"Coach" Dick Rennick on Effective, Low-Cost Franchise Consumer Marketing

With the heightened focus on social media during the past few years, it's important to remember that social media is only a part of your marketing mix. And although social media will continue to grow in importance as a branding and marketing it's important to remember the value of old school guerilla marketing - getting your name out there in innovative, low-cost ways.

We asked Dick Rennick -- founder of American Leak Detection (which had more than 360 franchises in 44 states and 13 foreign countries when he sold it in 2007), and now founder and CEO of Team Rennick, where he serves as a franchise consultant, mentor, and coach for service brands -- what he's learned over the years about effective, low-cost marketing.

"In my early days I spent every penny I had on marketing, and 90 percent of the time it was wrong," says Rennick. He says he was very fortunate in those years to have met Ray Kroc (McDonald's) and to have spent time with Dave Thomas (Wendy's) and Bill Rosenberg (Dunkin' Donuts). "I learned from some of the best. I call them silver-haired foxes, with battle scars. Education is okay, but I looked for people who got beat up."

When he was working to grow his own brand, American Leak Detection, Rennick says he watched and drain cleaning businesses and saw that when they did a job they'd go to 10 houses on either side of the street. "I talked to one of the guys and asked, 'How has this helped you?'" It was the owner, who told Rennick that he couldn't afford the Yellow Pages any more, and had to cut his spending there by 75 or 80 percent.

"I see your trucks parked over at the shopping centers," said Rennick.

"Yup, I sit there for several hours. It's a billboard."

"How's that working?"

"I used to run 50 percent of the company's business and that was all me. Now, a year later I have three trucks. It's all about doing the job and getting people to know who I am."

Looking back, Rennick says, "He said he never sat there more than an hour before people would approach him, and he got a ton of jobs from that." His advice from that experience? "Get your name out there, big, bright, and bold," he says. Later, when the owner was hurt on the job, Rennick bought the company.

"One of best tips I've learned is to watch what your competitors are doing to get their name out. Are they spending big money online? For SEO? Social media? Going door-to-door and dropping things on doorknobs?" says Rennick. Here are some more tips from him.

  • Free stuff. "Give departing customers a takeaway," he says, such as a key chain holder or a phone sticker for emergency numbers. "It's very cheap but it gets your name out there."
  • PR, he says, is a very good way to increase sales. "I never spent a dollar advertising, though I did hire a PR firm," he says. Examples include newspaper articles, getting behind local Boys and Girls Clubs, teams, etc. "You'd be surprised how that little bit of press gets people to recognize that you're there and have an interest in the community. The key is giving back to the community. People will start coming back."
  • Uniforms. At American Leak Detection, his UFOC required franchisees to wear company shirts and always take business cards with them. "I've had franchisees who met people on cross-country flights. I sold three franchises because people saw the shirts."
  • Keep it fresh. Look for new ways to get customers interested in your business, he says. If you have a service concept, find ways to market yourself at a reasonable cost. "Use door hangers whenever you do a job, saying 'I just did your neighbor's house.'" Use inserts into local papers because direct mailing is too costly. The goal is "neighborhood TOMA" (top-of-mind awareness), he says. "You want everybody to remember who you are."

One final piece of advice: Be sure to get your innovative new plans approved by corporate before you hit the streets. Rennick says 90 percent of the time the response will be positive. "You're the one in the trenches. The franchisor will want to pass it on to other franchisees," he says.

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