Local Store Marketing 101: College Hunks Hauling Junk case study

Nick Frantz, 24, may be young but he's also a marketing whiz. According to Chris Jackson, director of marketing and branding at College Hunks Hauling Junk, "He lives College Hunks. If he is in the store, it's a marketing opportunity."

Frantz worked at the brand's Washington, D.C., flagship franchise for 3 years, followed by a summer with the brand's Tennessee franchisees before becoming a franchisee in Northern Virginia in late 2010. So far he has just one territory, Loudon County and a few neighboring areas in Fairfax County, where he's exercising his marketing talents.

"You can spend a lot of money on It adds up fast," he says. "Everything we do is free or a team cost."

One example: an online video of a day in the life of a College Hunk--100 percent employee created and edited. The videographer, a crew member's girlfriend, spent a day in the truck recording what the crew did, where they went, how they found new jobs, etc. (youtube.com/watch?v=o9UC1P17rF8).

"They nailed it, hit all the bullet points. It's awesome. We sent it to Chris last summer, who told all the employees to put it on their own Facebook page," says Frantz. "There's no way of showing a direct return on it," but at this stage of his business, he says, "I'd rather do it cheap."

Innovative, creative marketing initiatives are part of the culture at College Hunks. "Our whole company does a lot of guerilla marketing. They had it set up when I came along," says Frantz. "It's definitely an advantage to be part of a franchise system so we can see what others are doing, what's working."

One popular, low-cost activity across the brand is standing on the side of a busy street in their uniforms, waving a big orange foam hand. They also park their trucks at busy intersections to "get in front of anyone that we can," he says.

Frantz and his team often come up with their own ideas, or with creative, low-cost variations on existing marketing activities. These include a drive at a Loudon County public school. "We left the truck there. As long as it's visible, it's free for very little cost."

He and his crew also participate in community events, making the truck available for river cleanups, or showing up at neighborhood yard sales to cart away anything unsold--"as long as we can park the truck at the entrance," he says. "It's not really to drive revenue, but to drive community awareness."

They also are busy taking advantage of any and all online and social media marketing opportunities. "Facebook and Twitter have connected us to community events, tag sales, and Chamber of Commerce events," he says. They also work with nonprofits who either have volunteers and need a truck or the opposite. "We do it for free and they do it for free," he says.

"We've struggled with referrals in the past. We're not like a service. Our customers need to have junk, or some other need for us," he says. To help, they contact bankers, people with foreclosures, and anyone else who can point them to new customers.

And with corporate approval, they've redesigned their business cards into what Frantz describes as "social media business cards." They're slightly larger than a traditional card, and instead of an 800 number and local phone number, they list Facebook and Twitter contacts to drive customers to their social media sites. "Because everybody's on social media," he says.

When his crew stops for lunch, he tells them to park their truck near a corner for maximum visibility (as in free advertising) while they chow down. The crew, who always wear their uniforms during their work hours, are encouraged to tell Facebook followers where they are and to wave if they see them.

At first, he planned to pay someone to update their Facebook page. "After one day of trying that, it didn't really work," he says. Instead, he has his crew text him about what they're doing, or if they had a "Wow experience." Or it could be something as simple as the crew removing their shoes on a rainy day when a refrigerator. It's not a problem finding time to update their local landing page or their Facebook page. "It takes 2 minutes for me. I do it throughout the day," he says.

Blogging is also turning out to be an effective, no-cost strategy for Frantz. Finding people who, as he puts it, "simply blog about stuff," he's worked out swap-for-services deals where they'll do a job in trade for the customer writing about it on their blog. Says Frantz, "The cost of paying for advertising is more than if you swap your services."

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