Business reacts to digital billboard discussion
Wednesday, Aug 20, 2014 06:00 am
Cost of advertising
Some business owners in the city would welcome a law to permit private or third-party owned LED billboards on their land, rather than cluttering the streets with portable or outdated signs.
Peter Lindhout, who works as a business consultant to the Liberton Medical Center, said the clinic has owned a billboard using xenon light bulbs for more than a decade.
That sign, located outside the building, is no longer cost-efficient and requires constant replacement of its 3,000 bulbs, he said. The clinic would now like to replace it, he said.
“(The bulbs) burn out, they take a lot of energy and we like to replace that with a digital sign,” he said. “In fact, we like to look into the possibilities of having a large digital sign and then sharing the cost of that.”
He added that the clinic does not want to put up portable signs, as these would not properly reflect the image of the business or the city.
But if the clinic wants to inform people about its services, signage “is one of the best ways” to do that, said Lindhout.
Asked if the clinic has used one of the digital billboards owned by the local chamber of commerce, he said they have not. The clinic would prefer using the sign on their own premises, he said.
But they would rent out space to other businesses in the city to share the cost and advertising space on their sign, he said.
“We think it would also be a positive thing to have for other businesses,” he said. “It might even clean up some of the small signs that litter the highway.”
Amendment to city bylaws
In early May, city council unanimously passed a motion asking for an amendment to come back to council’s consideration that would permit pillar and third-party electronic signs on private property.
The motion, brought forward by Coun. Sheena Hughes, is expected to come back for review in 2015. For now, the only LED billboards in St. Albert are owned by the chamber of commerce and sit on city-owned land, as well as one sign in front of Fountain Park.
In an interview with the Gazette, Hughes said she made the motion because digital billboards are beginning to appear across other cities.
Allowing private business owners to own them could help businesses save money on advertising and help clean up the clutter of portable signs along St. Albert Trail, she said.
“Only one business can advertise on (a portable sign) per month,” she said. “Whereas this way, if you had electronic signs, because (the ads) are rotating, you can have 10 to 12 businesses advertising on the same square footage per month.”
While digital billboards do exist in St. Albert, it’s a “double standard” if the city and chamber can rent out signage space but private citizens cannot, she said.
She added that residents should not worry about a clutter of billboards replacing a clutter of portable signs. Cities have laws in place that regulate how much space must be kept between the signs, she said.
“What we don’t want is every 10 feet a billboard. That’s what we don’t want,” she said. “I just want it to be where you have options … and it gives you the ability to have fewer signs advertise more businesses.”
Too expensive for small business
But not all small business owners think advertising on digital billboards is effective or cost-efficient.
Word of mouth is still the best advertising small businesses can get, said Heather Wolsey, owner of Seasons Gift Shop in St. Albert. Second to that comes using social media, such as Facebook or Twitter, she said.
“I’ve used (digital signs) before. They are quite expensive and I don’t know that it’s really necessary,” she said. “People don’t look at them anymore and it can be a distraction to drivers.”
The high cost of renting space on digital signs has also kept Brent Elaschuk from investing long-term in billboard advertisements.
The owner of St. Albert Tune-Up and Brake said he used the digital sign owned by the chamber once. He remembered paying about $1,000 to $1,200 for a month of advertisement.
“But for a small business guy like me the cost was too high,” he said, adding that he also benefits most from word of mouth or being mentioned on social media sites.
Update signage regulation
Many smaller businesses lack the finances to pay for monthly advertisements on digital billboards, said Lynda Moffat, CEO and president of the St. Albert and District Chamber of Commerce.
Even the chamber’s two signs are rarely sold out, she said.
She suggested council ask administration to review its entire signage bylaw and deal with digital signs as part of a whole package of policies.
The chamber had also provided the previous council with a survey on signage by interested parties in the city, she said. That survey also provided options for possible signage laws, she said.
“If you are just going to come out and say as one sweeping statement that we need to have LED digital signage for everybody than you just have chaos again because you don’t have laws that are set to control that in your city,” she said.
Moffat added that she is in favour of digital signage as long as it fulfils a purpose conducive to local business. But smaller businesses and local shopping plazas will not benefit from other people advertising outside their doors, she said.
Instead, the city should consider adding a digital component to pile-on signs, she said.
“I think if they made a digital component part of that that they could more easily advertise the tenants that they have within that shopping centre,” she said. “That’s exactly what they deserve. And then you don’t need to see all these portable signs out there.”