Advertising Signs on Your Vehicle

Target the market you want, and the leads will roll in. March 14, 2005

I drive a large white cargo van with no advertising. My staple income is from cabinet installs and I also do custom trim for word of mouth referrals. I want to advertise on my van, but I want it to look good. I have nothing against magnetic advertising, but I do get frustrated when it can't be read unless you are within 15 to 20 feet. I want to have some nice dark lettering, but I don't know anything about the process. Is it stickered on or painted on? Also, for you folks that do advertise on your vehicle, what kind of results do you get?

Forum Responses
(Business Forum)
From contributor S:
Advertising is a little like fishing. What you need is a colorful lure with a little sparkle added to get peoples' attention.

When you are waiting at the stop light, you have a captive audience behind you, so put a little more info on the back of the truck, as people have time to read it.

On your back window, place a little plastic box with business cards in it with print above that reads "take one." This is for when you park in a public area where people will walk past your truck (like Home Depot).

Go to a sign company and ask about vinyl lettering, then ask about colors. Look for something that will have a great contrast and then add sparkling vinyl (I used something called kaleidoscope to put top and bottom of the lettering). Make sure it looks professional and will attract attention.

And yes, it works. I recently scraped an old truck that had advertising on it. The truck was visible from the road while it was in the junkyard and I was still getting calls from the advertisement on it up until it was crushed.

From contributor B:
I just purchased a new Chevy van. One of the promotions was $900.00 to upgrade it any way I wanted. I spent the whole thing on advertising on the sides and back. ($900.00 is a lot, but if I didn't use it, I would lose it. $500.00 probably would buy something just as effective.) I was fortunate to have had a great ad from the yellow pages to use. It was all done with stickers that my guy custom printed and cut out with some sort of CNC for signage. It came out excellent. It's big and bold, easy to read and understand. I also have a phone number that is very easy to remember at a glance, and I have my own website listed.

I've gotten three calls so far directly from people seeing my van. I've had it for about two months. Not advertising on your van is a waste.

From contributor J:
The firms that do signwriting with vinyl letters have computer programs with databases that will hold an outline of your van. They can then lay out your chosen text on the outline and you can see what it will look like before you commit yourself. This is what I did recently with my new Mercedes van. One of the reasons I wanted signwriting was that I don't like arriving at a customer's house in an anonymous van - this creates the wrong impression.

From contributor C:
Living and working in a less than urban area may shape the perspective I have. Truck signs, in my opinion, do not create the kind of leads that culminate with good, profitable work. That only comes from building a network by doing good work and being fair. It takes time. No shortcuts. As for an unmarked vehicle creating the wrong image, I know several contractors who specifically will not hire subs with truck signage because that is the wrong image for them. They want competent, understated subs who know that providing quality service is the formula for a continuous flow of work. If someone likes what you just did, they'll find you. Vehicle signage might be helpful for a generic kind of business - Roto-Rooter type of stuff comes to mind. But a cabinetmaker with his name on a vehicle parked outside of Home Depot comes off a little too desperate for real clients.

From contributor B:
The type of signage that you decide to put on your van depends on the clientele you're trying to attract. High end customers and general contractors like classy, understated logos. It's kind of like wearing a shirt with a Polo player on it. You could wear it to church and be respectable, but the same style shirt without the pony would be wondered about. If your clientele is middle class, then you may have to be more pushy with your signage. I have to admit my signage is a bit obnoxious, but it brings in business. I've never heard of a contractor not using a sub because of the signage on his van. And if there are such contractors or clients, it may be a good indicator that you are better off without them.

From contributor R:
Twenty five years ago I asked one of the owners of the company I was working for why it was they didn't have advertising on the sides of their vehicles.

Their reply was, "It's the times. The smallest of fender benders can turn into the biggest of law suits."

That was 25 years ago and I don't think things have gotten better or easier. The absolute best way to advertise your company is to be the best at what you do. Your customers will be your sales force, so don't forget to reward them with a good bottle of wine that has your shop logo and phone number on it.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for the advice. I have been at this type of work for about four years now and I mainly do sub installs on new homes for the large cabinetmakers out here, so I haven't needed to advertise, because they supply the homes. I want to branch off more and take on residential clients as well, so that is where I want to market to. I asked a fellow sub this question (he is 60 years young and has been installing cabinets and trim since 1969). He said that he has never had to advertise because work always comes to him. He drives a new model pickup truck every couple of years without any signage of any kind and he makes excellent money.

From contributor K:
Heck yes, truck advertising works great. Just check out this ad!

From contributor S:
The truck I spoke about cost me $1700
I had it painted so it looked good, $200.00
Advertising on side and rear, $140.00
And put a nice radio in it, $100.00
Less than 400.00 in service and repairs for two years.
The truck brought in more than 200k in two years... priceless.

Besides, when you build cabinets, you advertise yourself as such. Too many subs out there are doing plumbing today, drywall tomorrow, cabinetry next week and a bit of brain surgery, just to keep it interesting. This, in my experience, is typically the type who doesn't put on their trucks what it is that they do, as their ad would read "anything for money."

And then there is a difference between the initiating contractor and subcontractor. Typically, the contractor comes looking for the subcontractor to do the work he brought in, from say, the advertisement on his truck.

The subcontractor has no need to advertise, as his interest is simply doing the work.
The initiating contractor is looking to make contacts with Joe Public, so putting it out there that he is available on any and every medium available to him is important.

From contributor E:
Here in my neck of the woods, truck signage is not an option - you have to have your company name, what you do, your address, phone number, and license number in big enough letters to be seen from the street. It's just so the inspectors know who's doing what. As far as getting calls for jobs because of it, zippo, natta, none, waste of money as an advertising tool.

From contributor O:
In this day and age when you are working at residences or parking in a city, your truck (advertising) done professionally acts as an identification rather than as a way to promote yourself. You'd be surprised, if you're working alone on a job with your unmarked van or truck out front, how many neighbors might just give the P.D. a call. At least with your phone number on it, you'll probably be treated a whole lot differently than if the cops don't have any idea what to expect walking into your jobsite!

From contributor S:
Whenever my old Ford was parked outside a client's house, the neighbors would call me up and ask if, when I'm done, I can give them estimates, too.

Now I'm shopping for a van, and I can't advertise on my wife's car, as she would kill me for sure. I have noticed that I'm not getting the calls and I must say I miss that.

From contributor A:
I have several trucks on the road and the best advertising dollar I've spent is on the signage. My trucks spend up to 200,000 miles on the road per year. Three trucks total. I get calls all the time when my kids drive the little truck to school, etc. Make it readable at 50 feet. Good font - nothing so stylized that you can't read it at 55mph. Clear wording, and have fun with it.

Good ($350.00) removable signs on my little Toyota have brought in more calls than the $1000.00 signage on the three semi trucks.

Take advantage of the miles your trucks, cars, etc. are on the road. I have advertised in color magazines, newspaper and radio. The trucks are the best value for the dollar so far.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor L:
I'm a sign shop owner/signwriter. Lettering a vehicle can be one of the most effective ways of advertising out there. Typically, it only takes a couple of new customers to cover the cost of a quality lettering job. If you're trying to target an upscale market, gold leaf has always been associated with craftsmanship. Despite the van being white, gold letters with a bold, dark outline and some additional colors can make a good design.

There are some sign shops that do "quicky sticky" work for low prices and do not use quality materials. They usually have the vehicle templates mentioned above, but concentrate more on simple designs and fast turnover on jobs.

Look for shops who offer other design services like logo design as well as vehicle graphics. Sometimes harder to find, these shop have typically been in business for years and are reputable. Shops like these can put a uniform image together for your business.

I often remind my customers that the advertising on their vehicle is an investment, not an expense.