July 22, 2017

Lynn Lilly with Blackout Productions and Lilly White Events

Lynn Lilly

Lynn Lilly

Lynn Lilly is the founder of Blackout Productions and Lilly White Events. She started Blackout Productions about 1 1/2 years ago with the goal of changing the landscape of events in Atlanta by focusing on innovative event marketing, production and design that closely aligns with clients’ objectives and target demographics. These have been created to be distinct, buzz generating, “must attend” events that people don’t want to miss and will talk about the next day, with an emphasis on the restaurant industry and nightlife. Her clients have include Three Olives Vodka, Whiskey Park, and Straits, with event participation into the thousands.

About 4 months ago, she created Lilly White Events to address an under met demand for similar services for the private event market – events for corporate, bridal and non-profit organizations. These are events with a greater need for planning than promotions, but for both companies, the focus remains on client centered services and showing results.

In this interview, Lynn discusses her experience getting “butts in seats” for her diverse client list with each having a different target audience. Listen to the entire interview below.

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Audience

Blackout’s clients include restaurants, clubs, boutiques, and alcohol brands whereas Lilly White’s clients are mostly corporate (real estate agents, doctors, lawyers), non-profits and bridal. This is a wide-ranging base that has an equally diverse target audience varying from women interested in high end fashion (Jedal Italian Fashion in Phipps Plaza) to nightclub goers (W Hotel’s Whiskey Park in Midtown Atlanta) to brides.

These audiences require individualized promotions, although the tools used are fairly consistent.

Entice

To entice these audiences, Lynn creates cutting edge, innovative events unlike anything people have seen in Atlanta, creating must attend events. With both Blackout Productions and Lilly White Events, she emphasizes that she will take the headache out of having an event while providing metrics to prove success. This has built a reputation for her that has led to a referral-based sales channel.

Promotions

Promoting to these audiences is not just an issue of getting people to show up, but reaching the audience that matches the client’s desired demographic. Someone attending an upscale event for high end fashion that can’t spend $1,000 on shoes is not a successful attendee. This is a tough challenge and Lynn uses a multi-pronged strategy.

The Personal Touch

Skyy Infusion Event

Skyy Infusion Event

In some cases, to make sure that the right people show up for events, Lynn takes a very active personal approach. For example, when Skyy Vodka Pineapple Infusion launched, they wanted to reach influencers at bars and restaurants so she sent personal invites to owners, managers and bartenders to make sure they showed up. In some cases, she visited businesses to deliver the invitation personally. It’s all part of understanding your audience and making the connection that most influences them.

Flyers

When she first started, Lynn’s initial efforts focused on handing out flyers to reach her audience. Now that she has a strong reputation and an impressive database of contacts, this practice has tapered off.

Facebook

Social media is one of the principle ways Lynn promotes and when a client hires Blackout Productions, they aren’t just getting a great event, but access to Lynn’s sphere of influence. Facebook is a great tool for this. Lynn will help build out a client’s Facebook presence to promote their event while encouraging her contacts to become Fans. This has lasting value beyond the event, providing the client with a receptive audience for future messages. Additionally, Lynn encourages attendees to look at pictures from the event on the client’s Facebook page and tag themselves… of course, the ability to tag photos requires users to become a Fan first. All of these tags propagate to news feeds that help to further promote the client even after the event.

She has used paid ads on Facebook when trying to reach a very targeted demographic. Most relevant are ads for bridal events through Lilly White Events to reach women in Atlanta that have a relationship status of “engaged.”

Twitter

Lilly White Events cake

Lilly White Events cake

Lynn promotes events on Twitter through her personal account as well as Blackout Productions and Lilly White Events. The viral nature of re-tweets can not only get feet in the door, but increase the client’s number of Followers.

Local Search

Lynn describes herself as being hard to sell to, but she was convinced to subscribe to Citysearch’s service.  It was a terrible experience:

  • Delays in Getting profile setup. Blackout Productions had to rely on Citysearch to put their content online, so they submitted all of their information (photos, video, copy, etc) a week prior to their first month of service, but the information was still not right 2 weeks into the month (wrong logo, no content or wrong content, etc.).
  • Budget overages. Of course, Citysearch was still charging them for traffic even though the information was wrong or incomplete, but instead of the agreed upon budget of $25/day, they were being charged $50/day.
  • Lack of communication. Lynn was sold, in part, by the sales person’s description of Citysearch’s excellent customer service. However, she was given inaccurate information about where to send content (leading to some of the delays) and phone calls and emails went unanswered. All of this led to a battle for a refund from Citysearch.

The sales person was very good at selling, but the responsiveness, customer support, and effectiveness they had been promised was a huge disappointment. Lynn canceled their subscription and has no plans to use Citysearch again. Her experience with local search left such a bad impression that when Yelp called a few weeks later, she immediately said “not interested.” She would recommend social marketing to her clients 100x over before recommending local search like Citysearch.

Google Ads

Lynn has considered using Google Ads, but hasn’t had time to investigate in detail. She has heard good things about it, though.

Email Campaigns

Lynn uses her contact database to email event announcements to relevant demographics. Similar to her efforts in social media, she encourages new subscribers to also register with the clients’ newsletters – providing residual value that lasts well beyond any single event.

Blogs and Online Publications

Blackout Productions has had great experience with blog and online publication posts about their unique events. Lynn uses Google the day after an event to track what’s being said and connect to those contributing to the buzz. Influentially writers get added to her media list.

Print Advertising

Blackout Productions has paid for some print advertisement with publications like 6 Degrees, but Lynn doesn’t think there’s a lot of value to the print promotions. However, in many cases, these outlets provide additional promotions through their website, Facebook pages, email lists, etc. that Lynn does think have a lot of value and reach. Summation – it’s OK to pay for print if it gains access to a big online presence. (Sounds like print publications are selling the wrong thing)

Television and Radio

Lynn hasn’t used paid advertising on television or radio because she hasn’t felt that it was suitable for any of her events to this point.

Other Online Advertisement

Depending on the type of event, other online advertisement has proven useful, including sites like Atlanta Occasions, Atlanta Bridal, and Access Atlanta.

Blackout Productions

Blackout Productions

Leverage

Lynn leverages Word of Mouth through a number of viral, online tools. Facebook, Twitter, and blogs all generate content that is easily shared and email campaigns give people an easy way to forward information to friends. It’s a multi-channel world and you have to take advantage of all of the avenues available.

She is constantly looking for new tools that can increase her ability to harness word of mouth, although the challenge has been that each new technology is yet another place that she has to manage information. Keeping up with all the tools is becoming more and more of a challenge, but pays great dividends.

Connect

Social marketing tools like Facebook and Twitter have been great at connecting to people and keeping them informed about upcoming events, leading to “butts in seats.” The only monetary cost is related to the paid ads she posts on Facebook for bridal events – generally a few hundred dollars – and isn’t that significant .

However, there is a significant time-cost promoting with these tools, which takes away from time she could spend on “creating a better event or spending more time on event design or cultivating new business.” Time is money.

“It’s a lot of repetitive work. It’s the same thing over and over again for each site and it’s time consuming and it’s boring and it drives me nuts.”

Simplify

Lynn has been fortunate enough to find vendors that she can trust when putting together events. Knowing her partners are reliable reduces the number of things she needs to worry about and helps simplify the number of spinning plates she has to manage.

One of Lynn’s biggest challenges is managing all of the avenues of social media marketing. Updating websites, Facebook, Twitter, etc takes a lot of time (although I did recommend she look into solutions like Tweetdeck to consolidation her efforts a little). One thing she does to simplify this some is integrating her Facebook status updates with her tweets.

For RSVP’s, Blackout Productions and Lilly White Events use a dedicated email account designed for responses and then checks people off at the door as they arrive. They also track people that show up off the street and use that as an opportunity to capture new email addresses.

Email campaigns are managed through GoDaddy, but she is not completely happy with them as a solution (it’s not very user friendly). She has also tried Constant Contact, but didn’t like it either.

Blackout Productions Event

Blackout Productions Event

Success

Lynn is a big numbers person. One example involves monitoring the ratio of received RSVP’s to the number that actually shows up. This provides her with statistical information so she knows how many people to expect based on responses – categorized not only by the type of event, but by factors like weather (if it rains, how will that effect turnout) and the day of the week. When a client says they want 1,000 people to show up, she knows how many RSVP’s she needs to secure based on this information.

That method is great if you focus solely on head count, but for organizations like restaurants, bars, clubs and lounges, it’s all about the bottom line. For these clients, Lynn looks to other tools, such as POS systems. For Whiskey Park at the W Midtown Atlanta, she’ll look at bar sells by hour as well as a break down of what drinks are being ordered – especially important when she partners with a liquor company.

The numbers are there and, by analyzing them, lessons are learned about how to make every event more successful than the last. Additionally, by following trends, Lynn is able to provide clients with proof that their efforts are paying off as well as give them insights about their patrons’ behavior.

Closing Words

Promotions that get noticed by Blackout Productions

Promotions that get noticed by Blackout Productions

The biggest challenge is promotions. It’s difficult to reach the right audience and takes a lot of hard work – you have to be creative and keep up with the latest tools. In all of your efforts, you also have to have the right team that is driven and represents your brand well. Finally, always measure your metrics.

Upcoming Events

Friday, December 18. Winter Wonderland event at Whiskey Park to benefit Toys for Tots and co-sponsored by Van Gogh Blue Vodka. What’s not to love – Van Gogh Blue Sno Cones, a gelato bar, and midnight lingerie fashion show by LiviRae Lingerie.

August 2010. Atlanta Food Rave. A huge culinary event that is still under wraps, but will feature a number of Atlanta’s top chefs.

Shout Outs

Connect with Lynn Lilly, Blackout Productions and Lilly White

Blackout Production (map)
15 Lenox Pointe NE
Suite C
Atlanta, GA 30324
404.842.9944
info@blackoutproductionsatlanta.com

Background

Lynn has been planning events for non-profits since high school. This continued through both her sorority and student government when she attended Auburn University – sophomore year, she planned the biggest fundraiser on campus, raising $40,000 for breast cancer research in one night. As a junior and senior, she was responsible for handling 3 events and PR for the Student Government Association.

After college, she went into advertising and marketing in Atlanta while networking every night of the week. This allowed her to build connections that led to her first event – promoting Ludacris’ Straits Restaurant in Midtown Atlanta. Blackout Productions has been growing ever since. Some of her honors include:

  • Featured in 6 Degrees magazine
  • Trendy Atlanta wrote about her as an up and coming young entrepreneur
  • Her work with Lilly White Events led to her being listed in CRAVE Atlanta‘s first book as one of Atlanta’s top 100 young entrepreneuress that you have to know
  • Lilly White was selected as a sponsor and the event planner for Save A Smile’s Atlanta Holiday House

Link Centre- Tupelo’s non-profit Community Cultivator

Link Centre - Tupelo

Link Centre - Tupelo

Over Thanksgiving, I was able to interview Melanie Deas and Rebecca Lane who head up the Link Centre in Tupelo, MS. Tupelo is a town of about 40,000 people, the birth place of Elvis Presley – king of Rock n’ Roll – my hometown, and consistently impresses me with the cultural density and talent it produces. I’ve been going to events sponsored by the Tupelo Ballet, Tupelo Symphony and Tupelo Community Theater since I was a kid and have high school friends that have had their bands featured on national TV shows and have even played at Carnegie Hall.

The Link Centre is a organization that furthers this history of cultural and community development as a “non-profit that helps bring together arts, entertainment, culture, education and health” by serving several purposes:

Hoop-elo fun

Hoop-elo fun

  1. Community Cultivator (I’m willing to share the title). They provide a training facility for senior services and art studios, sponsor events such as music classes for kids, a culinary arts program, real estate education classes, hula hooping classes (Hoop-elo), film and music series, after school programs, etc.
  2. Community Coordinator. By “linking” the efforts of other local non-profits, they help bring people together for the purpose of improving Tupelo’s cultural footprint.
  3. Multi-tenant non-profit center. The Link Centre is housed in the old Harrisburg Baptist Church where the Salvation Army and Girl Scouts also serve as anchor tenants. Additionally, they provide affordable office space for other local, non-profits and act like a non-profit incubator for the community which helps to foster collaboration opportunities.

Listen to the entire interview

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Audience

The programs organized by the Link Centre are targeted at providing value to the entire community – from infants to elders. Their independent film series has included everything from a documentary on the furniture industry to the animated version of Flatland (very cool) and generally includes someone involved with the film, such as the director, writer or producer. Typically, this attracts a subject-specific audience as well as local film makers that benefit from conversations ranging from cinematography to production. This taps into the huge film community around the Mid-South and draws an audience ranging from 20-somethings and up.

Another example of the diverse audience attracted by the Link Centre’s events is the monthly music series that features a different genre each month.  Typically, patrons for these events are in their 40′s and up, but there is also an appeal to a wide range of local musicians interested in collaborating with their peers.

Extending the audience even further are events like Hoop-elo that have had participants from 2 1/2 years old to 80.

Entice

Because of the diverse programs offered by the Link Centre, there is generally something for everyone. Patrons that are aware of these efforts are able to monitor upcoming events and select those that appeal to them – they look to the Link Centre as a highly localized organization that provides an ongoing stream of activities and serves as a consolidated source of local information.

Promotions

One of the challenges that accompanies a wide-ranging target audience is knowing how to reach that audience. Melanie describes the Link Centre’s efforts as shotgun marketing – they have to use a variety of efforts to be effective.

Link Centre's diabetes support event

Link Centre's diabetes support event

Community College Collaboration

The Link Centre works in conjunction with Itawamba Community College to define and promote events. ICC utilizes Link Centre’s physical space and takes on the management and promotional role of specific events through their workforce development and continuing education programs. In two years, this has led to the participation of over 700 students.

Public Displays of Activities

Hoop-elo at night

Hoop-elo at night

A guerrilla tactic used to promote the Link Centre is public displays highlighting their programs, such as Hoop-elo. Not only does the Link Centre have classes in Hula Hooping, but this group goes to various community events to show off their skill. “You take people hula hooping with light up, LED hula hoops to a concert and … people notice.” There is even an integration with the Tupelo Public School PE programs.

Synergy

The Pre-Symphony Dinner Series is an example of how Link Centre cross-promotes events for synergy. Before every symphony performance, the Culinary Arts program prepares an affordable, multi-course dinner in the same building as the event. Diners walk across the building after their meal and have reserved, VIP seating – which not only helps to promote the symphony, but the culinary arts program. In another effort, they doubled down on this strategy by hosting the dinner among a a city-wide art exhibit.

Online / Social Networking

Using social networking tools like Facebook, Myspace and Twitter is a new effort by the Link Centre, but has proven very effective. It allows them to quickly and cheaply (free) propogate information about upcoming events and offers a platform that patrons can use to provide feedback. There is still a struggle about how to most effectively use these tools and there is a limitation to the audience reach – elderly patrons frequently aren’t online – but they are happy with the experience so far.

One of the time costs for promoting online is the management of sites. New and updated event information must be posted on Tupelo.Net, Myspace, Twitter, Facebook, the Arts Commission website, etc. In fact, Rebecca has 2 pages of sites that have to be managed. Keeping all of this information current is tough, but the audience reach is worth the effort.

Email Campaigns

Historically, emails were sent from a standard email client, but this led to a 6-month backlog of updates and additions related to the mailing list. Melanie was able to resolve this issue by implementing the email campaign tool Constant Contact. Not only does Constant Contact allow individuals to manage their own subscriptions to emails, it also provides metrics about how effective these campaigns are – how many people are opening the messages, forwarding them, etc.

There is one criticism – Melanie would like some instruction on how to improve open rates. The data is great, but what do you do with it? Overall, though, it is direct, fast, inexpensive and seems effective.

Direct Mail

Direct Mail is successful for certain efforts such as reaching older patrons, fund raising and sending announcements to Symphony Dinner patrons. The general advice is: know your audience and use direct mail accordingly – and definitely use bulk mail to reduce costs.

Print

Homemade Jamz

Homemade Jamz

In cities that have higher population densities, there are numerous publications that promote local events, but in areas with less density, these publications have limited effectiveness because either they 1) don’t have suitable focus (state wide versus town/region) or 2) aren’t published in a timely manner (yearly, quarterly).

That being said, the Link Centre does do some print promotions in the local paper, especially in the free event postings section. There is also a new local publication the Link Centre is working with called ShakeMag that focuses on community activities in the Tupelo area.

Television

Melanie has had a television spot produced and was happy with the quality, but it was not clear what effect, if any, the ad had. Her opinion now is, while there might be an event in the future that seems more suitable for this type of promotion, for the time being she is avoiding it as an expensive option that is difficult to measure the success of.

Loyalty Program

The Link Centre has dabbled with a Donor Program that offers free or discounted events to donors based on their contribution amount with levels starting at $100. This program is still in its early phase so the results aren’t in yet.

PSA’s (Public Service Announcements)

Local television stations and radio stations have budgeted time for PSA’s and Melanie makes sure that the Link Centre gets its fair share. One example is being included on the Weather Channel’s crawl (the news that scrolls across the bottom of the screen).

Leverage

As always, word of mouth rules. While this is harnessed in part by the viral tools built into social networking, there are also powerful case studies of influencers spreading news to their personal networks. In one case, the mother of a home grown star of the Lawrence Welk program did a great job promoting her son’s upcoming show in Tupelo to her friends (big fans of Lawrence Welk). Word of mouth gets people in the door which creates an opportunity to turn these consumers into passionate patrons that will return again and again.

Word of mouth is also the primary way that other non-profits keep up with what their peers are doing. This is great to generate peer support of programs, but the information flow can be inefficient – you hope that relevant news makes its way to you.

Connect

People stay connected in different ways and the key is to promote in the various places that your patrons look for information. Social networks and online resources, email, direct mail, and local publications lead these efforts, but it’s important to know which are best suited for the specific information you are trying to disseminate.

Simplify

There are a couple of key ways that the Link Centre simplifies their efforts:

  • Constant Contact makes email campaigns much more effective and easier to manage.
  • Adobe’s Contribute is used to manage the Link Centre’s website and allows Melanie and Rebecca to update the site without having to rely on a web developer.
  • Paypal is used as a quick and easy way to process ticket purchases. It is a “very simple and cost effective tool” for the Link Centre to add this functionality for patrons. Very, very clever.
  • The partnership with Itawamba Community College has allowed the Link Centre to off load some of their promotional and organizational efforts.
  • Quickbooks is replacing the Link Centre’s traditional use of physical books and has made things much easier while consolidating information.

Success

The first measure of success is how many people show up for events. Beyond that, the Link Centre monitors web traffic of their site on a monthly basis and has discovered most people are focused on the events page, buying tickets and making donations. This provides Melanie guidance on where to spend time… making sure this information is up to date.

Future efforts of measuring success might include in-house surveys to find out how people discover events. This not only would provide supplemental information to metrics available from web promotions, but would help close the loop on determining the effectiveness of off line promotions like newspaper advertisements.

Words of Advice

Running an organization like the Link Centre is challenging, but don’t give up and try not to get frustrated. Cultural development is a valuable service and shouldn’t be viewed as extraneous, but as a critical part of the community.

Upcoming Events

  • December 5, 2009. Gallagher. It’s unknown if he will be using locally sourced, organic watermelons, but it should be fun nonetheless.
  • December 12, 2009. Christmas by Candlelight Symphony with Pre-symphony dinner and post-concert reception
  • January 8, 2010. Marty Stuart Concert to benefit the three anchor tenants of the Link Centre (Link Centre, Salvation Army and Girl Scouts)
  • Every Tuesday at 1PM – CPR and AED courses sponsored by the Weston Reed Foundation
  • Every Tuesday at 6PM – Hoop-elo
  • Monthly (resuming in January). Independant Film Series
  • Monthly (resuming in January). Monthly Music mix

Keep up to date with the official calendar.

Connect With Link Centre

Link Centre (Map)
1800 W. Main, Box 12
Tupelo, MS 38801
662.690.4011
f. 662.690.4012

Website: http://www.link-centre.org/
Make a Donation: http://www.link-centre.org/support.html
Facebook Group: http://www.facebook.com/LinkCentreTupelo
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/melaniedeas
Twitter: http://twitter.com/linkcentretup

Background

Melanie Deas

Melanie has been the Executive Director of the Link Centre for almost 3 years where she is responsible for a variety of roles, including event planning, box office management, and house management. She has a background in theater and university tour and event planning with an undergraduate focus on History and Literature (Harvard) and graduate work in Dramaturgy and Dramatic Criticism (Yale).

Rebecca Lane

Rebecca has been the Community Developer for the Link Centre since June of 2009 and supports Melanie’s role as well as spearheads Link Centre’s social media efforts. She focused on Elementary Education at Itawamba Community College and owned and operated Gum Tree Montessori and More attended by her two daughters.

Alex Brounstein – Grindhouse Burgers Atlanta

Alex Brounstein at Grindhouse Burgers

Alex Brounstein at Grindhouse Burgers

Alex Brounstein is the owner of one of Atlanta’s newest burger joints – Grindhouse Killer Burgers. However, instead of opening a “burger boutique,” which seem to be all the rage, he went old school, but with high quality ingredients. The result is one of the hottest new spots in Atlanta.

His recipe for success is simple:

  1. Work hard to get stimulus money for a city icon (more than $700,000 for the Sweet Auburn Curb Market) and in the process discover a hidden gem of a location with lots of foot traffic.
  2. Get a great lease on an unused space that is already mostly built out – including a kitchen.
  3. Brand the location and the restaurant simply, but with some flava.
  4. Hand out flyers to everyone you see and email all your friends.
  5. Randomly meet a popular food blogger that ignites a viral campaign that scorches its way across social media and creates long lines of people within 2 weeks of opening.

Simple.

(see Community Cultivator’s other blog post on Grindhouse to get my initial impressions right after the grand opening)

This is Alex’s first restaurant and he shared some insights on how to reach your target audience, connect with patrons, and get butts in seats.

Audience

Sweet Auburn Curb Market - Atlanta

Sweet Auburn Curb Market - Atlanta

Sweet Auburn Curb Market is located in downtown Atlanta on Edgewood Avenue. It’s just steps away from Grady Hospital and Georgia State and just a few blocks away from big buildings that house big companies. It’s also close to a historically seedy part of town. Based on location, Alex’s patrons are:

  • Corporate big wigs in power ties
  • Patients and the families of patients at Grady
  • Medical personnel
  • College students
  • Low income residence of the area

But Grindhouse doesn’t just attract the locals. Word of mouth and social media has reached the ears of foodies and they come in droves to judge the offering against their burger aficionado palates.

Rich and not so rich, people come from near and far because, as Alex puts it, “Everybody loves burgers.”

Entice

To entice this diverse group is a multi-pronged strategy:

Location, Location, Location

Sweet Auburn Curb Market has foot traffic and, as much as it pains me, that’s something not too common in Atlanta.  Alex claims the first enticement is convenience to downtown businesses,  Georgia State, Grady, and local residents. Combine that with increasing growth in the area around 85/75 and Edgewood and the burgeoning reputation of the Edgewood corridor as a destination for trendy restaurants and you’ve got a high potential market.

Look and Feel

Grindhouse at the back of Curb Market

Grindhouse at the back of Curb Market

The Sweet Auburn Curb Market is a maze of butchers, seafood and vegetable stands, small shops and food vendors. In most cases, the advertisement of these businesses is limited to the display of their wares with very little signage or branding. As you head towards the back of the market, though, you start catching glimpses of the bright neon Grindhouse sign and discover a dining counter that stretches across 1/3 of the back of the building with a white tile wall serving as a backdrop to the work area. On this wall, a variety of campy movies are projected – such as Attack of the Killer Tomatoes – and a hodge podge of Atlanta residents watch on as they sit bent over their juicy burgers. The restaurant stands out in the market not only because it’s the only business that has stylized branding, but it’s actually having fun with it. With the amount of daily foot traffic, Grindhouse sticks out like a big, neon thumb.

Marketing material follows this lead. The Grindhouse logo seems inspired by 60′s-70′s Grindhouse movies, with towering stone letters crumbling with decay on top of a splatter of gore … or chipotle ranch dressing. Even the menu has the feel of a 60′s diner. All of this sets expectations of a place that pays attention to details and has fun doing it.

Alex has exerted a lot of effort to not only get the restaurant side of things right, but to use his experience in branding to make it pop.

Menu

A Grindhouse Killer Burger

A Grindhouse Killer Burger

All of the other enticements don’t matter if the food isn’t good and Alex uses high quality ingredients to help insure a delicious selection. To serve a wider audience, he also includes turkey and veggie burgers on the menu and adds some flair by including toppings like sauteed mushrooms, grilled onions, green chilis, chipotle ranch, blue cheese spread and a Grindhouse burger sauce. Oh yeah, throw in some hand spun milkshakes for good measure.

Pricing

Because of the economic diversity of his audience, Alex has orchestrated a menu that can meet any budget. The starting price for a burger is $3.99, but he’s seen people construct a $12 burger with all the bells and whistles. It works – anyone looking at the lunch counter around noon can see one of the most diverse patron bases imaginable.

Promotions

Foot traffic is great, but Alex has also done a good job with promotions, although he admits a lot of this was luck.

Bloggers

Alex was at Top Flr one night before Grindhouse opened and happened to get into a conversation with the blogger for foodiebuddha.com. Soon after, there was a post on the blog about the anticipated opening followed up by a review of Grindhouse once it went live. This was picked up in the blogosphere by others (including me) and led to a chain reaction of posts. The viral spread led to a review in Creative Loafing and eventually the AJC – all within a few weeks. Without a dime being spent, Alex was getting tremendous old and new press.

Flyers

Alex is a big believer in flyers and this was where he placed the majority of his initial efforts. His handouts were simple, glossy, included a map to the restaurant, a sample of the menu and and offered free fries with the purchase of a burger. Coupons get butts in seats.

Email Campaigns

As part of his initial push, Alex sent out an email to everyone he knew (about 600 people) announcing the grand opening. Since then, he hasn’t done any additional mass emails and believes that these run the risk of being annoying to recipients. He is open to implementing  a more formalized email campaign strategy, but hasn’t had time to focus on this.

Order counter at Grindhouse Burgers

Order counter at Grindhouse Burgers

PR

PR is great. There was a spike in customers after a write up by Cliff Bostock in Creative Loafing and a huge spike after a write up by John Kessler in the AJC, but those either came from word of mouth reaching the journalists or from press releases that Alex sent out.

Other articles have included:

The Thrillist: http://www.thrillist.com/atlanta/grind-house-killer-burgers-0

Access Atlanta: http://www.accessatlanta.com/atlanta-restaurants-food/grindhouse-killer-burgers-156095.html

He did look into using a PR agency, including Caren West with Caren West PR and Green Olive Media, which he thinks are effective at getting national coverage, but he couldn’t justify the $1,000+ cost per month without any guaranteed results. He did, however, receive some great support from from Lynn Lilly with Blackout Productions.

Right now, his philosophy is do it yourself PR.

Social Networking

Grindhouse does have a Facebook page which provides a way to promote to patrons already familiar with the restaurant. Alex also made an effort to add all of the local bloggers as Facebook friends prior to the launch to make sure they were aware of the new entrant to the burger market.

Grindhouse also has a twitter page that Alex uses in a similar way. He tries to keep people updated on what’s going on, without overwhelming them with tweets.

Local Search

Sites like Urbanspoon, Yelp and Citysearch have definitely driven traffic to Grindhouse and they’ve contacted Alex about paying for advertisements. His opinion is that he’s happy with his exposure on these sites and doesn’t see any benefit to paying for any additional promotions.

Print Advertising

No. That’s it… no. Alex thinks this might have been useful 20 years ago, but he doesn’t pay any attention to print ads so he just doesn’t see the value.

Leverage

Word of mouth is the gold standard of reaching your target audience and Alex has benefited from the viral spread ignited by bloggers and fosters this through use of Facebook and Twitter. In one case, after winning the Chomp and Stomp Chili cook off, he posted the news on Facebook and received 30 responses almost immediately. In another case, he tweeted an announcement of a butchering demo and someone immediately blogged about it.  To a large extent, WoM is out of the hands of organizations, but these efforts help fan the flames.

Connect

To stay connected to patrons, Alex currently relies on Facebook and Twitter. It does take effort to manage these, though, and every couple of days he tries to spend an hour or so catching up.

Simplify

Keeping things simple is a mantra of Alex’s. His menu is simple, his hours of operation (11AM-4PM) are simple and avoid the long days most chefs endure, and his promotions are simple – lots of social media promotions and flyers. His early success with going viral through bloggers has allowed him to focus on filling orders.

One of the biggest challenges remains finding time to manage promotions through Facebook, Twitter, etc while still running the restaurant. Adding to this is that different people find information in different ways and you have to make sure you maximize your exposure to reach your target audience. Grindhouse is still a small operations and Alex has to do it all.

Success

Happy Customers at Grindhouse

Happy Customers at Grindhouse

Alex has a loose measurement of success – he is busy from open to close. With his new business, he hasn’t had time to gauge the effectiveness of his efforts, but here are some of his feedback channels:

  • People are turning in coupons and he tracks this in his POS, but he hasn’t had time to look at the count. It seems pretty good, though.
  • He hears people saying the saw him on local search sites (Yelp, Citysearch, Urbanspoon, etc.). Seems pretty good, but he has no plans to pay for more exposure.
  • Traffic spiked after write ups in Creative Loafing and the AJC – PR works.

Although he has a background using metrics to gauge success, “you’ve got to have really good data to do that and I don’t feel like my data is that good” and right now he has as many customers as he can handle so it’s not as important. The one concrete exception is using POS information to help with ordering inventory.

Words of Advice

Keep things simple, never skimp on ingredients.

Connect with Grindhouse and Alex Brounstein

Website: www.grindhouseburgers.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/grindhouseburgers

Twitter: www.twitter.com/GrindHouseATL

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/pub/alex-brounstein/4/b1b/663

Background

In high school, Alex considered going to culinary school, but the long hours chefs endure on their feet wasn’t very appealing. But he’s always enjoyed cooking and, during the summers of his college years, he worked as a short order cook in various Atlanta restaurants.

After college, Alex went into consulting and branded marketing, but quickly became a down-sized victim of the Internet bust. Next, he  decided to go back to school for law, received his MBA and went into real estate – just in time to be part of the real estate bubble bust. With free time on his hands, Alex began focusing more on his side project – raising funds to revitalize the Sweet Auburn Curb Market. The experience and relationships he built with the market during this successful push for a renovation grant helped him see untapped potential. Alex got a great deal on some unused space and opened Grindhouse Killer Burgers, hoping to show Atlanta that the Curb Market can support businesses with a broader appeal.

Shout Outs

Alex had only one shout out:

Lynn Lilly with Blackout Productions – very responsive, very smart, young and hungry.

Chuck Kneeland – Steel Restaurant

Chuck Kneeland - Steel Restuarant

Chuck Kneeland - Steel Restuarant

Chuck Kneeland is a veteran of the restaurant industry. His career started waiting tables in Austin, TX and has led to Managing Partner of Steel Restaurant Atlanta and Vice President of the restaurant management company, Restaurant Works. Along the way he has honed his experience growing national restaurant brands, starting several of his own restaurants, and helping to turn around struggling brands – learning several key things along the way:

  • Offer high quality food, service, beverage and environment.
  • Surround yourself with a great staff.
  • Provide structure and systems to manage uncertainty, but allow flexibility.
  • Aggressively squash issues before they spread. If you have an unhappy customer, hunt them down and delight them.
  • Finally, Adapt, Adapt, Adapt – 1) pay attention to your patrons, your neighborhood, the economy, technology, marketing trends …. and…. everything else. 2) Make adjustments as necessary.

With Steel Restaurant Atlanta, Chuck has created a beautiful, mid-town destination that embraces these ideals and attracts a mosaic of patrons. He strives to achieve Accessible Elegance, offering something for diverse palates and budgets.

I was able to sit down with Chuck and get a LOT of insights from him. That has resulted in a pretty long post, but it’s warranted considering all of the insights he provided. As always, you can read my summary below, but if you have time, listen to the entire interview (75 min, so it may take a minute or so to load) here

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Audience

Steel Restaurant Atlanta Wine Room

Steel Restaurant Atlanta's Wine Room

Steel Restaurant has a diverse audience depending on the time of day and which Steel Restaurant you are talking about.

Lunch versus Dinner

Lunch is more business people that work in the area. Dinner is completely different and can include bachelorette parties, corporate events, wealthy patrons that will buy $150 bottle of wine, as well as people that are looking for a good deal, but there is also a geographic difference.

Dallas versus Atlanta

Steel Restaurant Dallas' Wine Room

Steel Restaurant Dallas' Wine Room

The audience in Dallas is largely professionals, but transitions from older patrons that live in the Turtle Creek area early in the night to a younger demographic as the night progresses. When people go out in Dallas, it is an event that people dress up for.

Steel Restaurant Atlanta’s audience is more tricky. Similar to Dallas, it includes older patrons that live in mid-town high rises that love the food and service as well as younger patrons that like the hip environment. However, Chuck has discovered that Atlanta is much more neighborhood driven and casual than the Dallas market – kind of like his experience in Austin. Patrons – especially on weekends – are more likely to show up in jeans and t-shirts than in Dallas.

Both cities, however, demand a high quality experience.

Food at Steel Restaurant

Food at Steel Restaurant

Entice

Fundamentally, Steel Restaurant focuses on great food, service, and beverage programs in an elegant and stylish environment conveniently located in mid-town Atlanta and the Turtle Creek area of Dallas. More specifically, Steel offers:

  • Delectable sushi as well as dishes where seafood, chicken, and beef take center stage.
  • An excellent wine selection for those that demand the best.
  • “Craveable menu items” that stand out in people’s minds and aren’t available anywhere else.
  • Great service and attention to details.
  • Affordable Bento boxes around $15.
  • Noodle and rice dishes for cost conscious patrons – those looking for lunch under $10 or dinner under $15.

Steel’s offering is constantly being fine-tuned is based on patron feedback and even focus groups.

To address the neighborhood and casual culture of Atlanta, Chuck sees the need to “think neighborhood.” This includes:

  • Connecting more intimately with people in surrounding condos as an involved member of the neighborhood.
  • Taking into consideration the pedestrian nature of mid-town.
  • Marketing targeted specifically to the locals.

Promotions

Dining room at Steel Restaurant Atlanta

Dining room at Steel Restaurant Atlanta

Part of being able to execute on great promotions is having something great to promote. Steel Restaurant adds special events to their core offering (see the Upcoming Event section) to take advantage of this fertile ground. Some of the promotional tools Chuck has used include:

Traditional and Off-Line Promotions

  • PR – Chuck works closely with Jamie Annarino from Red Clay to help orchestrate an ongoing PR strategy.
  • Editorial – Chuck is a big fan of publicity through critic reviews, etc. … free promotion that comes if you are really good and can connect to the writers.
  • Steel’s website – Steel Restaurants’ websites have been great at not only providing people information about the restaurants, but also setting the tone for what they are all about. The look and feel is a reflection of the actual environment. Steel Restaurant also puts a lot of effort in SEO (Search Engine Optimization) to improve their organic search result ranking.
  • Open Table – allows the collection of names through reservations which Steel follows up on by sending emails to visitors – especially those that take the time to write a review.
  • Radio – Steel doesn’t pay for any radio advertising, but does encourage radio personalities to come in and get a first hand experience of the restaurant, which frequently leads to on air mentions. Jamie has been able to help connect to these personalities.
  • Print Promotions – Steel doesn’t pay for promotions in print publications either, but has been able to work out a gift certificate trade program with some – notably Sunday Paper. He provides them with gift certificates in exchange for print promotions and they use the gift certificates in giveaways and resell them at a discount. This allows effectiveness to be measured by tracking the certificates that are redeemed. Overall, however, Chuck “doesn’t believe in print anymore,” it’s just too expensive for a single restaurant.
  • Direct Mail – the only mailing that Steel has participated in is with Welcome Mat Services that delivers special offers to people moving into certain zip codes. Steel offered a $20 off voucher with a “Welcome to the Neighborhood” message, which tied in well with Atlanta’s neighborhood mentality. An added benefit is that Steel gets the demographic and address information for the people that redeem the coupon.
  • Special Offer Book – Chuck is also providing a 2 for 1 special offer, included in a promotions book sold to corporations. Extending these offers is unusual for higher end restaurants, but he believes that there are more people using coupons now than ever before and it gives him a conduit to get new people in the door, stun them with Steel’s offering and turn them into patrons. These deals require no money up front, however, he carefully monitors the other restaurants that are included to make sure he is less susceptible to brand dilution.
  • Hotel concierges – Concierges are trusted by hotel guests and Steel Restaurant builds relationships with them by hosting special events, sending them gift bags and occasionally comp’ing their meal when they visit. Referrals can be tracked in Open Table to determine who is driving business to Steel and they treat referred guests as VIP’s through little touches such as providing a complementary glass of Champagne “from the concierge.”
  • Taxi Appreciation Day – At one point, Chuck distributed free lunches to the taxi drivers of Atlanta in an effort to increase word of mouth. In hind site, this doesn’t seem like it was very effective, but when friends of his asked a cab driver if he knew about Steel, the cabbie told them about the promotion (“Steel really cares about us”). It didn’t have a huge return, but the point is to be creative.
  • Membership discounts – Steel offers a variety of discount programs to different groups. For example, Mid Town Alliance members receive a 10% discount and residents of Plaza Midtown receive a 20% discount.
  • Cause Marketing - Steel is a proponent of helping local charities, not only because of the exposure that it provides them, but also because of the opportunity to give back to the community. They have helped raise money for non-profits through work with organizations such as  Camp Twin Lakes, Backpacks in the Park (sponsored by For the Kid), Toys for Tots, AID Atlanta, Jerusalem House, Breast Cancer Walks, Lymphoma Society, Community in Schools (Dine out for Kids), and Zoo Atlanta. This has included contributing to silent auctions as well as hosting events where Steel donates the food/venue and a percentage of the bar to the charity.

Viral and Social Network Marketing

The bar at Steel Restaurant Atlanta

The bar at Steel Restaurant Atlanta

Viral and social network marketing is, in general, very valuable, but takes time. Chuck believes you have to schedule for these activities or these efforts are likely to fall between the cracks. Also, the staff must be part of the game plan, so he encourages activities like the collection of  customer feedback cards to build a patron database – creating ongoing relationships with patrons needs to be part of the culture.

  • Email Campaigns - email addresses are collected through Open Table and customer comment cards and followed with periodic emails. Chuck’s rule is no more than 2 messages a month and Steel Restaurant is working on developing more involved newsletters that provide comprehensive information about the restaurants and what they have going on to keep patrons plugged-in.
  • Local Search (i.e. Citysearch and Yelp) – Steel has been active on both Citysearch and Yelp (paying about $300/month), but tracking the performance of these sites has led Chuck to believe there is not a lot of value beyond the features that are offered for free. The most notable advantage has been the ability to monitor user posts, especially negative ones, so that Steel can resolve issues and ideally connect to individuals directly. He’s gone as far as, after receiving a negative review, calling every person with an Open Table reservation from the previous night to find the reviewer and offer to make things right.
  • Facebook – both Steel Dallas and Atlanta have Facebook pages – tapping into social networks – that have provided decent activity related to user posts and promotions. They don’t have a lot of fans, but “the ones that are on there are the most loyal.”
  • Twitter – with over 1,200 followers on Twitter, even if a fraction of Steel’s posts are seen, it provides a way to stay on patrons’ minds.

NOTE: Steel’s willingness to provide special offers is worth highlighting. Many higher end restaurants resist this idea because of concerns about how it reflects on their brand, but Chuck makes the point that things are different now – “who pays full price nowadays?” When you live in a world where Macy’s is having 50% off sales, he believes you need to change to meet the market’s demands.

Leverage

Wasabi Booth at Steel Restaurant Atlanta

Wasabi Booth at Steel Restaurant Atlanta

Chuck believes that word of mouth is “the most important thing of all.”  Good word of mouth leads to returning customers, event bookings, and referrals. Making it easier for patrons to spread the word is the responsibility of the organization.

  • Social networks like Facebook allow for news and upcoming events to be rapidly shared with the click of a button
  • Twitter allows information to be “re-tweeted” easily
  • Email thank you’s keep Steel Restaurant on people’s minds and makes it easy for them to respond, forward the email to friends, or click to make another reservation
  • Email newsletters can also be easily forwarded

Some of the tools that help build the email database are:

  • Open Table – Open Table serves as a valuable funnel of email information on patrons reserving through the site.
  • Mailing cards – Steel also encourages patrons to fill in survey cards with their information that can be entered into their contact list for email or physical mail follow ups.

Connect

The most obvious connection points to patrons is their time in the restaurant, but in this competitive market, taking the extra steps required to maintain a dialog is a huge advantage. Chuck’s dialog focuses on:

  • Being Appreciative. Call, email, or send a card to guests after their visit using information from Open Table, your POS system, or customer comment cards. Show them that you value their business.
  • Being Informative. Keep them informed about the organization using email campaigns, but DO NOT ABUSE THIS. No more than 2 a month.
  • Feeding those with passion. Provide a way to connect with your most passionate patrons; being active on Facebook and Twitter allows people to choose how they want to interact with you. Think about it this way, if you try this and no one signs up, then you didn’t annoy anyone. However, if you have patrons that want to actively be informed about what your organization is up to real time, whether you understand it or not, why not feed their zeal?

Steel Restaurant Dallas' bar

Steel Restaurant Dallas' bar

Simplify

Throughout this interview, it became obvious how many things Chuck focuses on to make Steel successful. Obviously, anything that can simplify this helps a lot and here are some of his tricks.

Non-technology

  • Add process and structure – having procedures in place so that employees know what to expect helps to streamline operations. This includes managing work schedules, taking monthly physical inventory, systematizing ordering and delivery processes, etc. People like structure and knowing what to expect.
  • Be flexible. While structure is important, don’t be so rigid that it stifles the patron experience, let the staff do their job.
  • Partner with people that make life easier. Find partners that understand their success is intertwined with yours and that are willing to go the extra mile. For example:
    • Cat Chang performs every Friday night at Steel Restaurant Atlanta and promotes herself in addition to Steel’s efforts.
    • National Distributing is a vendor that works with Steel to build a wine strategy, comes in to dine and refers others to visit – Chuck does business with people that do business with him.

Technology

  • POS – Steel uses Aloha POS, which provides information on not only what food items are popular, but the activity of various discount programs and analysis of Net sells derived from those programs.
  • Open Table – Open Table provides information on guests, including phone number, email address, birth dates, etc. This makes it easier to build your patron database, which in turn enables you to Connect and Leverage word of mouth.

Success

Using metrics to find out what promotional tools are successful and the aspects of your organization that are working – and those that aren’t – is critical. Steel has a robust framework in place for this, with a focus on efforts that show quantitative results.

  • User comment cards. This is low-tech, but can provide great feedback for detailing people’s in-house experience.
  • Special Offer redemption. Steel tracks who is redeeming special offers and where those offers are coming from. This closes the loop for their efforts and let’s them know where to focus more resources.
  • Web Activity. Steel actively monitors how active their Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, and Citysearch profiles are and tracks how people are finding their website (through Google Analytics). Instead of paying a online reputation management company approximately $2,000 a month to do this, they have enlisted the help of a Georgia Tech student that provides them with monthly reports.
  • POS – Aloha provides metrics for what menu items are popular and which are not, helping to refine Steel’s offering to meet the demands of patrons. It also allows them to track the special offers previously mentioned.
  • Open Table – this has provided a wealth of information about patrons and the frequency of their visits.

Words of Advice

Dining room at Steel Restaurant Dallas

Dining room at Steel Restaurant Dallas

Chuck believes that you first must be passionate about what you do. Beyond that, he advises:

  • Don’t just say you are customer driven, be customer driven to obtain repeat business.
  • Stay committed to quality, no matter what.
  • Your people are your best asset and mediocre people equal a mediocre business.  Take great care of your staff and spend the time to choose them wisely.
  • Organization and structure is critical – watch your pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves.

Connect with Steel and Chuck Kneeland

Steel Atlanta

Located in Plaza Midtown at the corner of 9th and West Peachtree
950 West Peachtree St
Suite 255
Atlanta GA 30309
(view map)

Steel Dallas

Located in The Centrum Building at intersection of Welborn and Hall
3102 Oak Lawn Avenue
Suite 100
Dallas, TX 75219
(view map)

Steel Restaurant Atlanta: www.steelatlanta.com
Steel Restaurant Dallas: www.steeldallas.com
Chuck Kneeland on LinkedIn
Twitter: twitter.com/steelrestaurant
Steel Atlanta on Facebook
Steel Dallas on Facebook

Upcoming Events

Dallas

  • Monday – Thursday, 5:30-7:00 PM – Sunsets at Steel. 3-course dinner for $30.
  • Wednesday nights, 5:30-7:00 PM – Sushi Night. Complementary Sushi and happy hour specials on Steel specialty cocktails, beer and hot Sake.
  • Thursday nights, 5:30 PM – close – Kampai Thursdays. 50% off Sake by the bottle.
  • August 14-30Restaurant Week 2009. Prixe Fixe, 3 course meal for $35 that benefits North Texas Food Bank.

Atlanta

  • Monday – Saturday, 5:00-6:30 PM. Pre-Theater Menu. 2-course menu for $19.95 or 3-course menu for $24.95.
  • Wednesday 5:00-7:00 PM. Steel Happy Hour. Complementary Sushi and signature cocktails.
  • Friday 10PM until. Fantasy Fridays with Cat Chang. Live on piano and mic… check her out at http://catchang.com/.
  • August 5, 2009. Participating in Taste of Asia’s Public Tasting at Macy’s.
  • August 29 – September 6, 2009. Participating in Midtown Restaurant Week.
  • August 20, 2009 . Participating in  Dine out For Kids. Helps to raise money for Communities in Schools.
  • TBA. 2 year anniversary party
  • Lots more !

Background

Chuck Kneeland started his career as a waiter paying his way through the University of Texas, which led to bar tending and night club management. After graduation, he spent a brief time at 3M before returning to the restaurant industry:

  • He began by working for Sfuzzi in Dallas in the late 80′s. This grew from one restaurant to about 19 across the U.S. and Chuck moved up in the organization.
  • He then moved on to Lettuce Entertain You out of Chicago which was bought by Brinker International, leading to a role with the Maggiano’s division. He worked there for 7 years in Chicago, D.C., and ultimately ended up opening the Maggiano’s in Atlanta.
  • In 2001, Chuck opened an Italian restaurant in the West Village (Dallas) called Ferre’ with his current business partner, Patrick Colombo (founder of Sfuzzi). This was followed by a wine bar next door called Cru.
  • Steel Restaurant in Dallas was owned by one of the investors from Ferre’ and Cru – Mike Chen – and was struggling, so Chuck helped turn the restaurant around, creating a successful sushi restaurant in a market with very strong existing players.
  • After turning Steel Dallas around, Chuck decided to expand the concept to Atlanta, which he was familiar with from his Maggiano’s days. He felt that there was a hole in the Atlanta market that Steel could fill and they opened in November 2007.

Chuck is also the Vice President of Restaurant Works – a restaurant management/ownership company founded by Patrick Colombo that, is involved with Steel Atlanta, Steel Dallas, Victory Tavern in Dallas, Ferre’ in Fort Worth and Cru’s multiple locations.

Chuck continues to focus on the growth of Steel Restaurant Atlanta, but is also considering how to expand the concept in addition to growing the other properties associated with Restaurant Works.

Shout Outs

Steel Restaurant & Lounge on Urbanspoon You can also see this interview from Urbanspoon.

Janice Provost – owner of Parigi in Dallas, TX

Janice Provost at Parigi

Janice Provost at Parigi

Janice Provost committed to continuing the legacy of Parigi – a Dallas, TX icon for 25 years – in 2001 and has succeeded in keeping the restaurant at the fore front of the city’s fine dining. This is no easy task given the diverse population of the Oak Lawn / Turtle Creek neighborhood that is home for some very discriminating palates, but Janice has been able to merge the founding philosophy of Parigi – fun, delicious food with an environment that makes everyone feel at home – with a drive to constantly update not only the menu, but the physical space to continually surprise and please her patrons.

In our interview, Janice shares some of her insights on how to run a long lasting organization and build the relationships that lead to success. Listen to the entire interview here (may take a few seconds to load)

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Audience

Parigi serving beautiful food

Parigi serving beautiful food

Parigi’s location on Oak Lawn between Cedar Springs and Lemmon guarantees a diverse clientele. This includes people that have been coming to the restaurant for 25 years and consider it a part of their family life. Also included are empty nesters, business professionals, the gay community, employees from places like The Design Center, and visitors staying at various, upscale hotels in the area. However, Parigi is also a destination restaurant that draws patrons from more distant areas of Dallas.

The one thing they all have in common is an interest in high quality and exciting food in an environment that feels like a extended family.

Promotions

Promotions is always a challenge, especially when combined with all of the other demands of restaurant ownership. Here is a quick checklist of Janice’s experience:

Parigi's menu board

Parigi's menu board

  • Print advertising – Parigi has experimented with print advertising, but doesn’t do it anymore, mostly because there is no way to determine how effective it is.
  • PR – when Parigi does appear in printed publications, it’s when an article is written about them. Helping fuel this – in addition to just having a great business – is Cause Marketing, such as participating in non-profit events and ongoing support for organizations like the Dallas Youth Village, which helps troubled youths learn social responsibility.
  • Parigi’s website – this provides a place on the web for comprehensive restaurant information and menus submitted to the web developer are generally updated within 24 hours to keep things current.
  • Local Search – (Zagat, CitySearch, Yelp, etc) Janice does Google Parigi to get an idea of what these sites say about the restaurant, but doesn’t actively manage a profile on any of these sites. She believes in the power of these sites and is interested in them, but it’s been a challenge to find the time that this management requires.
  • Email Campaigns. Parigi does use email, but is very sensitive to over saturation. Once a week is too much, they target a monthly newsletter that combines various information at once.
  • Blog – The Parigi blog gives an opportunity to express a more personal side, but time is something everyone has a shortage of. Janice is a big fan, but it does take a lot of effort.

Parigi's pation on Oak Lawn

Parigi's pation on Oak Lawn

Leverage

Word of mouth is “huge” when it comes to being successful and there are some ways Janice recommends fostering the process:

  • Be Awesome. Give a great experience and people will tell friends, but keep in mind – people will tell a friend about a great experience and 10 friends about a bad one.
  • Hotel concierges – Janice has some experience with this and thinks it can be very effective. While Parigi has a great relationship with some of the local hotels, such as The Melrose and The Mansion, there are steps that can be taken to improve these relationships:
    • Host special events for local concierges so they are more familiar with what you offer
    • Make sure they have menus and other promotional material
    • Thank them for sending patrons your way with a note or even a gift certificate
  • Social Networking. Parigi maintains a profile on Facebook that allows them to share information with “fans.” In fact, Janice believes that  telling friends and fans on Facebook that Parigi was nominated by WFAA for “Best New American Restaurant” helped them win the honor, showing how passionate patrons can be mobilized.
  • Twitter – she’s looked into using Twitter, but hasn’t decided on how to incorporate it into the promotional strategy.

Connect

Parigi’s current philosophy is that connecting to patrons happens when they are in the restaurant, so that experience needs to be amazing. This includes providing a great and comfortable environment, amazing food and stellar service. Janice would like to enhance this by connecting in ways that extend beyond the in-restaurant period, but when juggling all of the other facets of the business, time is limited.

Entice

Sample Parigi dishes

Sample Parigi dishes

Parigi entices clientele with:

  • The Food – the food obviously must be tremendous and Janice lives up to this demand. High quality food, a menu that changes weekly and willingness to explore different ideas (such as blending Italian, French, Indian and Asian influences in creative ways) keeps things new, exciting and delicious.
  • Ties to the Community. Janice believes in supporting the local community that supports her. This includes sourcing many ingredients locally, displaying the works of local artists and supporting various non-profit activities.
  • Longevity and quality of staff. The staff – referred to as Team Parigi – mostly consists of people that have been at the restaurant for over a year. This focus on employee relationships helps to insure smooth operations and is supported by treating the staff like family.
  • Personalized relationships. Part of the staff’s responsibility is to build relationships with their patrons. This includes knowing their faces, names, what they like to drink or even how they like their fish cooked. It’s all about creating “comfort in feeling like they’re home.”
  • Keep things Fresh. Every year, from July 3-10, Parigi closes and gets a make over to keep the environment “fresh.”

Inside Parigi

Inside Parigi

Simplify

There are a few things that help Parigi simplify operations:

  • POS System - Parigi uses Triangle POS which helps to identify what menu items are being successful, but is no replacement for listening to customers. The system itself is pretty good, although there have been some problems with customer service.
  • Reservation Management – Janice thinks that reservation systems like Open Table are great, but isn’t convinced that it’s flexible enough to handle the dynamics of Parigi where tables are constantly rearranged to accommodate patrons. Plus, the added hardware would make for a tight fit in the intimate space. She is sticking to the pencil and paper tables chart, although she would like to be able to capture patron information like birthdays and anniversaries – right now this is done through customer survey cards.
  • Great Accountant. A great accountant is indispensable and keeps things organized.
  • Great vendors. Parigi is lucky enough to have vendors that are responsive and have the same discerning taste as the owners. Vendors that you can trust save time by paying attention to your best interests for you.

Success

The ultimate measure of success is a packed house with happy patrons. Beyond that, Parigi doesn’t measure many metrics, although the call to action on Facebook for the WFAA competition does provide feedback on effort versus results. Janice also thinks that measuring things like web traffic can be valuable, but it is a question of having the time to focus on that information.

Words of Advice

Janice recommends running a small restaurant so you can focus on the patrons. Beyond that, be passionate, hire the right people, serve food you are proud of, and keep your patrons and employees happy.

Connect with Parigi’s and Janice Provost

Location (view map)
3311 Oak Lawn Ave # 102
Dallas, TX 75219-4200
(214) 521-0295

Website: http://www.parigirestaurant.com/
Blog: http://parigidallas.blogspot.com/
Facebook Group: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Dallas-TX/Parigi-Restaurant/47213581430?ref=search
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/janice-provost/10/a36/434

Upcoming Events

September 25, 2009 @ 12:30 PM – Janice Provost will appear at Texas State Fair Celebrity Chef Demo

October 18, 2009 @ 12:30 – Chad Houser will appear at the Texas State Fair Celebrity Chef Demo

October 24, 2009 – Parigi offers extended sidewalk seating for the Oak Lawn Halloween Block Party. This is the restaurant’s biggest event of the year for what is described as the biggest Halloween party in the country, where patrons get to have table service and see some of the most outrageous costumes around. If you want a seat, be fore warned that people make reservations a year in advance.

Background

Janice and Chad - owners of Parigi

Janice and Chad - owners of Parigi

After receiving her Marketing and Merchandising degree from Stephen F. Austin State University, Janice Provost worked in sales for 12 years. Her love of cooking and entertaining led her to cooking classes at El Centro College in Dallas, which helped Janice get her foot in the door by working for free at a local restaurant. Eventually, she was noticed by Parigi’s Executive Chef – Melody Wolfertz - who gave Janice a once a week paying job doing prep work. From that point, she worked her way up the kitchen hierarchy until, after 9/11 when she bought the restaurant and partnered with Abraham Salum as the Executive Chef.

After 3 years, Abraham moved on to pursue other opportunities and Janice added Executive Chef to her role as owner. Last year, she added Chad Houser as a partner to help continue the growing restaurant and catering business – both sharing the same vision and passion for food.

Shout Out’s

Parigi on Urbanspoon You can also see this interview on UrbanSpoon.

Salah Ananse – DJ, producer and promoter

DJ Salah Ananse

DJ Salah Ananse

DJ Salah Ananse spins at venues around the world – from Brazil to London to Ethiopia to his home town of Atlanta. He is a DJ, producer and promoter and constantly faces the challenges of running organizations and getting butts in seats. I spent some time with him at Spice Market in the W Midtown and he shared his experience about how to be successful. For all of the details, listen to the full interview

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Promotion

Being both a DJ and promoter, Salah is constantly facing the challenge of how to deal with promotions – and has been successful through innovation. He has a diverse toolbox that includes:

Social Networking

Salah in Action

Salah in Action

“The most important thing about building your business through social networking is you want a targeted audience; you want someone that’s going to respond to what you’re giving out … unless it’s something targeted to my audience, I’m not really worried about it.”

There can be a lot of noise in social networking. When you consider Facebook’s blending of people poking you and asking you to join their mafia, the promotional message can get lost. These networks connect you to everything that is related to everyone you know and it can be difficult to focus attention on connecting to those that are interested in getting out of the house and showing up at your events. Salah breaks it down like this:

  • Myspace – He used to use MySpace, but has moved away from it.. it’s no longer that effective.
  • Facebook – Facebook is still a great way to promote. He lists his upcoming events, updates his status for more unique events, and has a group page. He recommends keeping the information fresh by including new photos, videos and and links to free music. However, his biggest complaint is that Facebook has a more passive audience. People check it occasionally and announcements can get lost in the noise of the friend feed. He’s been moving more and more to Twitter.
  • Twitter – this is where Salah sees the most opportunity. Twitter users are more likely to be monitoring their friend feed and he believes they are more active and more likely to be looking for things to do in the real world. The people that he follows and that follow him are “in a community that feeds off of each other.”

Other Technologies

DJ Salah Ananse

DJ Salah Ananse

Beyond social networking, Salah uses a number of other technologies, creating a diverse blend of connection points to his audience.

  • SMS – sending text messages should be limited to more intimate messages versus a mass broadcast. He uses this to connect to individuals that he wants to personally invite. One major thing to avoid is overloading people – he doesn’t want to hear from a DJ that is spinning on Monday and then again on Thursday – use in moderation.
  • Email campaigns – These can be very effective, but again should be used in moderation. Try to send no more than one email every 1-2 weeks and include a consolidation of everything you have going on. Don’t take advantage of your fans’ patience and wear them out.
  • RSS – rss allows subscribers to digest your information when they are ready to, is less intrusive, and still keeps people informed about what’s going on. If and when they are ready to connect to you, they have a single place they can look to find information about what’s going on without all the noise. Salah is implementing rss on his new site.

Salah is always looking at new ways to use technology as well. One idea he is actively working on is being able to extend special offers through SMS so that people can get benefits like no cover to his shows and RSVP through their phones.

The Human Touch

For some things, there is no substitute. Getting to know people on a personal level and being a great person is the first step in building an audience. People need to love your music and you. Turning your fans into friends helps to insure that people show up and builds connections that get you gigs.

Leverage

Word of mouth is “the most effective form of promotion, no matter what anyone comes up with.” This ties back into the Human Touch as well as using viral social networking tools and real world conversations. Putting something in people’s hands is also a key part of this. A fan telling him that they need a new CD because some girl stole the old one is a metric of success.

Audience

DJ Salah formal

DJ Salah formal

Salah describes his audience as ranging from 18-45 and educated. This is fertile ground for his intelligent music that blends house, soul, hip hop, salsa and Reggae. Although he does do some lounge, his patrons mostly come to him to dance. The gigs that he gets are mostly clubs, some restaurants, larger events (like opening for Dave Chapelle 8 times) and corporate events including Hennessy, Lincoln Properties and even Whole Foods.

Connect

Social networking combined with real world interaction allows Salah to keep connected to his patrons. Providing people with a great experience keeps them coming back for more.

Entice

Give people music that makes them dance and be a reliable resource for venue owners that fits with the vibe they are trying to build and draws crowds – that is the magic enticement blend.

Simplify

Salah uses the technology tools already mentioned to simplify promotions, but also has some tools of the trade to make DJ’ing easier. Most notably is Serato that allows him to perform with only his laptop in hand – critical when you are traveling internationally for a show and don’t want to drag around vinyl or CD’s. In fact, it is a prerequisite for all of the DJ’s that work for Salah.

Success

DJ Salah spinning

DJ Salah spinning

Success is fundamentally measured by how many people show up and if they are on the dance floor. Effectiveness of different promotional tools can be loosely measured by the amount of activity on the social networks, including retweets, RSVP’s to events, comments on past events, and the fan base of his Facebook group.

Final Words of Advice

Music always comes first, but DJ’s need to also be aware that they are Personalities. They need to connect on a personal level to their fans, look the part for venue owners and event organizers, and do a lot of leg work interacting with people and promoting to be successful. For promotions, it is critical to reach your target audience effectively and to respect them – connect with them on their terms and don’t beat people over the head with announcements.

Background

Salah Ananse was a child actor and actively involved in dance and promotion since he was very young. He broke into the scene with the help of his DJ friends that gave him access to gigs and he worked his way up by building strong friendships and being good at what he does. He is a DJ, producer and promoter – through his organization Soul Sessions which has worked with people like Erykah Badu and Rafael Saadiq.

Upcoming Events

Residencies

Other Events

Connect with DJ Salah

Website: www.salahananse.com
Soul Sessions: www.soulsessions.com
Twitter: www.twitter.com/salahananse
Myspace: www.myspace.com/salahananse
Salah on LinkedIn
Salah on Facebook

Shout Outs

  • Dave Chappelle – just a great guy to work with
  • Anthony David – Grammy nominated singer
  • D.R.E.S. tha BEATnik – hype man based in Atlanta
  • Sean Alvarez from swanksociety.com - great people to collaborate with. Check out Swank Society’s page and hear music that will get you through your work day or party night.
  • DJ Kwestanother great collaborator.
  • Mausiki Scales – Jazz/Afro-beat musician that Salah is collaborating with on album, due out in August
  • The Tabernacle – Salah always has a great time spinning at this venue in downtown Atlanta
  • Sugar Hill – although closed now, this was a great venue with great people
  • Jazz Cafe – the amazing venue in London is a great experience for any artist

Clint Bradley – running a vacation rental property

Tres Vistas pool and front door

Tres Vistas pool and front door

Owning a vacation rental property seems like a tempting investment and, at first glance, might seem pretty straightforward:

  • Buy a place where you love to vacation
  • Rent it out when you aren’t there

However, it’s not that simple – as Clint Bradley from Dallas, TX discusses in this interview. He is one of the owners of Tres Vistas in Puerto Vallarta, MX – a luxury, 5 bedroom, 3 story house that overlooks the city and has great ocean views. He spends from 5 to 10 hours per week on work related to the house – from booking reservations to managing employees to accounting – and trips to PV are now only partial vacations that also involve a lot of house maintenance activities. Like all organizations, he constantly struggles with getting butts in seats, or in this case, bodies in beds. Here are some of the highlights from the interview, but you can also listen to it in its entirety

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Promotion

The fundamental challenge of getting butts in seats obviously applies to vacation rental owners. Some of Clint’s successes have come from:

  • Reservation sitesvrbo.com (Vacation Rental By Owner) is perhaps the most well known and Clint estimates it is responsible for a majority of their reservations, with listings typically costing $300-$500/year. Hotels.com also offer these services, although other players like Travelocity and Expedia don’t. Yelp and CitySearch offer solutions for multi-unit “guest houses” and even bed and breakfasts, but not much for individual vacation rentals and no listings in most countries outside of the U.S..
  • Tres Vistas own website – Tres Vistas also has its own website that provides comprehensive information about the property, but keeping this site up to date with new pictures and information can be time consuming due to the coordination that needs to happen with the web developer.
  • Rental agencies – local rental agencies result in approximately 10% of bookings and take about 20% of the reservation total as a fee.
  • Word of mouth – it’s estimated that this delivers about 10-15% of their yearly bookings

Clint has largely avoided social network sites like Facebook because he is not convinced that the time commitment to maintain information on yet another site would be worth the effort.

Leverage

Tres Vistas' living room

Tres Vistas' living room

When people consider vacationing in a different country, there can be some insecurity about finding a reliable place to stay. Word of mouth is one of the most effective ways to address this and there are some ways Tres Vistas facilitates the buzz:

  • Make friends and acquaintances aware of the vacation property. This doesn’t have to be a hard sell, but actually knowing the property owner does reduce some of the perceived risk.
  • Have business cards that indicate where more information can be seen online about the property as well as reservation contact info.
  • Show people the property. Clint has used Tres Vistas to host several parties for friends and family. This gives him a chance to let people see for themselves what the property has to offer.
  • Encourage guests to comment on their stay at Tres Vistas on sites like VRBO.com.

Tres Vistas' 3-storied balconies

Tres Vistas' 3-storied balconies

Audience

Tres Vistas is a free standing house that can very comfortably sleep 12. While the house would still feel comfortable for a couple, it is intended for larger groups – possibly family gatherings, a group of friends on an adventure weekend or even as a private party venue.

The amenities (see the list below) are geared to make this a luxury home away from home. Tres Vistas wants every living need to be met – from WiFi to an available staff that can do grocery shopping or translation for you – so that guests can focus on their vacation. The full laundry room, walk in pantry and Wii with a high definition TV are all examples of attention to the target audience’s needs.

Connect

Tres Vistas relies on the Promotional tools already mentioned to connect to their patrons and, by delivering a great experience, helps to insure that guests will come back again and tell their friends.

Entice

The main terrace of Tres Vistas

The main terrace of Tres Vistas

This is simple. Tres Vistas entices its audience by offering a home-like situation… if you have a luxury home complete with staff. Otherwise, they offer the home you wish you had except that it is in the heart of a great Puerto Vallarta neighborhood with amazing views – a taste of the good life.

In addition, guests receive unique concierge benefits that go beyond well beyond good service. One example is that visitors are met at the airport by a bi-lingual taxi driver that knows exactly where the house is and will even have a drink run out to the cab on the way there. The house man greets them once they arrive, gives them a tour of the house, and coordinates with them to determine what groceries they may need and what time they would like to have breakfast served (should they want that).

Simplify

Tools like vrbo.com help to track reservations and keep potential guests informed about availability, although this information has to be kept up to date when reservations come in from other sources. Also, Paypal offers an easy to set up and manage merchant service account which allows Clint to process credit cards with little effort.

Success

Success is measured, obviously, by the number of reservations that are booked. Clint keeps track of how guests discover Tres Vistas and eliminates promotional tools that don’t perform.  He’s constantly trying new ways to attract guests (including sites like craigslist) and fine tunes to get the best results. Also, as more guests visit Tres Vistas, there is a growing fan base that makes organic reservations more common.

Final Words of Advice

Throughout my conversations with Clint, several key pieces of advice emerged for anyone considering operating a vacation rental.

  • It is a business like any other and requires attention and work. You have to promote, stay focused on providing guests with a great experience, manage the upkeep of the property, manage staff and workers, and deal with management of reservations. It’s nice to have a place you can getaway to a few times a year, but be aware that these will be working vacations.
  • Make sure you choose a property somewhere that you love to be.
  • Look at the market and try to find gaps. If there is a glut of 1 and 2 bedroom rentals, look for a larger property and vice versa.
  • Constantly try new ways to connect to likely patrons. You never know what might work.
  • Especially if you are considering a property in a foreign country, make sure you have staff or other resources that can help guests get plugged into the local community and act as a translator if needed. Make it easy for them to get the most out of their vacation.

Connect to Clint and Tres Vistas

Features

Tres Vistas pool at night

Tres Vistas pool at night

Tres Vistas is in a more traditional part of Puerto Vallarta – Zona Romantica. Different from the tourist areas that consist of homogenous shops, condos, etc, their location is surrounded by traditional family dwellings as well as multi-million dollar villas. In addition to the location advantage, the house itself offers stunning features.

Click above for more pics…
Amenities

  • 3 stories with balconies
  • A/C: 7 units
  • 800 thread count linens
  • Washer/Dryer
  • Gas/Electric grill
  • Pool/hot tub/ fireplace
  • WiFi
  • Free calls to U.S.

Beds

  • 3 King beds
  • 1 Queen bed
  • 2 Double beds

Entertainment

  • Dish Network Cable throughout
  • TV/DVD’s in all bedrooms
  • 2 public area TV’s
  • Wii Game station
  • CD players in all bedrooms
  • Living room/pool area stereo system
Kitchen

  • SS Fridge/Freezer
  • Ice Maker (filtered)
  • 6 burner gas stove
  • Oven
  • Double sink
  • 4-slice toaster
  • Coffee maker
  • Blender
  • Microwave
  • Cooking utensils, dishes, etc.
  • Water Cooler

Staff

  • Daily housekeeping
  • Prepared breakfast
  • House man/concierge

View

  • Ocean
  • Mountain
  • City
Local Activities

  • Golf
  • Beach
  • Zip Line/Canopy tours
  • Restaurants
  • Swimming
  • Windsurfing
  • Live Theater
  • Shopping
  • Gyms
  • Boating
  • Snorkeling/Diving
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Health/Beauty Spa
  • Horseback Riding
  • Sightseeing
  • Parasailing
  • Surfing
  • Fishing
  • Cinemas/Movie Theaters

Shout Outs

Stephanie Huebinger LudlowHuebinger Photography Studios, Round Rock, TX (Austin). When you rely on photos to convince people that your vacation rental is the best choice, having a great photographer is critical. Stephanie has been a great friend and huge help in promoting Tres Vistas.

The people of Puerto Vallarta – Clint credits the people of Puerto Vallarta for being so friendly and helpful to visitors. While the weather and house are great, the people of the city make the experience that much more enjoyable.

DJ Rodd Summers – Ambience Amplifier

On the 1's and 2's at Top Flr

On the 1's and 2's at Top Flr

Like hipsters without ironic t-shirts or sundaes without Reddi-Wip topping, a great night out just isn’t complete without the right music. DJ Rodd Summers has spent over 15 years creating the soundtracks that keep heads bobbing while conversations flow.

I met Rodd at Danneman’s coffee shop in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward neighborhood to talk about his experiences and see what insights he might have to offer the DJ’s and other organizations in the Community. Below is the summary, but you’re missing out if you don’t listen to 24-minute interview in its entirety

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Promotions

Rodd is a people person… and I mean he is really a people person. It seems like every time I go out, he’s there and knows everyone. If he doesn’t know someone, he’ll chat them up before the night is out. That’s how he promotes – he gets to know people and lets them know where he’s spinning … face to face.

Recently, he’s been sending out event announcements through Facebook, which has had some success, but emails and text messages are out. He’s found that people just get tired of receiving them. He’s also been considering using a publicist that can help him get the word out more effectively, but this is in its early stages.

Leverage

Rodd relies on word of mouth. He tells people where he is spinning, they tell and bring their friends and the intrinsic viral nature of Facebook helps the message spread digitally.

Audience

There seem to be two type of DJ’s – those that are centerpieces and those, like Rodd,  that become an integrated part of a venue’s overall experience. The same way a wine is selected to complement a meal or lighting is used to set the right mood, Rodd designs his sets to fit the atmosphere, with a big emphasis on Soul, Funk, and Jazz. When talking about his Friday and Saturday sessions at the Drink Shop in the W downtown, he says he “designs songs around the cocktails” which is what the Drink Shop is all about.

The venues that he chooses can be classified as the urban lounge scene. The demographics vary, but are generally professionals from the mid-20′s and up, people that are looking for the stage to be set to socialize. He describes his audience as people that like “intelligent music” they can listen to while chilling with friends – perfect lounge scene philosophy.

Connect

The game plan for connecting to his audience is simple:

  • Get to know people on a personal level and keep them informed about where you are spinning.
  • Have a consistent schedule so your audience knows what nights you will be performing at specific venues.
  • Connect to them by delivering the right sound for the atmosphere.

Entice

Rodd’s model for enticement is also simple – provide the sounds that help make people’s nights out perfect by amplifying the overall vibe of the venue. He places a priority on taking the pulse of the room throughout the night so he can mesh his music with the ebb and flow of the crowd.

Simplify

While he started off spinning vinyl (records), Rodd has now moved on to using CD’s which makes queuing up songs faster and greatly reduces the bulk of what he has to bring to a gig. He also has his eye on incorporating a Mac that would allow him to bring 50,000 songs to a gig versus maybe a few thousand on CD. It would also allow him to use newer tools like Ableton Live, Traktor DJ, and Serato.

Regarding the debate over vinyl versus newer technology, Rodd says, “it’s not about what you use, it’s about the music you play… that’s it.”

Success

Success is measured by the number of butts in seats, however Rodd makes a point to mention that venues need to be patient on growing their audience with a new, weekly DJ. In the same way that changing your entire menu produces results over time – as people learn about the update – a new DJ takes time to build an audience for their nights.

Final Words of Advice

Go out and meet people and talk about the music you are passionate about. Invite people out personally.

Upcoming Events

Wednesdays
Top Flr – 9PM until.
Mid-town chill with Jazz, Soul and Funk
http://www.topflr.com/
674 Myrtle St View Map
Atlanta, GA 30308
404.685.3110

Thursdays
Whiskey Blue @ The W – Buckhead – 10PM until.
Indie pop that you won’t hear on the radio
3377 Peachtree Rd. NE View Map
Atlanta, GA 30326
678.500.3100

Fridays and Saturdays
The Drink Shop @ the W – Downtown Atlanta – 9PM until
Funk, Soul, electronic, with a heavy emphasis on Jazz
45 Ivan Allen Jr. Boulevard View Map
Atlanta, GA 30308
404.582.5800

Connect with Rodd Summers

Facebook: facebook.com/roddsummers

Twitter: twitter.com/RoddSummers

Shout Outs

Here are some of the people Rodd has worked with that stand out as being awesome in Atlanta

Etc…

Listen to the entire interview to hear more a lot more, including:

  • How to start out as a DJ
  • How to find gigs
  • How to get compensated
  • What to look out for

Jake’s Ice Cream – Jake Rothschild’s Atlanta Ice Cream Dream

On June 3, 2009, I had the opportunity to sit down with Jake Rothschild – a serial entrepreneur in Atlanta that started Jake’s Ice Cream 10 years ago. Since that time, he has grown the company to 3 locations and established distribution deals with local businesses as well as national chains. Here are some of the highlights and advice he offers other organizations – sorted into the CC: ScoreCard.

Click here to listen to the whole interview

Jake's Ice Cream

Jake's Ice Cream

PROMOTIONS

Where should time and money be spent regarding promotions?

  • Traditional Advertising – Jake is not a fan of advertising with media like printed publications, TV, and radio. Historically, this hasn’t produced great results for him and there are no real metrics that can be measured to determine the effectiveness of these efforts… no traditional advertising for this ice cream business.
  • Online Advertising – this experience consists of working with Citysearch and, to some degree, Yelp. While Jake’s has paid for promotions with Citysearch and doesn’t think that it has been a waste of money, he has no plans to continue the effort because there’s no indicator that it’s been effective enough to justify the cost. Most of the value has stemmed from the user generated content on these sites (user reviews), which is free.
  • Jake’s Website – the website provides a place that serves as the authoritative source of information about the business and has proven to be a good way to publicly present what the company is all about. It’s the easily accessible marketing face of Jake’s and is frequently one of the first places a potential patron learns about the business.
  • PR – Jake’s Ice Cream has been featured on msn.com, NPR, Zagat, Wall Street Journal, and Frommer’s. It’s these less bias sources that have added fuel to the business’ growth – “it means so much more to (people) than a full page ad.”
  • Cause Marketing – he recommends being a co-sponsor of organized events. Working with organizations like Special Olympics – Georgia has helped to reach new patrons and drive sells.
  • Social Networking – tools like Twitter and Facebook have given Jake a way to stay connected with existing patrons and he thinks these are great for fostering the customer relationship – the most important thing about his business.

LEVERAGE

Jake believes that word of mouth is the number one way that people find out about Jake’s. Social network tools like twitter, the Jake’s Ice Cream group on Facebook, and user reviews on sites like Citysearch and Yelp help to accomplish this as does providing a great customer experience that leads to traditional word of mouth… ya know, where people actually talk to each other.

AUDIENCE

Jake describes his first-tier audience as “label readers” – the people that are concerned about what they are putting in their bodies – they are the people that shop at Sevananda, Return to Eden, or Whole Foods. His second tier audience is people that simply want a great quality product. His focus on high quality ingredients and a great product is the right message for this audience and he reaches them through Promotions and Leverage.

CONNECT

Jake’s uses the various means mentioned in Promotion and Leverage to Connect to their audience, however, the ongoing dialog is done through social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter and the in store interaction. Due, in part, with the time required to update their website, they are also excited about implementing email marketing by using Constant Contact to keep all of the subscribed patrons up to date on the daily flavors available at each store.

ENTICE

How does Jake entice his audience?

  • High quality product. Enough said.
  • Superior customer service. Jake wants to know everything about his customers to personalize the experience – “we want to know their dog’s name, we want to know their kids’ birthdays.” It is also a goal to respond to any customer complaint within 30 minutes… by a personal call from Jake.
  • High quality in-store experience. This includes providing a comfortable environment that can serve as a second home to patrons.

Jake also offers incentives to customers, with one of their most successful campaigns being the distribution of “Moolah.” These $1 and $5 gift certificates can be purchased in each store or can be distributed by Jake’s for promotions. This “virtual cash” can be redeemed for any purchase (versus a 2-for-1  or 10% off coupon) and is credited for the programs success.

SIMPLIFY

The main way that Jake simplifies is through technology:

  • NuRol POS – Jake’s POS system is “monkey stupid easy” and has the ability to report on the sell rate of all flavors at any point in time, which helps determine the flavors that are successful.
  • Quickbooks is used as the accounting system and is “extremely user friendly.” They did try out Peachtree Accounting, but it was more difficult to use.

SUCCESS

There are a few areas to evaluate when it comes to measuring success.

PR, Advertising, and Social Networking

Measuring the success of all of these efforts continues to be a struggle, as it is with all organizations. There is the feeling that traditional media hasn’t delivered the results desired and even the metrics provided by local search solutions like Citysearch that shows the number of profile views has not been able to measure ROI. There is a feeling that the efforts of Facebook and twitter are effective at keeping in touch with existing patrons.

Incentive Programs

The Moolah program does provide some feedback. There are relations that can be drawn between the number of virtual dollars distributed compared to the number of those redeemed.

Technology

As mentioned under Simplify, NuRol provides easily generated snapshots of what flavors are selling, which helps determine the quantities that should be produced and identify slow moving products.

SHOUT OUT’S

I asked Jake about any vendor relationships that he considers exceptional. He highly recommends:

  • U.S. Food Service – Their customer service is excellent and they show their love of working with small business in myriad of ways.
  • 360 Media – Our PR Firm loves on us like we are family.
  • Carlton Fields – a great law firm that protects us, suggests to us, and nurtures us so that we are a healthy company

FINAL WORDS OF ADVICE

  1. Do what you love. If you are going to lead your own organization, make sure it is something you are passionate about and adjust the direction as needed to insure this.
  2. Never quit on your dream. Running your own operation is hard, but be persistent.
  3. Learn how to ask for help. You don’t have to know all of the answers.

BACKGROUND

Jake wants to be Willy Wonka when he grows up, but he doesn’t plan on that happening anytime soon. When he was 10 years old, he used to make children’s books as gifts for his grandmother. When he was in college at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he introduced the first instant, all natural hot chocolate on the market – something that caught the attention of Money magazine. His first physical business – a coffee shop in the Morningside neighborhod called MOCHA (Museum of Contemporary Humorous Art) – transformed into the first Jake’s Ice Cream over 10 years ago, with the original location in Old Fourth Ward, Atlanta.

Jake’s playful nature is much more serious when it comes to his products. He is dedicated to providing the community with high quality, uncompromised products – with a focus on all-natural ingredients and hormone free dairy. This diligence has led to a number of local restaurants including his creations on their menus and has recently resulted in an agreement with Planet Smoothie for a non-fat, agave sweetened yogurt called YMG, or Yo My Goodness. The focus on the product is rivaled only by his commitment to the experience of his patrons.

CONNECT WITH JAKE

Website: http://www.jakesicecream.com
Facebook Group: Jake’s Ice Cream
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/jake-rothschild/5/b61/741

UPCOMING EVENTS

Non-fat Frozen Yogurt

Non-fat Frozen Yogurt

June 5-7, 2009 – See Jake at the Virginia Highlands Summerfest.

June 8, 2009 – Jake’s new product line YMG (Yo My Goodness) – non-fat yogurt sweetened with agave – will be sold at Planet Smoothie at The Peach in Peachtree Shopping Center – 2900 Peachtree Rd, Suite 113 Atlanta, GA, 30305.

JAKE’S ICE CREAM LOCATIONS

Jake’s Ice Cream – Irwin Street Market
660 Irwin Street
Atlanta 30312
(678) 705-7277
Jake’s Ice Cream Cafe
2745 Lavista Road
Decatur, GA 30033
(404) 343-3525
Jake’s Just Desserts
2144 North Decatur Road
Decatur, GA 30033
(404) 963-7151

PURVEYORS OF FINE JAKE’S PRODUCTS

Anis
2974 Grandview Ave NE
Atlanta, GA 30305
www.anisbistro.com
(404) 233-9889
Valenza
1441 Dresden Dr NE
Atlanta, GA 30319
www.valenzarestaurant.com
(404) 969-3233
Dave’s Cosmic Subs
1540 N Decatur Rd NE
Atlanta, GA 30307
www.davescosmicsubsatl.com
(404) 373-6250
Inman Perk at Inman Park
240 N. Highland Ave., Suite H
Atlanta, GA 30307
www.inmanperkcoffee.com
(678) 705-4545
Haven
1441 Dresden Dr NE
Atlanta, GA 30319
www.havenrestaurant.com
(404) 969-0700
Inman Perk at Flowery Branch
5866 Spout Springs Rd., Suite D
Flowery Branch, GA 30542
www.inmanperkcoffee.com
(770) 965-6065
Our Place Bakery
3387 Main St
Atlanta, GA 30337
www.ourplacebakery.com
(404) 767-3181
Inman Perk at Gainesville
102 Washington St. NW.
Gainesville, GA 30501
www.inmanperkcoffee.com
(678) 943-8080
Planet Smoothie at Ansley Mall
1544 Piedmont Ave., Suite 301
Atlanta, GA 30324
www.planetsmoothie.com
(404) 541-9124

Jake's Ice Creams & Sorbets on Urbanspoon You can also see this interview on UrbanSpoon.