Differentiating a Business with Signage Madness

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by Philippe-Aubert Messier

After what could be the last blizzard to hit the northern states and provinces this season, people are busy at one of the quirkiest outfits in the winter sports retail industry. While getting ready for the end of the winter season, whether it’s by chance or design, La Poubelle du Ski, is blowing us away with its use of custom signage.

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The signage is baroque as hell, playful, and effectively differentiates the store from all the other sporting goods outlets.

La Poubelle du Ski (French for the Ski trash bin) has been steadily supplying winter sports enthusiasts with gear, clothing and gizmos for 48 years. It’s located on a light industrial stretch of the St-Laurent boulevard in our home town of Montreal. The store’s concept is simple: it offers seasonal rentals of various winter sports gear like skates, skis, snowboards, etc. Its core market is the parents who deem it ridiculous to buy expensive winter gear for kids that will inescapably outgrow it every year. The local fixture started out as a simple counter in the smallest of spaces where clients would be handed generic beat up equipment selected based on a kid’s age. While the beat up equipment is still there, La Poubelle has grown into this 10,000 square feet monster maze of winter madness.

It’s absolutely unique, and it features the craziest use of signage.

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The oldest sign is 27 years old.

Employees design all the signs at La Poubelle. They use cardboard, plywood, old boxes, and pretty much anything they can write on. The oldest sign is 27 years old. Obviously there is no brand book or graphic standards here. Still, this makeshift/bottom-up approach to signage design leads to brand associations that are crystal clear and scream the company’s core purpose: Enjoy winter, just be frugal about it.

Employees embrace it. Store Manager, Eric tells us that employees are very much attached to all of their signs. It was a dark day when they decided that a post needed to be stripped of layers of degraded signage. We buy into it too: The signage is baroque as hell, playful, and effectively differentiates the store from all the other sporting goods outlets.

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La Poubelle du Ski doesn’t advertise. It instead relies on word-of-mouth and a concise business model to attract and retain customers. In the most singular way, bottom-up signage design cranks it up a notch by providing the competitive edge that a strong brand will provide.