Buying a Business Sign

There are a ton of pitfalls to watch out for when you’re buying a business sign. In Honolulu, you’re required to have permits from the Department of Planning and Permitting. Your landlord can have requirements about how big a sign you can have or where you can put it. I tell my best customers to call me before they even sign a lease to avoid signage issues caused by landlords. Then, there’s how big should the sign be, should it be illuminated, do you get channel letters or a lightbox?

As with any product or service you want to buy, there are a number of details that must be considered before picking up the phone to place an order at your local sign shop. I’ve been in the sign business for 20 years and I’m going to give you some tips that will save both money and headaches.

How Does Buying a Business Sign Help Business?

The Small Business Administration says the most compelling reason for a sign is to communicate with a highly mobile consumer. A well-designed on-premises business sign attracts and directs shoppers to your front door. Plus, nearly all businesses rely on impulse purchases that are the result of highly visible signage.

Another point is that your business sign works hand in hand with other advertising to brand the product or service you sell. A sign should be the focal point of your location, drawing shoppers directly to your front door.

Types of Business Signs

Channel Letter Flyer

Building-mounted channel letters or lightboxes can be located on the roof, parapet, marquee, or business frontage. Channel letters are an upscale type of signage that’s illuminated to provide unparalleled nighttime visibility. The sign can be bold and bright with light coming out the front of the letters or more subtle with light reflected off the wall. Major retailers around Hawaii almost always use channel letter signage. Channel letters come in sizes up to 36″ tall with several lighting options and colors.


Saf-Gard Flex Face



Lightboxes are more price effective than channel letters and in many respects, are just as good. Another benefit is that the big sign face on a lightbox can include both text and pictures, which can be a great way to grab your customer’s attention. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. I recently put up a huge lightbox for Saf-Gard with a solid black background that emphasized the picture of a workboot and the business name. Now, that’s a sign that gets people’s attention.

Some business signs don’t have internal illumination. Either they’re unlit or the lighting is from an indirect source. Individual letters can be made from aluminum, brass, bronze, stainless steel, or acrylic. They all weather well, but in the salty coastal environment of the Islands, raw aluminum needs to be anodized. Butcherblock wood signs are all over Haleiwa because of city rules and can be varnished or painted.

The Building Department

Most people want to jump right in with designing the colors and fonts to be used when buying a business sign. But in the real world of city ordinances, red tape, and permitting offices, there are a set of rules that need to be followed, and a potential sign buyer is best served by playing within the bounds of those rules. They should consider what kinds of signage are legally allowed by the city, what degree of permitting they are going to need to remain legal, what kind of signage their landlord approves, and then finally: what will be an effective and alluring design that will attract and inform customers?

Make sure you follow the rules and get permits because the fines can add up, and you may even be forced to take the sign down. Any business sign that is visible from the street is required to be permitted by the City of Honolulu. The Land Use Ordinance is the set of rules published by the city council to ensure that signs are of a reasonable size, installed in an acceptable location, and the messaging and imagery are appropriate for public view.

In addition to the city’s requirements, business owners should be aware of their landlord’s requirements. Shopping centers almost always have a signage standard that they hold their tenants to, so it’s important to have a good understanding of what the landlord wants. The landlord will usually specify the type of signs allowed, along with the size. For example, Ala Moana Shopping Center requires relatively expensive, and very nice signs that help maintain their upscale, high-class look and feel. A smaller shopping plaza in Kalihi however, might have much more lax standards, perhaps requiring more affordable signs such as lightboxes or even non-illuminated signs.

Sign Design When Buying a Business Sign

Finally, the design of the sign itself can be considered, but only after working within the confines of the City and the landlord requirements. While it is certainly possible for a layperson to gather this information and produce an appropriate design, it’s much better to leave it to a professional who has done it every day. Sign Builders sends an expert to meet you at your business for a chat and a site inspection absolutely free of charge. We measure the frontage, take photographs, check the rules and ask what you want. Then, we deliver a plan of action that will be legal, tasteful, and effective.


Contact Sign Builders to schedule a free site inspection today!

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