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Old 05-14-2006, 05:06 PM
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Post Marketing for a new millennium

Greg Ratliff wanted a landmark sign for his new Home Quest Real Estate company.

His search ended when he found a state-of-the-art, full-color LED sign that measures 5 feet by 20 feet. It now rises 30 feet in the air outside of his office at 2026 Pepper Lane on the South Side.

"You know, I'll be sitting there talking to somebody and they'll say, 'You're the guy with the big sign," said Ratliff, a former RE/MAX agent who struck out on his own last August.

Ratliff considers the sign - if not the first, then one of the first of its kind in the state, given its size and full-color capabilities - a vital part of his marketing.

His new office sits behind the South Side Wal-Mart shopping district on Pueblo Boulevard, and "I want the letters to be 5 feet tall so it can be read from across the parking lot," he said.

Several other Pueblo marketers also are using electronic signs and billboards.

The Colorado State Fair operates a mid-sized video marquee along Northern Avenue near the fairgrounds, a $135,000 project funded in 2004 by Wells Fargo, which also advertises on the sign.

Fair manager Chris Wiseman calls the sign a valuable addition.

"We were on a learning curve at the beginning because it takes a little while to figure out what the sign can do," Wiseman said.

Now, "It's a tremendous asset. It allows us to do some things that static displays won't allow us to do," Wiseman said.

Virtually all major entertainment venues now operate electronic signs, Wiseman said. The State Fair is more advanced than most, allowing for streaming video, he said.

"It really allows you to be very creative in how you deliver a message about what's going on in your venue," Wiseman said.

The Pueblo-based Colorado Lottery operates a different kind of electronic sign: the highway billboards that display the current Powerball jackpot are electronic.

The numbers are updated by cell phone.

"We started with nine. Today we have 20," Lottery spokesman Linh Truong said.

The signs are spread across the state: 11 in Denver, five in Colorado Springs, two in Pueblo and one in Grand Junction, she said. "We use wireless technology to update the boards," Truong said.

A Colorado Lottery electronic billboard off of Interstate 25 displays the Powerball jackpot in mid-April. The numbers are changed via cell phone.

The average monthly cost per outdoor billboard is $3,350, she said.

The Lottery also now maintains small electronic signboards inside many Lottery retailers, among the additions made as part of the agency's changeover in operating systems last year.

A trial run showed the in-store signs are attention-getters, Truang said.

A Lottery-funded study following the trial run found a 15 percent boost in Lottery sales in stores where the in-store signs were placed, she said.

The Lottery recently quadrupled its order. "We started with 200. Because of the study to see what type of return we are getting, we're purchasing 600 more," she said.

The in-store signs also are updated by cell phone.

Compared to the old way of clerks flipping cards on a small sign board twice a week, "It's a lot easier. Now they don't have to think about updating. These signs will do it automatically," Truang said.

Ratliff said his giant electronic sign quickly helped build brand awareness for his real estate office.

He won't reveal the cost, but the sign was clearly a costly undertaking, evidenced by its size and capabilities. Ratliff said there are no others like it in Pueblo and, perhaps, the state.

"According to the sign company (Data Vision of Monument), they've never done a full-color sign before. We're all guesstimating that it is probably the largest full-color sign in Colorado." A full-color sign allows for the display of the entire color spectrum. The sign accomplishes the feat by combining shades of reds, greens and blues at full intensity, said Ratliff.

The sign also can display video and photos - say of Home Quest homes for sale. Still, Ratliff said that right now he prefers to use the sign to advertise the existence of the new office.

Getting people to know the office location was just part of the work needed to launch the business, Ratliff said.

Ratliff said he ventured out on his own for several reasons:

He wanted to get away from the traditional national franchise concept.

He wanted to build a business for his daughter, Brittany Ratliff, and a longtime loyal employee, Rachel Estrada.

And he wanted to be able to tailor a real estate office to the South Side.

"The idea behind Home Quest is the same concept as Applebees. They're a neighborhood bar and grill. And we are a neighborhood real estate company.

"We're Pueblo-owned and operated in the neighborhood.

"We're right in the middle of El Camino, Regency, Sunset Park and Highland Park. We're there basically because nobody else is on the South Side of Pueblo," said Ratliff.

Already, Ratliff is working on plans to more than double the size of the 2,500-square-foot office. Plus, he's also exploring options for opening a North Side branch, he said.


Pueblo real estate agent Greg Ratliff said a sign company told him that his full-color video marquee may be the biggest of its kind in the state.
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