While billboards are nothing new, digital billboards are becoming more accepted and used in our society. As such, we recently sat down with Chad Harris, Owner of Las Vegas Billboards, to talk about his experiences in the Out Of Home industry.
Q: Can you give us a quick introduction?
A: Chad Harris, owner of Las Vegas billboards. The company was founded by my father in 1987. We’re a local billboard provider here in Las Vegas, Nevada. We have a wide network of digital signs and static signs. I’ve been apart of the billboard industry for most of my life and I love what I do.
Q: You said your dad started your business, but how long have you been apart of it?
A: I was literally born into it, for as far back as I can remember. Going out to job sites with my father and watching him change vinyl, build structures. I’d be playing in the desert with my G.I. Joe guys and I’d be watching him do his thing. When I turned about sixteen, I was fortunate enough to get an old, used Ford Bronco. And with that Bronco, my father said I’d get my first job. That job was checking sites to make sure that the lights were on. At other sites, we would have generators. I’d go out and service those generators, fuel them, change oil and fluids. That was my first job at sixteen and I’ve been doing it ever since.
Q: What was the main reason your dad ended up starting up the billboard company?
A: My dad tells me the story with a specific date, June 14th, 1972. He was working in a mall and ran across a customer that was in the billboard business in Florida and the guy convinced him to come over and start selling ads for the company and he didn’t look back after that. He went from Florida to Alabama, then had a short stint in Texas and, since then, they moved to Vegas in 1983.
Q: How do you expand, by buying a billboard or do you look at existing places to get a billboard?
A: Historically we would organically develop sites. We’d go out and bird-dog our locations, get a permit and then build our locations from scratch. In 2004, Clark County banned any new billboards. Since then all our new acquisitions have been new purchasing sites. We’ve developed other sites where we’ve converted static billboards to digital billboards. Moving forward today, all our billboards are acquired through acquisitions.
Q: You say you’re local to Las Vegas, are the businesses buying ad space local to Las Vegas or are they national?
A: The last numbers we looked at last year, about 30% were from national advertisers. Our national advertisers look at Las Vegas as a fairly large market. Even though we’re low in the local DMA with only about 2.5 million residents, we get about 42 to 44 million tourists annually. When you factor in the tourists with the population, it moves us into a top 10 DMA. The national advertisers have noticed that and are pushing a lot more national business to Vegas.
Q: Is Las Vegas kind of in the booming stage?
A: Yes, the economy here is booming. Vegas is kind of in another renaissance, like the early 90s, when Vegas was really booming with businesses coming in. I read in an article that there is about 26 billion dollars worth of construction projects in the pipeline. With 26 billion in projects, it shows that the city is going to grow significantly in the next five to ten years. The convention business has been a huge asset to Vegas and provides for stores coming to town.
Q: When you talk about the tourists coming in, you’re looking at a large demographic. There are more than just extra eyes, there are multiple with a variety of different people coming in, correct?
A: Las Vegas is the gambling mecca to the world. There are a lot of different aspects to it now, from shopping, food, etc. Being in Las Vegas, we’re also only about an hour to a two-hour flight from anywhere in the United States. We’re getting a lot of more international flights into the airport here in Vegas, it’s one of the busiest airports here in the United States. It’s literally a world-wide audience that comes into the United States.
Q: What is your breakdown for static and digital signage?
A: Right now, we have 26 digital faces. Early in October, we’ll add about two more panels to get us a total of 28 digital panels. We have about 40 static and digital panels. We’ve shifted most of our panels over to digital, it allows us to gain more advertisers versus the traditional static only allowing one. With our digital signs, we run about a sixty-second loop: ten-second spots, with six advertisers. Each digital panel gives us six advertisers compared to just one.
Q: Are there different sizes of digital billboards that you guys have?
A: Twenty-three of our current panels are our standard 14’x48’ bulletins. We have three in service that are 10’x20’, we call them match sticks, they’re vertical units the property owner wanted to develop that would help get his message across to the people coming out of the tourist corridor and going into the airport and into the strip area. He wanted something unique and different, so we developed these signs for him. They’re 8mm, very high definition, crisp, clean, great looking signs. Then the two that we’re adding here in October, those are going to be 20’x30’ signs. There again it’ll be a shopping center and they wanted to develop something different. We look to aim to please when we partner with our property owners. We want to make sure when we build, we want to meet their expectations.
Q: Since you’ve been in the industry for a while, I assume your billboards were all static at some point. When did you start seeing the value in digital and start transitioning over?
A: We started building our first two digital panels in about 2006. With another provider that wasn’t Daktronics. We learned our lesson with them and then we ended up going over to Daktronics after another opportunity presented itself to convert eleven panels in one year. And Daktronics was by far the most superior provider for equipment that we found. My father and I traveled around the world, looking at different manufacturers and providers and no one was as good as Daktronics, not only from an equipment standpoint but also customer service. We aren’t a major corporation, so to us, we had somebody that gave us reliable equipment and customer service, who stands behind what they sold us. Daktronics has fulfilled all of that for us.
Q: How do handle the process of going from static to digital signage?
A: All of our static changes we outsource, so we don’t have crews for the liability and all that overhead. There is quite a bit of work from changing to digital, the turnover and work to change to digital is a little bit more work than someone would expect, from constantly changing creative and, initially, I was the one that was constantly making the changes until we ended up hiring a person. There was a point in time we were using Daktronics to help with the creative side. Then we moved over the Venus Control Suite, it’s user-friendly, a lot more efficient and allows more navigation throughout the site.
Q: What were the main differences that you noticed when it came to selecting Daktronics over anyone else?
A: First, it would be the quality of the panel and the manufacturing we saw compared to when it was delivered on-site was night and day; just the craftsmanship, from wiring to electrical. It was not very good with the first provider we went with, and the service and software support was not good at all. So it was night and day when we went with Daktronics over our first provider.
Q: You came up to South Dakota, what were your thoughts?
A: We got into Sioux Falls and it was snowed over and was very cold. We toured the facilities which were very top-notch. It looked like a medical facility with how top-notch and clean everything was. To see the way you test everything, was very cool to see.
Q: When someone purchases your static, is that a monthly commitment or longer? And how does that compare to the digital?
A: With our static billboards, we look to get at least a minimum of a month. You have a lead time to print the vinyl, then the install time. Versus digital, we’ve had people use it to propose to their wives through the board for up to an hour for a contract. We noticed a lot of more short-term contracts, but we’re getting a good price point with these short-term contracts. We still have a mix of annual deals as well. Things are always changing here in Las Vegas. The digital allows us to remove and change out messages in a split second.
Q: What kind of places do you have these billboards at? You mentioned some shopping centers, but are others just along the side of a highway or interstate?
A: Most of the inventory is on the interstate, that is where we get the highest traffic counts. We have some around the shopping centers as well. Most of the inventory is around the interstate though.
Q: Are there any other trends that people look at, as far as how the display looks?
A: The strip properties are looking into getting advertising space for businesses coming in, a lot more spectaculars are looking to come into the market with wall mounts and sides of hotels. As far as the advertiser’s demand in Vegas, most of our inventory is the 14’x48’ bulletins. That’s typically what they see.
Q: Do you look at it from a location perspective when it comes to marketing the billboards?
A: A lot of people just want the eyes, the traffic count. Others, it may be a directional need. For the most part, we do pitch by our traffic count. We do have such a high daily effective circulation, we have some boards that receive almost a million cars a week that pass by and see them.
Q: In terms of content, how do you handle that?
A: That’s one thing that’s very important to our company. We want to have a strong relationship with our partners. How can we change the creative and make content that fits well with their business? We like to provide them not only with the service and billboards, but we also want to help them to best fulfill their needs. We have an in-house graphic artist and we work directly with him. Our sales reps work with our advertisers directly. We allow our advertisers to run as many pieces of content as they want. We have some that will run about fifty plus pieces of content a month.
Q: Are there any types of content that set the standards for certain campaigns?
A: I’m a big fan of keeping it simple. When you’re driving by a billboard, you can only digest so much. Traditionally, people want to put a phone number up there. We try to push websites over a phone number. It’s easier to remember over a number. I’m a big fan of using RSS feeds where different times of day the content is changing. There’s a different message so the content stays fresh.
Q: Can you break it up into different loops of content playing at different times of the day?
A: Yes, the public casinos are doing a lot of dayparting, running specials during the weekend or during the week. In Las Vegas, it’s an underused aspect of digital. We promote through our sales reps to encourage them to use all the aspects we can help provide.
Q: What are the ways that you go about marketing your own company?
A: We don’t advertise our own company on our own signage. The reason we don’t do that is because we want to give back to our clients for their time to be on the display. Since we aren’t doing that, I thought about using different social media channels. We have people that are interested in what we do. We didn’t necessarily have what it took to attract someone who had the budget to be on the display. We went away from social media and updated our SEO efforts and our own website. This, to us, is pretty much another salesperson on the street. We’re getting better traffic through these improvements.
Q: Is it challenging to attract not only the local base but the national advertisers as well?
A: Once or twice a year, we’ll have our sales reps travel to Chicago, LA, New York and they’ll work those markets. We have some purely dedicated sales reps that work and develop the local market as well. We try our hardest to bring people to Las Vegas, the national advertisers are seeing Vegas as a very successful market to come into.
Q: Any interesting experiences or stories from the business you could share with us?
A: There was a gambling website called sportsbook.com. We put $100,000 on the sign in a plexiglass case. We had to go get all this money in one-dollar bills form the bank and driving it back to our shop to put it into this big plexiglass case. It was quite the trip. It was very top secret. It was like something out a movie. While we were doing this, we were laughing and asking ourselves, “I wonder how long it’ll take for someone to try and break into this?” The advertiser, they literally hired security guards to sit at the base of the pole. Later that night, around 2 am, this security guard went to this McDonald’s across the street to eat and I got a call from the security company. The police were there and a guy was up on the sign. He broke in and started throwing money down on the street. It was a big deal. It made national news and the sportsbook place had a wager line on how long it was going to take for someone to try and break into it. They got a lot of publicity and it turned into a big PR stunt.