Digital signage nabs crooks, guilt-trips husbands, drives sales

When a Pennsylvania jewelry store's owners decided to put up an LED digital sign outside their store, they hoped it would help drive traffic — but the signage outshone its expectations, later even helping the store nab two thieves who'd robbed the store.

The digital sign also has been instrumental in driving sales, the owners said, both by letting potential customers know the store is there and by letting girlfriends and wives give their boyfriends and husbands a big hint.

Catching crooks

On Election Day last year, two men snatched three 1-karat engagement rings from a sales associate before fleeing from Decker Diamond Jewelers in Ebensburg, Pa., about 80 miles east of Pittsburgh.

Later that day, after filling out police reports and providing police with surveillance photos of the two men, store co-owner Dan Decker decided to put his digital billboard outside to a new use, helping track down the thieves.

"When things all settled down ... before I left that evening, about 8 o'clock, 8:30, I decided, you know what, I've got two good pictures of these guys; I'll just put them up on the sign," Decker said in a recent telephone interview. "So I cropped the pictures up and put them up and just put underneath, 'Wanted for Theft.'"

The next morning, while getting ready to open up shop, Decker and his employees noticed people pulling off the road to take pictures of the sign, and then decided to post the pictures to Facebook as well.

"And it just went crazy," he said. "Within a half an hour, we were getting texts back, and not only texts from the Facebook post but from people who took pictures in the parking lot ... It all started intertwining."

Within eight to 10 hours, Decker said, he had a number of names that came up more than others — and one in particular that kept popping up. Within 24 hours of the theft, Decker said, he had one of the thieves completely identified — and the thief turned himself in that Friday, just a few days after the theft. The second thief turned himself in the next week, Decker said.

Decker then decided to continue updating the sign, thanking the police and updating the public as the case progresses, and the reaction from that has been "unbelievable," he said.

"Customers are laughing; they'll stop in and say, 'Hey, we watch your board to see what's happening with your thieves,'" he said. "So it's been something that people have been talking about; I mean it's really kept people looking. Between the sign and Facebook ... the combination of the two really made a difference."

Happy wife; happy life

But the billboard has been more valuable for much more than just catching two crooks, Decker said. Within months of having their full-color 16mm LED sign from Watchfire Signs installed, Decker estimates the sign had attracted an additional 700 to 800 new customers to the store. And the sign has allowed Decker and his wife and store co-owner, Fran Decker, to get sneakily creative with their advertising strategies — and to also get their customers in on the act.

Around the big gift-giving holidays such as Christmas and Valentine's Day, the store will post cryptic messages addressed to generic names on the sign — along the lines of "Hey, John, your wife's earrings are here." — to drive traffic. The store also gets wives and girlfriends calling in with requests for significant others' names to be posted on the sign, the Deckers said.

Sometimes women will even come in to shop, then have their pictures posted on the sign as a pretty noticeable hint, Dan Decker said: "Women will come in with a wish list ... and we'll take a picture with a ring in their hand up against their face — They'll ask for this, okay? — and then I'll put it up on the board and say, 'Hey, Tom, she found it. Here it is.'"

"It's just been unbelievable," he said. "I can't get over how the customers come up with ideas, and the more you involve them, the more they just thrive on it; they're having a ball with it."

And, he said, it's so easy to do it.

"All it takes is one JPEG file and, whew, in actually less than a minute you can have it up," he said. "Once it's in the computer system, the program is five clicks, basically, and you can have it up on the board."

Learn more about LED digital signage.

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