One of the biggest challenges small businesses face today is what kind of signs they can use outside of their brick and mortar location. The rules differ from city to city, and if you don’t do your research before installing your flashy new signage, you could be faced with hefty fines and custom signs you can’t use. For the most part, portable outdoor signs such as plastic a-frames are okay, as well as window vinyl but once you get into permanent signage such as illuminated and hanging business signs you need to pull a permit with the city.
City sign codes differ from location to location, so the best thing to do first is to call your community development office and ask what the codes are. Often times there will be what is called a sign package criteria for multiple tenant locations such as strip malls and complexes that will outline what kind of signs are allowed and what they should look like. If you have a free standing building you need to contact your local city development office and find out what the general guidelines are. In some instances, you are allowed permanent signage on your building as long as it follows a certain criteria, but need to pull a permit for special events in order to hang banners, feather flags and pennants.
Ever wonder why you can only find sidewalk signs in certain sizes? It’s because there are laws for those too. Portable outdoor signs can’t be an obstruction or be in the right of way for drivers or passerbys so often times there are special rules for what size portable sidewalk signs you can put out in front of your business as well.
So now we’ve determined that you want signs outside of your business. You know what you want and what you are allowed to have. How do you go about obtaining these permits from the City? It is no easy task and that is why we have decided to break it down for you. Granted some cities are stricter than others, but generally speaking, this should at least help navigate your way through the elusive land of sign permits.
Most often, for non-illuminated signs you will need to fill out an application online, submit a spec sheet of the sign you intend to install or use as well as a scaled mock-up of what your sign will look like on the building with elevations depicted on the building frontage. So where do you get these documents and how do you get started?
Every City is different, but here is generally how to obtain your non-illuminated sign permit documents in 5 easy steps:
1. Get the Application. Go online to your City or County website Development Services. Do a search for Sign Permits. You should be able to download a Sign Permit Submittal Checklist that will have a list of the documents you need to submit, along with the Sign Permit Application.
2. Contractor’s Documents. Many municipalities require a contractor or a sign shop to install permanent signage, so contact your local sign shop to supply you with the contractor’s license and bonding affidavit.
3. Sign Specs. Submit a spec sheet of the sign itself. Have a printout depicting an image of the sign along with the width and height, what the sign is made of, and how it will attach to the building. if it is a freestanding marquee sign, you will want to show how it will be constructed and how it will be installed.
4. Scaled drawings. If you are hiring a sign shop to make and install the signage, they should be able to supply you with scaled drawings. If not, this is what you need to do:
Go outside and get a picture of your building frontage. Measure the height and the width of the building or suite frontage. Use a design program to superimpose the sign (to scale) onto the building frontage so you have a mockup of what the sign will look like installed. Draw in lines indicating the height and width of the sign, type in the height and width of the sign itself, and then go in and draw lines to reflect the height and width of the building frontage.
5. Site Plan. Where do you get the site plan? You will want to go on your county assessor’s website to the parcel viewer in the maps section. Type in the address of your business. You should get either a map view or basemap (traditional map style view) or an imagery view of your physical location. Zoom in so you can see the property lines and the adjacent streets and print out the parcel information with a map. Highlight your suite or building location, draw in a line where the sign goes and write in what kind of sign is being installed and how.
Check to see how many copies you need to turn in, how much money you need down and head over to the City! Turn in your application and wait to see if you’re approved. Turnaround time for permits varies from 2-6 weeks so allot for that if you plan a grand opening or need the signs up by a certain date. Once you are approved you can have your custom signs manufactured and installed! (We recommend holding off on producing any custom signs until you are approved by the City, in case any changes have to be made.)
If you find that you can’t use the signage you want, look for other simple solutions. If permanent signage is not an option, windows are a great opportunity for custom signage and custom window graphics are cheap to make and easy to install. Consider printing your logo on adhesive vinyl and applying it to your front windows. Another popular method of window vinyl is to list your products and services along the top and bottom so people know what you do.
There are many options when it comes to using custom business signage. You’ll need some kind of signage for your building so take some time and research finding out what is right for you. If you have questions, contact your local sign shop for help as this is where their expertise lies. A little help goes a long way and advice is always free.