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.

Street cafe outdoor terrace business lunch scene with waitress taking order flat banner print abstract vector illustration. Editable EPS and Render in JPG format

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.

Digital menu board basics, Part 3

by Scott Sharon * • 26 Nov 2008

“Digital menu board basics” is a white paper in four parts. You may also want to read Part 1, Part 2 & Part 4. Some of the comments I make in this section are just common sense but in view of the many mistakes I have seen I will mention them. Since the start of the digital signage industry, there have been many companies enter the business and several have filed for bankruptcy and some more than once. As in most new industries, there is a shortage of expertise and many unqualified people are selling digital signage systems, so be careful.
Some of the digital signage suppliers have made little investment to enter the industry and simply contract everything out. If they sub everything out and have no value to add to your project, you will be paying extra and receive delayed and poor service. Be careful with someone that tells you they do everything. Make sure the supplier you choose will be around for a while and can back up their warranties. Also, make sure the warranties are backed up by the original equipment manufacturers and will be honored if your supplier disappears or defaults.
Designing your digital signage system requires the cooperative effort of your marketing department and the IT department. It may be best if driven by marketing with the assistance of the IT department. First, you should understand all the capabilities of a digital system. This may require at least a small test. When you have a good idea of what you want the system to do you can design the system and set up a plan with objectives and goals.
A test is a waste of time and money unless you have a proper plan with clear objectives and a method of measuring success. When you have a good understanding of what you want your system to do then you can design it. Without clear specifications and guidelines in your RFP, the proposals you receive will be so different you can not make accurate cost comparisons and may lead to serious mistakes. If you are not careful the lowest priced system will end up costing the most. If you aren’t sure how to do this it is critical to get unbiased assistance.

Digital menu board basics, Part 2

by Scott Sharon * • 31 Oct 2018

“Digital menu board basics” is a white paper in four parts. You should also read Part 1, Part 3 & Part 4.

Can you use digital boards to build or improve your brand? Your brand is your promise to your customer. It tells them what they can expect from your products and services, and it differentiates your offering from your competitor’s. Your brand is derived from who you are, who you want to be and who people perceive you to be. Is your brand promise resonating with consumers? In other words, does the customer experience equal their expectation? If you are the innovative maverick in your industry your customers should see you that way. Keep in mind you can’t be all things to all people. Who you are should be based on what your target customers want you to be. You should be who you want to be vs. who you are in the eyes of your customers and potential customers. A marketer’s job is to create and build a brand identity, not just to sell products. How well you do that will have a positive or negative effect on sales now and in the future. Your image should represent what the brand stands for and imply a promise to customers.

What is your plan to drive traffic and build your brand? First, do your research to identify what habits, perceptions or beliefs your customers have of the brand and develop a plan to build, change or reinforce them today. It usually takes one to three years to show significant results. Review the visual aspects of your brand first. Does the look and feel of your promotional materials accurately and effectively reflect your brand? It’s difficult to sell a high-quality product with homemade-looking marketing materials. In the mind of consumers, quality materials equal quality product. Digital menu boards will show your customers you are innovative and up to date with technology even if you want an “old fashion” look. They also make it easier to make the changes you learn from your research.

Here is an example: Several years ago one of the major restaurant brands asked me to review one of their prototype restaurants where they made some significant interior design changes. The first thing I noticed when I entered the restaurant was the increased amount of graphics and images inside. They even added some soffits to increase the space for graphics. Although everything was very nicely done it simply did not work. Too many graphics and too much information simply increase clutter, create confusion and cause your customers to tune it all out. It creates what I refer to as information overload.

Approximately five years later the same brand asked me to review a new prototype restaurant with all digital menu boards. The difference was so dramatic it shocked me. All the graphics clutter was removed and everything was placed on the digital boards. It made a significant improvement in the perception customers had when they entered the restaurant and made the graphics and information much more effective.

If you feel your design is ineffective or out-of-date, consider updating it by retaining key design elements that still work, while shedding those that don’t. The key is to make your brand look current without losing its original appeal, and thus customers. Ensure all pricing, ordering information, product lists and product specs are up-to-date. Delete anything no longer relevant or accurate. If you’re advertising on the internet, make sure there are no elapsed limited-time offers being advertised. This is especially important when using affiliate advertising. Often affiliates will use old ads and/or links to offers no longer valid. This not only confuses and aggravates consumers but also reflects negatively on your brand.

Digital menu board design criteria: To make effective use of the extra capabilities of digital menu boards you must first understand how your customers use menu boards. You should have a different strategy for your indoor boards than you do for your drive-thru boards. Although the same customers may alternately use indoor and drive-thru service they will have different needs for each. Design the menu boards to fit your customer’s needs. At the drive-thru speed of service and convenience is very important without making customers feel rushed. Service and communication are more important for indoor boards.

Perceived wait time is very important. If you can occupy your customers while they are in line the perceived wait time is much less and it improves your customer’s experience. Research shows most of your customers will know what they want before they see your menu board (that number may be slightly lower inside than in the drive-thru). Plus, the more information you have in the “order zone” the more confusion it causes and it decreases the likelihood any of it will be read and retained.

It’s very important for customers to read your menu boards. It’s your last opportunity to influence their purchasing decision before they make a purchase and increase the likelihood they will return. Most of your customers return or don’t return, because of past experience. Your goal should be to create an experience that brings them back.

When I first started in the digital menu board business my advice was to change only one or two panels of the current boards to digital. I designed an LCD panel that would replace one or more of the existing panels easily. Because of developments in the industry since then, I no longer advise that. Based on new cost, capabilities, and reliability, it would now be a better investment to replace the complete board with digital. However, the board should have a limited amount of animated or moving copy. Too much movement makes it too confusing for your customers and defeats the purpose of moving content. There should be a goal for each panel, such as help to make the ordering decision, trade up or increase ticket, introduce new items and build the brand. It should have a positive effect on the customer’s experience.

Small copy, information on toppers, adders and misc. signs are not easily read in the drive-thru. Digital menu boards will eliminate the need for these and make the ordering decision easier and faster. The feeling of being rushed is increased when a customer doesn’t know what they want and there is a car behind them. Those who feel rushed are less likely to be satisfied with the experience and brand. As with your current boards, there should be separate, clearly identified sections on the boards for different categories of products. Rather than just “present” information, the boards need to merchandise and promote your products. The products should look real and stimulate the appetite.