Tuesday, January 16, 2018
Business

Sign wavers add to Brandon landscape, bottom line

BRANDON — "The Preacher" stands along a stretch of Brandon Boulevard in front of Providence Square Plaza, waving a sign for the Cash for Gold business in the plaza.

He's actually Fred Boone, but as the Preacher, he offers sermons about Cash for Gold, drinking, gastric bypass surgery, abortion and what he calls "pitiful drivers."

"I'm a preacher, so I'm waving goodbye," he says. "With the rapture, everybody is going home to see the Lord sometime.

"These drivers can't stay between two lines. Make it a $250 fine for text messaging while driving."

Boone represents just one of the animated people you see while driving around town, pointing you in the direction of a wide assortment of destinations from open houses and restaurants to cute puppies and computer stores. In a 5-mile radius of Brandon alone, sign wavers invite you to buy a $5 pizza, turn a broken gold necklace in to cash, fix your laptop or put a down payment on a new house.

Now that we are in tax season, add Lady Liberty to the list of sign wavers that seem to be growing in popularity in unincorporated Hillsborough County.

Honk if you like them or glance away as you might, sign wavers have become a part of the landscape. While some drivers may prefer one less distraction near roads and intersections that are growing with traffic congestion, one thing is for certain: They aren't going away any time soon.

Why? Three main reasons: wavers provide inexpensive advertising; wavers are not regulated by the county's Land Development Code; and, perhaps most importantly, using wavers works.

Stephanie Nussbaum, who has been general manager of the Seffner Liberty Tax Service at 915 W Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. for the past four years, figures that the 12 wavers she rotates during the peak months of January to April directly bring in up to a third of her business.

The unconventional advertising levels the playing field against competitors like Amscot and Jackson Hewitt who have larger advertising budgets.

Call it a different kind of media that is social.

"They have fun," Nussbaum said. "You have to be your own personality. If it's slow, they may run along side (the cars) and play games with (the drivers). Not everyone has to be a dancer."

While code enforcement regulations in Pinellas County cities like Clearwater, Pinellas Park, Largo and Seminole have resulted in written warnings and court appearances for businesses that don't comply with stricter sign waving rules, it's different in Hillsborough County.

If your business operates anywhere outside the city limits of Plant City, Tampa or Temple Terrace, wavers have free reign to let their messages roam.

Jim Blinck, operations manager for the county's code enforcement department that regulates the unincorporated parts of the county says signs carried by people are exempt from permit.

Wavers fall in to one of the nine specific exemptions in the Hillsborough County Land Development Code that also excludes any regulations for flags or signs that are 6 square feet or less.

This is good news for people like 18-year-old Kamron Morgan, a Brandon High School student, who said sign waving is the only job he could find.

In addition to his paycheck, Morgan has been eating free sandwiches for 1½ years. It's part of the perks of waving a Firehouse Subs sign in front of 1921 W Brandon Blvd.

But perhaps no company embodies the art of sign waving as much as Liberty.

With headquarters in Virginia Beach, Va., there are more than 4,000 locations in North America, and all of them use the Lady Liberty costume, with some trying Uncle Sam on occasion.

Many locations offer training videos on how to maximize waving techniques, but all franchises are required to use costumed sign wavers. With so much moving and shaking, especially in iconic patriotic costumes, you might think it's a recipe for traffic accidents or perhaps complaints for using snippets of Americana in a derogatory manner.

Not so, says Nussbaum, who said she's never seen an accident nor heard of any complaints for using Lady Liberty as a mascot. She said the only complaint she can recall is a driver asking one of the dancers to tone down the moves a tad.

"Our way to get you to use us, is having energetic, happy faces."

One such face belongs to Victoria Hall, who likes sign waving so much she pulls double duty. She dons the Statue of Liberty costume for the Liberty Tax Service branch at 927 Lithia Pinecrest Road, and she spins signs for MIT computers in front of 2106 W Brandon Blvd.

While many of her cohorts can be seen dancing to their favorite music using headphones, Hall, 66, takes an alternative approach.

"My challenge is to get them to smile," she said. "I get a lot of happy people. I like to be goofy. It's better than sitting in the house, and I get paid for it."

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