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  • BRIAN NGUYEN / bnguyen@sacbee.com

    A mechanized sign waver points to a Subway on Watt Avenue. Human sign wavers have been increasingly replaced by mechanized sign wavers as businesses look for ways to streamline their operation.

  • BRIAN NGUYEN / bnguyen@sacbee.com

    Chaz Buratt, 32, of Sacramento waves a sign promoting a sale at the nearby Boost Mobile store on Watt Avenue. Sign wavers like Buratt have been increasingly replaced by mechanized sign wavers as businesses look for ways to streamline their operation.

A sidewalk machine replaces those human sign-spinners

Published: Friday, Aug. 30, 2013 - 6:08 pm
Last Modified: Saturday, Aug. 31, 2013 - 11:56 am

Sign-spinners - the people who gyrate on sidewalks to get your attention for businesses - have battled heat, wind, rain and cold for years. Now they face a new threat: machines.

"It runs 60 hours nonstop and doesn't take any breaks," said Velocity Signs President Scott Adams, pointing to a so-called "sign-waving machine."

The machine - invented by the Sacramento company three years ago - has won accolades from local business owners who say the technology is a cost-effective alternative to hiring human sign-spinners.

Shawn Hazeghazam is the owner of six Subways in greater Sacramento. He also was an early adopter of the machines, having purchased two of them in the past year.

"It creates a buzz. People go, 'What the heck is that?' " Hazeghazam said, adding that business jumps at least 10 percent when a machine is placed outside.

One such machine is prominently displayed in front of the Subway on Watt Avenue near El Camino Avenue. The oversized green arrow moves left to right in a continuous motion while hundreds of cars zip by.

At $2,500 apiece, the machines are rapidly replacing human sign-spinners, an industry marked by long hours, tough conditions and high turnover.

Workers typically stand outside for long periods, twirling signs near busy intersections. With summertime temperatures often topping 100 degrees in Sacramento, the grueling conditions result in high turnover, store owners say.

"It takes a special person to do the job," Hazeghazam said, noting that sign-spinners must constantly take breaks.

But more importantly, it is the savings in salaries that make sign-waving machines particularly attractive. The cost of having an employee wave a sign runs about $10 an hour, Hazeghazam said.

Numerous businesses from car dealerships to coffee shops have already jumped on the bandwagon. Velocity Signs has seen sales explode from five units every month to 25 units a month.

Still, not everyone is convinced.

Aman Bazel, an employee at the Boost Mobile store on Fulton Avenue near Arden Way, called the machines "impersonal, robotic and heavy."

"The guys (human sign-spinners) are animated. They have their own personality," Bazel said.

The store hires sign-spinners during special sales events. But turnover can be a problem.

This week, the cellphone shop's sign-spinner walked off the job and never came back, Bazel said. They scrambled to find a replacement, eventually landing Chaz Buratt, 32, to serve out the contract.

Buratt, who will get paid about $250 for the five-day stint, said he was "grateful" for the opportunity.

"It's better than nothing," he said, twirling a sign and dancing to music.

Call The Bee's Richard Chang, (916) 321-1018. Follow him on Twitter @RichardYChang.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Richard Chang





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