Some businesses take advertising off the computer screen and put it on the street

Special to the Journal of South Mississippi BusinessJuly 9, 2014 

We may be in the digital age, but some Coast businesses are showing that sometimes, traditional methods of advertising can be just what it takes to increase business.

It’s working for Liberty Tax Service in Ocean Springs. Professional practitioners called “wavers” stand on the side of the road dressed in costumes, waving and dancing at passersby.

Manager Katrina Newell said that Liberty Tax started the waver idea more than 10 years ago, and when others saw how well it worked, the practice started to take off.

Newell said that 85 percent of Liberty Tax’s business companywide comes from waver advertising, and it’s a practice they continue to do regularly. Newell said managers ask each customer how they heard about the business, and three-fourths of the answers are the waver.

Newell said the business uses its wavers, dressed like the Statue of Liberty, during tax season and during special events or promotions. In the past year, it has had them at a Christmas parade and the Jackson County Fair.

She said that these wavers work for Liberty Tax as temporary employees, and because they bring in business, they are worth what the company spends to have them out there. She said that even if the customer doesn’t come in when they initially see the waiver, they will remember and return later.

“People definitely remember it, and that’s why they started doing it,” Newell said.

She said people are getting more used to seeing them now, but someone in a Statue of Liberty costume is going to grab people’s attention. She also encourages her wavers to listen to music and dance and move around.

She said that this type of marketing is successful even in this digital age “because people are in their vehicles more than they’re on their computers.”

Carlie Russ, general manager of Little Caesars in Pascagoula, agrees. Her store has been using a “shaker boarder” for eight months now, and she has seen a growth in her business since that time. Customers tell her daily they came in because of “the guy out front.”

For Little Caesars, its shaker boarder is one guy, Lance Stennis, who works 36 hours a week. He helps out inside the store when needed but was hired to do the outside job. Russ said it’s just one piece of the marketing puzzle for the Little Caesars company.

“Shaker boarding is a tactic that works,” Russ said. “It’s just according to how good your shaker boarder is on how good it’s going to work for you.”

And, Russ added, her shaker boarder is “great.” Stennis doesn’t just stand there and hold the sign. He incorporates his love for dancing into the job and has some fun with it.

Russ said that customers frequently tell her they didn’t know the business was there or didn’t know that Little Caesars had a lunch option until they noticed Stennis dancing with the sign.

In her roll, Russ said she is expected to market the business and make a certain number of contacts per week, and Stennis’ dancing opens the door for her, often driving business people into her store. This helps her figure out new places to visit. “They’re giving me the idea for marketing because they saw him,” she said, adding that, as a manger, getting people into her store is what matters.

If people stop to talk to him or take his picture, Stennis is empowered to give them a free bread card; and if someone dances with him, they could get a free pizza.

“For every one person who stops with him, three or four people are stopping to look and they are coming in too,” she said. “The amount of business it generates definitely covers that pizza I give away.”

To her, it’s worth paying someone to work in this role. She said that even though many businesses on the Coast are reporting decreased revenues, her business is not as far down as others. She decided to try something new eight months ago, and it has paid off.

Russ and Newell said there are contests for the shaker boarders and wavers in these businesses with big prizes involved for the winner. Russ believes this is because the companies recognize the amount of business they bring in.

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