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Digital signage is a new weapon in the fight for small business survival, a high-tech tool that helps even the playing field with corporations and chain stores, according to one small business owner in New York City.
Christopher Pugliese, owner of Tompkins Square Bagels in New York City, recently deployed digital signage screens in his bagel shop to reduce perceived wait times and promote his business, and he said the technology helps "mom-and-pop shops" like his remain competitive.
"For guys like us, a small business person, it's a piece of modern technology that we can afford that we can use really, really well, and it helps us to compete with some of the bigger companies and corporations that have much more money and resources," he said in a recent phone interview.
While smaller businesses like his don't have the buying power or resources of larger corporations, he said, that smallness can also be a boon by allowing them to be agile enough to use the technology quickly and effectively, changing content on a whim without having to get approval from a committee. All of which helps in the competitive landscape that is New York City.
"We're a small mom-and-pop place; this is a piece of really kind of cutting-edge technology," he said. "Smaller guys can afford it and put it to really good use, possibly better than the larger guys and it's a great tool for us … It's a tough fight and this is an awesome tool for places like mine to compete with them. It gives us a little bit of an edge, I think, and it's affordable, so I think it's a great thing for the small mom-and-pop shop. We don't usually get the advantages like this, so I'm grateful for it."
Pugliese first deployed a single digital signage screen after being approached by Samsung to see if he'd be interesting in serving as a test case for the display manufacturer's new Samsung Smart Signage TV solution aimed at improving businesses communications and available as an out-of-the-box solution from major club and electronics retailers, as well as select reseller partners. He liked it so well he's since deployed another SSTV.
Pugliese said he had two main goals for his digital signage: first, getting the message across that everything is made fresh in his shop so wait times might be a little longer than some might expect; second, promoting the shop's catering business — and the results have been gratifying.
As a small shop owner, Pugliese said he tends to wear a lot of hats, so instead of taking time to write something on a chalkboard or a sidewalk board, he can put someone in charge of the sign and it's one less thing he has to worry about.
"I know it's up there, and I know people are going to see it," he said. "For some reason when people see a screen in front of them like a TV screen they just watch it.
"So they might not always look at a specials board; they might not look at something that I scribbled on a chalkboard in the store; but for whatever the reason is when they see a screen they watch what's on the screen."
Pugliese said he and his employees make everything from scratch, by hand, and there are no shortcuts, but getting impatient millennials to stand still for that long can be a challenge.
"People aren't used to waiting like they did 15-20 years ago," he said. "But now I can get something up on the screen to show people this is what we do — nothing is premade or microwaved — and the images and the messages that we put up there helped people understand what's going on in here in a better way than I could. I can't go to each person and explain to them individually, and arguing with people on social media sites like Yelp! wasn't really working out … so this was the best way to handle it, and it's helped a lot.
"I haven't gotten any 'Oh my God, I can't believe how long I waited' Yelp! reviews since we put this up or anything like that, so I think it makes people feel like they understand better. And we're telling them before there's a problem, before there's an issue where they know. So all of that kind of helped us out a lot."
And the business also has seen an uptick in its catering business, as well as more calls about it and hits on its website, he said.
"A lot of people see our place and they think it's a little mom-and-pop place, and a lot of them don't realize we're doing catering all over the city," he said. "That's something we wanted people to know, that we did that, and I think it's been helpful with that as well."
Also, for a carefully designed shop with a carefully crafted old-world ambience, Pugliese worried that the intrusion of modern technology would be out of place or disruptive — even to the point of almost backing out of the install before it ever got started. But, with the help of content and color schemes that match the shop, that hasn't been the case at all.
"I have to say it really integrated well with the store; they blend right in," he said. "It really blended into the store really nicely. That was a pleasant surprise."
Watch a video about the SSTV deployment at Tompkins Square Bagels below:
Christopher is the managing director of the Interactive Customer Experience Association and former editor of DigitalSignageToday.com. A longtime freelance writer and reporter, he's bringing a fresh perspective and critical take on the industry.www