It was something disturbing I noticed as a teenager — seeing the small stores I loved going to as a kid shutting down and being replaced by cookie cutter stores owned by a dozen companies that were all uniform in appearance and in product. You could be on the inside of one restaurant and think that you were in a completely different state — there was no unique quality to the establishments and no feel of what some might call a company’s soul.

It was therefore a tremendous relief to read that at least in the United Kingdom, the business of painting pub signs is apparently doing quite well despite economic times that are struggling, to say the least.

What is so special about hand painted pub signs? I would like to present for you the picture of two menus — the one that you see in a chain restaurant, and the one that you see hanging behind the barista in a small independently owned coffee shop. There was a small coffee shop in West Seattle that I used to visit with my now brother-in-law that had both excellent coffee and free high speed wireless internet for customers. The menu hung behind the barista and was hand drawn in marker — the specials were drawn up every day by the people working.

That’s part of what gave it a special feel — you knew that each letter on the sign had some part of the person who drew it invested. So too it is with the beautiful pub signs you see hanging outside the pubs in the UK. When I visited London in 1998, I remember going to a small pub and ordering a beer and thinking about the extent to which the sign appealed to me as I was standing outside deciding if I wanted to go in or not.

I think that businesses can learn a great deal from this. Investing some kind of individuality into a store location can do for a company. The buying public go into the store thinking that it is a distinct experience. Looking at some of the beautiful pub signs featured in the article certainly makes me appreciate the hard work that goes into each one. They are not computer generated and printed a hundred thousand times.

Perhaps it would be worth looking up next time you enter a store and seeing what kind of signage is present. Is it the same as every other location of the store, or was heart and soul poured into its making?


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