I love supporting small business owners, especially new ones in my own city. So I was happy to get a flyer stuffed in my mailbox from a new restaurant owner about a week ago. He proudly announced the opening of his small Greek restaurant, and offered free food to anyone dropping by all day Friday and all day Saturday during his Grand Opening.
I kept the flier, and when Friday rolled around Bill and I drove over to the new place, expecting to be offered a tasting of food off a platter. We were completely shocked to discover that the new owner was giving away complete meals – whatever you wanted off his menu, including a free drink. And if you couldn't stay, he'd even package it up to go. When I say complete meal I mean it – here's a picture. Each of us actually got TWO full meals from our plates of food. Mine included Gyros meat and chicken (two large pieces) served over excellent rice, a full salad with dressing, yogurt sauce for the meat, and a soft drink. We offered to pay, thinking that this was more than a fair offering of his free food, but he insisted that it was totally free – even the drink.
As a customer, I was surely pleased to get a complete meal – something I didn't expect at all. But as a marketing expert for small business owners I was completely appalled. Not at the free food – although I can only imagine how many thousands of dollars worth of meals he gave away in TWO full days of “grand opening.” What appalled me was that he had absolutely no follow-up marketing plan in place. He spent thousands of dollars but did nothing to ensure that the “free foodies” would ever come back.
- He didn't collect names and e-mail addresses, so he can't thank people for stopping by, send them a PDF of his menu, and remind them to come again. He has absolutely no idea who walked into his business for two full days of service. A full meal is plenty of give-away for collecting a first name and e-mail address.
- He didn't collect mailing addresses, so he has no way of knowing which segments of the mailing list he bought to use for his original flyer were useful. He could have collected the flyers as “payment” for the free food and had a great vetted list of future customers.
- He didn't give his “free customers” a business card with a website or Facebook page to join.
- He didn't give out “take-out” menus for people to take home with their free food.
- The packaging for the take-out food was plain white – not even the name of his restaurant (which is a Greek name and not easy to recall), much less a phone number or web address on the take-out box, the napkins, the drink cup, or the sack.
- He didn't hand out loyalty cards (who wouldn't be loyal to someone who hands out a loyalty card with the first meal already punched out – and it was free!).
- He didn't offer a “come back again and get 10% off” or “come back again and get a free Baklava with your meal.
In other words, this man cooked food for hundreds of people, hired extra staff to hand it out, and completely failed to use the enormous good will he generated with his free food to initiate any single call to action at all. From a marketing standpoint, his Grand Opening campaign was poorly thought out – completely!
You might argue “some people will remember the free food and come back again” and you're probably right to a point. But people are busy, the name of the restaurant is hard to remember, it's in a busy parking lot where parking is scarce, and good intentions often don't get carried out. If 1 customer in 20 comes back on their own accord I'd be surprised. If he had initiated any of the above calls to action I'd bet he could have come close to a 50% return rate – far better than 5%.
This generous man with his big smile and excellent Greek food (it was delicious both fresh and as leftovers the next day) made me want to tear my hair out. With just an hour or two of consultation from any marketing expert, he could have ensured a good return on his huge investment of time and money. It is true that to succeed in business one must be as good at marketing as what one does. I hope that this new business owner becomes as great a marketer as he is a chef before he goes out of business. All I can say is that he's a much better chef than he is a marketer right now.