I didn’t intend to visit Wall Drug, but like many others I was enticed by the signs and seduced by the story.

Seventy eight years ago, during the hottest July on record and desperate to attract customers off the highway and into their empty store, Dorothy Hustead told her husband Ted to put some signs along the highway offering Free Ice Water. The signs now stretch along 800 km of Interstate 90 and beyond, cost $400,000 a year to maintain and “It’s xxx miles to Wall Drug” signs have been placed by devotees in AfghanistanUS Army wall drug and Antarctica and Amsterdam and most places in between.

Wall Drug Antartica wall drugis an icon set in the middle of prairie grassland. It continues to give out free ice water, sell cheap, tacky souvenirs and with only a Twitter and Facebook presence, makes a net profit of roughly twelve million dollars in sales each year. It’s also created an industry for the town of Wall, S.D.(pop. 880) that now has an airport, 30+ hotels and motels and more swimming pools per capita than any other town or city on the planet. That’s signage! but, hey, don’t believe me, try The Empire Built On Ice Water yourself….


The Empire Built On Ice Water


Executive Summary:

Wall DrugTM (Wall Drug) was founded in Wall, South Dakota in 1931. Starting life as a small town pharmacy, it has morphed into a shopping mall one block long containing self-serve and full service eateries, a gallery of Western art, two book shops, a jewelry shop, a souvenir stand, Western-style clothing shop, shoe shops, outfitters, picnic and play areas, dinosaur hunting ground, theatre and the original pharmacy. In the process sales have increased from $300 a month to $10mil per year and it occupies a niche market position.

Its growth has occurred as a result of four factors:

  1. The usage of now-iconic billboards along thousand of miles of US highway stretching from Alaska to Mexico
  2. The creation and promotion of billboards globally by US forces and others overseas
  3. The goodwill it has acquired from visitors and others who have bought into the fairy tale that is Wall Drug
  4. Free bumper stickers to visitors

Situational Analysis:

A [1]study has determined 60% of Wall Drug’s visitors return because it’s “free, unique and connects people with their heritage”. The economic meltdown of 2009 created a 4.5% reduction in profit and caused Wall Drug to re-assess its business plan


To identify and expand new markets and update the image of Wall Drug, always keeping in mind the importance of its brand as a unique, heritage experience


1) A cohesive social media campaign of Twitter @WallDrugSD @1miletoWallDrug @FreeIceWater, Website, Face book page, Pinterest and You Tube account (1 month)

2) A refining of Wall Drug’s image and features (6 months)

3) A strengthening of existing partnerships and creation of new ones (1 year)

Target Audience:

1) Travellers driving to East, West, North and South coasts

2) Local, national and overseas visitors, cruise ship passengers

3) Corporations looking for a reward/conference venue for their staff, schools, social organisations, US armed forces

Key Messages:

1) “Wall Drug – Same as it’s Ever Been – Free, Unique and a Part of Your Heritage”

2) “Wall Drug Goes To Sea: Same Wall Drug experience, just not so much prairie”

3) “Excelsior Cruise Lines offers the Wall Drug Theme Cruise. We’ll also throw in some free ice water” 


Develop additional markets not limited to space/distance restrictions

  1. In partnership with a cruise line, offer two Wall Drug theme cruises, one targeting families and the other an educational cruise for Western aficionados with floating art gallery and guest speakers providing lectures on Mount Rushmore and other ‘Wild West’ venues’
  2. Take the Wall Drug experience to Rodeos’ and Country Fairs

Create multi function experiences not limited to space/distance restrictions

  1. Develop materials which can be used on a cruise or at Wall Drug

Expand the volume and variety of inventory without the cost/responsibility of storage

  1. Rotate retail and art gallery inventory between ship and Wall Drug


The Wall Drug experience, on land and sea:

  1. Existing and new hire theatre/retail employees to staff the on-board entertainment/sales kiosks. Provide on-board purchasers with express delivery to passenger’s home location
  2. A troupe of travelling performers/retail staff to represent Wall Drug at Rodeos and Country Fairs


  1. Using existing theatre staff, create videos in a Western silent-movie-style to be shown on cruises, at Rodeos and Country Fairs and in the dining rooms at Wall Drug
  2. Promote the cruises by showing videos in the dining rooms at Wall Drug/Other
  3. Together with existing billboards, create new billboards designed with a social media presence

[1] http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/travel/destinations/2009-06-02-wall-drug_N.htm