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Creating a Visual Identity

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(Photo: ©iStockphoto.com/VCTStyle)

Howard Scott |

PEMBROKE, Mass. — “Why should I spend money on an identity when I spell out exactly what we are?”

That’s the question one store owner asks as he’s standing in front of his store sign that reads, “Laundromat.”

As an afterthought, he says, “Everybody knows who we are.”

That’s true, but perhaps it’s not true on a deeper, more subconscious level.

Perhaps there are improvements an owner can make in creating a more readable, more identifiable name that engraves his/her existence in the customer’s mind and minimizes the presence of competition.

Expanding Your Influence

In practical terms, and depending on how many stores are crammed in a small area, your store will always be the Laundromat of choice in the 1-mile diameter encircling you. But there is a second circle, 2 to 4 miles out, where many customers have options.

These customers can patronize XYZ Laundromat at the border of the next town, or ABC Laundromat in the next town on the opposite side. Moreover, your commercial accounts have even more discretion of whom they will use to handle their laundry. It is this segment that could be swayed by an improved identity.

Here’s a personal example of how a visual wordplay creates impact. When I owned my business, I put the words “Tempus fugit, so do we” on the front and back of my trucks. This translates from Latin to, “Time flies, so do we.”

About twice a week, someone called my company asking what the words meant. My drivers would be endlessly kidded about the wordplay. When I visited a customer, someone might say, “Here’s Mr. Tempus Fugit” or “It’s the Latin scholar.” One time, I was asked to visit a radio station and explain the wordplay. This received big play.

See how the words expanded into something big? They created attention.

Identity matters. The late Joe Selame, principal of Selame Design in Boston, wrote, “Identity is the cornerstone of a successful firm.” Selame gave identities to many area institutions, including Stop & Shop, CVS, Fenway Franks, Goodwill Industries, Massachusetts General Hospital, Zoots and Veryfine Juice Products, as well as countless hundreds of smaller organizations.

Selame’s wisdom includes: “No company is too small to have an identity makeover.” “Every company can be improved by an identity.” “A good name helps a company stand out from the pack.” “A company without a symbol is like a country without a flag.”

His formula was pretty simple:

  • Get at the essence.
  • Create something that people remember.
  • Keep it simple.
  • Come up with a different identity that will stand the test of time.

Go To It

Here is how you go about creating an identity without spending a small fortune. Sit down with your company name on the top of a piece of lined paper. Play around with the name. Look at the initials and see if it spells something out. Maybe the town could be added into the wording. Is there a flow to the words? Is there a shape that appeals to your eye? Perhaps the three-word name can be one word on each line, the second and third words indented, to create a step effect. You might create a one-word, upward-tilting script format that would be pleasing to the eye.

Is there some logo you might incorporate into the name? How about a washing machine outline, and the center is the letter “O,” representing the machine door? What about using a stack of shirts representing finished product alongside your name? How about a linked circle of different clothing silhouettes in black, from socks to shirts to pants, encircling the copy. It’s all about brainstorming.

Consider adding a slogan, such as “Clean clothes every day.” “The friendly Laundromat.” “Wear clothes well and long.” “Cleanliness is next to Godliness.” If you are on a corner, you might try “The Corner Laundry.” Might “The Neighborhood Laundry” work? Some might go bold and try something far out, such as “The Laundress with Mostess.”

After you’ve puttered around for a bit, bring your ideas to a product-identity expert. You might go to a company like Selame Design if you don’t mind spending $10,000. But if that’s a bit too rich for your blood, hire a product-design student who might charge $500 or so for the opportunity to work on a real-world challenge.

Or even better, submit this challenge as a class project. The creator of the winning entry receives a reward. This way, you’ll receive a few dozen submissions. You and the instructor can choose the winner. Even better, you can incorporate different ideas into your identity.

So now you have a new identity. What should you do with it? Over time, convert the old into the new. Order business cards to reflect the new you. Have a banner made of your new identity and hang it in the store.

Put up a sandwich board in front of your store and in the parking lot. Order a newspaper ad introducing the change. If your overhead sign needs updating, redo the sign. If you need a new delivery truck, add the image to the exterior. When you run out of invoices or stationery, add the new identity to the new forms.

What can you expect from your identity efforts? Nothing will happen on day one. A few customers might say, “I like the banner.” Hopefully, no one will say, “That’s awful. I can’t read it.”

Over time, people will grow to trust you a bit more. Long-time customers as well as new patrons will feel more comfortable in your store. When someone asks someone about a Laundromat, there is a good chance that your store will be mentioned.

If you are a multiple-store owner, it will become clearer that you’re a chain. If you do cold canvassing, you’ll have more confidence handing out business cards.

You will see new faces in your store. You’ll attract new commercial accounts. And, finally, one day, you’ll realize that your business is expanding more than ever before.

About the author

Howard Scott

H&R Block

Industry Writer, Drycleaning Consultant, and H&R Block Tax Preparer

Howard Scott is a longtime industry writer and drycleaning consultant, and an H&R Block tax preparer specializing in small businesses. He welcomes questions and comments, and can be reached by writing Howard Scott, Dancing Hill, Pembroke, MA 02359.

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