Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Sign Spinners in "Human Directionals Industry" are Hot Property

I live in suburban Orange County, where there's been a load of residential housing development in recent years (especially during the housing boom). Often on the weekends -- usually in the mornings or early afternoons -- when I'm on my way to the store for bagels or other groceries, I see those sign-twirler guys on the corners of major intersections, directing potential homebuyers to the hottest new property developments not far from my home.

Thus, I got a kick out this morning's Los Angeles Times, which has
a nifty article on the sign-holders for outdoor advertising companies. You may have seen these workers. They're out there on the street corners, hanging out -- often with an iPod plugged into their ears -- spinning their pointer signs toward an adjacent new residential community. I used to think to myself: "Gosh, that looks like a boring job, hanging out in the hot sun all day, all alone, spinning those signs." Well, it turns out some of the sign-holders can make top dollar. One of the sign-spinners identified in the story, Jeremy White, quit his job making $5.00 an hour at Little Caesar's to go to work for Arrow Advertising of San Diego (the main outdoor advertising concern discussed in the article). Here's some more background:

White is part of the competitive world of "human directionals," an industry term for people who twirl signs outside restaurants, barbershops and new real estate subdivisions.

Street corner advertising on human billboards has existed for centuries, but Southern California — where the weather allows sign spinners to work year-round — has endowed the job with style.

Local spinners have cooked up hundreds of moves. There's the Helicopter, in which a spinner does a backbend on one hand while spinning a sign above his head. In the Blender, a spinner twirls the sign behind his back. Spanking the Horse gets the most attention. The spinner puts the sign between his legs, slaps his own behind and giddy-ups.

Thanks to growing demand, the business has turned cutthroat. There's a frenzy of talent poaching. Spinners battle one another for plum assignments and the promise of wage hikes. Some of the more prominent compete for bragging rights by posting videos on YouTube and Google Video, complete with trash talking. One YouTube comment reads, "i don't know if you stole my tricks or i just do them better."
The piece also talks about the prowess of Randy Jenks, one of Arrow's best spinners. Check it out:

"It's competitive," said Randy Jenks, 20, an Aarrow "spin-structor." Afterward, he ran up a tree and bounded off with a back flip to pump up his students.

Aarrow charges clients $60 an hour — double the industry standard — for the services of its most skillful employees.

But Jenks, a kingpin in the industry, commands up to $70 an hour. Rapper Snoop Dogg flew him to Atlanta to spin a sign advertising his new album at the American Music Awards. Two years ago, Jenks won Aarrow's annual nationwide competition pitting the best spinners against one another. His protege, who happens to be his brother-in-law, won last year. Jenks was barred from entering because of his status as a spinning god.
So just think: Here I've been tooling around my neighborhood on the weekends, seeing these streetcorner sign-holders doing their thing, thinking, "Geez, I wouldn't want to be doing that for minimum wage." I used to work in the valet parking industry while I was making my way through college. Sometimes you'd park the cars and wait hours for the owners to come out with their claim ticket to pick up their ride. Luckily, a lot of the spots where I worked allowed us to study during the downtime, which was one of the main benefits of the job.

In any case, I've got some newfound respect for my neighborhood sign-twirlers -- they've got a pretty neat thing going, especially if they're talented.

(Note, just to dampen the enthusiasm a little, not all of the sign-holders are so hot. I've noticed a couple of real slackers out there occassionally, those with the wimpiest twirling repertoires one could imagine. But again, I've got to give credit for those working at an interesting job, making more money than I'd expected).

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