By 7 AM, Codie Norman, the Cool Kat, a human directional or sign spinner, is on the job. He’s working at the intersection of Grant Road and Swan Road. Norman, who calls his business, “Cool Kat Street Level Promotions“ is genuinely gifted as a sign spinner.

He doesn’t just stand there holding the sign – he performs in a way that many people would call “entertainment.” In fact, in addition to being paid by the advertiser, Norman receives tips from people every day. He says, “I get dollar bills, ones, twenties, fifties. People give me water, oranges…”

Spinners like the Cool Kat have a wide variety of moves: the Helicopter, the Blender and Spanking the Horse are just three of them. To watch the moves, you have to be watching the sign.

Nathan, an assistant manager at Chuze Fitness at Grant and Swan, thinks this particular promotion works. He says that “A number of people who came to ask about membership told us they’d seen the spinner. They were all positive responses.”

Just a little later that same day, at 6161 East Grant Rd, at the Riverstone Apartments, another “human” directional, Joe was also at work. Unlike the Cool Kat’s stylish outfit, Joe’s attire was simple: sun glasses, fatigues including cap and military-style boots. Joe held a red, white and blue sign that says “MOVE-IN Specials.”

Viewed from the sidewalk, Joe’s a good looking guy, tall and thin and stylin’ in his military way, but he completely lacks Codie Norman’s artistry. Joe has just one move. He holds his small sign vertically and moves it around and around in a circular motion precisely the same way for up to 14 hours a day. Nonstop.

Kimberly, from the office of Riverstone Apartments is not sure Joe has actually created extra traffic in the rental office. She says, “It’s more of a novelty,” but she adds that prospective tenants do mention Joe and she adds, “It’s always a positive response.”

Look at Joe up close and it turns out he has no arms, stands on a two-wheeler and gets his energy from a 12-volt deep cycle marine battery. He’s a “motion mannequin.” Joe is the creation of Steve Shaw, whose exclusive business up until recently has been as a mobile kettle corn vendor.

Shaw said his first motion mannequin, which he still uses, was Daryl, a cowboy Shaw conceived of as a way to promote this kettle corn. Shaw built Daryl in his shop at home and first rolled him out at Taylor Tack & Feed on the northwest corner of Golf Links and Harrison.

“I’ve seen people talk to him,” Shaw said, “pose for pictures in front of him and do videos of him.” Then he adds, “He helped me sell more kettle korn.”

After seeing Daryl in action, a few people asked Shaw if they could rent a guy like Daryl to promote their business. Shaw built Joe next. Now he’s got eight motion mannequins, which you can see on his website, www.motionmannequin.com. Each one is unique. Shaw’s offerings include a cowgirl and a well-endowed woman in shorts and a halter top.

Veteran advertising people – and maybe any business person – would be quick to ask all kinds of questions at this point. Some of those questions don’t have answers. Here’s one. Are Daryl, Joe and the rest of the group legal signs? What about the real human being, sign spinner Codie Norman?

The City of Tucson Planning & Development Services Department Signs Code Division lists 35 sign types. Even so, there’s no listing for either “sign spinner” or “motion mannequin.”

Here are a couple of facts, though. Even if lots of people think motion mannequins are a tacky novelty, they’re cheap. Shaw rents out Joe for four days for just $100, including delivery and pickup. Alternatively, you can negotiate with Shaw and buy your own “Joe” outright (battery included).

When asked about motion mannequins, Jodie Norman, the human sign spinner, instantly says, “I love ‘em. It proves that what I’m doing works.”

Then he adds, “But it will not communicate with you. I communicate directly with people in their cars. I can read lips. They know what I’m saying.”

Norman got his start as a newspaper vendor up on Sunrise and Swan. His life-changing event was when Deborah Wiesel of Tag Line Media Group suggested he spin signs instead of hawk newspapers. Norman is happy doing what he’s doing.

Steve Shaw seems happy, too, even if he doesn’t know whether Joe, Daryl and the rest of the crew will change his life from kettle corn vendor to motion mannequin mogul. Right now, Shaw’s just happy he can count companies such as HSL Properties as his customers.

Business people may never agree on whether a live sign spinner or a motion mannequin can really help a business, but my guess is the vast majority of us would agree on this much. We hope city government doesn’t get involved and extinguish the entrepreneurial spirit and quirky joy these two business men have created. That would be a good sign for all of us.

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About Dave

Dave Tedlock is the head of NetOutcomes, a digital marketing firm. For years he has written a marketing and technology column for various publications, including the Tucson Citizen’s Tucson Business Edge, Idaho Business Review, Inside Tucson Business, and The New Mexico Business Weekly. Tedlock taught writing and business communication for eight years in many universities, including the Harvard Business School and Iowa State University. For 13 years he worked in ad agencies as a copywriter, account manager or creative director. Tedlock has published short stories, scholarly articles and a writing textbook (with Paul Jarvie). He earned a Master’s degree in Fiction Writing from Brown University. He lives in Tucson and Santa Fe.

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