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Young Millionaires on . . . Marketing

You can't build a great business if you can't get customers through the door. Find out how these thriving business owners draw in the crowds.

Finding the right formula for winning and keeping customers can put you on the fast track to success. Check out these marketing and promotions secrets from our 2004 young millionaires.

Christina Bartolucci and Laura DeLuisa, owners of Duwop, a manufacturer of specialty makeup and body creams
Bartolucci: Get the physical product out there. If your stuff is good, all people have to do is try it and they'll be back. So we have a really extensive sampling program: Anyone can email us and try DuWop. We also do lots of gifting. People talk about buzz marketing, and it really does work. Actresses are really like other women: If they like something, they talk about it-only they're talking to InStyle. And the other thing we did almost before we could afford it was to hire in-house PR. We have an individual on staff whose sole responsibility is to communicate the DuWop message 24/7.

Bernard Frei, 39, founder of 365 Inc., an online retailer of licensed soccer and rugby apparel and a soccer and rugby news outlet and database
In hindsight-this was absolutely not part of the plan-but I think coming from the outside the U.S. was actually an advantage because I'd watched U.S. customer service from afar, slightly in awe, and realized that we had to try extra hard to do that. And that's worked for us; that's been the best way for us to get our word out. We are in tight-knit communities, and we've been able to rely on that community speaking to each other: "These are good, honest people to deal with, and they go the extra mile." It's what we really focus on.

Marco and Sandra Johnson, founders of Antelope Valley Medical College, an accredited medical college that provides EMT, medical assistant, paramedic and other training
Marco: Be conscious about whom you're marketing to, who your niche is, and go after those people. We made simple fliers and went right to day-care providers because we knew they needed CPR and first-aid training initially. We went to large corporations because we knew there were Cal-OHSA laws that had to be met. So be specific and direct in your marketing in the sense that you know who your market is.

Nicole Licata, 35, and Suzy da Silva, 33, founders of CCM Marketing Inc., a media buying advertising agency specializing in the direct-response market
Licata: How we do it is we treat our clients well, and they tell others. We don't even advertise. All of our clients come from word of mouth and referral from other people in our industry, so we've always been successful that way.

Shawn Nelson, 28, founder of LoveSac Corp., a chain of stores (about half are franchised) specializing in modular furniture
Everything makes us unique. That's what I call our hedgehog policy. The hedgehog always beats the fox because the hedgehog always rolls up in a ball and does the same thing over and over again. No matter how smart the fox is, the hedgehog always beats it. A hedgehog concept is what you do best, and what you do over and over again. Our company is expanding into lots of different areas, but our hedgehog concept is 'remark-able,' which means everything we do, every product we put out, every service we offer, every poster we make, better invoke a remark out of someone. If it doesn't, we're not doing it well enough.

The funny part is we're this Mormon company, but we're as edgy as it gets. I often call LoveSac the great dichotomy. It's simple, but it's complex from a marketing standpoint. It's edgy, but it's flowery and cute. It's family, but it's sexual. It's fun, yet it's classy. It's inexpensive furniture, but it's really expensive beanbags.

Stewart Levy, 37, founder of Tokyopop Inc., a multimedia publishing company specializing in English-language "manga"-Japanese comic books
Know your customer really well and what they want, and make sure you focus on getting your word out to your customer. I don't think you can worry about getting the word out to the world; it's just impossible. Focus first on your customers. Don't be desperate with them; let them take their time to make their decisions and be patient. Try to help them out and advise them, be their partner along the way, and hope that you're providing value. If you're not, then maybe there's something wrong with what you're offering.

James Funderburk, 39, founder of Urban Evolution, Civilian and Lotus; Tonic; and J-Squared LLC, which are clothing stores, a private nightclub and a real estate company, respectively
First, focus on niche marketing. Look at markets you are familiar with and that are underserved. Think about what you know of or have seen, how you've seen it delivered, and have it fit your market or pocketbook. Treat each and every customer like gold. Their contact with your organization needs to be a sincere interaction.

Craig Allen, 35, founder of All Star Wine & Spirits, an upscale wine and spirits shop
My best advice is to just get involved in [your] community. You need to embed yourself into what's going on in the community. I read the papers; I know who's who. So when people come in, I know who they are. We're good to every customer. Pay attention to your customers, get to know your community and then build up from there. Do a lot with charities in your area. If you give, people will do [the same]. But don't do it for the wrong reason. Do the right thing in your community, and it comes back. It's just a really important part to growing a business.

Josh Linkner, 34, founder of ePrize, an interactive promotion agency
People buy for their reasons and not yours. Understand that. Listen more than you talk. If a person starts to feel that you're a trusted partner, that's where the magic happens. It will pay off in multiples if you take care of their needs rather than yours.

Payam Zamani, 33, Behnam Behrouzi, 23, and John Truchard, 32, founders of Reply.com, an online referral service for automobiles, real estate, home improvement and financing
Zamani: You've got to experiment. One thing I've always done is every month I have a marketing budget-typically about 20 percent I set aside for testing new stuff-simply because what worked six months ago may no longer work six months from now. The other thing is that too many entrepreneurs waste too much money in the name of branding. I simply don't believe in that. I think you build a brand through usage of your service.

Art Alaniz, 33, founder of Progressive Telecom, a wholesaler and distributor of cell phones and accessories
Just do it, like the Nike commercial. I've helped two of my friends go out on their own. What I told them was, build it, and they will come. If you're good at what you do and you are focused, if you just take that step, it will happen to you.

Christopher Faulkner, 27, founder of C I Host, a web-hosting and data enter infrastructure provider
Think outside of the box. It's very, very hard to stand out above the rest if you're doing things that everybody else does. This human tattoo, human billboard that we did cost us $7,000 and we probably got half a million dollars worth of mentions all over the world. You don't have to have a lot of money to market, you just have to have a lot of good ideas.

Edward Foy, 33, and Jennifer Foy, 32, founders of eFashion Solutions Inc., an operations management provider for fashion manufacturers' e-commerce sites
Edward: Hit the pavement. Make sure that everyone involved in your company from suppliers to vendors to clients has the greatest experience with you, and the word spreads with positive feedback. We want to make sure we 'wow' everyone.

Jon Cohen, 36, and Rob Stone, 36, founders of Cornerstone Promotion, a lifestyle marketing company, and The Fader magazine
Cohen: First off, have success. There are so many people who look to hire a publicist and generate attention for the business when they don't have much to talk about. In our case, we've always been very modest with what we do in terms of press and PR. The way we market our business is we let our success speak for itself. As we've had more and more success, it's given us the tools to create word of mouth. We like to show people what we've done and are capable of doing.

Stone: It's creating properties, too, that are very specific and very representative of who you are as a company. In our case, we've gone out and created properties, like Cornerstone Mixtapes, Cornerstone player, Suite 903, The Fader magazine, Fader Films; all these things really help generate excitement, buzz. It's a line of integrity we've always balanced really well with any property that we do, but it comes down to what Jon's saying too: Our reputation is really what we hang our hat on.

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