Street-corner twirlers a sign of the times

Businesses give hands-on marketing a spin
By: Megan Wood The Press Tribune
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They dance, sing, juggle and twirl. Be it pickles or jelly beans, Roseville is no stranger to sign twirlers promoting businesses aching for customers. Equipped with gallon water jugs, camel packs and the occasional iPod, these living billboards keep a captive audience of morning commuters and those on the lunchtime rush. “It’s guerilla marketing,” said Marty Martin, owner of Hot Cuts in Roseville whose sign twirler currently advertises $7 haircuts. “With the cost of advertising now, it’s what more and more businesses are relying on to get customers.” On any given street corner with a high level of traffic, it’s not uncommon to see a number of sign twirlers battling for the attention of potential customers. For many businesses, a sign twirler can mean the difference between having customers and not. Midori Dunn, co-owner of the Mr. Pickles sandwich shop in Roseville Square said that if it weren’t for the costumed sign twirler, many customers wouldn’t know the sandwich shop was there. “We had a customer come in saying he’d been looking for us for 20 minutes,” Dunn said. “A lot of people won’t be that persistent. So we send the pickle out and it lets people know that we’re here and open.” A stagnant job market also has more job seekers flocking to sign twirling. At the intersection of Sunrise Avenue and Cirby Way there are often up to four sign twirlers for Mr. Pickles, Hot Cuts, Top Cuts and Little Caesar’s Pizza. Jon Pruitt often stands in the 100-degree heat shaking a sign for Mr. Pickles, most days for as many as four hours. “It’s not too bad. It’s a job and no one else is hiring,” Pruitt said. “I’m doing this to help my family with extra income. We have a full house and it’s how I can help.” Pruitt is paid $7 an hour and said he’s paid at the end of his shift, which is an added incentive to the job. Kevin Dingle said his wages from waving signs for Little Caesar’s Pizza in Rocklin has become his base income after work with Vector Marketing became a less dependable source. “It’s something I can do and I don’t mind the work,” Dingle said. Dingle is often out on the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Park Drive for as many as four hours to bring home a paycheck for his family. A few years ago, sign twirlers dressed as mascots like Mr. Pickle or Mr. Jelly Belly were victims of harassment by people passing by. Now many businesses require escorts to accompany characters on street corners for safety purposes. Alex Olsen, on his first day dressed as Mr. Pickle for the Roseville Square location last week said so far he’d received nothing but positive attention from drivers waving and honking to families with small children passing by on the streets. “I imagine (the negative attention) will come with time,” Olsen said. “But I’m enjoying it now and I’ll deal with it when it comes.” Without an iPod or MP3 player to keep him moving, Dingle said the job gives him time to think, which he said he appreciates. Pruitt said interacting with drivers keeps his spirits up, even on hot summer days. “A lot of people drive by and honk or wave, which I like,” Pruitt said, who has also dodged water bottles and quarters being flung from passing cars as well as the occasional curse word or insult. Pruitt said although the attention isn’t ideal, he remembers the reason he does the job, his family, and it keeps him motivated. “I’m out here for my family. That’s what’s important.”