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  • Mark Lotstein


Everyday on TV, in the newspaper and online, I hear about social networking and how we need to use it to market our businesses. While I am a firm believer in social media, it is still just one of many ways to reach potential customers. If you have fewer than 50 stores, I am not sure it makes sense from the standpoint of time and cost (at least not yet).

Scarborough 2012 research shows that of the U.S. population with Internet access, 51% have used or accessed social- networking sites in the past 30 days. While that is an impressive number, it still means that 49% of the people with Internet access didn’t have anything to do with social-networking sites.

My wife and I look at Groupon offers every now and then, and we have signed up for occasional email offerings from various companies, but it does not affect us (or the majority of people we associate with) on any great level. Again, I do believe that social networking and marketing has a place and real value, especially as a way to start grooming the next generation of customers. But I do not feel it is the golden goose, as many have deemed it.

For those of us who are a little bit older (I am 43), social media and online marketing is less of a market driver, and we tend to be more influenced through traditional media and marketing. From a store ownership perspective, let’s be honest: Most owner-operators tend to be less technology-oriented. They do not have internal IT departments, but if they do, they are to run the company servers. The concept of creating and maintaining any type of social-networking campaign is very daunting, and going to an outside company for this on an ongoing basis can be quite expensive.

What Can You Do?

Here’s one idea for marketing yourself that is low-cost and local in nature. It’s something you may enjoy doing and that you can feel good about on a personal level. Try this: Sponsor a Little League or youth soccer team, or purchase signage at the field. The benefits and details:

  • Think about how many people from not just the league but from all over the community use the field for team events or practices, or who just pass by on a daily basis and will see your sign. A youth team can have 20 or more members, and the leagues can have eight to 20 teams. That means you can reach as many 800 parents, not to mention family and friends who come to watch the games.

  • You could run a promotion on opening day and give out free water or an energy bar to each of the players, along with a coupon for a discount at your stores with a future purchase.

  • If you serve food at your location and it is near the field, you can offer a post-game special for players and their families. This is just one way that a local marketing campaign can be done. It’s easy to manage, cost-effective and successful in generating new customers and retaining existing ones. I also can almost guarantee that if you do something like this, the local newspaper and cable TV station will be on hand to give you positive free press.

As a last thought: It does not need to be limited to sports. In today’s economy, the need for donations of time, money and services is greater than ever. You could also look to work with local organizations such as your place of worship, community center or chamber of commerce. This can be a great way to both support your community and get positive publicity for your stores.

As always, I would appreciate any questions you may have, as well as any feedback on this column—good or bad.


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