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Weary travelers along the nation’s highways seldom cared about the name of the business…they were just looking for a motel. Now, travelers might be looking for Marriott or La Quinta, neither of which let you know they are motels or hotels by their corporate business name.

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These images came from the 1951 edition of Herb Agnew’s Shop Notes. In a small town market, the product is often more important than the name. Contrast between the lettering, along with legible characters, is often very important. Big chain stores can often get away with just displaying their corporate name—such as Lowe’s, Staples and Costco.

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Often, especially in small towns, people can get a good idea of the type of business by simply evaluating the architecture. This old Teton Theater in downtown Jackson Hole “looked like a theater”. It has recently been renovated to a pizza parlor. They kept the old building façade and historic Teton sign, but use changeable letters on one of the reader board strips to identify their business. The place is busy despite the unorthodox signage. The business gets plenty of foot traffic on the busiest street in town.

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As long as the main message is easy to read, home town business signs can still have complex designs. In historic tourist towns, signs can reflect the architecture and character of the town. These signs by Roger Cox, House of Signs, Frisco, Colorado, are good examples.

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Branding for local businesses vs. corporate ID

By Mike Jackson

Posted on Tuesday, January 2nd, 2018

TJ Maxx just had their grand opening here in Jackson Hole. The parking lot was overflowing and the store was packed. The signs on the front of the building and the street sign simply identify the store as TJ Maxx. Across the street is a Staples, and around town, I can find a Kmart, Sears, Albertsons and Smiths. If hungry, I can drive to a Pizza Hut, McDonald’s or Wendy’s. With the possible exception of Pizza Hut, anyone just waking up from a 40-year sleep might not have a clue what any of them sold.

The large corporations get away with not needing to be descriptive in their name because of massive and constant franchise advertising. As a result, just about everyone knows TJ Maxx is an off-price clothing retailer.

In almost any town, you can find hundreds of smaller businesses with names like Apex Electrical Supply, Teton Peaks Pizza and Pasta, or Reynold’s Engineering. A tourist visiting Jackson Hole would have no clue what goes on inside these businesses if they identified themselves as only Apex, or Teton Peaks, or Reynold’s.


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Mike Jackson

Mike and Darla Jackson operate Golden Era Studios in Jackson, Wyoming, and do a variety of sign-related projects. Mike’s website is www.goldenstudios.com. His email address is golden@goldenstudios.com. You can see more of Mike’s photos at www.tetonimages.com and www.goldenstudios.com.