Branding & A Kennedy Half Dollar

There’s a little sandwich shop not far from the office called Whiffer’s. It’s been there forever and as far as I can tell it only has one employee and that’s Whiffer. She owns the place, makes the sandwiches and soups and provides the witty banter as she makes your lunch. Whiffer has been running that little shop longer than I’ve been in Sioux Falls, and she is quite a character with a voice that reminds you of an aging Katherine Hepburn circa On Golden Pond.

It’s a quirky little joint on North Minnesota Avenue, on the cusp between a rough neighborhood and the industrial area surrounding Sioux Falls Regional Airport. The sign by the door says “Open 11 to 3ish.” As far as I know the extent of her advertising is the weathered old sign in front of the small converted house. And if you approach from the south the sign is hidden by a bush, from the north it’s obscured by a hill and some traffic signs.

But there are a few things you can always count on at Whiffer’s – a big overstuffed sandwich, great cookies and brownies and the cost of your meal will always be rounded to the nearest quarter of a dollar. And here’s where a little bit of branding genius comes in. When you get your change, Whiffer will hand you a Kennedy half dollar.

When was the last time you were given a 50-cent piece? For me, other than Whiffer, I think the last person to give me a Kennedy half dollar was my grandmother on my eighth birthday. A Kennedy half dollar was special. You saved them carefully in your piggy-bank along with the two-dollar bills and wheat pennies; they weren’t the kind of thing you spent willy-nilly. My wife still has her little ceramic bank full of them.

Now days, when I get a quarter, nickel or dime, I put it in the ashtray of the car as fodder for the parking meters. But the meters won’t take a 50-cent piece, so I set it on my desk. I’ve begun to collect quite a few Kennedy half dollars, and every time I look at one, or pick it up and toss it in the air, I think of Whiffer. And then I know what I’m doing for lunch.

I asked her about the Kennedy half dollars the other day and she told me when she requests them from the bank, they have to go back into the vault to get her the coins. This is not a decision she makes lightly. She likes the smile those half dollars put on her customers’ faces. She likes that she’s unique. And you know what, I think it’s pretty damn smart of that old gal. She’s turned an unusual piece of U.S. currency into her calling card, and that seems to me like some pretty shrewd branding.

Seriously, when was the last time you were handed a Kennedy half dollar?

– Jim Mathis