Does the signage on the exterior of your storefront tell the story of what's inside? Does it deliver the message? You may be surprised by the answer.

In today's retail environment, exterior signage must have the necessary snap and sizzle to attract not just any shopper, but the shopper who is interested and will buy your merchandise.

Although in most cases signs are purchased by the construction department and may in fact come from the construction budget, they are a major part of the marketing effort. That being the case, you just may be entrusting your design to the wrong organization.

In more than 20 years in the industry, I have seen many high-quality sign designers employed by sign companies, but very few of them have had merchandising experience or an understanding of the psychology of colors. Without proper training, the sign designer may create a sign that has the potential for disastrous results. Many sign designers fail to realize the impact of color, since the sign industry primarily concerns itself with readability.

The hot colors - reds, yellows and in-between hues - send a message to our brains that spurs impulse buying. The cold colors - notably the blues and greens - suggest to us to come in and browse. It is the mix of the two color spectrums that can get the amateur in trouble.

While colors have a psychological impact, readability also comes into play. The most legible colors, after black on white, are the hot colors. They have the best daytime read, and there is little question that the cold colors at night tend to bleed together, making them more difficult to read.

Color is only one part of the project. Now comes the actual sign design. Does the sign give a hint as to what is inside, or is the consumer left to wonder? If left to wonder, shoppers might just pass you by, or inappropriate shoppers might visit and leave without a purchase.

The signage at Guitar Gallery, for example, leaves little doubt about what's inside - and it also goes a step further. Even if we do not have children, or play a guitar, the signs draw us in. Once inside, the shopper may be prompted to purchase a gift for a friend or relative.

I suggest that retailers and mall developers employ the use of respected design firms. Once a design is agreed upon, then your sign company should be consulted. Now come the issues of cost and construction.

First, what looks good on a sheet of paper may not be buildable. The sign company can suggestchanges that will allow for proper construction and at the same time maintain the integrity of the design.

Let your sign company "value engineer" the design. Sometimes, reducing the size by a few inches enables the sign company to purchase standard-size raw materials rather than special-order the goods. Such an adjustment can save a substantial amount of money in materials and labor, thereby bringing the project into a pre-established budget.

The sign company might suggest other revisions. The stroke of the letter may be too thin to accommodate neon, so it might be necessary to fatten the stroke or somewhat modify the font. The design may employ materials that have a shorter life span than desired, and the sign company can make suggestions that will increase the life of the product.

Another important consideration in sign design is permitting. Sign codes vary, so it's imperative to decide whether the sign can be upsized or downsized. Can the sign be separated if needed so that continuity and brand recognition are assured from city to city?

The key to success in any sign program is to integrate the services of your providers. Have your design professionals talk with your sign professionals during the design phase so that everyone's expertise is used to maximize your investment.