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Advertising on those blue signs on the highway is way cheaper than I thought

(BUSINESS NEWS) Let’s talk about those big, blue, highway signs. What’s their deal? Who gets put on those and how does that work? They may not cost as much as you think, and might be worth considering for any brick and mortar business owner.

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The more you know

I confess, when it comes to the Big-List-of-Things-I-Knew-Nothing-About-Before-American Genius, I get holodeck cameras, zombie retail, and the actual Robocop.

They’re new, they’re shiny, they’re comparatively obscure: geek catnip. That works.

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But right now, this very moment, you are witnessing the first time I have ever expended a single byte of mental RAM on those blue signs next to the highway.

You know the ones I’m talking about; the bright blue placards that call to you on road trips, telling you where the fries are.

Gas, food, lodging, right? Actual, un-ironic use of the word “lodging” there. Next gen, they ain’t. They are, however, a genuinely big deal. Jalopnik recently got deep into the subject, and their report is well worth the read.

Who’da thought?

The fascinating takeaway is that those things rank with the most powerful forms of advertising, because in a nation of 263.6 million passenger vehicles, where the average driver spends an hour and a half a day behind the wheel, road signs rank with the most powerful forms of anything. Like the highways they sit next to, they may not be exciting, but if they don’t work, neither does the country.

Making sure they do is a complex dance of policy between the companies doing the advertising and the contractors that control, place, and maintain the signs, all carried out according to state regulations put in place because, as noted, road signs absolutely have to work. Without hard limits on who can advertise what and where, they become “meatspace popups,” and the thing about being randomly, irritatingly distracted on the Internet is you’re unlikely to die from it.

Not so much behind the wheel.

Each state has their say

In true American fashion, states vary widely as to their idea of how signage should work. They ever chill Colorado rotates the businesses every contract year to make sure everybody gets exposure. My own home state of Kentucky is decidedly more strict: if you want to advertise food or gas, if you’re not inside three miles of a rural interchange or one mile of an urban one, buy a billboard or bugger off. No sign for you.

But that’s just the states.

Some regulations come from the contractors, and those are often industry-wide.

For example, only six kinds of business get to be on the sign: food, gas, camping, local attractions, lodging, and pharmacies. I mean, four of those things are legitimate “might actually die if you can’t find one of these” concerns, so fair dues. Tent space and the world’s second largest ball of twine are perhaps less urgent, but these things are state-owned.

Gotta pay the bills.

How much you might be looking to shell out

And for business owners, that’s the part that matters, because good grief, do these things pay the bills. Buying space on a big sign costs – factoring in placement, upkeep and “trailblazer signs,” (which in addition to being an excellent alt-country album title means those little guys with the logo and the arrow that tell you where to get off after the exit) things average out nationwide to about $1000 per direction – but it’s also a killer investment.

To give you an idea, and return to my own fair land of bluegrass, bourbon, and basketball (everything good in Kentucky starts with B, says this boy from Boone County; try the barbecue) the state keeps 35 percent gross, but the larger chunk goes to the contractors that place only 1 to 2 percent of the businesses on more than 1500 highway signs leave annually.

Unsexy as they are, road signs are as solid as investments get. Everybody sees them, and they never go anywhere.

If nothing else, they’re a smarter buy than Robocop.

#themoreyouknow

Matt Salter is a writer and former fundraising and communications officer for nonprofit organizations, including Volunteers of America and PICO National Network. He’s excited to put his knowledge of fundraising, marketing, and all things digital to work for your reading enjoyment. When not writing about himself in the third person, Matt enjoys horror movies and tabletop gaming, and can usually be found somewhere in the DFW Metroplex with WiFi and a good all-day breakfast.

Business News

Uh, did Amazon just start an MLM?

(BUSINESS NEWS) Amazon’s advertisement for their new “partnership” sounds suspiciously like a multi-level marketing scheme.

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Amazon delivery

Amazon’s labor abuses are beyond well-established. Just peruse Google for a while if you need examples. You’ll see stories from employees who have been denied bathroom breaks, or forced to continue working after coworkers have died on the job. Yet somehow despite all of these allegations, they have managed to sink lower with their reprehensible practices.

Recently, Amazon ran a swath of Facebook ads asking, “Have you ever wanted to own a business? As an Amazon Delivery Service Partner, you’ll start your own package-delivery business, build a team, and have access to Amazon’s technology and logistics expertise.”

Amazon partnership ad

If you’ve ever been DM’ed by a long-lost school acquaintance with an “amazing business opportunity”, you might have the same reaction to that as I did: Uh, did Amazon just start an MLM?

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines multi-level marketing as “a business structure or practice in which an individual seller earns commissions both from direct sales and from the sales of the seller’s recruits, of those recruited by the seller’s recruits, and so on.” As recruiting becomes more important than selling products, only a slim minority of particularly successful recruiters end up seeing profits in an MLM.

DSPs are not buying or selling Amazon products, nor are they being incentivized for signing up others to be delivery partners. They are meant to serve as the last leg of transportation between Amazon warehouses and consumers. In fact, Amazon makes the exclusivity of the program clear on their website. DSPs are able to hire between 40-100 staff, but this bears more resemblance to chain franchising than a pyramid scheme, at least on the surface. After all, some of the most predatory MLMS out there began seemingly innocently – just look at Mary Kay.

Amazon requires Delivery Service Partners to have at least $30,000 to fully cover all costs associated with starting up: Not just for uniforms, leases on Amazon branded trucks, insurance, and mobile scanners, but also the applicant’s cost-of-living while getting their business off the ground.

It’s scummy enough that their advertising is taking notes from the MLM playbook. But it actually raises more red flags than it resolves: The DSP program seems like yet another example of how the definition of an employee is getting blurrier by the day.

Uber and Lyft, for example, lease vehicles for their drivers in the same way that Amazon leases trucks and other equipment for their Delivery Service Partners. Rideshare drivers, like DSPs, are responsible for their own insurance costs and have no guaranteed income, either. Amazon is clearly trying to skirt its way around the responsibilities they would ordinarily have as an employer, a problem that unfortunately lies at the heart of the sharing economy.

Amazon’s decision to expand their delivery fleet also comes at an uncanny time. Right now, the United States Postal Service is severely underfunded and its future is uncertain. It provides business owners of all sizes with low-cost mail and parcel delivery, and is obligated to deliver to every home address in the United States.

While the USPS does partner with Amazon to deliver packages, it’s still awfully convenient for Amazon to be introducing this “business opportunity” now. Under the guise of supporting entrepreneurship, Amazon is preparing a death blow to their smaller competitors – think independent retailers, suppliers, crafters and artists that rely on affordable, accessible postage to sell their goods.

While it’s a stretch to label this program an MLM right out of the gate, the whole thing still stinks to high heaven, and we recommend you steer clear. Make no mistake, this is a business opportunity for Amazon alone.

If you dream of owning a business and you have $30,000 to invest, that is a great start! But for goodness sake, invest that in yourself. It would be a shame to waste your time and money lining a mega-corporation’s pockets.

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Business News

Dunkin’ Donuts is closing 800 stores soon

(BUSINESS NEWS) No one is immune to COVID-19. Dunkin’ Donuts announces 800 location closures across the US.

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Dunkin coffee

You may want to savor that Dunkin’ Donuts iced coffee a little longer than usual this summer. Dunkin’ Donuts has recently announced they will be permanently closing over 800 locations across the United States; this represents 8% of their total locations across the United States.

Dunkin’ announced these closures along with their second quarter earnings. The stores set to close only represent about 2% of Dunkin’s total US sales, so this move will likely help them cut down operating costs in some lower performing locations. Dunkin’ has descried the closures as being part of a “real estate portfolio rationalization.”

Dunkin’ is focusing cuts on what they identify as their “low-volume sales locations” with more than half of these being locations inside Speedway convenience stores. The Speedway locations will be closing first – many of them before the end of the year. Dunkin’ is also planning to close about 350 international locations by the end of 2020.

While this might mean your favorite iced coffee fix will no longer be within arm’s reach, it’s likely that this move will help Dunkin’ Donuts survive long term. The real worry here is what does it mean when even large international brands, like Dunkin’ Donuts, are starting to feel the sting of COVID-19 on the economy? The restaurant industry has been taking big hits during the pandemic – even McDonalds has announced a small percentage of upcoming store closures.

If big chains with cult followings like Dunkin’ Donuts are making cuts, then what hope do small businesses have of making it through the year?

PPP loans and other local government aid programs are temporarily helping small businesses across the country stay afloat, but we still haven’t seen a guarantee that more help is on the way. Current aid packages will only keep businesses going for so long before small business owners will be forced to make tough choices.

If Dunkin’ Donuts moves out of your area, you might want to consider taking your caffeine addiction (and cash) to a local coffee shop or bakery. They could use the love and you may even find a new favorite iced coffee.

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Business News

Some people will be working from home until 2021, or longer

(BUSINESS NEWS) As remote work becomes more common, some employees won’t be returning to the office–ever. Big Tech has almost unilaterally jumped on board.

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Remote work

How does working remotely until 2021 sound to you? How about for the rest of your career? Both of these are options that more companies are considering, begging the overarching question: How many job obligations can, realistically, be accomplished from home?

Well, as it turns out, many of your favorite tech giants fit the bill. Facebook, Twitter, Square, Slack, Shopify, and Zillow have all announced that employees can stay home–forever.

Twitter was the first company to get the ball rolling on this movement–an accolade that Twitter hasn’t been able to claim since its inception.

It isn’t surprising that most tech-oriented jobs can be done remotely, but the initiative to allow employees to continue their work remotely shows an exceptional level of trust and accommodation on the parts of the respective companies–and it raises some future possibilities for others in the industry. As some occupations begin transitioning back to in-office work, it’s interesting to see others standing firm in their decisions.

Additionally, many firms have encountered difficulties with the move to remote work, with issues ranging from employee productivity, all the way to security breaches and complications with employees using their own devices for confidential tasks. It’s interesting to see that, in spite of these difficulties, remote work is still an attractive option for companies like Twitter and Facebook.

Of course, not every tech company is allowing their employees to take a permanent staycation. Google, Sony, Amazon corporate, and a few others are extending remote work up to 2021, thus allowing employees to continue social distancing practices amidst COVID-19 concerns. These companies have also made it clear that employees will be able to continue working from home into 2021 if necessary, but for now, employees should anticipate returning at some point.

Non-tech companies–and pretty much any company that doesn’t operate largely from behind a computer–are going to continue to run into challenges with balancing remote work and actual productivity, so holding up the standard set by companies such as Twitter and Google isn’t really feasible for them; however, looking at these tech companies’ measures is inspiring, and others should take note–if for no other reason than the fact that employees love remote work options.

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