How to Nail the Sidewalk Sign to Boost Foot Traffic

A clever chalkboard sign makes passersby stop, look, snap — and hopefully enter.
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Use chalkboard advertising to bring more foot traffic to your business. (Photo: sidewalksignsnyny/Instagram)

This chalkboard sign in front of a Brooklyn pizzeria brought people into the shop. And just as important, passersby stopped to snap a photo and post it to social media — instant free advertising.

Chalkboard sidewalk signs can be a fun and inexpensive way to bring more foot traffic into your shop or cafe. “Sidewalk space is the most valuable real estate that a business owner has access to at no additional charge,” said Josh Elledge, the founder of upendPR, a firm specializing in helping startups with public relations. “If you have permission to put a chalkboard out there, you would be insane not to. This is such a no-brainer.”

Use the opportunity to grab attention. “You can either put your drink prices on there or you can get something that’s going to be memorable. I guarantee you, drink prices are not memorable.”

Sidewalk signs can not only make passersby stop in their tracks, they can also generate an act of reciprocity. Imagine someone walking down the street and getting a laugh from your chalkboard.

“If you gave value in the form of brilliant art that they got to look at, or something really entertaining, you have just given them value,” said Elledge. “Audiences or passersby will want to reciprocate. Psychologically, they’re like, my day is better because of reading that. I want to do something, I want to reciprocate and buy a drink from them. It happens all the time.”

NCR Silver asked Elledge and Shep Hyken, customer experience expert and author of “Amaze Every Customer Every Time,” for advice on creating signs that make an impression.

Be clever

“Don’t put a sign that says the name of the restaurant and today’s specials,” warned Hyken, “Put a sign out there that’s going to make somebody laugh, smile, engage them, to make them want to then go look at the menu.”

Elledge noted that a clever line can take on a life of it’s own. “You do a really funny one and it goes viral, now half a million people have seen it.” But he did caution shop owners about one thing. “You need your logo or the name of your company on the chalkboard.”

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But be careful

If you were anywhere near social media in the lead-up to the presidential election, you probably saw sidewalk signs like this one, from a Toronto coffee shop:

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Or this one, from a cupcake shop in northwest Pennsylvania:

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Humor is often best when it’s timely — but an approach like this is somewhat risky. “If you have the opportunity to communicate, don’t waste it on something that’s going to alienate half your audience,” Elledge said. “Be really careful, be very cautious. Know who your audience.”

But Hyken says there’s an upside to this kind of sign. “People are walking by, they notice a sign. They stop. They pause. They read it, they smile. Guess what? They won’t forget it. Whether they like it or don’t like it, they won’t forget it.”

Showcase your business’ personality

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“One of the things that stands out to me with a sign like this is it feels small and personal,” Hyken explained. “It feels like I’m not dealing with a major chain. A handwritten chalk sign that changes on a regular basis in front of a restaurant screams out to me: local owner, entrepreneurial, specialty boutique.”

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Crowdsource your ideas

Busy restaurant owners don’t always have time to come up with something clever for their signs. Hyken suggested crowdsourcing this activity by turning to your waitstaff and other team members for ideas.

“When you put more than one person on a project like this, synergy kicks in. One plus one is not two. The sum is greater than the parts.”

A case in point is a coffee shop in in Roanoke, Virginia, that recently made international headlines after a barista put up a sidewalk sign that went viral all around the world by humorously stressing the value of politeness.

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Enlist customers to help

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Employees aren’t the only ones who might want to contribute.

“Put a sign in the men’s room above the lavatory and offer free drinks for whoever comes up with a clever sidewalk sign,” Elledge suggested.

Post a gallery of previous winners on your social media pages. “You recognize these people and you make them look like a rock star. You have a wall of fame. You can celebrate your employees and also celebrate your customers.”

Hyken noted, “The job isn’t selling food, it’s getting people to buy the food.” And the first step is getting them to step inside.

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