Two recent outside/inside influences–the global recession, combined with a generational shift in foodservice leadership–is finally transforming the “restaurant business” into the business of restaurants. These industry changes are like the tide; imperceptible at a glance, unmistakable from a distance. Necessity is always the mother of invention, and so the economy forced us to focus on improving margins. After all, that’s where we as an industry traditionally had both the greatest opportunity and sloppiest oversight. We learned quickly however; in the last twelve months most companies have improved operational systems, cut costs, pruned underperformers, and affixed controls to maximize efficiency and minimize spending. Now that our systems have improved, it’s time to apply similar focus to the other side of the profitability coin: how to cost-effectively attain and retain more customers by better connecting to the community. It’s known as Local Store Marketing (LSM) and here are the basics of executing an effective neighborhood marketing program:
Conduct a thorough written SWOT analysis. Assess strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats for each unit every six months. This analysis should be compiled separately by both the GM and their area manager. Then compare and contrast the insights. Now detail a specific action plan to maximize the strengths and opportunities and minimize the weaknesses and threats. The critical step is here is not simply analysis, but action. A “plan” without a timetable is a dream.
Assess your current LSM strategies and tactics. Review each tactic in detail. Which ones have produced the best measurable results? Why? Be specific. Which have not? Why? Be specific. What have you “intended” to do but never got around to doing relative to connecting your restaurant to local businesses or schools? Specifics please, no generalities.
Know the neighborhood. No, seriously, really know it. Each GM and their assistant managers should conduct a thorough drive-through of the neighborhood within a five-mile radius surrounding their unit. Note and list all the businesses, schools, churches, housing and organizations in the trade area that could be sources of new traffic. Discuss and prioritize the list together. How will you find relevant contact names and how will you approach each area of opportunity? Determine what specific tactic might best drive more traffic from each business; phone, coupon, e-mail, mobile marketing, flyer, samples, in-person, samples, social media? Now break down the list into groups of ten and assign one group to each manager to contact and develop each week. Have them review the local newspaper (or its website) for upcoming community events, weddings, meetings, celebrations, or achievements that might be converted into new business. After 30-90 days, review the progress of each manager’s LSM efforts and then adapt, innovate and improve on each one. Be sure to share each unit’s successes and failures with your other stores too. To help you get started, you can download a free neighborhood marketing checklist on our home page at Sullivision.com.
Leverage the web and social media. Access Google Alerts to know when people are mentioning your business, Tweet daily specials, promotions or events, maintain a Facebook fan page, and keep your website community-centric in tone and features. By the way, despite the constant hype about mastering Facebook and Twitter—which you should certainly do–it’s also wise to remember that the original social media in business was—and remains—word-of-mouth.
Co-market with other businesses. Find out where your customers are before they visit you and where they go after they visit you to better define opportunities for referral business partnering.
None of us are as smart as all of us. Michael Gross, principal at MBG Restaurant Marketing, suggests that many operators overlook the power and potential of their own crew to connect to the community. “It’s key to position your restaurant as a ‘crossroad’ for the community to meet, greet, and eat. Connect with the local leaders in your trading area, such as the mayor, council people, athletic directors, religious leaders, and business leaders. And be sure to ask your hourly team members who they know. They have a wealth of contacts.” Gross also encourages operators to involve the staff in marketing plans. “Get their feedback and buy-in; they know your market better than you think since they see the community from different perspectives and also interact daily with your customers.”
Promote less, execute better. The proliferation of limited time offers (LTOs) helps drive more traffic when properly promoted, but too many offers confuses both customers and crew.
One-to-one marketing inside the four walls is imperative. Don’t waste your money trying to constantly acquire customers that you can’t maintain because you forgot Sullivan’s First Law of Operations: for every dollar you spend on training you spend $1.50 less on marketing. Focus first and foremost on where your company meets the customer (at the table, counter or drive-through) and build all marketing solutions outward from that touchpoint.
This topic deserves a bigger conversation and more idea-sharing than space allows, but I’m confident that if you apply the eight tactics listed above you’ll be 65% ahead of 100% of your competition. And that’s change you can believe in.