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Signage Challenged by Regulatory Issues

BY CSA STAFF

By Bill Dundas, International Sign Association

Addressing various regulatory challenges in recent years, we are reminded of grandma’s proverb about taking care not to toss the baby out with the bath water. Unfortunately, when regulatory bodies start to regulate, they typically gravitate towards the empty washtub approach. In certain instances today, signage is playing the baby’s role.

While ISA and its 2,300 members actively promote the benefits of effective signage, we realize that our point of view isn’t universally shared. In its zeal to regulate mercury contamination, for example, the state of Vermont imposed a comprehensive ban on the sale of mercury-added neon signs. This legislation ignores the obvious fact that sales of ordinary fluorescent lamps, which contribute vastly more mercury to the waste stream, have not been banned in the state.

In response to this and other state efforts to reduce mercury usage, ISA engages directly with state environmental agencies, as well as through the Interstate Mercury Education and Reduction Clearinghouse (IMERC). The goal of these efforts is to ensure that mercury reduction efforts are conducted in a responsible and reasonable manner that recognizes the important and enduring role of neon in the electric sign industry.

In a number of local jurisdictions across the nation, efforts are under way to redefine electric signs as forms of outdoor lighting and thereby to impose the same type of “light pollution” regulations being proposed for general lighting equipment. The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) and other groups are actively lobbying various jurisdictions to enact new regulations that would substantially impact the conspicuity and value of electric signs. In particular, by suggesting that electric signs should be dimmed down or shut off after dark, IDA attempts to exploit local and state efforts to reduce energy consumption.

Because of the unique role of internal lighting as used in many illuminated signs, efforts to reduce allowable sign brightness threaten to severely impact the overall visual effectiveness of on-premise signs which currently represent the principal form of retail business identity. For this reason, ISA conducts research and compiles data that supports development of sign luminance standards and enables manufacturers and end users to develop more efficient signage products without sacrificing the crucial effectiveness of on-premise advertising.

By adopting ever-stricter sign codes, municipalities across the nation continue the modern trend of reducing allowable sizes and heights for outdoor, on-premise signs. In some cases, these new restrictions create situations where effective, on-premise business identification becomes virtually impossible. ISA continues to devote substantial resources to rapid-response advocacy efforts which influence development of local sign codes throughout the country. On a weekly basis, members of the ISA advocacy team appear at meetings of local zoning boards and city planning commissions to voice effective counterpoints to the positions of those who fail to appreciate the key role of signage in the modern public environment.

At the heart of these efforts is ISA’s firm commitment to promote and defend the advertising rights of our members’ customers. Reaching this goal depends on maintaining a strong alliance among manufacturers, suppliers, distributors and users of commercial signage. To ensure the viability of on-premise signage in the future, however, ISA welcomes engagement by leaders representing all segments of the retail industry.

After all, the baby that we hope to spare belongs to everyone whose business success depends on effective, point-of-purchase advertising.

Bill Dundas is Director of Technical & Regulatory Affairs at International Sign Association.

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Costco comps up 6% at U.S. clubs

BY CSA STAFF

ISSAQUAH, Wash. — The nation’s leading warehouse club operator maintained its momentum in November by posting a 6% increase in same-store sales at U.S. clubs excluding the beneficial effect of higher year-over-year gas prices.

If the favorable effect of fuel prices, which averaged $3.44 this year compared with $2.85 last year, are included then the U.S. comp figure rose 9%. International comps also rose 9%, but were negatively affected during the month by a somewhat stronger U.S. dollar. International comps excluding the impact of currency fluctuations increased 11%.

Total company sales for the four-week period ended Nov. 27 increased 11% to $7.51 billion from $6.78 billion last year. Sales for the 13-week period, which closely aligns with the company’s first quarter period ended Nov. 20, increased 12% to $23.13 billion compared with $20.59 billion. First-quarter financial results are scheduled for release next week on Thursday, Dec. 8.

As for Costco’s November performance, the company noted that Texas, California and the Midwest were its strongest performing regions and also highlighted an interesting development in the consumer electronics category. The Costco investor relations representative who share details of the company’s November performance said that sales of electronics increased in the high single-digit range and was driven by higher price point, larger screen LED televisions as opposed to the prior year when LCD and plasma models dominated. The net result is that dollar sales of televisions were higher and unit volumes were down in contrast to prior years when the opposite was true as deflation resulted in unit volume growth outpacing dollar volume.

Other categories highlighted include food and sundries and softlines where the company said it experienced a high single-digit comps increase.

Costco ended the period with a total of 596 clubs globally, including 433 in the United States and Puerto Rico, 82 in Canada, 32 in Mexico, 22 in the United Kingdom, nine in Japan, eight in Taiwan, seven in Korea and three in Australia. Before year end, Costco said it will open two additional units in Japan.

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@WalmartLabs’ Shopycat seeks to bridge gap between social media, shopping

BY CSA STAFF

SAN BRUNO, Calif. — Walmart is looking to help holiday shoppers find the perfect gift this season with the launch of a new social shopping application.

Shopycat, developed by @WalmartLabs, is a social platform that’s available on Facebook and is designed to offer gift ideas for friends based on their social media activity (i.e., a post, a "like," or a profile update). Those who use the app not only can find and buy gifts for friends — which can be purchased via Walmart stores, Walmart.com and other such sites as RedEnvelope, Barnes & Noble and ThinkGeek — as well as help users purchase items based on friends’ general interests, it also provides recommendations to users’ friends for what they want as holiday gifts (via a "My Info" tab).

"As human beings, we are inherently social and shopping is one of the most social activities we engage in," Walmart SVP global e-commerce and @WalmartLabs co-founder Venky Harinarayan said. "Our vision is to delight consumers and Shopycat is a first step in that direction with social and shopping coming together on the scale of Walmart. At Walmart, we see social commerce fueling the next generation of e-commerce where online and retail stores bring a continuous shopping experience to millions of users. We plan to continue experimenting with products as we build new social apps over the coming year."

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