Marketing with a twist – small business marketing techniques
Nancy L. Croft
You’ve put most of your savings in a business arrangement that goes sour, leaving you the sole owner of a failing company.
What do you do?
Business is so slow that your sales people are dozing, and you face a stack of bills that were due yesterday. You need customers-fast. What do you do?
As a newcomer to a small community, you have trouble winning the townspeople’s trust. What do you do?
The family store is on the street floor of a downtown building, the storefront is drab; the product is unexciting. How do you get passersby to take notice?
These are just a few of the marketing challenges encountered by owners of small and start-up businesses. While some wish for a miracle to bring in new business, others work successfully to put a new twist on otherwise ordinary marketing strategies.
Lisa Renshaw, for instance, used coupon fliers to rescue her faltering Baltimore parking-garage-management company, Penn Parking. Five years ago Renshaw found that she didn’t have the money she needed to plow into the company. Instead of giving up, she launched a low-cost marketing campaign to attract new customers-business travelers using the nearby Amtrak station.
She designed a pocket-size flier that included a coupon for a free car wash after parking in Renshaw’s garage five times-a strategy to get travelers used to parking there. She personally distributed fliers at the train station.
“By the fifth time of parking they were used to the garage and the service,” says Renshaw. “So they came back the sixth and seventh and eighth times and started paying for the car washes,” which are $6,
Judy Greason also understands the power of low-budget marketing for a small business. With a $300 investment, she established the Bay Window Boutique, a women’s-apparel store in Rye, N.Y. The store’s sales occasionally lag, however, because it is located off the main shopping street in Rye.
When such lulls occur, Greason has her employees don newly arrived fashions and put on impromptu fashion shows for customers of the hair salon next door. “The customers love it, and the salon owners love it because we’re entertaining their customers,” says Greason. “It’s amazing how much business we do get from that.”
But what if the residents aren’t as receptive to your business? That was Joan Bedell’s problem when she set up a Pak Mail franchise in Incline Village, Nev., a town of 6,000 near Lake Tahoe.
Residents had never heard of Pak Mail, a packaging and shipping service, and were slow to warm up to a business owned by an outsider.
How did she win friends and bring in business? She got to know her community. She asked the high school’s band to play at her opening. Parents attended and were introduced to Pak Mail.
“I really had to sell myself,” says Bedell. “You have to get involved in the community to survive.”
Some established businesses face a different problem-how to enliven a product that some might think is dull. Barbara Fine, for instance, creates a new look every two weeks for her Washington, D.C., business, the Map Store. “You can give your store a whole new image by changing it from the outside with your window display,” she says. “And people notice when something is different.”
Fine discovered a marketing challenge when she took the reins of her family’s business 15 years ago. Maps “are typically perceived as flat and boring,” she says, and she wanted to make them sexy enough to lure passersby into her store. Fine, an artist, started creating product displays in the store’s large picture window as an alternative to expensive newspaper ads.
One display was a gray, foam mannequin posed as if taking a shower, with a scrub brush in one hand and a shower cap on its head. Hung in the foreground was a clear shower curtain imprinted with a world map. “We try to catch people’s eye, make them think, make them laugh,” says Fine.
Other displays included Thanksgiving turkeys made with maps of Turkey, and a dummy in winter exhibiting a map of the Caribbean.
“Because maps are static and one-dimensional, I try to put something three-dimensional with them to draw people’s eye,” Fine says. She has established a following for her work, and she has “customers who make it a special point to come in the store to say whether they like the display.” And many now tell her that “they want to know about that map in the window.”
COPYRIGHT 1988 U.S. Chamber of Commerce
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group