Marketing from the Grocery Aisles: Signs of the Times

At one time, the signs displayed in grocery stores and taped to the windows were hand-painted on sheets of butcher paper, using bold colors, graceful letters, and dramatic flourishes, emphasizing the sale prices. Today, hand-painted signs are a lost (or dying) art, a rarity among the multitude of printed, vinyl, and plastic banners and placards

Grocery Store SignsAs a child, I was fascinated by the hand-painted signs I saw in small neighborhood stores. I wondered how the artists could write so perfectly, centering the words, and creating giant, tapered strokes, which added flair to the otherwise mundane ads.

Ten cobs of corn for a dollar is a yawner when typed, but when hand-lettered as “Corn 10/$1,” there’s an urgency to hasten into the store before the last ears are purchased.

I’m on the fence as to the influence of hand-painted signs. A part of me believes they drive sales because they cause shoppers to pause and consider what’s being offered. Unlike a sign typewritten in a familiar font, it takes longer to comprehend what’s being offered on a handwritten sign.

Consider the signs at farmer and craft markets. The size, font, colors, and display of pricing vary from booth to booth.

Farmer's market sign_2Another part of me believes handmade signs fuel the desire for human touch. They’re unique, made with a brush or marker. Their imperfections add to their charm and appeal, and often reinforce that wasn’t being offered came from a local farm, craftsman or artist.

I also believe, in this day-in-age of manufactured goods, hand-painted signs create an element of surprise an unexpected occurrence. And even though it may be seen by hundreds of shoppers in a day, it adds a bit of sparkle. It creates an unanticipated, and often satisfying break from the expected, which strengths the brand, store or experience it’s promoting.

This phenomenon of unexpected and pleasing occurrences is replicated in other industries.

Car repair shops are notorious for waiting rooms teeming with grimy, wobbly chairs, dog-eared copies of Popular Mechanics, week-old newspapers, and white Styrofoam cups for coffee, reduced to sludge. The introduction of oil care franchises, like Oil Can Henry’s, Jiffy Lube, and Precision Tune, coupled with the realization by car dealers that their service center should be as pleasant as their sales floors, has lead to snazzy waiting rooms, complete with large screen TVs, selection of beverages, Wi-Fi, and reading materials from children’s books to the Wall Street Journal.

Today, getting your car serviced often comes with the unexpected enjoyment of a pleasant waiting room.

Stadiums have also evolved in recent years, creating unexpected delights, including gourmet meals, padded seats, upscale sky boxes and suites, video boards, interactive play area, and even a pirate village.

I used to go to a dentist who had a vase of carnations by the appointment desk. As you left, you were invited to pick out a carnation. Even though I knew every dentist visit ended with a carnation, I was often unexpectedly surprised by the selection, sometimes opting for a red carnation and other times choosing pink, white, yellow, or multi-colored.

Shari’s, a Pacific Northwest chain of restaurants, considered a cut above Denny’s*, has been experimenting lately with ways to delight their customers. During the summer, at the conclusion of your meal, they would ask whether you wanted your beverage to go. But instead of pouring your existing beverage into a plastic cup and popping on a lid, they brought a second beverage (at no extra cost), ready to go with a straw. Wow! Shari's pie

Another time, they offered my husband and I a free side dish. “Why,” I asked.

“Just because,” was the waiter’s responses. It was unexpected, appreciated, and reinforced our positive opinion of the restaurant.

In a sense, Shari’s has hand-painted signs. During the warm months, they offer marionberry jam, a Pacific Northwest specialty. During this time, instead of tucking a couple of packages of run-of-the-mill jam by one’s toast, they bring small bowls of marionberry jam.

While the marionberry jam and pies, which are available with your meal or for purchase, are most likely mass produced, they feel homemade and unexpected from a chain of family restaurants.

What unexpected experiences can you offer your customers that delights and strengthens their positive opinion of our brand, products, and services?


* I have a soft spot in my heart for Denny’s having eaten many satisfying meals there while on vacation. And there’s no beating their ridiculously low-priced, highly satisfying Build Your Own Grand Slam breakfast.

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One comment

  1. check out the new book Foodopoly…interesting with 20 corporations controlling our food that we end up with crap! Love your entry…and yes I like to assist my pet/house sitting clients with recycling, organizing and possibly gardening needs. Added value as I am like to be part of the family. cheers to you my friend. wendy works

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