"Old School" Communication: Cell Phone Texting Builds Customer Traffic

Considering the wide-ranging abilities of today's smartphones, simple text messaging may seem passé, but it's a basic social media tool that's working wonders for Chris Kramolis' franchise operation. He's been using text messages to build business and compile a database of his customers--and he doesn't see any reason to deviate from something that's working.

Kramolis is an area developer and multi-unit franchisee for Tropical Smoothie Café in Arkansas, where he has 8 locations open, and in Northeast Oklahoma. A couple of years ago he read a magazine article about how some restaurants were using text messages on cell phones to communicate with customers.

"I thought that was a great idea," says the 39-year-old Kramolis, who quickly set up what he calls his "mobile text club"--a relatively simple web-based program he can use to design and arrange promotions to be sent out at his discretion.

He began promoting the text club by having his employees tell customers about the program and printing information about it on all receipts. He even pushed his "text marketing" program in his traditional media advertising. The efforts worked: he now can send over 8,000 text messages to numbers he's collected.

"I call the messages Tropical Storm Warnings and they always include some kind of coupon or offer for our products," he says. "I don't crowd them with too many messages and never want it to be like junk mail or spam," he says. But if his business is slow because of rainy weather, for example, he can put an instant spike in sales by sending out a text coupon for a $1 smoothie, he says.

"People with cell phones are on the go, and this program is a cost-effective way to reach them with a promotion that gets them in the doors." He'll even honor a text coupon that's been forwarded to another phone--and, of course, pick up that person as a new text club member. Kramolis keeps a similar database and program for email customers (another 4,000 or so and growing). He just had a giveaway for a mountain bike - to be eligible, customers had to submit their email addresses.

"We're trying out Twitter, and each one of our stores has a separate Facebook page," he says. He's done some things on Facebook that he can't do through the text club, such as post corporate commercials and videos. His Twitter following is up to 200 and Facebook following is around 1,000. However, he notes, "Not everybody has a Twitter or Facebook account, but everybody has a cell phone."

Kramolis sums up the sentiment of the other franchisees we spoke with when he says, "Social media lets small businesses without big media budgets compete effectively for customers." That will very likely be one of the game-changing legacies of this technology.

Published: March 11th, 2010

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