LONG BEACH, Calif. — Brian Wallace, president/CEO of the Coin Laundry Association, was given a daunting task: to capture the audience’s attention during the final hour of a regional dry cleaning and laundry trade show in sunny Southern California.
But his task was no more challenging than one faced by every dry cleaner: to successfully market his or her store(s) in an environment where potential customers have access to information almost instantaneously and from a variety of sources.
On top of all the other “hats” that a dry cleaner “wears”—customer service, maintenance, production, human resources, accounting—he or she can add one more hat to that mix: director of marketing, Wallace told attendees of Fabricare 2012.
“You work incredibly hard for your business, but the fact of the matter is things have changed. … We’re all trying to reinvent ourselves on the fly, trying to deal with the new marketplace. I think that trying to come to grips with some of the new marketing techniques is really an important part of that overall process.”
You may worry about not having the time and money to boost your business’ marketing profile, says Wallace, but you shouldn’t.
“What I’ve found exciting about social media, digital media, web, all these different things that have come along the last couple of years, these are almost all low-cost or no-cost opportunities.”
Where is the first place that consumers look, according to Wallace, for local business information? They look to search engines (33%), printed Yellow Pages (23%), online Yellow Pages (22%), local search sites (13%), and mobile apps/social media outreach (9%).
And 77% of all users will research online before they’ll walk through a dry cleaner’s door, he says.
“If we want our businesses to be successful, we need to make sure that our message is where the people are.”
Thus, Wallace ran down a list of ways in which a cleaner could promote his or her business today. Here are No. 6 through 10:
6. SEND AN E-MAIL NEWSLETTER
Use the e-mail addresses that you gathered from your contests to update those customers with a newsletter about your business. It’s cheaper to distribute such newsletters via e-mail instead of printing and mailing them.
What should your newsletter include? Share print-to-click coupons, store news, and announcements of upcoming special events. Position yourself as a garment care expert by sharing tips. Write a blog.
“What do people do today when they get a great coupon via e-mail?” Wallace asks. “Forward it to their friends and family. You used to mail a coupon. They had one coupon and one person redeemed it. What happens now? Maybe that coupon goes out to everybody on my e-mail list, all my friends on Facebook, anyone who follows me on Twitter. All of a sudden, this coupon that you sent to one regular customer just went out to maybe another couple hundred people.”
Wallace recommends keeping an e-newsletter short and easy to scan, designing it for the “preview pane,” creating a strong subject line, and selecting a reputable e-mail marketing service (Constant Contact, MailChimp, AWeber, etc.) to maintain and deliver your newsletter.
7. ADVERTISE WITH GOOGLE ADWORDS
You should use “search advertising” to find customers when they’re in need of dry cleaning services, says Wallace, and a high-profile method is advertising using Google AdWords. “We want to do everything we can to let people find us organically, but this is where we cover our bet. This is where we pay for placement.”
You create ads and choose keywords, which are words or phrases related to your business. When people search on Google using one of your keywords, your ad may appear next to the search results. Plus, you can set local parameters such as ZIP code and a radius search.
Google AdWords can be cost-effective, Wallace says, because you establish a budget for the campaign and control your ad spending. “The impressions are free; they can see that your results are there. You’re only paying if they click. There’s a process here, that you can view on your own, whereby you bid on certain search terms, and you’re paying per click.”
The amount you spend is entirely up to you, and there’s no minimum. Wallace used $25 per month as an example. When your ad has drawn the number of clicks that exhausts that budget, you have the option to end the campaign then for the month or to add funds to keep it going.
8. INCENTIVES WITH FOURSQUARE AND GROUPON
The service called foursquare allows users to “check in” via a smart phone app or SMS. Users share their location with the public while collecting points and virtual badges
A business benefits from foursquare because the activity attracts new customers, rewards loyal customers, and provides another outlet for offering specials, mobile coupons, and prizes or discounts.
“It’s works well where people are going on a regular basis. … It’s the frequent flyer model. It’s the punch card from the sandwich shop. As the business owner, you give them different perks, different discounts, different things to attract, mobile coupons, and you’re rewarding them for being a regular customer. It’s the oldest idea in retail.”
Groupon is a “deal of the day” website that features discounted gift certificates offered for a limited time that a customer purchases online and then presents at the business. Groupon offers small businesses big exposure and measurable marketing, Wallace says; 91% of businesses report seeing new customers from their promotions.
But critics say the new business generated by a Groupon campaign is short-lived and doesn’t result in repeat customers.
“Among a lot of the small-business people I talk to, the jury is still out,” Wallace says. “It definitely generates leads. You get people that use the service. You’re basically asked to give about a 50% discount, splitting the other 50% with Groupon. But you’re getting people in the door.”
For example, a dry cleaner sells $60 worth of service for $30, or charges $59 to clean and preserve a wedding gown, a service traditionally valued at up to $150.
9. GET SOCIAL ON TWITTER
Twitter is the fastest-growing social network, with 300,000 people joining every day. Its users number 200 million, Wallace says.
The microblogging site enables users to send and read posts of up to 140 characters called “tweets.” Unregistered users can read tweets, while registered users can post tweets through the website, SMS, or a range of apps for mobile devices.
From a business perspective, Twitter is used for customer service, sharing immediate information, gathering real-time market feedback, generating leads, building customer relationships, marketing, and sharing coupons and discounts.
“It’s a great way to stay in communication, but it’s the same principle. It’s word of mouth. It’s peppering out information about your business and asking people to follow through on it.”
10. GETTING FOUND BY GPS
Increasingly, people are using the search functions of GPS units commonly found in today’s vehicles and smart phones to find local businesses. There are two main information providers—Navteq and Teleatlas—and businesses can register their sites for free with those companies, Wallace says.
“I’ve had members tell me that this is great, it’s like the best tip they got when we first shared this a year or so ago,” he says. “Is it going to revolutionize your business? No, but it may find you a few new customers.”
Whether you try out only one or two of these tips or all 10, it’s absolutely vital that you become more proactive in promoting your business, Wallace advises.
“A lot of this talk is about ‘grabbing the wheel,’” he says. “A lot of this is happening either with you or without you. As a small-business owner, I’m saying, ‘Grab the wheel.’ Have an impact on what’s happening with the way your business is being viewed online and through social media.”