How About Sidewalk Blackboard Sign for All Retail Shops And Restaurants? (short piece #16)


I think I finally figured out one good reason why food carts and mobile food attract people. They have some kind of charisma that restaurants and other eateries lack. They are ‘open’ in many ways but most of all a mobile food cart or mobile food is out in the open and part of the open space. The presence of a mobile unit in the open has grabbing dynamics. If nothing else, one sees the unit and gets curious of what offered and how much and the quality and so on. That is one good reason why more and more of these units will reinforce the San Francisco culinary scene. If plenty of them are around, one can visit by them even if there is 50 of them before trying anything. The excitement of the marketplace will bring people back over and over again. It will never work for restaurants because they are not in the ‘open.’

I happened to walk by a liquor store today and was stopped by the red light that kept me there. I noticed the Corona sign and the tropical colored drawings complementing it. The logo and scenery was part of an outside portable blackboard sign. The promotional signs are issued by liquor companies and given to vendors to put in front of their shops. I used one from another beer company to promote our happy hour at a fancy restaurant. The really strong thing about the blackboard sign is the handwriting. I read a blog post yesterday that said Americans used to be targets of advertising 2000 times daily and since the advent of social media that has increased to 5000. An average person is exposed to only a few hundred ads daily (and that is too much) but the total number of ads positioned to hit that person’s mind have made a huge jump to 5000. One thing about the ads is they are very generic or were until the social media arrived which helps target the ads to the recipient. Whether or not the message is received and matches the person has a great deal to do with the effectiveness of the advertising and the human mind knows how to deal with the ads.

The blackboard sign has everything any other kind of signage has. Anyone who has worked in retail knows consumers are trained over the years to ignore all advertising. They learn to block them out effectively so they can go about their lives. Any kind of physical signage does qualify as advertising and the human mind automatically blocks it out. It works on the same principle that I had to mention once before. I had a friend whose house was in close proximity of the railtracks in the Peninsula and the answer to my question of whether the train wakes people up at night, if it goes by, was “never.” The brain learns to block the sounds out and sleep through the event and I don’t have to bore you with the science of it. The printed signage works the same way. The brain recognizes the sign as advertising and blocks it as if not there. We used to have an inside joke in retail that if one wants people to ignore something 100% all they have to do is make a sign and put it in front of them. That never failed. The most ignored sign is the one right in front of the consumers as they walk in the door. EVERYONE ignores it.

The blackboard sign is basically a chalkboard with legs that spread and each surface can be handwritten with that day’s promotion. I used it for happy hours in restaurants and worked great. It not only changes daily but is seen and read. Everyone glances and reads something off the blackboard because of the handwriting. A handwritten chalk writing is not blocked by the mind because the brain has learned to block the graphic design and colors of a print. People actually read the blackboard sign not because it can change at a whim but because it has personality. The manufactured signs are professional but have no personality. The poor handwriting (no matter how good written) has a person behind it. Humans are trained to see part of that person through the handwriting as they learn to read and write. We allocate positive or negative to a person’s personality, intelligence, attitude and many more things based on the quality of the writing. That is how people are brought up. The bottom line is people will read these signs because we are programmed to read handwritten writings.

The retail shop of today has to grab and bring customers in to keep going. One of the first rules of sales is to bring the customer to the sales floor. Anyone who has tried to buy a car knows how the salesperson will fight the phone call to bring one to the floor before answering any questions. No deals are made on the phone and the sales floor has power of its own. Retail works the same way as the restaurants do. If the customer can be brought into the store or restaurant floor, one has a very good chance of selling something no matter how small. And more importantly that customer learns how to shop at that place even though the transaction was small. Shopping habits are extremely important for repeat business. A customer can know of and go by a restaurant or shop for years but never shop because the brain has not registered the steps of entering, browsing, selecting and purchasing. People take action when it is time to shop based on what they remember of the places they have shopped no matter how small the transaction. Retailers call this shopping habits and that makes or breaks businesses.

The blackboard sign is God-sent for today’s stressed restaurants, bars and retail shops. The promotions can be tailored to whatever works for that day. The vendor can create a strategy for just that day or a few hours and change it. One can even write in other languages depending on the neighborhood or if in tourist area. The bottom line is the blackboard will get people in the door with an open attitude. The informal writing of a good promotion for a few hours or that day will speak to many people who read it while the very professional writings of a printed sign are definitely ignored. And what of the ‘open’ characteristic that helps the mobile food and carts? One reason the blackboard handwritten signs work so well is by also being out in the ‘open.’ Nobody is obligated to do anything by walking close to and reading a handwritten sign but many will take simple action based on what they read. I observed a small stretch of a street in San Francisco today and how many signs were outside in a row. The venues were all places to eat or drink and the signs were all blackboard style with all kinds of handwritings.

What if every retail shop, bar, store, and restaurant had one of these in front with information for that day or the few hours of that day? I know I would love to change my walks to go by the blocks of streets with many changing signs just to read them for fun. Would I shop at any of them? What else would I be doing after all the window shopping I was doing? The friendly signs speak much of the people who run the venues also and if they are just cold business people or nice folks. I guess the blackboard sign works in one way as the wine label sticker does. You can put artwork on it or just make blank with a name and a date. It speaks much of what the attitude and personality of the people behind the venue is.

The blackboard sign will meet and greet people for you all day. The sign will speak to almost every person that meets it as if you do in person. Your sign may become part of a population of handwritten signs that are made daily just to meet and greet people passing by without any obligations. The handwritten blackboard sign will work because it is out in the ‘open.’ Everyone is nosy and curious to find things out about others and the signs go out of their way to help with this and what is new that may be good in that venue. I am absolutely sure if the handwritten blackboard signs are abundant, friendly and informative, they become an automatic part of window shopping culture and people will visit them to satisfy curiosity and these visitors end up becoming lifelong customers by knowing so much about the actual business of a location on a regular basis. They become part of the internals of that business with no obligation and will shop there daily or yearly but will do for sure.

*This post belongs to this week’s edition of Wine by Cush Magazine blog and published early in World of Cush also.

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