What can you do if you’re a business owner and you feel that local sign size limits overly restrict your ability to advertise? Like an apparently growing number of businesses, you can buy a vehicle, paint or vinyl wrap your name and logo on the vehicle and then park it outside your business.
Mark Albert wanted to draw attention to his new restaurant Angry Barbeque in Jackson Township.
Because his restaurant had only 18 feet of frontage on the Belden Village Street NW, it was difficult for passing motorists to spot the establishment in the busy retail area, and Jackson Township’s rules strictly limited the size of his main sign.
So Albert paid $800 for a professional to apply a vinyl wrap with the Angry Barbeque website address, angry pig logo and phone number to the side of his Chevy Silverado.
Within weeks, he said he saw an increase in the number of mobile devices accessing his website.
“I’ve seen other vehicles wrapped,” said Albert. “I think it makes great business sense. It’s going to be parked here. Why not have it here work for me and get the tax break?”
Angry Barbeque is one of the numerous businesses in Stark County parking vehicles along high-traffic streets as “mobile signs” or “rolling billboards.” Often an old minivan, box truck or trailer, they have a painted sign or vinyl wrap and may be used for advertising while parked or on the move for catering, deliveries and even personal errands by the owner.
The costs are low compared to other advertising. Township and city limitations on the number of signs and the size of signs along with permit fees usually don’t apply to vehicles. The costs of advertising vehicles are considered tax deductible, and the vehicles serve as distinctive points of reference for customers to find the business.
While some business owners say it’s difficult to gauge how effective the vehicles are at luring customers, others rave about them.
Dad’s Car Care Center in Foxboro Square in Jackson Township parks by Fulton Drive NW a colorful vinyl-wrapped van with an image of a vintage car.
“People stop and ask about it,” said Dad’s Car Care manager Mike Boler. “Some people get out and take a picture.”
Sue Akers, the owner of Sign Makers in Plain Township, which does vinyl wrapping of vehicles, said she’s seen a gradual increase in the number of businesses that use parked vehicles as extra signs. She estimates that about 20 percent of her clientele hires her business to affix the advertisements to their vehicles. She said vinyl wrapping, which can cost from hundreds to thousands of dollars, has become popular because “it stays on better, and people can’t steal it.”
Canton Zoning Inspector Darla Hinderer said the city has no rules against vehicles being used as advertising.
Jackson Township’s zoning code prohibits “signs attached or placed on motor vehicles” but “painted, vinyl or magnetic signs on vehicles, trucks or trailers shall not be considered a prohibited sign.”
The township’s zoning inspector, Joni Poindexter, says while the sign regulations are intended to prevent the township from looking “like the Las Vegas Strip,” she does not take action against vehicles with signage as long as they’re on the property of their businesses and being used as vehicles. The list of permitted signs allowed to be used off the premises does not includes ones on vehicles, she said.
Plain Township bans “motor vehicles, trucks or trailers which are parked or located for the primary purpose of displaying said sign,” but its zoning inspector, Denny Fulk, said it’s difficult to prove a vehicle’s primary purpose.
“I would say it crosses the line if it’s a permanent truck. It’s just sitting there. It never moves,” he said. “The general public has the right to see advertising signs, but I don’t think they should be inundated.”
BILLBOARD WITH WHEELS
Doug Waikem, co-owner of the Waikem Auto Family, said the business has a white box truck advertising car loans and “CASH For Cars & Trucks” parked at the plaza at Whipple Avenue NW and Everhard Road NW in Plain Township with the owner’s permission. He says the past three years Waikem has parked trucks with advertising at high school football games and high-traffic intersections.
“We get great responses from them sometimes better than billboards because they’re eye level,” he said, adding that the trucks usually yield 10 calls a week. He said he was unaware of Plain Township’s rule against advertising vehicles but would comply with any citation letter.
While some officials say they seldom, if ever, hear complaints about the vehicles, they have scrutinized some.
In April, Executive Gold Buyers in Buckeye Plaza complied with a city order to fix a flat tire and renew the license plate for its large truck parked by Tuscarawas Street W.
The business’ manager, Matthew Blosser, said the “eye-appealing” truck that advertises, “We Buy Gold. Paying Top Dollar!” is essential in boosting walk-in traffic. Much of motorists’ view of the office is blocked by a bank, and the large Giant Eagle sign overshadows the business’ sign.
“It’s like if you were to put a hot air balloon out there,” he said, adding that his offices with advertising vehicles draw more business. “People will say, ‘I was driving by and saw the truck.’”
In March, a Jackson Township police officer told Lucky Fox Sweepstakes in Foxboro Plaza, to move its truck away from Fulton Drive NW, a township zoning form said, because it was being used as a prohibited off-premises sign. The white box truck has “SKILL GAMES” painted in red with a blue arrow pointing toward the business. Lucky Fox moved the truck closer to Wales Avenue NW and its games parlor.
The owner of Lucky Fox, who would not give her full name, said the officer directed her to renew the truck’s registration but he did not tell her she had to move it. She said besides promoting her business, the truck is also used to transport supplies.
Kevin Barton, the owner of Edible Arrangements near Everhard, says his vehicles, which feature a picture of his large fruit dishes on the sides, have won him new business for years. But he says the parking of the “Skills Game” truck by Fulton went too far.
“It didn’t look good. You could tell they did it themselves. It wasn’t wrapped professionally.”
Reach Robert at 330-580-8327 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter: @rwangREP.