Colorful Quilts, Savory Pizza, and Fierce Foam Sports Hats?!? by Cassie Hintz, FCEDC intern

Apart from having a tailgating party while eating pizza and sewing a quilt I’m not sure how these three products could be connected but they made a connection at the August 13, 2013 meeting of the Inventor’s and Entrepreneur’s (I&E) Club in Fond du Lac, WI.  The tantalizing theme was “Scenes from the trenches – guerilla marketing” which focused on low cost, creative, grass-roots marketing from three local business entrepreneurs.

The line-up:

Judy Gauthier – owner of Bungalow Quilting and Yarn in Ripon, WI.  Has only been in business one year but has come out on top with an exciting first year profit. (www.bungalowquilting.com)

Paul Wise – helps run the family business, Christianos Pizza, an Italian restaurant, which has been in operation since 1996 and has expanded to three  locations (Wautoma, Oshkosh & Green Lake, WI).  Make a mental note: they deliver.  (www.christianospizza.com)

Jeff Kahlow – artist, creator of novelty sports headwear, the famous Big Guy Hats, has been in business since 1995 in Fond du Lac, WI.  Every one of his products is handcrafted specifically to order. (www.bigguyhats.com)

The set-up was very informal with the three speakers seated up front and Mary Avery of Ripon College facilitating the panel and prompting questions.  Some of the questions included: what forms of marketing have you used? How have you incorporated social media platforms, such as Facebook into your marketing strategy?  Do you receive marketing assistance from anyone, such as a marketing/advertising firm?  How do you gauge whether or not your marketing strategies are working?  The following points are a few business tips they’ve picked up along the way.

Let your customers promote your product.

All of the speakers made mention that the best way to sell your product is to let your customers do it for you.  All of these entrepreneurs know the benefit of creativity.  Jeff Kahlow lets his specialty designed hats do the talking at crowded sporting events.  It’s easy for his product to stand out and his fun customer base simply has to show off the inside of the hat to provide a website and the artist’s signature.  After sporting events, he often receives hundreds to thousands of requests for hat creations.  Paul Wise asked loyal customers to stick signs in their yards that say “Christianos Pizza – We Deliver Here” which often surprises customers because they didn’t realize the Italian restaurant delivers so far.  This simple action is an easy way to gather a larger customer base.  Judy Gauthier likes to feature her customers and their inspiring projects on her business’s Facebook page along with sending out weekly emails sharing photos of customers in the store.  She says weekly emails may seem like a lot but the customers never know when they’re going to be featured.  It’s always a surprise and a great incentive for them to open the email!

You don’t have to know everything.

Judy Gauthier admitted up-front that she is not a business woman but she is not afraid to ask for help and use the expertise of those around her in order to strengthen her business.  She may not know all the ins and outs of business but her thirty years of experience as a nurse have helped her sense the needs of her customers.  Judy says that her customers love to feel special because that’s what gets them to come back to the store and they always appreciate genuine sincerity.  Judy firmly states that her business is not about her.  It’s about her customers and the projects that they’re working on and are enthusiastic to share.

Bigger isn’t always better.

Paul Wise, as the youngest person on the panel, has learned that it’s important to be yourself.  He accepts that his business isn’t a big chain pizza restaurant and he thinks that’s where it excels.  He says they focus on what the big chain restaurants can’t do, like one on one personalized customer interaction.  Christianos Pizza uses Facebook as an easy way to address customer concerns quickly or offer new promotions to keep the customers interested.  But that’s not enough.  He says it’s important to deliver on his promises of excellent food and inviting service.  Don’t blow smoke and mirrors because your customers will look elsewhere for a night out.

Do what feels right.

Jeff Kahlow was asked to complete an order of 10,000 fish hats.  Previously each of his hats had been handmade but there was no way he would be able to accomplish that in a timely fashion with such a large order so he sent his work to China to receive some extra manual labor.  Unfortunately nearly 80% of the final hats that were sent to him were not up to his standards so he ended up repainting many of them or simply decided not to use them.  Jeff Kahlow realized from this experience that he wanted to stick with his original plan of a handcrafted artisan product even if that meant only taking as many orders as he could do as an individual.  It might not bring in as much money but it creates a fulfillment in him that he wouldn’t otherwise have.  It’s your business, own it!

And perhaps most importantly: LISTEN.  Customers will appreciate your interest and it will keep them coming back!

The Inventor’s and Entrepreneur’s Club, now called Imagination Network of Wisconsin, is open to all and meets every second Tuesday of the month at the Elks Lodge across from the Fond du Lac Public Library.  Relaxed mingling begins at 5pm along with dinner and drinks available for order.  The meeting starts at 6pm and usually lasts around 1.5 to 2 hours.

The September 10th meeting speaker will be Shelly Cedarblade, CEO of Woo! Social Media Marketing focusing on how you can maximize the benefits of social media for your business. (woosmm.com)  ADVOCAP will be hosting Shelly Cedarblade on Tuesday, September 10, 2013 for two, two-hour long sessions prior to the Imagination Network meeting. Space is limited.  To reserve your spot or for additional information contact an ADVOCAP Business Development Specialist at the following numbers: Fond du Lac County: 920-922-7760; Geen Lake County: 920-361-9880; Winnebago County: 920-725-2791 or  920-426-0150.

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