The lowly but ubiquitous barcode is coming up in the world, thanks to smart phones that can act as portable scanners.
But the new barcodes look different - squares with smaller squares at three corners and lots of squiggly black lines - so they can carry much more information than the familiar ones with parallel black lines.
You may have seen these QR codes - a popular version of the two-dimensional barcodes - in advertising circulars, at stores or on real estate signs.
A Somers Point sign maker is convinced we'll all be seeing much more of them, as businesses use them to quickly take mobile consumers to websites, telephone numbers or text messages.
Big companies such as Coca-Cola, American Eagle Outfitters and Google already are making QR codes part of their marketing strategies.
Toyota subsidiary Denso-Wave created the QR code in 1994 to track automotive parts and chose not to restrict its use, so anyone can make and use the codes.
The QR stands for "quick response," which means the squares can be decoded at high speed - by BlackBerry, Droid, iPhone or other smartphones with a camera and readily available free software.
MC Signs in Somers Point has just started putting QR codes on signs and already has several customers for them, said owner Mark Crego, 55, of Ocean City.
The company was just recently licensed by Japan-based Denso-Wave to use its robust code-generation software, he said, which wasn't absolutely necessary but made sense because MC Signs intended to make substantial, varied use of QR code.
In his shop Monday, Crego pointed a smart phone at a foot-square QR code from 6 feet away, and in a moment, the phone signaled audibly that it had read the code and immediately showed the company's website on the phone's screen.
QR codes can be made just about any size, down to an inch square, for inclusion in advertisements, business cards, bar coasters and any other printed location. Larger codes can be used on T-shirts, billboards and road signs.
Among Crego's first customers are real-estate agents, who are adding QR codes to their for-sale signs.
"If a Realtor has a listing, normally they also have an online page for that property," he said. "The scan can take customers to that page, where they can get the description of the property, prices and can take a virtual tour."
Another business segment being targeted by MC Signs for QR codes is the amusement and tourism industry.
Crego said Gillian's Wonderland Pier in Ocean City, already a customer, has started incorporating the codes in its signage.
And Crego is making QR codes for the Ocean City Regional Chamber of Commerce, for which he's also done a welcome center sign.
Michele Gillian, executive director for the chamber, said it's talking with the city about putting bar-code signs at the street-end entrances to the Boardwalk.
"They'll scan the code with their phones and go to a website that will highlight events going on, as well as provide information about beach tags, bike lanes, all that kind of good stuff," Gillian said. "It alleviates having to enter the address http://www.oceancityvacation.com" target= "_blank">www.oceancityvacation.com on your smartphone."
The chamber is also putting the code in the visitor's guide it mails out, and is offering advertisers in the guide the opportunity to have their own QR codes included, she said.
"We're looking to use this as a great marketing tool," Gillian said.
Crego believes MC Signs is first in the area to offer QR codes on signs. Calls to several other sign companies found none were offering the feature yet.
Crego said there are always signs to be made no matter what the economy, just the mix of them changes. For example, as the real estate market fell, demand for open-house signs increased.
Now he's seeing a positive indicator for the area economy: For the first time since the recession, real estate agents are buying "Sold" signs again.
That's a good sign even without a QR code.
Contact Kevin Post:
Location: 388 Bethel Road, Somers Point
Owner: Mark Crego, of Ocean City