Last week, I spent my winter vacation with my husband in Quebec, Canada, where we visited one of the most creative seasonal businesses that I have ever had the occasion to consider: a hotel constructed almost entirely of snow and ice, the Hotel de Glace.
Like many of you reading this commentary, this is a hotel run by entrepreneurs. In this case, someone who decided that creating what is essentially a fancy igloo near Quebec City could be a money-maker. He was right, and since 2001, roughly 500,000 visitors have stopped or stayed overnight (like I did) at the hotel during the roughly 10 weeks its doors are open.
Being the geek that I am, I was intrigued to find that there was plenty of technology inside the hotel, demonstrating just how creative a small business can get with technology -- especially digital signage. This is important because the Hotel de Glace has plenty of corporate sponsors that help cover its start-up costs every year. Assembling roughly 15,000 tons of snow into a building with 36 guest rooms, a chapel and a massive ice bar isn't a trivial undertaking.
The hotel thanks its sponsors by running at least a half-dozen digital signage systems in the public areas, ala the photo below.
What's interesting about this is two things:
- Snow isn't exactly "wired" for electricity
- The innards of technology doesn't exactly like it when the ambient temperature is 28 degrees Farenheit
But the Hotel de Glace technology team found out a way to run electricity throughout the site by scooping out snow and running wires AND by using fur creatively to wrap around the sensitive parts of the displays. So, the managers have been creative about finding a way to showcase the sponsors very publicly.
The team also didn't let a little thing like frigid air get in the way of installing a sophistical point of sale system in the ice bar, as evidenced in this other photo from my visit.
Although I am a green maven who advocates turning computers off when they are not in use, this is a situation where that is NOT good to do. The bar manager told me that the system stays on all the time so that it keeps warm enough to run efficiently.
(If you're interested in a fun, future winter vacation option, you can check out more of my Hotel de Glace photos in the gallery I posted on ZDNet last night.)
Digital signage, in particular, is an area that I think small business owners should study more closely.
When I went out for a Valentine's Day date movie with my husband, I noticed that the local theater had just replaced its paper signs with new digital displays that can be updated more quickly and simultaneously throughout the facility. Those displays will also all this very small theater to earn some new revenue from the advertisements that it can run on those screens.
If your small business has any sort of public setting -- a retail store, a show room, a restaurant, what have you -- it really is time to ask yourself whether or not a hand-written sign is the most effective way to showcase the product or service you really want to highlight on a given day. Yes, a hand-written message definitely will convey more intimacy, and I don't think they will ever go away. But could you showcase more messages by using a digital display, which might be able to cycle several different messages every day based on the time or on other predetermined factors? Display prices have eased enough where this should definitely be a future consideration for your marketing or merchandising campaigns.