TILTON — Considering all they’ve been through over the past year and a half, you can understand why some small businesses might be a little punchy these days. The local outbreak of a sign war, in which businesses use their signage to throw light-hearted verbal jabs at one another, has given them the chance to laugh and smile, two things that had been in short supply until recently.
And, it turns out, it can help some of those businesses as well.
The concept of a sign war appears to have been created by a music store owner in Christianburg, Virginia, in April of this year, when he invited a neighboring shoe store to go toe-to-toe. The first salvo was about whose strings were better, and it escalated from there as other local shops fired their own missives.
The clever, good-natured one-upsmanship seemed to be just the thing that the internet was craving. Photo galleries of all of the signs were shared through social media, and soon shops around the country, and even internationally, were taking cheeky swipes at their neighbors.
Mandie Hagan, owner of Rowell’s Services, headquartered in Northfield, was one of those who was tickled by the signs.
“I saw the idea on Facebook,” said Hagan. That was about two months ago, she said. She wanted to start a sign war locally, but needed a sparring partner. Her mind immediately went to Bianca Dion, owner of the Dairy Queen in Tilton, whom Hagan had known since high school. “I clued her in, she said, sure, fire it up. It grew like wildfire.”
That “wildfire” was no flash in the pan, either. Rowell’s opening bid was, “Hey Dairy Queen, do you want to do a sign war? It will be cool.” The Queen responded, “Hey Rowell’s, you bet your gas we do.”
Today, it seems that just about every business in the Tilton area is entrenched in the war of words. There’s no cease fire in sight, either, as side skirmishes are being waged online by businesses that don’t have the ability to put a sign up where the general public can see it.
“I thought it was such a good idea,” said Hagan. “Just a good idea to promote local businesses, to keep things light and fun. There’s a lot of rough things going on these days, it’s nice to have something fun.”
Dion said that she had to Google sign wars when Hagan first floated the idea. “I was all for it, it just seemed like a fun thing,” she said. Not just for owners, all of the employees have taken notice of new attacks, and have each had their hand in clapping back.
Dairy Queen has been active in expanding the war. Dion said they change their sign weekly. “I try to use both sides of my board to call out a different business on each side.”
One of the challenges is to brush up against the line of public sensibility, but not to cross over. Dion said she liked one of their shots at the Headlines in Tilton, which describes itself as a “smoke and gift boutique.” The sign read, “Hey, Headlines, why can’t we all get abong?” It got rave reviews from most, but those who didn’t like it strongly disliked it, so she took it down.
Word still got to Headlines, though, who responded, “Hey DQ, one word: Munchies. You’re welcome.”
Dion wasn’t the only sign warrior to cross the rules of engagement.
Nucar, the auto mall formerly known as AutoServ, was a gladiator in the sign wars arena. Its tall electronic message board, with high visibility at Exit 20, made it a big target for smaller businesses looking to stand out in the scrum. Nucar could counter each punch, though, thanks to the nimble fingers and quick mind of Josh Ellis, who manages their message board among his other duties.
Like Dion, Ellis said he hadn’t heard about sign wars until Dairy Queen called Nucar out, saying the dealership couldn’t “a-Ford” to enter into the fray.
“I said, what the hell is this? Did we piss someone off?” But once he saw where the battle lines were drawn, he entered the fight, guns a-blazing. Dunkin Donuts, Truck Trends, All My Life Jewelers, Wendy’s, Cyr Lumber, and many others – Ellis made it clear that Nucar welcomed all contenders. With their sign, he had a strong advantage, as it cycled through its various messages once every four seconds, and he could add a new retort with a few keystrokes, rather than having to manually take down and replace letters.
Ellis said he would sometimes do as many as six new signs each week, and he was getting good feedback from people who drive past the sign each day.
“It was pretty fun, other people were saying it was the highlight of their day,” he said. There were very few critics, but one of them turned out to be the Department of Transportation. One day, a thick packet showed up at the dealership. It included photographs of several of Ellis’ signs, and a section of state law explaining that, because Nucar’s sign was visible from I-93, it was considered a billboard, and Ellis didn’t have permission from the state to name businesses on the sign that didn’t reside at that address.
“Nucar, We are the champions thanks to DOT,” crowed Dairy Queen on its sign.
Ellis only retreated long enough to regroup, and return with a new strategy. He couldn’t use the sign, but he could use Facebook, where the “Lakes Region NH Sign Wars” page was already heating up with photos of signs, both those posted in the public’s sight and those from combatants who don’t have signs.
Shortly, Ellis posted a version of the Dairy Queen sign, altered via Photoshop to read, “Nucar, you are the champions.”
The sign war is amusing, said Hagan, but she said she wanted to bring it to the Lakes Region because she also understood it as a way to cast a light on another business while also throwing shade. She called it “cross-pollination.”
“We’ve all been through COVID and tough circumstances. Luckily, we’ve been lucky, but every piece of free marketing I can offer another business is important,” Hagan said. “It’s promoting another business I’m just as happy to promote as my own. If I can drum up some business for Dairy Queen, then, yay Dairy Queen.”
Dion agreed. “It’s good both ways,” she said. One person who commented on social media said that she was new to the area, and that she learned about many of the small businesses in her new 永续合约交易所_永续合约怎么home through her interest in the sign war. “There might be places mentioned that people don’t know (exist),” Dion said.
“We just want to be a positive and support our businesses and our community,” Ellis added.
Karmen Gifford, president of the Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce, said sign wars shouldn’t be dismissed as mere fun and war games.
“It totally is a marketing initiative, more grassroots,” Gifford said. By engaging in the sign war, larger businesses get to spotlight the smaller businesses they partner with, and businesses with a lower profile get a chance to step out from the shadows. And they get to present themselves in a different light.
“It’s creative, it’s fun,” Gifford said. “Sometimes customers are finding these businesses because of the sign, so they’re drawing consumers to different places as well.”
Much of the sign wars buzz is taking place on social media, so Gifford said the experience might be illuminating to local businesses that aren’t currently participating in the online conversations. “You need to be listening and talking,” Gifford said, and be prepared to take a few punches. “With any social media, there are positives and negatives… Some people might find it offensive or not, and there are people who enjoy it and get the humor. And if you are on social media, you have to be a little bit more open-minded.”
At the very least, the sign wars have people talking. And if they’re talking, it’s good for them to be talking about your business.
So, in response to The Galleria Salon and Day Spa’s jab, “Hey Laconia Daily Sun, Anonymous sources confirm, you are not a natural blonde,” our parry is, “We deal with facts, Galleria. You stick to the wax.”