Special Veteran’s Day Event

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Sorry, everyone, this is not about business but personal; for me very personal. I attended a special Veteran’s Day event on Monday I really want to share with all my friends. The name of the event was Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of The Vietnam War. It was held in the Jet Blue Stadium in Ft. Myers, FL. This event was put on by a great group of people known as The Collier-Lee Honor Flight Team. There are 21 people on this team led by Dr. Debi Lux and her husband Sean. They have and continue to do some wonderful things for our military veterans in Lee and Collier Counties in Florida.

Major General Arnold Fields, USMC, was one of several speakers and he explained what made the Vietnam War different from our other wars. His explanation cleared a problem I held inside for 50 years. He stated it was the only war where we did not attack our enemy. We fought with the people in South Vietnam and defended them but we never invaded North Vietnam. I was bitter because I thought our politicians never let us win the war because of public sentiment and demonstrations in the US. I thought they were more interested in getting re-elected than doing the right thing. General Fields explained our leaders knew if we invaded North Vietnam, China and Russia would join the war against us and create another World War much worse than the war we were in.

Twelve of the fourteen members of my OCS graduating class were sent to Vietnam and only three of us came back alive. These classmates were like brothers to me.  I saw many other great soldiers and civilians, including women and children, die there. When we came home without a victory I thought all those lives were simply wasted because of a political decision. That has bothered me for 50 years and General Fields’ words released that.

Another thing that really upset me and other Vietnam veterans was the way we were greeted when we returned home. When I was ordered to go fight in Vietnam I thought I was doing the right thing. I was helping defend the men, women, and children in South Vietnam from the invading communists. Eight of my Uncles did the same thing in WWII. When they returned home they were greeted with parades and celebrations and considered heroes. When we returned from Vietnam we were booed, yelled at and called names such as baby killers. We could not wear our uniforms in some public places without trouble. 

In the event Monday, all the wonderful people welcomed us home and sincerely thanked us for our service. That meant a lot to all 700 of us and it brought tears to my eyes. I will always be grateful for what these people did for us and I wanted to pass his on to my friends and other military friends.      

Digital menu board basics, Part 4

“Digital menu board basics” is a white paper in four parts. Read Part 1Part 2 & Part 3.

Three of the major QSR chains started rolling out digital boards 15-20 years ago but the hardware, software, and content were not yet fully tested and developed, however testing showed their value.  The hardware was not reliable and the software was difficult to use, plus everything was more expensive than it is today. Although they clearly saw the benefits of digital menu boards they started before the industry was ready. This early start resulted in some people losing their jobs and the major supplier going bankrupt. I was involved in the testing at the time as a consultant and I advised the supplier the product was not ready for a rollout.

All those problems were resolved but the QSR industry was slow to switch to digital because of that failure. Tim Horton’s was the first major QSR chain I am aware of to roll out digital menu boards to their entire system in North America that were successful. I was involved in that rollout through a software company called EK3. Although they have had some problems with the outdoor digital menu boards I am told they are very happy with the results of their system.

Most of the major chains have been testing digital boards for years and several have made the switch. They were further ahead in Europe and Asia mostly due to the early problem mentioned above. Also, they have been waiting for improvements to be made to the outdoor drive-thru boards. The drive-thru was not as large a part of the Europe and Asia business. These improvements have now been made and most of the chains have either made or are considering making the switch.

Selling ads to vendors and third parties

Some of your major suppliers will pay for space on your digital menu boards. Also, third-party ads can be sold on digital boards in your restaurants. Some companies have signed deals where third-party ads will pay the total cost of the digital boards.

There are several companies that install digital displays in your sites at no cost to you but they retain ownership and sell you part of the space. They make money on the ads that run on the screens. This is becoming less popular as the chains realize space on the screens is too valuable for anything but their own products and information.

Entertainment value

Several companies are still recommending or selling systems with entertainment or current event information on digital menu boards to give people a reason to view them, or for just the entertainment value such as in a sports bar. However, I do not recommend this for menu boards.

Menu board placement

Digital menu boards and displays can be used effectively in several zones in your restaurants and in the drive-thru. The purpose for each board will determine where it is placed.

The first zone where you may consider digital boards is where you first enter the drive-thru lane or walk into the restaurant. This is where you want to make your guests feel welcome and set the mood. Since most people won’t read much when they first enter this zone it would not justify the expense of a digital board. Some simple welcome message and a design that reinforces the brand would be enough. This could also be included on a directional sign.

The next zone is after the customer has entered the restaurant or drive-thru and starts to think about what they will order. This is a good place for a digital preview board. It can influence the order, introduce a new product, upsell or influence a purchase on a return trip. It is also a good place to introduce discounts or coupons.

The next and most important zone is where the order is placed. This is where the main menu board is placed and the final decisions have to be made. These boards must be well organized so they can be quickly read and easily understood. The products, prices and necessary information should be displayed in a clear and appetizing manner. Only information used to influence and make the final decision should be placed on these boards. Order confirmation units have been very popular in the drive-thru but new technologies are making them less needed so they are on the decline. Some are being converted to digital merchandising screens.

After the customer has placed the order and is either driving up to a pay window or waiting to pay the attendant behind the counter is a good time to introduce credit card information (maybe with a small screen on the back of the cash register), frequent customer programs, brand information or new services.

After the order has been placed and customers are waiting for their food is a key time when the perceived wait time needs to be influenced, especially in the drive-thru. If you have a separate order pick-up area inside you can also include entertainment, current event and neighborhood information.

Since outdoor digital boards are much more expensive than indoor it’s difficult to justify using them anywhere in the drive-thru other than as preview boards or main menu boards. However, traditional signage and graphics can be used.

Inside there are other areas where digital boards may be justified other than as preview and main menu boards. They would be very effective in drink areas, dessert bars or in the dining area. This is where you can influence additional or secondary purchases such as a dessert, side order, take home order, extra drink or non-food items. this is also a good place to put brand information, entertainment, and local and current information.

The last zone is where the customer leaves the restaurant. Although digital boards may not be justified there should be some type of message thanking them for visiting and encouraging them to return soon.

New technologies

When you develop your digital menu board plan keep new technologies in mind. New technologies that allow your customers to interact with your displays have been developed and are increasing quickly. These technologies are more common in other parts of the world but are showing up in the US also. We are shifting away from “what happened” to “what is happening.”

What’s the Most Pressure You’ve Been under to Make a Sale?

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For me, it was a couple decades ago when I founded LSI Images, a menu board company. One Monday morning I found myself in a new office with 10 employees and a new 10,000 square foot manufacturing plant and absolutely no sales. I had to sell something quickly. I can still feel that pressure but it helped me succeed quickly. I simply had no other choice. The CEO of LSI Lighting had trusted me to do something quickly.

The first job I sold was the parking lot lighting and other lighting for Arrowhead Stadium. I also designed and sold all the menu boards for the concession stands there. We did concession stand menu boards for several other stadiums until we started receiving menu board orders from major QSR brands. The first two were Burger King and Arby’s. Within 5 years we had over 40% of the menu board business in the US. That was pressure but it was a lot of fun also.

How do you develop new products?

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I enjoy meeting with customers and prospects to discuss their needs and major problems. Most salespeople I know like to meet prospects and clients in their offices. If they are smart they will at least do a survey of one or more sites before their meeting so they will know what they are talking about. Sometimes that is the only choice but I have found it is much more effective for both parties to meet away from the office at a site where the product will be used. That makes it much easier to get a complete understanding of how the product will be used and what the customer needs. It also gives you an opportunity to see how your product will fit in and operate within the system and to speak to the people actually using or operating the product.

Actually seeing a customer’s problems and needs while listening to them explain and seeing how it will be used is critical to the development of great products. It also requires a good team back in your office to get great products developed and tested. When I recall all the successful products I have developed that was the process I used.

Digital Menu Boards for Single Unit Operators or Small Chains.

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Do you own or operate one to ten restaurants and think you are too small to justify using digital menu boards or any of the other new technology communication systems? I have met many of you that have been in business for a while who think that, but I just don’t get it. Most of the new concepts with plans for expansion start out with digital but the more established operators and startups without plans for expansion resist making the change. Some of the major reasons I hear are “It’s too expensive”, “I don’t have the technical people”, “It’s too complicated”, I’m too small” and others.

I have been in the old style and digital menu board business for four decades now and if I were to open a restaurant, small or large, there is no question I would go with digital. It would be much easier and cheaper for me to buy an LCD screen and a media player and develop my own content than it would to buy an old-style board and have the content developed and printed for one restaurant. Plus, it would also be much quicker, easier and less expensive to make changes to my content. It would also give me the capability to use new apps to communicate with my customers on their cell phones and other devices.

As far as the “too complicated” reason, once you start working with it you will find it less complicated than the old style. When you think about the other reason of not having the technical people, even many of the large chains don’t have such people.

If you are a single unit operator and would be interested in a webinar to explain how to do this please let me know.






Do You Cast a Spell on Your Customers?

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I read an article a few days ago titled “8 Psychological Tricks of Restaurant Menus”. Actually, it was well written and made some great points, but I thought it was very strange because it took what seems like a view opposite of what I have been practicing and teaching for decades.  It made me believe the author was trying to protect restaurant customers from the tricks evil menu engineers like me play on them. The 8 “tricks” we use are 1. We limit your options, 2. We add photos, 3. We manipulate prices, 4. We use expensive decoys, 5. We play with your eyes, 6. We utilize colors, 7. We use fancy language and, 8. We make you feel nostalgic. If these 8 tactics are evil then I confess, I am evil because I have been using them and many more for a long time.

Every business person has to communicate what they have to offer their customers in the best manner they can in order to compete successfully. Their customers want to know as much as they can about it. If a restaurant has crappy food and they make it look great they will not be in business long anyway. The same is true of a retailer misrepresenting their products.

It has been proven many times that the way you show food items or retail items on a menu has a huge impact on sales and profit margin. All the following items are important: photography, words used, layout design, prices, what items you put on them, colors, letter style, the total number of items, size of copy and where specific items are placed on the menu. Even where and how signs and menu boards are installed is important.

Let me know if you need help with your menu design but be warned. I may be evil!










Do You Have Full Control of Your Digital Menu Board System?

Indoor Menu Board Photo

I read an interesting article a couple weeks ago about who has control of your digital menu board system and I thought that was a strange question. I assumed all the larger brands had complete control but understood how some of the smaller chains or single unit operators would not have the resources necessary for that. However, after some further study, I learned that several of the major brands really don’t control their own system.  It’s usually a simple matter of neither the franchisor or the franchisees have a staff qualified to do that. They simply rely totally on their venders to do that for them.

After hearing several of the franchisees complain and taking a closer look at how their systems are used, I believe that is a problem. I hear complaints all the time about how expensive digital menu boards are so I think when a chain has them installed they should want to get the most out of them to increase their ROI, but unfortunately, I don’t always see that happening. I spend a lot of time traveling around to observe how the chains use their systems. Some systems are really well operated and some are to the point of “Why waste your money?”

Typically when a chain installs a digital menu board system it takes several months to learn all the capabilities of the new system so they keep learning and improving as they go. Unfortunately, there are several chains where this has not happened and I don’t understand why. I hope some of you will respond and explain why this does not happen.

The Power of Money

Piles of U.s. Dollar Bills on Silver and White Suitcase

I have a big question for all my friends out there in the digital signage business. When you are designing a new primary product, do you design for the lowest price or the best value? My answer to that question would always be the best value, however, I have found that more often the lowest price wins, especially in the large projects.

I have been designing and developing products for several decades now but I am still surprised when a large end user makes a decision based solely on price. Even if they know the cheapest product will end up costing them 10-20% more over the life of the product. I know there may be other things that enter into the decision at times but I am speaking in general terms if everything else is equal.

When I started my career I was an engineer and a cost estimator. I learned that all prices were based on cost. Later when I was working on a marketing degree I learned that was not always true.  One huge example was in the liquor industry. I learned about a test someone did at one of the major brands. The liquor company sold three different price levels of whiskey. I don’t remember the exact price but they were something like $10, $15 and $20 per fifth.  As it turned out all three brands were exactly the same but they sold more of the $20 brand than the other two. That was because of the promotions and the perception the more expensive brand tasted better.

Everyone knows if a company is going to be successful their products have to be competitive, but, is price everything? If you are investing in stocks do you stay away from expensive stocks like Apple and invest in the cheaper stocks? I know several people that have done very well with Apple stock. If you are an end user what are you telling your suppliers when they learn you buy the lowest price only?

Trying Something New

I have been working for a couple of weeks setting up a new business (Scott Sharon Consulting) and I received a notice from Facebook this morning telling me I should post something telling people what I am doing with that, so here it is. Many of my friends and family have already seen this on the social media channels.

Some wise person once stated, “If you do something you love you will never work a day in your life”. I am one of the fortunate people that can honestly say I have proven that to be true. I have thoroughly enjoyed my career for the past 40+ years (including my military career) and I plan to keep on going as long as I am in good health and my mind works as well as it does now. I have worked on many exciting projects in my career that still excite me when I think about them. However, what I am most grateful for is the huge number of friends I have been blessed with all over the US and several other countries around the world. These friends are customers, suppliers, and even competitors. However, I have decided to do something a little different.

During my career, I have completed a huge number of consulting projects in many markets. I did not receive a contract and payment for some of them because I did many because my customers had a problem they wanted me to solve or they wanted me to develop a new product for them, plus I enjoyed doing it. However, I did get to provide some of the products I developed for my customers and others helped me sell more of my existing products. But some of the projects had nothing to do with my business.

While recently looking back and reviewing my career I realized that what I enjoyed most was the consulting projects. So, I’ve decided to concentrate more on that part of it. I’ve been involved mostly with signage, menu boards, displays, merchandisers, interactive displays and other communication systems. I have been working on the development of digital signage and menu boards, primarily for outdoor products, for many years. I have also been working on new applications and technology such as facial & retina recognization, geofencing, text and mobile phone ordering with developers, manufacturers and end users. Friends have asked me to get involved in some of these products and some are consulting projects.

Following is just one example of how I get involved in projects. About 20 years or more ago some friends from KFC developed a new restaurant design. I think it was when they introduced their buffet program. They had just completed retrofitting a restaurant in Louisville near their HQS. with the new design and they asked me to give them my evaluation of the design.

When I arrived the outside looked good but inside there were signs everywhere. There were many window signs, hanging banners and displays in every direction I looked. They had a huge menu board but they even made the soffit where it was mounted larger and put more signs and promotion boards there. They created what I refer to as “Information Overload”. There was so much to look at it was very confusing and the customers noticed very little of it. They also had most of the prepared food items out where they could be seen.

I developed what I call a 9 zone marketing communication plan for them. The plan told them the 9 important touch points where they should communicate with their customers. It told them what to say, where and how to say it and what to use. They eliminated over half of their signage and the restaurant looked and worked great. At the time they did not realize the most important communication tool they had was the actual hot food on display.

I recently found an outline of that plan which I would be happy to email anyone that wants to see it.