From the July 1999 issue of Startups

As consumers, we face solicitations and downright harassment on a daily basis, whether from small businesses mistaking our cars for telephone poles or large companies "tactfully" attempting to sell us on their latest deal. (Just a reminder to any business using the cold-call method: Make sure your telemarketers are well-versed in script-reading, because nothing's worse than a stuttering annoyance.) So what do you do when you're suddenly the advertiser?

Overkill can cost you customers, but you do want to let them know you exist. Leave it to Littleton, Colorado, natural pharmacy owner (and this month's birthday boy) Scott Fiore to know how to strategize a nonintrusive, yet pretty darn successful, marketing campaign.

"It's growing," is how the 32-year-old evaluates his range of marketing knowledge. Like Fiore, you may not know a lot about your advertising options until you jump in and explore them. But instead of putting your faith in overeager ad sales reps, ask around. Fiore suggests asking your "allies" what worked for them. "I talked to people in the same shopping mall, but in different businesses, and people in my industry, but not in the same geographic area. Then I put it all together and made my own decisions," he says.

So when should you start advertising, and how much is enough? The answer depends on a myriad of things: Is your store so tucked away, or your offering so obscure, that you need to push the concept aggressively and well in advance? Once a few people respond to a newspaper ad, will word-of-mouth be enough to fuel additional interest?

Fiore, who had two store openings for The Herbal Remedy--a nonadvertised "soft" opening in mid-October 1998 and a heavily touted grand opening on Halloween--found a month of advertising prior to his grand opening to be plenty. He garnered early recognition for the store by setting up booths at local health fairs before opening. For press, he advertised in community newspapers. He also put ads in every mailbox's favorite blue envelope (Val-Pak): "In the beginning, it was pretty aggressive--like, `Buy any two herbs, get a third bottle free,' " says Fiore.

How you spread your business's name around depends on how big a check you can write. Fiore budgeted $1,000 a month for marketing purposes, but he's been spending closer to $1,400. "I ended up getting into some advertising that's more costly, but it's definitely worth it," he says.

The culprit is AM radio--a cheaper alternative to its FM counterpart. For $250 a week, The Herbal Remedy is guaranteed four 60-second ad spots during a popular two-hour talk radio health show. The Denver-area program not only provides Fiore with a direct link to potential natural pharmacy customers, but it also offers free airtime possibilities--like the time the show's host called Fiore on-air to ask a question. The five-minute discussion was free publicity boasting the kind of expertise an Herbal Remedy employee can offer. Freelancing articles on various herbal remedies for a community magazine and holding free in-store discussions (some were standing-room only) are other ways Fiore is sparking interest.

To advertise on a budget, Fiore recommends small community periodicals over national magazines and large newspapers. Advertising in coupon mailers is also a good, low-cost option--especially if your target market includes coupon-clippers. Above all, don't forget who your audience is. Fiore has shied away from cable advertising because the health-conscious usually aren't fixtures on the couch.

Whichever avenue you choose, devise a way to gauge what form of marketing brings in the most business. Consumers who see Fiore's ads are often instructed to "bring this in for 10 percent off." This way, he can use his computer system to track each method's success rate and juggle his ad budget accordingly.

Above all, make your business so pleasing that it advertises itself. Says Fiore, "Word-of-mouth has been the best advertisement so far. Our customer base is well over 800 now, and those people bring in other [potential] customers."

Contact Source

The Herbal Remedy, (303) 795-8600, http://www.theherbalremedy.com