The Secret's Out

If Einstein Had Been In Marketing...

A few brainy ideas businesses can use to generate new income.

Business: Auto repair and maintenance
Problem: You get very little drive-by business, and current customers don't come in unless there's a major problem. The small ads you run in local papers don't draw customers.
Solution: Send notes to current customers saying you're going to start making oil-change house calls to make it more convenient for them to service their cars. For an extra $15, they can get the oil and lube service for which they normally can't find time. Of course, some will say no. But many others will appreciate the new convenience and not be concerned with the extra fee.
Extra benefit: If the car owners are having any mechanical problems, the house call can double as a diagnostic visit and mean extra profits.

Business: Beauty salon
Problem: You're booking fewer appointments and find you don't get an increase in business unless you heavily discount. What added value can you offer current customers so they'll come in more regularly?
Solution: Invite customers to a low-cost series of lectures at the shop on "sane weight control" conducted by a local doctor. You get to schmooze and win back inactive customers, and the doctor may get a few new patients.
Extra benefit: Customers tell others about your unique new offering, and you'll book more appointments.

Business: Pizzeria
Problem: Your pizzeria has to go up against the big franchises, and even though you started offering delivery and frequency discounts, they still have the edge in name recognition.
Solution: Start attaching an unexpected reward to each pizza box. Maybe it's an offer for an extra can of soda or a house salad. Any thoughtful surprise gets indelibly etched in the customer's mind. Also, make up a 3-by-5 card about each customer that lists their favorite toppings, so you can say "the usual?" when the customer places an order.
Extra benefit: Again, your generosity gets talked about, and you're recommended by current customers.

Business: Carpet cleaning (or any other home service)
Problem: You're a new franchisee of a carpet-cleaning company that is sending out fliers the franchisor recommended, but you're not booking much business. With few current customers, how can you use relationship marketing?
Solution: Personally visit carpet sellers and make the following proposal: "You'll sell more carpet by offering the first cleaning free, and that's what I can provide. In return, I get that base of customers to cultivate on my own." Start relationships with customers by offering an every-six-months cleaning for a lower cost.
Extra benefit: "Upsell" by calling ahead to ask if customers would like their windows cleaned while you're there.

Business: Chiropractor
Problem: Your practice is not getting a lot of repeat business, and ads are ineffectual unless, by luck, they happen to appear when someone is having a problem.
Solution: A phone call--as simple as it sounds--can work magic. Have your assistant call previous customers to say "Dr. O'Connor asked me to find out how your neck is feeling and if there are any other problems or concerns he can help you with."
Extra benefit: Some customers will respond with a need, plus the call can be an excuse to inform the customer about a new treatment or service.

Business: Catalog sales
Problem: You don't get enough repeat orders, even though your catalog is sent out quarterly to remind customers of special values.
Solution: Think about how many of your customers would consider stocking up on a product of yours they use throughout the year if they could save some money. Research shows a good number of people would be interested.
Extra benefit: You don't lose future sales from people "stocking up." Instead, all your wares are perceived in the same positive light as the great volume discount you gave.

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This article was originally published in the May 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: The Secret's Out.

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