Multi-unit operators take creativity to new heights

National marketing efforts on behalf of franchisees have always been one of the benefits of operating within a franchise system. Generally, you on, open a store, and you get brand support and marketing from the franchise system. That’s a great advantage, but some operators like to take matters a step further... or even several steps further by taking local marketing into their own hands. There are many unique and creative ways for multi-unit operators to approach local marketing. Done right, it’s much more creative and involved than or coupons, and the results can be taken to the bank. Here are a few twists and tips we uncovered.

Teamwork pays off

When it comes to local marketing and big-league thinking, Mitch Ziffer knows a thing or two about promoting his services. Ziffer is a with TSS Photography, a franchise with more than 225 units in four countries and 42 states. Ziffer is based in Margate, Fla., where he handles youth and school for thousands of children throughout the south Florida territories of Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, and Martin counties.

A long-time baseball fan, coach, and Little League photographer, Ziffer was intrigued by the way the Florida Marlins major league baseball organization attempted to promote itself to young ballplayers. “As the contracted photographer for a number of Little League teams down here, I thought there was a way I could team up with the Marlins,” he says.

Ziffer estimates there are around 100,000 kids in the Little Leagues he works with. “I can bring the Little League teams to the Marlins games,” he says. “I’m the equivalent of 50 Florida Marlins sales reps trying to reach all the Little League kids in our area.”

Ziffer and the Marlins organization have worked together to promote initiatives such as the Marlins’ “Dugout Buddy” program, “Youth League Day,” and the “TSS Kids Club.” These programs allow the kids to go on the field, meet players before the games, go in the dugout, get autographs, and then sit together in groups to watch the games, usually at a discounted ticket price. This mutual marketing relationship has brought hundreds of kids to Marlins games while making Ziffer and his services better-known throughout the region.

The TSS Kids Club is a customer loyalty program specifically designed for Ziffer’s customers. “Once someone buys photographs from us, they can go online to our website where we capture their personal information. We can then send email and regular mail promotions, including special discounts and offers to Marlins games,” he says.

Ziffer helps generate Marlins ticket sales by incorporating and offering various Marlins branding initiatives within TSS Photography picture packages. For example, he offered a “Marlins Special” picture package with a custom Marlins Magazine cover featuring the child’s photo and two tickets to a Marlins game. Ziffer sold 250 picture packages through this promotion, and the Marlins filled 500 seats at Dolphin’s stadium during the 2005 season. This year looks to be even more successful.

“We offer the Dugout Buddy program to all of our Kids Club members. We also have special Marlins Kids Club games where Kids Club members are offered special discounts that aren’t available elsewhere,” says Ziffer. He says his company also takes the action pictures of the annual Marlins Youth Invitational, where the kids play on the Marlins’ field. He had even begun a similar program with the NHL’s Florida Panthers last year before the team’s season was canceled because of an overly active hurricane season. He says he’d like to give that another try.

Ziffer believes no other major league baseball team has partnered with an outside photographer for a cross-marketing venture of this nature. As a result of Ziffer’s creative match-making, he says the Marlins have experienced an additional $33,000 in ticket sales. This teamwork has also made him popular with many Little League teams.

For Ziffer, the benefits of the marketing partnership go beyond simply increasing his sales. “This gives me added value as a photographer. Not only can I handle the team’s photo needs, I can get them discounted access to the Marlins.”

To a baseball-loving Little Leaguer, that’s like hitting a home run.

Fully charged!

Karate is not generally associated with franchise marketing. But it has worked for Brandon Boozer. The Oklahoma multi-unit operator spent years honing his martial arts skills. At one point he even had his sights set on the Olympics. Today, he’s vice president of three Batteries Plus locations in Oklahoma, two in Oklahoma City and one recently opened in Lawton. And, in a unique twist, he’s figured out how to apply his martial arts skills to marketing his stores.

Fire Prevention Week is recognized each October throughout the U.S. Working in tandem with the local police, sheriff, and fire departments, Boozer teams up each October to give away smoke alarms and batteries. To help promote the event, he karate chops large blocks, using his hands, feet, elbows, and even his head. He stages the events at his stores, and they are typically covered by the local media live, taped, and replayed. He’s even been featured on a local morning TV show. Boozer can break four to five bricks at a time with his feet and two to three at a time with his hands. Using his head is a little more difficult when it comes to breaking bricks (as opposed to marketing) and is limited to a single brick.

“I had the idea of breaking a brick for every 10 smoke detectors we gave out,” he says. “There were around 800 spectators at the last one we did, and we gave away more than 450 smoke detectors and batteries.” He says the events are a great marketing and take only a couple of weeks to plan and organize. And, because the smoke alarms and batteries are donated, the expense is very small. He builds interest by distributing flyers at local schools.

In addition to promoting his stores and Fire Prevention Week, these same events are also marked by child ID kit giveaways and the promotion of programs that help find lost children. “It’s a great way to get people involved and excited about good causes,” says Boozer.

But that’s not all he does to maximize the power of his batteries. He uses them to barter for air time on local radio and television stations. “I went to some of the media outlets here and just said, ‘I need air time and you need batteries. Let’s trade,’” says Boozer. The stations need batteries for its computer systems and antenna back-up systems. He figures that he gets about 25 percent off his air time costs by trading for batteries. “As the stations need batteries, I get air time. It’s a dollar-for-dollar trade up to a certain point,” he says. He’s been benefiting from this bartering system for the past four years.

The creative marketing ideas just seem to keep flowing from Boozer. During the Christmas season last year, he assembled about 200 boxes of batteries. With all those electronic gadgets under so many trees, there’s a high demand for batteries at Christmastime. “We gave the boxes to several local radio stations for them to give away to their listeners, all the while promoting our name,” he says. He estimates each box only cost him about $12, generating a lot of bang for the buck. He did a similar promotion during Father’s Day, where he gave away flashlights and small cordless screwdrivers through radio stations. Of course, he’s more than happy to continue supplying batteries for any of these devices in the off-season.

Boozer is one multi-unit operator who is fully charged with creativity.

Build your own phone system

Charles Praigg got tired of waiting weeks for certain services from BellSouth, his telecommunications provider, so he created his own in-house phone system. “We contracted with a phone company provider and now we can handle our telecommunications needs much more quickly and efficiently,” says Praigg, a multi-unit Merry Maids operator with locations in Virginia, West Virginia, and Georgia. He says that by bringing the phone system in-house and utilizing a software application, his four-store operation can handle and customize for their needs more effectively. The system has been in place for about two years.

“Let’s say I decide to run a radio spot one day,” says Praigg. “I can assign a unique callback phone number to go with that ad immediately. From my desktop, I can see every incoming call responding to that ad on that unique phone number.” This makes tracking, measuring, and scheduling subsequent marketing efforts much more efficient.

Praigg has also used the system to create an “automated attendant” function that can provide basic pre-recorded information to call-in customers and efficiently direct them through the system to a live representative. “We’ve found that by the time people get to a live person they already know exactly what they want to purchase simply from following the directives of the automated system,” he says, maximizing everyone’s time.

He can also use the system to import his database of customer phone numbers. From there he and his staff can easily phone customers to promote a special, or simply ask how their service has been.

“Since we made this move, we’ve seen that it costs three times less on a monthly basis to run our own telecommunications in-house,” he says. Now that’s phone service that works.

Build local relationships

Marketing to customers who make their office in a spare room in their home or the back of their truck can prove challenging. But Jim Traweek, a ProSource multi-unit operator in Florida, has come up with a solution.

“We get involved in all the trade associations in the cities where we operate,” he says. For him it’s groups such as the National Association of Remodeling Industry, American Society of Interior Designers, and Home Builders Association. Whether carpet, vinyl, ceramic tile, hardwood, or natural stone, Traweek networks through the local chapters of these organizations to reach customers who need these products.

“Our customers often do not have offices or locationsâ€"their office is their truck,” he says. “So, in order to reach people we get involved with the various association groups.”

Traweek does use some local but prefers to network, actively participate in associations, and invite and designers to special events at his 41 showrooms from Connecticut to Las Vegas. Since ProSource is a niche business-to-business concept serving only members of the design, and trade, he uses his showrooms to host networking events with members of these trade organizations and to gain referrals. “We’ll invite a group of these folks to one of our showrooms and have a manufacturer’s rep come in to talk about a new product line or to explain a new technique for installing laminates,” he says.

As Traweek continues to open new locations, he makes sure to become part of the various trade associations in the region. This local marketing approach seems to be working: Traweek says he expects to exceed revenues of $170 million in 2006.

Through teamwork, creative thinking, and resourcefulness, multi-unit operators are pushing the envelope when it comes to local marketing. “The franchise does a great job of creating your brand, but it’s up to you to create a local flavor,” says Ziffer.

“I see myself as a small businessman,” says Boozer. “In order to compete in my market one of the key ingredients to my success is creativity. That’s what can separate me from all the others.”

And that is the cornerstone of successful local marketing.

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