News From Terre Haute, Indiana


December 14, 2013

BUSINESS CENTS: Hands-on approach hikes customer loyalty

TERRE HAUTE — What do you do to retain your customers? Have you developed a marketing plan? Have you composed a calendar to determine when you will launch and participate in advertising activities?

Each of those are important questions and definitely critical to the operations and success of your business. But the real question is have you done a good job of thinking outside of the box when it comes to new methods to attract and retain customers?

Think long and hard about that question as it doesn’t include Constant Contact or social media even though those are also important to your business and marketing endeavors. By now you might be a little curious as to where I am going with this…

One of the biggest challenges companies face is plateaued revenue streams, especially since our economy is still rebounding and climbing out of a recession. With companies experiencing little or no growth, they are looking to figure out a way to increase their market share without expanding into a whole new product or service line and also expanding so that their overhead and operating costs stay at a minimum level.

One of the recent trends you may have picked up on are classes. For example, I attended the Power of the Purse event in Terre Haute this fall and one of the silent auction items included shopping at a local boutique exclusively for the buyer and nine of her friends. The boutique would be closed to the public and only the party of 10 could shop. Of course this came at a price, but the benefit is the personal feeling of the shoppers and the fact they feel catered to.

Increasing market share through unique services can increase your company’s revenue share.  For example, Butter Lane Cupcakes in Manhattan found business was slow so the owners decided they needed to do something different. After a bit of discussion, the company decided to offer cupcake-making classes. The price to attend the class was $20 and only four people attended the first class but, through word of mouth, the classes quickly began to fill up. Eventually, the owners expanded the classes to the space next door, offered a Groupon discount and sold 9,000 coupons for their classes. If you look at it from a cost perspective, the first few seats are expensive because you are paying for utilities, the instructor, the oven and such, but the marginal costs are lower so you are extremely motivated to fill the room.

Butter Lane Cupcakes was sold out for five months and hosted 2–3 classes per day. The revenue for Butter Lane Cupcakes was about $1 million for the classes. Through the cupcake classes, it also increased sales for the store’s baked goods. And the customers who take the classes become ambassadors for the company as they feel they are part of the brand.

Butter Lane Cupcakes used a hands-on approach to tap into additional revenue without taking on a new product, service or significant expenses. They stayed within their product/service niche and honed in on their customer base to support the classes. There are many companies throughout the Wabash Valley that could take a similar approach. For example a candy company, florist, retail boutique or even an oil change facility can develop classes aimed at their target market. In Greencastle, Almost Home offers wine tasting and dinner about every 6 weeks and she has seen growth in her revenue. If you are a boutique you could offer private shopping experiences for a Girls’ Night Out or fashion classes each season.

There is so much potential to tap into for our local businesses. As you review your company’s marketing plan be sure to think outside of the box.

Heather (Penney) Strohm is the regional director for Indiana State University’s Indiana Small Business Development Center.

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