Wanna get a great deal on a used car, bankruptcy repair, jewelry, a mattress, a house, karate lessons, roof cleaning, diet supplements, personal training or dog grooming?
Look no further than just about any heavily-traveled road in Central Florida. There will be a small sign sticking out of the ground, kindly offering to address your consumer need.
The guerilla marketing prompted this week’s Ask Orlando question:
“Campaign signs seem to go away a few weeks after the election, what of the snipe signs that offer junk cars, credit repair, mattress sales and house buyers? It is litter and graffiti with a contact number….Why is this permitted to continue?”
Local officials call them “bandit” signs. Some know them as “snipe” signs. Most citizens call them eyesores, or worse.
Whatever you call them, why they’re allowed to proliferate is a fine question. It has an unsatisfying answer.
“It’s an impossibility to stop,” said Bob Spivey, Orange County’s code enforcement director. “If you contain it, if you put a dent in it, you’re doing the best you can.”
Yes, we can put a man on the moon, but we can’t get rid of bandit signs. In fact, the moon may be the only place man has set foot that isn’t graced with an “E-Z Cash Loans!” sign.
From Orlando to Oahu there are simply a lot more people putting out the signs than there are people picking them up. Violators in Orange County can be fined up to $200 per sign, but catching and prosecuting them is like swatting at mosquitoes.
Orange County has about 40 code enforcement officers, but they can’t spend all day clearing illegal signs off the roads. The county hired a private firm to help in 2016.
The combined effort collects about 100,000 signs a year. But almost as soon as one is plucked, another one pops up.
The county tried robocall disruption three years ago. The automated system repeatedly dialed phone numbers listed on the signs. It played a recording saying the postings were illegal and the business was subject to citations and fines.
Bandits just started changing numbers using temporary cell phones. Even if violators are caught, citations and fines are easily ignored since many times there is no property for the county to place a lien on.
Judges generally don’t want the system bogged down with such minor cases. If one does go to court, bandits can say there is no proof they actually put out the sign.
In short, there isn’t much to deter the purveyors of this visual pollution, other than to appeal to the sense of civic pride.
Good luck with that.
“It’s a way of marketing,” a bandit said. “I don’t see anything wrong with it.”
I’d called her number listed on a sign for discount mattresses. She wouldn’t give me a name, but she was happy to stand up for banditry as a cost-efficient way for small businesses to reach potential customers.
I asked if she thought her signs were an eyesore.
“I think income tax signs are an eyesore,” she said.
Apparently signs for discount mattresses are artistically acceptable. Signs for discount tax preparation are not.
That makes just slightly more sense than somebody patronizing a bandit business in the first place.
Unless you like IRS audits, would you turn over your financial records to some schmoe who has to use bandit signs to drum up business?
Apparently enough people do to make it worth the roughly 99 cents bandits pay per sign.
So what the average law-abiding citizen do to help The City (and county) Beautiful cure its case of roadside acne?
You could boycott the bandits, though most of them don’t put their business’s name on signs. You could also take it upon yourself to pluck signs.
“I don’t advise people to do that,” Spivey said.
It’s dangerous work with traffic whizzing by. Bandits have also gotten into altercations with code enforcement officers, so they probably wouldn’t think twice about confronting private citizens.
Bandits have even been known to put small shards of glass in their signs to discourage and punish pluckers. So the best advice is to leave the cleanup to professionals.
“We’re not going to stop,” Spivey said. “We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing.”
Sadly, so are the bandits.
“Ask Orlando” is a weekly feature intended to solve local mysteries and enlighten readers. If you have a question about anything Orlando, send an email to [email protected].
Contact David Whitley at [email protected]