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Sign Language


Signs are an almost subliminal aspect of food marketing, ubiquitous but serving a multitude of functions, among them informing, guiding and identifying.

A brand’s beacon, exterior signage has changed significantly in the past 20 years, according to James Watson, president of Dallas-based Signs Manufacturing Corp.

“Almost every grocery sign used to be lighted with neon,” he notes, “but LED products have advanced far enough to compete with neon in terms of illumination, so most building signs are now lighted with LEDs.”

Likewise, adds Watson, the digital display market has pushed forward as pricing has come down, and as a result many grocery signs now incorporate full-color LED displays as part of their sign marketing packages.

Even so, he sees the biggest hurdle for exterior signage as local ordinances. “The trend is to severely restrict or eliminate free-standing pole and pylon signs,” he says. “This creates a tremendous problem for a grocer’s ability to market their store, as free-standing signs have always been a permanent, inexpensive way to advertise, long-term.”

Many stores, he continues, address this problem by building up the storefront, frequently adding a “tower” to the building, and putting signage on the building instead. “We’ve developed many different monument — ground — sign options to circumvent pole and pylon sign ordinances,” he observes.

What’s more, according to Watson, LED displays are also being targeted by ordinances as they become more popular. “Stores that move quickly tend to get the larger, nicer signs grandfathered under the old ordinances,” he points out.

Signs Manufacturing Corp. now builds its own LED signs, getting ETL approval for installation where ETL Listed signs are required. Originally a mark of ETL Testing Laboratories, the ETL Listed Mark is now a mark of London-based Intertek Testing Services.

“LEDs continue to change daily,” asserts Watson, “so we constantly monitor new technology improvements and test new LED products to ensure we are using the best and brightest lighting in our signs.”

The company also has developed an iOS and Android app called Sign Service Request, which lets a store place a mobile service call in the event of a sign outage. “It’s as easy as two touches on the device to place a service call,” says Watson.

Inside Jobs

In the area of interior signage, “[s]upermarkets have trended over the years to their own paper signage programs to add flexibility and control to their signs,” notes Dave Lyons, marketing/creative director at Blanc Display Group, in Dover, N.J. “They can change at a moment’s notice to extra added information like bar codes, unit prices and savings. It’s not as attractive as a professionally printed sign, but I believe they like the flexibility.”

He adds the caveat that supermarkets will always need to bring attention to specific categories inside departments to better guide the shopper. “These are normally bigger signs that they can’t produce in-house,” he says. “These are usually printed by a printing/manufacturing company and made more durable and longer-lasting.”

Lyons’ company creates vehicles that support signage, manufacturing sign frames and holders that can attach to just about anything. “We’ve evolved more into a solutions company,” he asserts. “Our customers call and ask for solutions. And it normally turns into custom pieces. Larger chains generally have their own art departments, and they develop the look they want and we make their look work in the store’s environment.”

According to Lyons, Blanc Display Group’s QR code signage program entices shoppers to engage with and learn more about the products they’re buying. “Smartphone users are coming around and using it for coupons, and some retailers are trying to engage them with promotions through special apps,” he says. “Think about this: Five years ago, if you asked a person what an app is, they would look at you like you’re stupid.”

Forecasting the future of supermarket signs is a ‘tough one,” admits Lyons, but he sees retailers still using their own paper sign programs, with some switching to a well-designed professional approach to make the consumer shopping experience fun. “Eventually, it may all go digital,” he speculates.

Tags are It

Lissette Robledo, marketing manager at Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Evolis Inc. says: “We have found that supermarkets and grocers were looking for a more professional and consistent manner in which to display their products’ pricing, which would result in a better brand image. They were also frustrated with how time-consuming and inefficient their price tag updates were.”

Evolis’ solution was to deliver price tags on a plastic card, combining an Evolis Zenius or an Evolis Primacy card printer for single-sided or double-sided printing, card design software, and what Robledo calls the “consumables” required to print and hold the card.

The price tags can be instantly issued and have advanced design options, plus the back of the price tag, facing the employee, can include a bar code as well as a PLU code, weighing code or other information. “This eases data capture when calculating the price of a product or quantity purchase,” observes Robledo.

She further notes that plastic cards can withstand humidity, and that their smooth surface can be washed easily and rapidly. The cards can include bar codes and QR codes that are easily scanned by any mobile device, and the Evolis printer’s encoding capabilities can issue a price tag with embedded NFC (near-field communication) functionality to receive cooking recipes or other details.

According to Robledo, Evolvis “would like to see the implementation and expansion of plastic price tags in the United States, as has already happened in many European countries.”

Indeed, the signs are there that supermarket signs will become even more shopper-friendly and brand-building in the food retailing future.

“We constantly monitor new technology improvements and test new LED products to ensure we are using the best and brightest lighting in our signs.”
—James Watson, Signs Manufacturing Corp.

“What makes Whole Foods unique is that every store has its own customized look and personality, often echoing the surrounding community and its history.”
—Matt Jeffries, Chute Gerdeman

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