Be Careful What You Sign!

I want to warn everyone to be careful what you sign and don’t make the same stupid mistake I did.

 I was having trouble with my back a few months ago so I went to an assisted stretching site here in Naples. It was owned by a company called Stretch Zone, Inc. They advertised a free session so I decided to try them. After I completed the free session the trainer asked me to join. He said it would cost me $320 per month for 8 sessions per month for their standard 3-month package. I told him I did not want to sign up for more than a month. He said he would let me sign up for one month or 8 sessions for $320 total so I agreed.

I gave him my credit card for payment. He asked me to sign the contract and it was on a small handheld device which I had to sign with my finger. He confirmed with me again that it would be only $320 total. I did not have my glasses and I could not read it on the small device. I know it was stupid of me but I signed it with my finger because he said he was emailing a copy to me right then. I planned to read it when I got home and I knew in Florida you have up to 3 days to cancel.

I did not receive a copy of the contract for at least 2 weeks after I signed it. A couple of weeks later I received a second $320 charge on my card. I called the trainer I signed up with and he told me he would have the manager give me a credit for the second $320 charge. While I was waiting for the credit I received a third $320 charge on my card. I refused the payment with Visa and cancelled my card but Visa paid it because I signed the contract.

After my first free session I scheduled a second session on Sunday. When I got there a few minutes early they were not open. Another person who was scheduled for a session following mine showed up and they still were not open. We both left. I did receive an apology and a credit for that session. I did the session a couple days later and it only lasted about half the time it was supposed to last. I did a third session with another trainer and it was the only one of the three that was worth paying anything for.

So, I have 22 remaining sessions, which I will not use and the manager said he was not allowed to give me any amount of a credit. I looked on the Internet for reviews on Stretch Zone and found one where the same thing happened to someone else. Please be careful if you use these guys for anything! You can’t trust them!

Our life span is increasing quickly. Let’s make those years healthier and happier.

Several recent important events have convinced me to change what I’ve been doing for the past 30 years. I’ve discovered a huge problem facing people in the United States and most of the world and I want to spend the remainder of my time doing what I can to solve that problem. I’m hoping many of you reading this will join me in this endeavor. I’m not trying to sell you anything but simply explain the problems you are very likely already aware of. I couldn’t reduce “My Story” to a simple “Elevator Speech” so I decided to tell it in this article and keep it as short as I can.

About fifteen years ago I woke up one morning and could not get out of bed. I kept trying and eventually was able to roll over and fall out of bed onto the floor. When my wife, Becky Sharon, found me lying on the floor trying to move she was worried and wanted to call an ambulance but I convinced her not to. I kept telling her I would be fine soon. I was just having a dizzy spell and lost my balance. When I realized I could not “shake if off” I agreed to let her and my son take me to a hospital in Northern Kentucky near where we lived.

Even though I could not walk the first doctor I saw told me to go home and take one aspirin per day. Lucky for me Becky was with me because she insisted on another doctor looking at me; all I wanted to do was get out of there and go home. Unfortunately, the next doctor I saw was not that great but he did tell me I was suffering from a stroke. I spent the day there in intensive care getting tests.

Becky called the owner of my parent company and he suggested she get me out of that hospital and into the University Hospital in Cincinnati. I was transferred that evening and he set me up with one of the top doctors in the country. That doctor told me we had to find out what caused the stroke ASAP or I could have another with much worse consequences. He had some tests done and I was put on a blood thinner that night. Thank God I had Becky with me or who knows what would have happened.

Soon after that I started taking physical therapy and learned how to get around better, but I could not walk without holding onto something, for me it was mostly the walls. Becky got me home one of those rolling canes with two wheels on the front but I refused to use it. I wanted it out of the house. My doctors told me it was very likely I would never walk again without some type of assistance such as a wheelchair, cane or crutches. I refused to accept that. I did not want to live like that for the remainder of my life so I worked and pushed myself really hard. I eventually learned to walk again and even progressed to the point where I could run. Physically, I recovered 100% in less than a year. However, I did not know it at the time but I did not fully recover mentally because I had a large section of my brain missing from the stroke and several other events in my life.

As an example of my mental condition, several months after my stroke I had a meeting scheduled in Miami with The Coca-Cola Company and Burger King to work out the details of a very large project I had been working on before the stroke. I had to go to the meeting because no one else at my company (LSI Images) knew enough about it to attend. I assured everyone I could do it so I flew to Miami early the morning of the meeting. When I got off the plane I did not know where I was or why I was there. I asked someone and they told me I was in the Miami airport.

I remained in the airport several hours trying to figure out why I was there. I eventually found something in my briefcase with Becky’s name and number on it so I called her. She told me why I went there and then it all came back to me. I immediately called someone at Burger King and was told the meeting was over but everyone was going to meet later in a hotel for dinner and they wanted me there. The hotel was the same one I had stayed in many times but I had a huge problem finding it.  

Not long after that we moved to Naples, Florida. Some of my mental problems improved but my sense of direction and a few other things kept getting worse. It got to the point where I could not find the local grocery store we shopped in for a couple years, just one mile from home, without using GPS. I was angry and frustrated much of the time. It seemed every time I drove somewhere I got lost.  Becky and my family knew something was wrong but I would not admit it to myself or them.

I got to know many doctors when we moved to Naples because I had to visit one every month to have my blood checked. I was frustrated with all of them because they could not help me, so I changed doctors often. It seemed all they wanted to do was give me prescriptions that did not help. Then one day I met my current doctor, Dr. Jacqueline Romero. She was by far the best doctor I found in Naples and I had experienced many. During one of my first visits I was giving her some advice on marketing and she made the following statement that I will never forget. “Scott, you are a very intelligent guy but something is wrong with you”. I was shocked but started asking questions. I did not want to admit I had problems with my brain.

Becky and Dr. Romero were studying brain health, functional medicine, nutrition and several other forms of brain science which I also found very interesting and was learning from. Among several other things they took Dr. Daniel Amen’s course on brain functions and brain scanning. In April of 2017 all three of us went to one of Dr. Amen’s clinics in Atlanta and had our brains scanned.

My scan showed the part of my brain that was damaged from the stroke and from several other events in my past. I had consumed many bad foods and drinks with lots of sugar and artificial sweeteners. I also had a large amount of physical damage. I started boxing when I was ten and did a lot of it, all without protective headgear. I was knocked out the first time when I was twelve years old. I had several concussions from playing football in school. I had two serious falls while running and hit my head very hard. I also had damage from Agent Orange and PTSD from Vietnam.

When I saw the scan of my brain at Dr. Amen’s clinic I was shocked and became extremely upset. So much of it was damaged or missing! However, Becky said I got the largest smile on my face she had ever seen when they told me my brain could be grown back with certain treatments and nutrients. To me that was a lifesaver!   

The protocol Dr. Amen’s team gave me was to have 40 one hour sessions in a hyperbaric chamber and 20 sessions of neurofeedback. The hyperbaric chamber promotes the growth of new capillaries (small blood vessels) so the neurons in my brain could grow back. The Neurofeedback rewires the brain so it will function properly again.

The hyperbaric chamber treatments were very expensive in Naples so in June of 2017 I went to Cincinnati where the sessions were much less expensive. I lived most of my life in the Cincinnati area and I knew how to get everywhere there. When I arrived I could not find my son’s or daughter’s house without using GPS, even though I had been to both many times.

I took two sessions per day or ten per week for two weeks. Nothing happened the first week but I wasn’t worried because I expected it to be a very gradual process. After my 15th session I had a very dramatic experience. I felt as if I just woke up from a 15 year nap. A flood of memories rushed back, even memories from as far back as my Vietnam experience and my childhood. It was so emotional I just sat there and cried with happiness for several minutes. When that session was over I ran out to my car and drove around the remainder of the day to many of my favorite places and all the places I had lived. I had no trouble at all finding my way around.

I completed the remainder of those sessions in Cincinnati and came home. Becky and Dr. Romero purchased a hyperbaric chamber for use in their practice and I did the remaining 20 sessions in it. They also added neurofeedback to their practice so I completed that with them. I still get in the hyperbaric chamber for a few sessions occasionally just to keep a reserve supply of neurons. Becky also gives me neurofeedback sessions occasionally mainly because it helps clear up my vision when it gets a little fuzzy.

I have learned that Dr. Romero and Becky are brilliant. Dr. Romero sincerely cares about all her patients and does everything she can for them. I am amazed at all the things Becky has done and the people she has helped.  She received a Master’s degree in mental health counseling and will soon have her Doctorate. She is now a trained Hypnotherapist and does RTT (Rapid Transformational Therapy). She’s a certified health coach, nutritionist, trained on how to do neurofeedback, completed Dr. Amen’s course on his work and has trained with Dr. Romero on Functional Medicine. She has helped so many people and that is so gratifying it has made me want to do the same thing.

One of my daughters has been traveling around the world for a year in what is called Remote year. She is with a group of 33 other people and they spend a month working in each of 12 different countries. One of her stops was in Vietnam and she asked me to join her there for 10 days. She wanted me to visit the country and speak to her group about the differences between Vietnam today and what it was like when I was there in the war in 1968.

Vietnam was the last place in this world I wanted to be. When I was there in 1968 during the war it was horrible. I lost many close friends there and I never wanted to go back. I did not want to hurt my daughter’s feelings so I came up with several excuses why I could not go. She solved every issue I came up with so I finally agreed to go. I never even wanted to talk about my Vietnam experiences let alone be there. However, I recently wrote a book (Great Adventures From My Life) about some of the unusual things I did in my life and I put several Vietnam experiences in it. Writing that book made me feel better about talking about my Vietnam experience so I though being there may make me feel a lot better.  

I flew into Hanoi in February of this year (2019). I was a little nervous but the trip was very easy. The country was not anything like what I was expecting. The people were all happy, courteous and friendly. The food was great and I had some of the best coffee I’ve had in my life. I did something with my daughter and her group every day. We traveled around the country most of the ten days I was there. I gave a ninety minute presentation (told my story) to her group and they loved it. Several wanted to talk about it more after the presentation.

Following are the things I saw in Vietnam that made me realize how much trouble we are in here in the US. These may not be facts that accurately describe the whole country but it’s what I observed. In all my travels I did not see any overweight people. They all seemed to be happy, healthy and in good shape. I did not see wheelchairs or crutches and I rarely saw an elderly person. In the cities the people were mostly on motor bikes or bicycles. In the countryside they were mostly working. I was actually asking myself “What do they do with their old people?” However, I was speaking to the grandson of a lady I thought was in her 50”s or maybe her 60’s. She was in a tree picking fruit and he told me she was in her 90’s.  I was shocked.

Another thing I noticed was all their food was fresh. It was either fresh caught or freshly slaughtered meat and fresh fruit and vegetables.  The people would pick up their food from a market daily. I saw very little refrigeration. I did not see any grocery stores or convenient stores where they sold processed food. At first I did not want to eat any of the food because much of it was cooked on the sidewalk in the cities but when I tried it I loved it. We even took some cooking lessons on how to prepare some of the most popular dishes.

When I returned home and arrived at the Ft. Myers airport I looked around and what I saw made me very sad. I saw many old people in very bad shape. There were wheelchairs, crutches and canes everywhere. Many of the people were overweight, some were hugely overweight. Many had large stomachs and were hunched over. Also, I could tell that many had brains that did not work properly. I kept thinking “What have we done to ourselves in this country?” That’s when I decided I want to do my part to solve this problem and help as many people as I can.

I realized that during the past 35 or 40 years I have been a large contributor to this problem. I have helped many companies sell more of their unhealthy food and drinks. However, I don’t blame all these companies because they have to produce and sell what their customers want. As an example many years ago Taco Bell came out with a healthy menu and it did not sell. They had to return to their popular but unhealthy food and eventually their sales came back. Several other large chains have tried the same thing with mostly the same results. All these chains can provide much healthier and good tasting food if their customers demand it. Even fried chicken can be much healthier than it is by simply using healthier fats to fry it in.

Following are some of the major problems that have to be resolved quickly:

Food Supply: The fresh food we grow today is not nearly as healthy as it was. As an example, corn has been so genetically modified it is not close to what it used to be and it is used in a huge number of our processed foods. It was healthy at one time but no longer. The primary reason is; about 50-60 years ago when I was a child on the farm we grew corn to feed our pigs, dairy and beef cattle. We also grew some in our garden for the family. Back then our yield per acre of corn was from 30 to 50 bushels. Today the average yield per acre is 170 bushels. Experts say that 28 nutrients are taken from the soil when corn is grown. When farmers fertilize the soil they use over and over again they only add back three of the ingredients that make it grow faster and larger. When the other 25 nutrients are depleted many of the healthy nutrients in the corn are missing. This is only one of many examples.

The Food Supply Industry: Most of the processed food you find in a grocery or convenient store is very unhealthy. As an example I just read something today that said the most popular cereals are mostly sugar and that’s what parents feed their children. No wonder so many now are obese!

Food labeling is such a mess it is a huge joke! Most people have no idea what’s in the food they buy, even if they read the label. Although there is some government control you have to understand the rules for what’s put on the labels. Many of the terms are simply marketing terms. Someone told me a few days ago if you print on the package that a food is healthy or has the good effect of some medicines it will be considered a drug by the government and falls under the drug labeling and distribution rules.

Sugar: Sugar is one of the largest contributors to our poor health and it is put in an incredible number of processed foods in one form or another. It’s even in such foods as French fries. To combat this, sugar substitutes were developed. However recent studies have found these sugar substitutes to be unhealthier than real sugar.

Fat: Our government and many other organizations have told us for years that fat is bad so we have gone through a long fat free or low fat diet craze. However, recent research has found most fats to be very healthy and needed by our bodies, especially from grass fed meat. Eating more healthy fat can actually aid in loosing body fat.

Exercise: Many adults and children no longer get enough exercise. They are spending more time watching TV, playing games and reading messages on their cell phones or sitting behind a desk all day. We need a certain amount of exercise to stay healthy.

Alcohol Consumption: Drinking alcoholic beverages has become the major way we socialize and consumption is growing. Today most social events and meals have to include some form of alcohol. Research has found alcohol to be very harmful, especially to the brain.

Drugs: “Big Pharma” has become a huge health problem in the United States. Even though they are developing more and more super drugs that are helpful in treating illnesses they are causing some serious health problems. Today the major motivation for developing a drug is much more about profit than for what it will do to help cure illnesses. Also, we are now facing a huge problem with our health system. Issuing prescriptions has become the major way doctors have generate income. They can’t afford to spend enough time with their patients to find out what they really need.

Since I don’t want this article to be all negative I want to list some of the good things that are going on:

Longevity: Because of developing science we are now adding 3 months to our average life span each year. By the year 2030 that number is predicted to go up to adding a year every year.     

Treatments: Science has been developing new effective treatments for many illnesses and finding cures for many. This will continue at a faster rate.

Science: Science is developing many new and useful products at an ever increasing rate that will make our lives easier. New technology is being developed at an exponentially faster rate. These technologies are decreasing the amount of work we all have to do and making our lives better.

I had to decide what I could do for the remainder of my life to help people solve these problems. I have decided the best way I can do that quickly is to become a certified personal trainer. I want to do that and some other things but concentrate on people 65 and older. I will also help Becky and Dr. Romero with their brain health practice, Regain the Brain and The Plenary Mind Institute.

I am now halfway through my NASM (National Association of Sports Medicine) training and will soon be certified by them. After that I will start training people in some of the local gyms and build a group for certain group exercises and special care events.

Recent Changes in the Digital Menu Board Industry

Seven years ago I wrote a blog titled “Will the Digital Menuboard VARs Disappear? I wrote a volume 2 with the same title in 2018. I asked that question and wrote the blogs because seven years ago one of the LCD display companies had been selling digital menu boards (DMB’s) directly to the end users, while telling their resellers (VARs) they would not do that. On a couple large projects they set up “dummy resellers” to cover it up. They did not want the VARs to know this because almost all their sales went through resellers and they could not afford to upset them.

I respected this LCD company’s sales ability because they were selling more than any other company at that time. However, as it turned out, they really didn’t have much effect on how the DMB’s went to market because they screwed up most of the projects they sold and eventually lost them. I can provide a list of several major QSR chains where this happened. Their primary problem was they only had a sales and marketing team. They did not have the knowledgeable people required to manage the projects and keep up with the day to day issues. Issues such as; “what happens when a new restaurant opens?” or “what happens when the designed DMB won’t fit in a restaurant?” These types off issues are common in a roll-out.

We’ve have all seen the same thing happen in other industries where middlemen are cut out to eliminate markups. A classic example of this working well is Sam Walton and Walmart. There are situations where a middleman is not adding enough value and should be eliminated, however, you have to make sure the needed functions are not eliminated with them. Many times these functions are added back to the process by adding employees at the end user or supplier at a higher cost than what they thought they would save.

We may be seeing this happen with two recent huge projects at McDonald’s and Burger King where they went direct to Samsung . Although I hear they are having lots of problems with the big DMB roll-out at McDonald’s I don’t know the facts so I won’t comment on that project. I am much more familiar with the Burger King/RBI project because I worked on it for more than two years. Also, the company I started, LSI Images, has been their old style menu board supplier for about 15 years.

The short story is, I (START) had been working on the Burger King project for over two years and we were going to be awarded the project until they decided to go to their parent company (RBI) to finance the project. RBI then met with Samsung and decided to go direct with Samsung on the project. It’s ironic because they did what I was teaching Burger king so you could say I eliminated myself.

I think with these two large chains doing this it will change the industry regardless of how many problems they have and how much it costs them. All the major chains will follow suit and all that will be left for the VARs will be the small chains. If you are a VAR you may be wasting your time working on the large projects. In today’s business world you can never be sure you won’t be eliminated by a new technology or process.

Do You Know What’s Best For Your Customers?

I’ve had a long and enjoyable career as a marketer, engineer and product developer in the graphics, sign, display and menu board industry. During my career one of the things I’ve enjoyed most, and been best at, is developing new products or systems that solve my customer’s problems, cuts cost and/or increases sales. This has allowed me to develop many new products and several are significant in my industry and are still being used.

I have never enjoyed going to a customer with a product already developed and trying to show them why they need it. That was too much like being a salesman pushing a product and less like the useful problem solver I wanted to be. I’ve always believed it was best to meet with the customer to learn their problems and see the actual situation for myself. That made it much easier to provide them with the best product for solving the problem. If the product did not exist I would do my best to develop it. I can give you many examples of that.

As a result of the many years of work I have put into the development of digital menu boards, displays and new technology communication tools I now consider myself an expert in that field. As a result I started relying too much on telling my customers what they needed because I knew they didn’t know. I recently learned the best product is not always the best for their situation.

Recently someone came to me and told me they were opening a new concept restaurant/game-room type of establishment and were planning on opening several more. They said they wanted digital menu boards and displays but knew very little about them. After gathering information on what they would display on them I visited the site and determined they needed three 48″ and one 55″ display mounted on two different walls with simple copy, mostly menu items.

I met the operations manager at the site and he asked me many questions about digital menu boards and how to use them. I also spoke to the owner on the phone and he had several questions. I would normally recommend a fully functional digital system with all the latest capabilities; something they could learn and grow into as they added more sites. However, after learning as much as I did about the company and their lack of knowledge and experience in that area I recommended something very simple. Also, they wanted to do everything themselves.

The system I recommended and sold them was something I would have laughed at years ago. It was what experts used to refer to as a “Sneaker-net” system. It was very simple and easy for them to use. They put their simple content on a USB drive and plugged it into the displays. They even used PowerPoint software to lay out the menu.

I have learned that when most customers first start using digital menu boards they tend to be very uneasy with them and think they are complicated and difficult to use. As they get more familiar with them and learn their capabilities they start doing more with them and begin to learn and use their full capabilities.

I am happy I sold my customer the simple system because they were very happy with it. It was easy for them to use and in the middle of trying to open a new concept site they had many other important issues to resolve. As they start using and getting more comfortable with it all they have to do is add media players and software to make it a full capability system. These new capabilities were planned for.

My Return To Vietnam

Hello everyone. I returned from an 11 day/10 night trip to Vietnam last Thursday evening (Feb 14). I spent 8 of the nights in a hotel and 2 on a plane). It’s now Monday and I’ve recuperated, gotten back into my routine and ready to write about the trip. It was an amazing experience for me so I wanted to tell my story.

This all started several months ago when my daughter Jennifer told me she was going to travel around the world for 12 months with an organization called Remote Work. She would spend one month in each of 12 different countries around the world. I did not understand why or how she could just up and leave all her family and friends for one whole year. Now that I have met most of the 33 people she is traveling with and understand what they are doing I think it was one of the best things she has done in her life. All the people are great and it has been an incredible experience for her.

When Jennifer first told me about this she said she wanted me to come to visit her in one of the countries in South America. I’m not that excited about traveling to foreign countries any more so I convinced her it would be more worthwhile to invite her mother to two of the countries instead of each of us to one. She said she would do that but later she invited me to visit her in Vietnam. She wanted to pay my expenses as a gift. As soon as she said that I got nervous and started thinking of excuses why I could not go without hurting her feelings. I was in the Vietnam War 50 years ago and could not imagine ever going back there again. All I could think of was “Why would anyone want to go there? They don’t even have toilets! And it smells bad there” That was the last place in the world I wanted to visit. I had lost many friends there that were as close as brothers, plus saw many horrible things.

When I started thinking about it I remembered that when I wrote a book about some of my life experiences I included several stories about my year in the Vietnam War. Telling those stories made me feel better. Also, I recently attended a celebration here in Ft, Myers where they honored the 50 year anniversary for the veterans of the Vietnam War and that made me feel better. I felt very bad for 50 years about the way we left Vietnam and the way our soldiers were treated when we returned. I thought a trip back to Vietnam may make me feel even better so I agreed to do it. Jennifer also asked me to give a presentation to her group on my experience of the Vietnam War.

When I received my travel itinerary I saw I would fly from Ft. Myers to Detroit then to Seoul, Korea and then to Hanoi, North Vietnam, right into the heart of enemy territory! That made me very nervous. Later when I arrived there every time I saw someone in uniform I was totally on guard. I was amazed at the modern and efficient airports in Seoul and Hanoi. It was easier traveling there than in the US. I received my visa in Vietnam and made it through customs almost nonstop. In comparison, my last trip to Canada took me hours to clear customs! I picked up my checked bag and a car was waiting for me outside that took me to my hotel. My hotel was great and only a block from Jennifer’s office and living quarters.

Following are some notes to recap my experience there, plus some of my observations:

On my way to the hotel, I thought all the drivers were rude because they kept honking their horns. I later learned that they weren’t being rude like the drivers in the US but were being polite by letting the other drivers know they were passing. I later learned how important this was in the heavy traffic there. I found all the people I interacted with there were friendly, polite and respectful.

I stayed in two different hotels the 8 nights I was there. They both were great hotels with large rooms and luxury amenities. They also included a large buffet breakfast and the cost was only $45 per night.

Jennifer and I, plus some of her group members, were very busy and went on tours every day. We flew to Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) and spent 3 days there taking tours also. I could not believe how much that city had changed. It now looks similar to Las Vegas. Following are highlights of the things we did in Vietnam:

We visited the Mekong Delta, took 3 boat rides/tours, visited a couple war museums, visited a military camp to see caves the Viet Cong used and heard stories about how their soldiers fought the war, I fired an M-60 machine gun on a firing range (I had my choice of most of the weapons used in the Vietnam War), we visited a candy factory, we took cooking lessons and ate the food we cooked, we visited a place where handicapped people made pieces of art and souvenirs, we visited several beautiful parks and took naps in hammocks in one park. We took an exciting tour on motorbikes through the streets and narrow alleys of Hanoi. We also ate out in all kinds of interesting restaurants ranging from fancy and beautiful rooftop restaurants to sitting on the sidewalk in tiny little plastic chairs with tiny plastic tables like those small children would use as toys in the US.

FOOD: They had several different kinds of coffee there and I loved them all. After returning home the first cup of coffee I had here tasted like crap. I’m gradually getting used to my coffee again.

The food there was great. We ate constantly and I actually lost weight while there. I now know why there are no overweight people in Vietnam, at least I saw none. I also did not see any sick people, doctor’s offices, drug stores, hospitals or grocery stores (although I was told there were some) Their food supply is very healthy and fresh. For the most part, it’s actually gathered, prepared and eaten daily. I saw none of the processed food we have in abundance here in the US that is making us overweight and very unhealthy.

I had a very different impression of the food when I first arrived there because most of it is processed, cooked and eaten on the sidewalks. Sort of like when we are camping out in the woods in the US. It seemed dirty and unsanitary. I heard the same comments from other people from the US. After a few days, I realized that was not true.

Motorbikes, scooters, cars, and traffic: The traffic in the cities there is unbelievable. Their primary source of transportation is motorbikes and scooters, with a few small cars, bicycles, buses and trucks sprinkled in. We saw as many as a family of 6 on one small motor scooter or motorbike and few wear helmets. They have streets and sidewalks that are similar to ours except parked cars and motorbikes fill up the sidewalks, plus people eat and sell their products on the sidewalks. When you walk around town you mostly have to walk in the streets with the traffic because the sidewalks are full.

It’s very difficult to describe how traffic moves there. It’s similar to how your blood cells move through your body. The motorbikes and scooters simply flow through the streets weaving in and out of traffic and around the pedestrians. When you have to cross a street or make a turn you simply make your intentions known and make your move. They all anticipate your moves and flow around you. You don’t want to hesitate or make any sudden unanticipated moves. It’s incredible there are no accidents. I saw none the 11 days I was there. If people tried that in the US there would be accidents everywhere and we would have total gridlock.

Needless to say, the tour we took through Hanoi on the back of motorbikes was very exciting. We traveled the streets and also the small very narrow alleys with only a couple inches of free space on each side of the handlebars. It was e3xciting when we met someone else coming in our direction.

My Feeling about my return to Vietnam: As I have stated before I was very upset about how we left Vietnam. I heard many stories about how our South Vietnamese allies were tortured and killed for helping us after we left. I expected the killing to continue, even now, but what I saw was quite different. All the people there seem quite happy and they don’t care what type of government they have as long as they can continue to live their lives as they have for years. I got that impression from talking to several of the village chiefs 51 years ago. They didn’t know what the war was about. All they were concerned about was living in their villages. Their communist government is not oppressive to them and commerce is flourishing. It was amazing to see how the two major cities have grown and how the modern buildings blend in with the old traditional homes. There is also lots of new major construction going on. In one of the modern rooftop restaurants, I could see 4 large construction cranes where new major buildings were being constructed.

My trip turned out to be amazing! I met some great people, had fun with my daughter, ate lots of great food, drank lots of great coffee and had a great time. Finally, after 51 years I’m no longer worried about the people of Vietnam. They’re very capable of taking care of themselves and doing very well. Hopefully, I’ll get to return someday.

How do you keep the displays people touch clean?

Dirty Screen

I’m sure everyone has heard about the self-order kiosks in 2 restaurants in a major chain that were found to have human feces on the screens. I have heard they may have found the same in ten more restaurants.

That is a PR nightmare for the restaurant chain and for the touch screen industry. I don’t know what their plans are but this needs to be resolved quickly in a way that will give their customers confidence it has been resolved and won’t happen again. They may have had a cleaning process in place but it has to be changed and the changes advertised quickly.

There are amazing new technologies already developed that will solve this problem. There are new films and cleaning compounds that will kill all the germs, bacteria and harmful organisms and keep the screens clean. The compounds will last from a day up to more than a year. There is also a new LED lighting system available that will do the same that may be used to illuminate the displays. I have to believe there are people working on this problem now that know about these new technologies.

If this causes a serious enough problem that end users are afraid to use kiosks that large numbers of customers touch, an alternative is to switch to the self-order kiosk everyone carries with them. The cell phone. I also read a recent study that determined a significant number of cell phones were found to have human feces on them also. However, that is not a problem for the restaurant.

What criteria do you use to select a digital menu board content supplier?

I spent a good part of last week filling out and submitting an RFP for digital menu boards for a major QSR chain. I have worked on several of these recently and they all seem to me to be lacking in a major area. 

I have been in this industry since well before it started and in all that time the experts (including me) have said “content is king”, “content is the most important component of a digital menu board” and made similar statements. However, in most of the RFP’s I have seen by major chains content and content supplier qualifications seem to be at the bottom of the list. 

I’ll use the RFP I did last week as an example. Like most, the RFP was huge. It had 11 sections and each section had from 5 to 35 questions, but most had well over 20 questions per section. Guess which one had 5? You’re right, the section on content. Even the section on media players had 28 questions.

I think this happens because most chains let their technical people work on their RFP’s. I understand this because I’m an engineer and it’s easy for me to think of many technical questions about displays and media players.  But, I don’t understand why the marketing and merchandising people don’t have more input. What you say to your customers and how you say it is much more important than the hardware specifications

Hardware is also much easier to specify and quote than content. Most people quote the development of content at an hourly rate but an hourly rate doesn’t tell you anything because you don’t know how much they can do in an hour. There are what some would call sweat shops that have low paid people that can crank out large amounts of simple content and others that have talented highly paid people that can put out incredible content but how do you quote it?

I think it is much more important to check out the work your prospective content providers have generated than to judge it on an hourly rate. I would even have them generate some sample content to compare before a decision is made.  

I have seen at least on of the top QSR chains go through the process of selecting digital menu board hardware that had all the latest capabilities and after they are installed they look exactly like the old boards because they don’t use all the capabilities properly. Why waste your time and money?  

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.”