One of the many tasks a young adult needs to master is the art of penning a consistent and recognizable signature. Upon opening a checking account, the bank will require a signature sample. Later, when a check is presented, the signature on the check will be compared to the signature on file to verify that the check was indeed written by the account holder.

Despite my rather atrocious penmanship, even I have managed to develop a relatively consistent signature which my bank rarely questions even though one would be hard pressed to determine my actual name from my signature.

The chart below shows the verified signatures of one Elvis Aaron Presley, whose signature has probably been forged more times than it was ever written.

Please notice that the signatures are by no means identical – they vary in size as well as in structure, especially on the final letters. Despite the differences, these are all verified as being genuine, in that the essential characteristics of the signature match – the relative heights of letters, the decreasing clarify from left to right, and the shape of the curves.

What has this to do with site location?

Any retail location has a “character” – that particular and sometimes peculiar mix of demographics, businesses, traffic patterns, and so on that define it. Just like Elvis Presley had a signature which is identifiable and verifiable as coming from the same hand, we can define a “site signature” which encapsulates the character of its trade area.

The site signature is created by looking at fifty-four dimensions which cover both residential and business dimensions and together capture the essential character of a trade area. The chart below shows the signatures for two very different Los Angeles area towns – Beverly Hills and Compton – which are also very different in size (33,599 versus 95,376). The first order of business is to remove the scale difference so that we can actually compare the signatures.  The resulting charts – even without labels – suggest that these are two very different places.

What makes a location successful for any particular store?

The style of the store – merchandise mix, look and feel, price, quality – must match the needs and expectations of the people who live there. Many approach site location problems using just a few indicators – income, population size, and life stage – but these can often fail to capture the overall character of a trade area leading to poor site decisions.

The site signature approach to trade area characterization is simple in concept and presentation which is made possible using advanced statistical techniques using a very broad base of both residential and business demographics. By first removing the scale effects, we can encapsulate the essential character of the trade area with the goal of identifying areas with similar character traits elsewhere. In the next article in the series, we will discuss how the concepts of scale and suitability can be harnessed to provide a framework for site location analysis.

Further information on the Demographic Dimensions and Business Dimensions databases can be found by downloading

The Elvis signatures were published in an article by Bill White, A Collector’s Guide to Elvis, at