entice us.

Most of the marketing work I do with my Buyosphere clients involves the last of that trimulative. Regardless of how much business owners (and employees) love to hang signs, my overall philosophy is to take down every sign that isn't absolutely necessary, then take those down, too, and then put the responsibility of telling a store's story, where it belongs: in the hands of that store's employees.

Yet from a practical standpoint, some signage is necessary, and can even be effective, if properly done.  

Melanie Mcintosh is a British Columbia marketing consultant. In Effective Retail Signage, she writes that good signage will "attract the customer, provide just the right amount of information and invite the customer to enter your store or try your product."  

Conversely, Mcintosh thinks that bad retail signage - which I believe makes up the majority of what we shoppers see - can actually dissuade us from spending money.

"Unprofessional signage is confusing to the customer and sends a negative message about your store and product," she writes. "Common problems include too many signs, ambiguous or misleading messages, spelling errors or signs that are difficult to read."

How many signs, retail or otherwise, do we see in an average day?

While doing research for this blog post, I committed myself to keeping track of every street sign, billboard sign, in-store merchandise and price sign I saw throughout a day's normal journey, throughout Central Iowa. I gave up in 43 minutes, after counting exactly 1,283 signs.

For today's sign post purposes (that was kinda funny) I've posted pictures of some interesting, unusual and silly signs, along with hopefully interesting, unusual and silly comments about them.  


This billboard, at 63rd and Army Post Road, facing south, feels powerful, and has hopefully been effective in raising awareness about a terrible social ill, and a wonderful organization that provides support to those who battle it.

 Okay, it's not a "retail" sign, but it was at the same corner as the billboard, and it made me laugh.

A driver sits in the left-hand turn lane on 63rd at this light, which has a huge white left-hand turn only arrow painted on the road, and a vibrant green left turn arrow on the light, pointing to the left.

But just in case that may have flown under the radar of the confused traveler, who specifically pulled into this left turn only lane to specifically turn to the left, the DOT has included (at no additional charge!) a huge white "LEFT TURN SIGNAL" sign.

Yet the corner itself remains incredibly dangerous, as you can see. Where are the "GO STRAIGHT SIGNAL" signs for the other two lights? Hmmmmm???

I noticed this unreadable backwards sign, facing outwards, on The Thrift Store door, in Valley Junction, and wondered, why?

In half a minute, the store's new owner, Daniel James, showed up and clued me in.

He explained that the door is normally propped open, which turns the sign outward, allowing people to see that "Cold Pop and Water," which he offers in front of the store, sells for just $1.00.

!uoy od os dna ,wonk I woN

(If you want to know how I just did that, click anywhere on this sentence.)

At Angie's Kids Zone, also in Valley Junction, they're hanging signage the (W)right way, placing it so the kids it's meant for, can see it.  (There was another store on the same street that had this same sign hung 10 feet off the ground, in their window - they might want to rethink that.)

Staying at Valley Junction, I like what Back Alley Bargains has done with this sign. First, it makes shoppers search through all of their merchandise, to find the orange dot, and get the savings. Second, by creating a sub-category of discounted items, it includes all of those items, unlike the next sign...

While I love Eclectic Gourd's store name, I think the sales sign is too broad, while also making me think about what's not on sale ("almost") instead of focusing my mind on what is (everything with an orange, or pink or lavender, dot).

I've "asked" more than one retail client to take down their small, tough-to-read-from-my-car posted hours, and put up new ones, which can be read from the street.

That would also be my recommendation for Brent and MaryJane Long, the owners of the very pretty Eye Beads and Gemstones in Valley Junction. As I'm taking this picture about five feet away from the sign - can you read it?

Floral Touch, also in Valley Junction, has a huge, beautiful glass store front showcasing their elegant wares, and an equally elegant store sign, which they undoubtedly had created at great expense.

Unfortunately, as it looks now, shoppers don't see that.

Instead our attention is drawn towards the not-as-elegant-looking, haphazardly hung banner, and flat-out cheap-looking hand-written sign.

There are more effective ways to communitate those additional store elements, without ruining everything business owners have spent so much, and worked so hard, to create.

Place the banner towards the bottom of the window, on the opposite side, or make a smaller version of it, still in color, and hang it on the front door entrance. Then tell every visitor who visits the store, about the clearance room, and close-out sale.

That feels better, and will look better.


If you're going to pay with plastic, or just have to go potty, you may want to consider anyplace but The General Store Eatery. The incorrect punctuation - no apostrophe is needed before the S, in either case - doesn't help matter's.

Regardless, business owners should keep signs telling us what they can't, don't or won't do, to a minimum - it feels like you're scolding us. Instead, let us come in and find out for ourselves. When such signs have to be posted, owners should always include a "please" and "thank you." The disabled access sign almost makes up for the other two.

Pretty cursive handwriting (This HAD to have been written by a woman) and a nice wish at the end, makes this an aesthetically pleasant, well thought-out sign for Betts Bridal.

I like this idea, at The Longest Yard Sports Grill. But it's hard to make something look hand breaded, when its been reproduced by an iPhone, and a Canon C2620 Copier. Food, in particular, never looks as good to us hungry shoppers when we see it in a picture (or on locally produced TV ads, shot on video) as when we get to experience it in person.

Instead, put a real tenderloin on a real plate with real fries. and create a "Special Of The Day" window display. Now that's yummy!

One of my favorite signs, found at Nan's Nummies in Valley Junction. Brilliant, and delicious!

You've probably seen this great sign for the downtown life insurance company, at 9th and Grand. Is it pronounced "eeng" or "un?"

This sign appeared at the entrance to the Walmart parking lot, in Ames.

Are they demonstrating grills? Are they questioning BP Chairman Tony Hayward? Are they selling subscriptions to a specialty magazine for grilling aficionados?

Let's see if the other side of the sign, sheds some light...

Food - cool! NOW we know!

As I was moving to the other side of the sign to take this second shot, the woman who put the sign there and owns the company that does the grilling and the selling of the grilled food to patrons, approached me. She asked me what in the world I was doing, and after I told her, told me not to bother to photograph the other side, because "both sides say 'grilled brats and burgers'."

Woe be it for me to question a business owner.

The owners/managers of this Ames Kwik Shop store apparently don't know, as Angie's Kids Zone in Valley Junction does, that putting advertisements down low, means shorter people - we often refer to them as "children" - will see the ad.

They may want to consider a different store front location for this one - especially in Ames, one of the toughest cities for smokers in the country.

Sure, this doesn't qualify as "retail signage." But the above DOT information sign, which appears along the north and south bound lanes of Interstate 35, just north of the Ankeny exit, had "fun" written all over it, and not in spray paint by bored juveniles, but in blog-speak, by a bored juvenile adult.

I called the 511 number as I headed up to Ames, to kill time, and to see how our tax money is being spent.

"Welcome to 511 travel information, brought to you by The Iowa State Patrol, and the Iowa Department of Transportation. You can also access travel information on the internet, at www.511ia.org."

Awesome! I'll access it on my laptop, while I'm driving!

"For help with this system, press pound-pound, or say 'help' at any time."


"There are currently critical disruptions on many state highways."

Uh...maybe you could have started with that, but okay, thanks for the head's up.

"For road reports, press or say 'one.'"


"For metro reports, press or say 'two.'"


"For trucker's reports, press or say 'three.'"

Lady, you listen about as well as my ex-girlfriend.

"I'm sorry. I did not understand what you said."

Okay, you ARE my ex. Let's have an argument.

"I'm sorry. I did not-"


"To comment on the 511 system, press or say 'five.'"

How about I just comment and say that this systems blows.

"I'm sorry. I-"


"For help with the 511 system, press pound-pound, or say 'help.'"

I keep hearing her words, "...critical disruptions ahead." That's probably DOT code for, "The Earth cracked open, and took out everything north of Cambridge."


"Welcome to 511 travel information, brought to you by The Iowa State Patrol, The..."

There's the Barilla plant. Ames lives. I hang up.

Note to self: Next time, use the laptop.

Colorful, easy to read, smart, simple - the perfect sign.

The owner of Pure Paper, in The East Village, shows The General Store Eatery in Valley Junction, how to politely let patrons know that they run a store, not a Port-A-John.

There are a few things you can't do at The House Of Bricks in The East Village, but the things you can do, probably make up for them.

This adorable sign was drawn by 9 year-old Avi Lekowsky, the son of David Lekowsky.

David also told me that he is the third generation Lekowsky to own and operate American Plumbing Supply on East Grand, since his grandfather started the business, in 1937...

...and later, in the 40's, re-did this sign, which was originally built for Ferguson Plumbling.

This weight of this magnificent sign, said David, can no longer be supported by the building's facade, and will soon be moved to The State Historical Building, a block to the east. The Des Moines Register did a piece on the move, last week.

The big sign is still not as cute as Avi's little one. :)

Kiehls, according to the sign, is in some pretty amazing cities. Yet there was no need to include "Eden," as the marketing department did, as that's a bit repetitive.

Being in Iowa, as Kevin Costner taught us, means Kiehl's is already in Heaven.

The funny sign on the front door of Buddy's Corral, on East 5th, offers this conundrum.

Here's another si-nun-drum.

Shouldn't this street sign be in the middle of the road? If we can read it, as it sits bolted to a pole beside the sidewalk that runs along East 5th, we're probably safely away from the center line. If we can't, then it's too late, anyway.

I mean, you don't put the "Don't feed the bears" sign by the giraffes - right?

Just a thought.

As we continue our tour, remaining on East 5th, here's another crazy sign, that's apparently dented because a car backed into it, because the city never listens to my cool ideas.

Shouldn't the wording on this sign be backwards, so law-abiding people who are backing in, can read it in their rearview mirror, instead of the city printing it forwards, so that only the cheaters can read it, as they pull forward into the parking slot?

Like this:

ylnO gnikraP elgnA nI kcaB

If only they listened to ole' Jonnie.

This is an important sign, as it lets emergency personnel know that there are four (4) stairwells that need checking, in the event of a fire.

A few quick thoughts.

1. If they need to remind Fire Department staff to check the stairwells, shouldn't they also throw in a reminder to check the basement? How about the bathrooms? Anybody hiding in a closet? The ceiling? Where's the complete list?

2. Shouldn't the Fire Department be checking for everyone?

Jonnie: "We'll stay in the category of  'Emergency Signs,' for 600, Alex. "

Alex: "And the answer is - this thoughtful apology, attached to a case in which a properly working defibrillator once sat, was read in horror by patrons with a history of heart arrhythmias, earlier this year, at what local shopping center?"


Alex: "Yes, Jonnie?"

Jonnie: "What is, that sorta run-down strip of stores at 2nd and Euclid, that used to house the main DOT, which then got moved to Ankeny, where I showed up in a dress and almost got busted by a bored cop?"

Alex: "That is incorrect."

Jonnie: "Poop."


Alex: "Susan?"

Susan: "What is, The Jordan Creek Mall?"


Alex: "That is correct! For $600!"

The Jeopardy of having a cardiac event at JCM and having to be jump-started by somebody pulling a cord out of a lamp from Pottery Barn Kids, de-insulating the ends, attaching them to your fingers and plugging the other end into a socket, has been eliminated, as the now-repaired defibrillator has been happily returned to its happy home.

Last but not least, as our retail (and otherwise) signage tour of Central Iowa comes to a close, I offer you, not a retail sign at all, but an image that begs for one, as Andy works hard in the parking lot at the downtown Quik Trip, on Ingersoll.

"Buy one pack of Paul Malls, and get a handy clean-up broom and ash-pan, free!"


(Seen any cool, funny or interesting signs, in your travels across Central Iowa? Email them to me, at jonniewright@thebuyosphere.com, and I'll include them in a future "signs" post.)

.moc.erehpsoyubeht@thgirweinnoj ta einnoJ liamE .TNRK ,0531 no ,ma9-8 sgninrom yadrutaS ,wohS oidaR reppohS tercesnU ehT fo tsoh dna tsigetarts gnitekram ,reppohs terces lanoisseforp ,reniart dna rotaulave ecivres remotsuc a si thgirW einnoJ

Open The Buyosphere Toolbox to get FREE exclusive access to proven tools that will help you generate higher shop sales and profits - delivered weekly, right to your inbox!