How do you get noticed in the middle of the block?

Reader Dan Johnson, from the Main Street Mall and Perkins Pizza Factory in Perkins, Oklahoma, asked about getting noticed when you’re in the middle of the block. With a row of brick storefronts, it can be tough to stand out!

Traverse City
When you’re one business on a long block,
how can you stand out?
This block is in Traverse City, Michigan. 

“I am considering the purchase and installation of an LED sign, but my building is located in an old downtown area–in fact it is a National Historic Register Historic District (although my building was not a qualifying building when the designation took place).
I don’t want to upset the apple cart and stand out like a sore thumb downtown, but I sure need to get my business noticed, as it is in the middle of the block and otherwise rather easy to miss.
Do you know if this has been done successfully elsewhere? City ordinance does not prevent it, and we are no longer a Main Street community. Any advice? Thanks!” 

I can share some advice from Scott Day who did a session on “50 ideas for retailers under fifty dollars.” He said you shouldn’t even need an open sign, because the whole front of your store makes it ultra clear that you are open. You might open the front door or set out special exterior displays to make it obvious. He showed an example of using a garden gate with a chalkboard signboard attached that one place used as a sidewalk display. For a pizza place, how about a little table with a red/white check table cloth that sits out when you’re open? Something like that. The rest of Scott’s ideas are here: Small Town Retail Ideas Part 1.

Traverse City
One store in that Traverse City block, Cherry Republic,
uses a sidewalk display to show they are
open for business. 

A couple of other ideas occurred while brainstorming with my husband about this question:

How about a pic of your building right on the front page of your website? That way when people come looking for you, it will be easier for them to pick out which place you are even in the middle of the block.

How about a cooperative project with a neighboring business or the guy at the end of the block? A simple A frame sign could advertise both places, and draw people down the block.

What about you? How do you use your exterior or window space to get noticed?

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About Becky McCray

Becky started Small Biz Survival in 2006 to share rural business and community building stories and ideas with other small town business people. She and her husband own a retail liquor store in Alva, Oklahoma, and a small cattle ranch nearby. Becky is an international speaker on small business.

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  1. says

    How about putting a bench outside, perhaps next to a potted tree or large plant? Invites people to sit and enjoy and draws attention to your store. We love our benches in Brooklyn!

  2. says

    Is there any way to add a pop of color to the awning or the windows that would draw the eye of passersby? Something that doesn’t clash with the surroundings, but definitely stands out. I like the idea of the chalkboard easel with a daily special or welcome message, too.

  3. says

    I would agree with what is written above. You need to create a “vibe” about the place that draws people in. Something that says, relax and stay awhile. The people seen around your establishment are what will draw more people. I definately dont think a bright sign fits the image of the street.

  4. says

    Using the imagery example in the article, the process goes back to basic marketing, right? If you want to be noticed, you need to be noticeable. If every building on your row has green awnings, you shouldn’t. You have one or two stories of open windows that could be dressed – as simple as bright curtains, but maybe additional advertising, imagery, etc. Hire a sign boy, do streetside samples, get out and tell people who you are and what they can do at your location. It’s not enough to simply exist in space and expect people to come to you – go get them. Your happy customers will always be your best tool. We all know that “hole in the wall” place that you would drive past for years never knowing about it, until someone clues you in. These places survive because they know their market, and suit their strategies accordingly.

    There is a secondary challenge, when you consider things like opening a shop in a historic district or renting from someone that has put specific work into restoring buildings in a certain way. That consideration should be that you simply shouldn’t open a business some place that you’re not comfortable with being able to draw attention. For instance, I’d say do something like paint the storefront differently, but that can clearly be a challenge in a historic location. You have to be prepared, at least in part, to assume the risks of the location you’re opening in in exchange for whatever benefits may also come (cheap rent, good location, available space, etc). Assess a location for viability so you know what you’re getting into, because it is possible to open a business in a location that simply isn’t capable of sustaining the market for what you’re doing.

    It’s a dangerous line towns walk as well, declaring all these main street locations “historical,” because with that label comes a lot of these restrictions that can actually hinder their ability to draw in strong, viable businesses that have specific visual identities that don’t adapt well. So that understanding needs to flow both directions.

    • says

      Michael, thank you! Great points about thinking about limits that come with locations. I’m also with you on the ways to actively get out and look for customers.