Marketing in the South

No matter what I try, it doesn’t seem to work. I have been open for 10 months now. I have had 3 or 4 press releases, newspaper stories about us, done newspaper inserts, postcards, monthly newsletter, Moving Targets, Grand Opening banners as well as Chamber ribbon cutting. I sponsor town sports teams, donate to any school/civic events, and am known for supporting the community by town leaders. And yet I still get people coming in asking how long we have been there. We are in a small town of about 12,000. My wife and I were discussing just last night why we can’t seem to get responses from our marketing efforts. A response without return business due to poor food/service would at least be a response that could be measured. Promotions don’t do you much good if people don’t even know you exist.

I am in a strip plaza right next door to a grocery store. I had a lady come in last week and said she shops next door every week and just noticed we were there! Geez, you would think the 8 foot lighted sign and window displays would have clued you in there was a business in here! I just wish I knew what the secret was to getting people to at least know you exist. I have even done direct mail of my menu to every household in my area at least 3 times. I have done door hanging (daily) with my menu as well to try and get the word out. I am frustrated to the Nth degree at this point. I would have been better off standing on the street corner with a “Eat at Joe’s” sign and kept the thousands of $$ I have spent on marketing for all the response I have gotten!

So, what is the secret to getting the word out!?

We struggled with this same issue for a year after we opened. It was frustrating. Every business and market is different, but for us, we quit doing mass media, we quit doing everything, except doorhanging and our birthday/anniversary club. We made sure that every guest that walked through our door had the best freaking experience they could have, and what we found out was that our customers did the marketing for us. Word of mouth traveled faster than the mailman could deliver mass media pieces.

We’ve now added things back on slowly, but we have the money to add them on and we are able to guage how they are working and if we want to keep doing it. I guess my advice to you is to make sure you have the best restaurant in town, and the rest will fall into place. Collect customer information and start a birthday club, always continue to marketing, but concentrate mainly on your food and service. I think that you’ll find in the coming 6 months your business will start to grow. Unfortunately, it takes time to build a strong customer base. You have to start 1 customer at a time, and make sure they are happy, and it will grow; probably slower than you would like, but it will grow.

I feel your pain. It looks like you have tried everything. I am sure that many people will chime in here and give suggestions.

I do know that I have a plan for emergencies. If biz was really bad, and nothing was working I had always planned to do this:

Market and advertise the hell out of FREE PIZZAS. Make one day a day designed to give away small free cheese or pep pizzas to ANYONE who walks through the door. No strings, just free. And make sure they know this. Nothing gets attention like a TOTALLY FREE product. Now here is the catch, every box has a coupon for ANOTHER free small pizza or 50% off on their next visit, with any purchase. Also a magnet with your number etc would be great.

Now what you have done is to have potential new customers come through your doors TWICE. I can get anyone to come through my doors for one meal, but if I can get them to come through the door 2-3 times then I have a new customer.

Also, in exchange for the free pizza just have them fill out their name address and phone number as payment. Send a coupon to this address in a few weeks. Also use this as a customer mailing list.

Follow this up with your marketing 2 weeks later. You will have achieved a solid buzz from new repeat customers that tried your product with no risk, and created a customer based on addresses to known pizza fans.

I am yet to try this, but it was one of those plans sitting on the shelf. Costly in the short term? Yes. A possible HUGE impact? Yes.

Do the million dollar letter, my business is up 40% this week.

Did that. Didn’t get one response. Even Kamron couldn’t believe it. Beleive me, I have tried everything that I can think of, which is why I am posting here. Hoping someone else in the south has something they discovered that isn’t in the so called “gurus” bag of tricks.

Email or PM me your snail mail address and I’ll send you out a letter I did with a 30% return.

If it makes you feel any better… I’ve been open for almost 4 years now, and have sent menus to my trade area dozens of times. Every time they hit we get a barrage of people that ask “how long have you been here?”. And we market a lot; our name is everywhere.

It takes a lot to cut through the clutter. People are bombarded with advertisements all day long. I believe I read somewhere that people need to see your message SEVEN times before it clicks.

What kind of menus are you sending out? We used to send two color menus, but I decided to take the plunge about a year ago and try full color with pictures (including a great picture on the front.) Those full-color menus pulled 3 times better than the two color, far offsetting the increase in price. That might be a way to cut through the clutter in the mailbox.

My wife and I shop at a grocery store in a strip plaza. I don’t think I could tell you what other businesses are in that mall! Most people just won’t be tuned into it. It just takes time and consistency; you have to hit people over and over and over again before the light bulb goes off. The important thing is to not give up on a marketing plan just because it doesn’t make you rich right away. Track your returns and your ROI. If you break-even or get a positive ROI on a campaign, KEEP DOING IT. Finding new customers is hard and takes patience, and at only 10 months you probably have a long way to go.

Make sure you check your return rates. I’m guessing you’re negative ROI on the newspaper inserts. The majority of people I’ve talked to have horrible responses on anything dealing with the newspaper (as do I). Same with sponsoring sports teams. I still point to a sports team that I sponsored when I first opened as the absolute worst marketing decision I ever made.

Spend your money on things that not only pull people in, but that are trackable. You don’t have to worry about “name branding” yet, you need sales to fuel further marketing. If something you’re doing doesn’t bring in more money than you put out, drop it immediately.

Ditto here on the million dollar letter. My response was anemic. It all depends on the area I guess, but I didn’t come close to breaking even on the MDL.

I do full color, professionally designed menus. Have from day one. I’m not looking to get rich in 10 months, but I would like to be able to set some cash back to cover the eventual breakage that is going to occur.

With regard to that - people not knowing you are there - I wouldn’t worry too much about that specifically.

We have been in the same strip mall, next to a very bust grocery store - for the past 6 years. To this day, I still have people come in asking “When did you open?” - or saying “I didn’t know you were here…” - and these people have lived in the area for many many years! I think it is just the nature of the beast. I know for certain they have received more than 30 things in the mail from us over those years - yet they just realized we were here somehow. lol. Not sure there is anything you can do about that.

Have you tried testing your post office… Send out a bunch of letters from your store, addressed to family members and friends and verify they actually received them… Its a possibility your PO has a disgrunlted employee throwing stuff away…

My old store was right next to a supermarket. When we first opened we made up some breadsticks and gave them to people as they were going in and out and also gave them menus. We got a great response. I would try that if I were you

Good Luck


If I can please piggy-back with your idea Nate…

I think if you can get people to walk from the grocery store, you’ll have a better chance of them return and patronizing your shop. People are creatures of habit, if you make them take the walk from the store to your shop they’ll be more apt to repeat the same thing next time they’re shopping.

So have your people down at the store telling people to stop by your shop for a free order of breadsticks. Maybe give them a special ‘coupon’ that they have to bring over for the free sticks and also have a drawing for something free the next time they come in. Load them up with menus, coupons, magnets, balloons and anything else with your name and phone number on it.