Competition Customer service Management Marketing Public Relations

Cheesesteak Wars in South Philly

Last week Joe Vento, the owner of a famous South Philly sub shop (cheesesteaks, dude!), won a surprising verdict from the city’s Commission on Human Relations.

Sometime in the past, his Geno’s Steaks sub shop put up a sign in their business that said “This is America, when ordering, speak English.”, noting that the owner says he has never refused service to anyone who couldn’t speak English.

Someone at the city’s Commission on Human Relations received a complaint about the sign, which hung just above a “The management reserves the right to refuse service to anyone” sign, and the case went to a 3 member panel.

Last week, the panel voted 2-1 that the sign didn’t violate the city’s Fair Practices Ordinance, so the sign stays.

This blog is not about politics, immigration policy and similar issues. It’s about business.

If you are Pat’s King of Steaks, right across the street, in a neighborhood whose population is increasingly Asian and Latin American, what do you do?

A few things to saute your decision in:

  • You’re the son (or grandson, depending on who we’re talking about) of Italian immigrants.
  • You’re in the city where the Declaration of Independence was signed.
  • Your arch rival is across the street.
  • Your family has run this business (and others like it) since 1930.

Complexity is fun, isn’t it?

PS: The last paragraph in a Fortune Small Business story about the cheesesteak rivalry leaves a little hint to Pat’s competitive nature. What a great comment about what he’d do if Geno’s closed.

Marketing Public Relations Small Business Starbucks

Marketing opportunities: As perishable as lettuce.

roasted_coffee_beans.jpgI’ve always admired how Stew Leonard promoted and ran his grocery store, but this morning, I’m given another reason to give him the nod. He is clearly paying attention.

Starbucks is going to be re-training their baristas next week. You know, teaching them how to do little things like how to make coffee, a skill they’ve apparently not needed with all the automated equipment they use these days. Locally owned coffee shops have to be loving this.

To make this training happen, Starbucks is closing their stores for 3 hours in the middle of the business day.

Ever the opportunist, Stew Leonard’s issued a press release to not only announce that they will give away free fresh-roasted coffee during Starbucks’ lights-out period, but it also brilliantly educates the client about how serious Stew Leonard is about coffee. The release discusses the importance of coffee freshness, how fragile the freshness really is, how many beans they roast each day, how many varieties they roast, and so on.

The release strikes right at the heart of the coffee aficionado (or snob, whatever) who might think that “grocery store coffee sucks”, by showing how serious they are about it. After reading the story, it’s difficult for the coffee lover to avoid thinking that Stew’s takes their coffee seriously.

Here’s an excerpt from the press release:

NORWALK, Conn., Feb. 19 /PRNewswire/ — Starbucks recently publicized that all 7,100 company-owned stores will close between 5:30 and 8:30 p.m. local time on February 26 to retrain more than 135,000 employees in an effort to create “a renewed focus on espresso standards.”

Stew Leonard’s, which roasts its 20 varieties of coffee fresh in-house and brews more than 2,000 pounds of beans every day, today announced that during those same hours on February 26th, all four of its store locations will offer free cups of coffee, cappuccino or espresso.

“We know what it’s like when you need your java jolt, so while Starbucks is turning customers away, we’ll be welcoming them with open arms and a free cup,” said Stew Leonard, Jr. “We actually got this idea from Mike Perry, owner of Coffee Klatch Roasting in southern California, who was visiting our stores the other day. His coffee shops have been recognized as serving the ‘Best Espresso in the World’ at the 2007 World Barista Championship in Tokyo, Japan.”

Note the language used throughout the release. Not only does Stew Leonard’s use the release to educate people about coffee, but they use common knowledge to do so, saying “coffee is as perishable as lettuce”. They also use the right lingo about coffee and make the discussion emotional, “we know what it’s like”, etc.

How many opportunities like this are presented to you each year? How many do you take advantage of? As I’ve suggested before, use the news in your marketing. You don’t have to be in the coffee business to take advantage of this opportunity, although you do just about have to be nuts not to use this opportunity if you ARE in the coffee business.

Creativity Marketing Media Public Relations Word of mouth marketing

Using Libby’s good news to promote your wood stove business

woodstove2.jpg Last week, the EPA announced that air quality in Libby, Montana had significantly increased. Libby is the home of Montana’s asbestos Superfund site thanks to the W.R. Grace company’s vermiculite mine located there.

The AP article included comments from University of Montana professors who have studied pollution levels in Libby, from industry spokespeople, and from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality.

The article continued, speaking of the improved indoor air quality and efficiency of the stoves, and how they burn much less wood than in the past.

Again, this was NEWS, not a press release from the wood stove industry.

If you own a wood stove store, this is an ideal time to comment on the article to your local paper. Issue a press release to the local radio and TV stations with your slant on the article. You just might get called for a brief interview.

By the way…they don’t charge for airtime when they interview you. They simply make you the apparent expert on the topic. I mean, what self-respecting radio station would call the “dumb stove guy” to ask questions on the air?

What are you waiting for?

How do you use the news to promote your business?

Marketing Public Relations Word of mouth marketing

Mr. Happy Crack & the Shark

Mr. Happy Crack is the mascot of what otherwise might be a boring little company that franchises what otherwise might be a boring little business. The company is called The Crack Team. Their “boring little business” is repairing cracks in concrete foundations, and similar concrete structures.

Unlike many stodgy businesses out there, particularly franchises, they’ve taken the natural joke about their business (crack repair) and adopted it full force as not only the company’s joke, but the company’s marketing campaign.

There’s a You Tube video (mentioned in the Wall Street Journal), press releases about Mr. Happy Crack, Happy Crack apparel, fake press releases about the “No Crack Left Behind Act”, and much more.

Clearly, these folks have to be able to fix concrete foundations (what I believe is commonly called “mudjacking”), but they could have bored their prospects and clients to death with their marketing – as most of their competition most likely does.

Would you want to be the OTHER concrete foundation crack repair company in a town where Mr. Happy Crack lives? Not likely.

It isn’t necessary to be involved in a franchise to have entertaining marketing. Of course, the marketing has to produce. I doubt anyone has any doubt what the Crack Team does in a town where Mr. Happy Crack does his thing.

In this morning’s paper, I saw a story about a Bozeman lawyer who decided to get a 1000 gallon fish tank in his office. Normally, this would not be big news. In this case, it made the AP wire because the fish tank is for….sharks. A lawyer with sharks in his office, get it? Clever, funny and gained lots of free publicity. Plans for a web cam are even in the works.

Is your marketing fun? Does it attract public relations and interest? This is but one way to make an otherwise boring business newsworthy and more importantly, be the only one people mention when discussion turns to the “boring” work that your business does.