Bowling for Business: Instead of slashing prices, add value

Advertising Lessons from the Happiest Place on Earth

(This column first appeared on June 19, 2011.)

For the past two years, we have bitten the financial bullet in order to buy annual passes to Disneyland for family Christmas gifts. Selecting the handy dandy interest-free monthly installment option, we don’t buy the passes because they are cheap. In fact, our installment payments are probably higher than my parents’ monthly payments on their first house.

Also, we typically squander an additional hundred dollars or so on food and souvenirs with every trip. But we have counted the cost and decided it’s worth the investment to spend quality time with our daughters and granddaughter at the Happiest Place on Earth.

At a time when most business owners are slashing budgets and services in a mad scramble to survive, Disney thrives. Instead of drastically reducing prices and cutting back on their offerings, they continue to invest millions to improve and enhance their products. We would all do well to take a few cues from the entertainment giant:


Disney holdings are too numerous to list. But here are is a sampling:

  • Parks and resorts
  • Consumer products
  • Cruise line
  • Lodging
  • Television stations
  • Television programs
  • Radio stations
  • Magazines
  • Music
  • Books
  • Production and distribution
  • Broadband channels, subscription-based Internet services, websites and cellular services

Although he was a visionary, Walt Disney couldn’t possibly have foreseen the number of related industries his empire would one day include. But, early on, he took steps to ensure his company would never stagnate. In fact, 53 years ago in Anaheim, when he first opened the doors to Disneyland, Walt turned to a TV news reporter and announced:

Disneyland will never be complete. As long as there is creativity in the world, it will continue to grow.

When you sense a shift in consumer demand, don’t waste your time lamenting the good old days. Instead, mix it up. Take a class or hire someone “in the know” so you will be prepared to offer what customers want. For example, if your bakery profits take a hit when health concerns reduce doughnut consumption, add low fat choices to your menu.

Reinvent yourself

I remember the day my industry changed forever. I was at an international public relations conference in 2007 when someone asked me whether or not I tweeted. In my 28 years experience as a marketing professional, I had never heard the term. Naturally, I assumed he was insane. Ironically, I now tweet several times a day.

Due to shifting consumer demand, we have completely changed our service line at Mountain Marketing Group to feature dynamic websites and comprehensive social media campaigns. We could have resisted the shift, like some of our fallen advertising comrades. But embracing the change has invigorated business and keeps things interesting.

Add value

My family and I stood in line for three hours last weekend to see the new Star Tours: The Adventure Continues 3-D Attraction. Disney spent millions of dollars to retool the ride, which features trips to six fictional planets told via 50 different “story adventures.” The fervor proves that people are still willing and able to spend time and money if they believe the investment worthwhile.

Resist the urge to strip your products and services to bare bones; instead, amp things up. The saying still holds true, “You get what you pay for.” Make sure your customers understand the value they get by paying you.

Build client loyalty

During the soft launch of the reinvigorated Star Tours’ attraction, Disney emailed season pass holders early invitations to ride. This type of exclusive offer does more than control traffic. When we weigh our renewal decision in December, rewards like this will definitely factor in.


Few brands are as recognizable as Mickey’s iconic ears. This is the result of billions of dollars in advertising. And while most of us have considerably less to spend, when it comes to garnering publicity, we can still learn much from Disney—for free, on a limited budget or when the sky’s the limit.

  1. Have fun. Regardless of the campaign, Disney maintains a sense of humor.
  2. Don’t put all of your advertising eggs in one basket. Positive publicity is often more effective than advertising. Invest in both.
  3. Stick with what works. Downplay what doesn’t. Case in point? I was hard-pressed to find anything online about the history of ineffective Disney advertising campaigns. Instead, I kept unwittingly clicking on ways to pay even more to upgrade my experience as a happy season pass-holder.

Until next time, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

Bowling for Business: Yelp Yourself

(This column first appeared on on June 5, 2011.)

I know when it’s time for a manicure or pedicure without even looking at my hands or feet. But when it comes to tires, I’ve long relied on strangers to inform me when I need new wheels. And inform me, they do—in parking lots outside the post office, gas stations, grocery stores and church. The reason strangers concern themselves with the condition of my vehicle accessories is beyond me. But why mess with a system that works?

In November, someone noticed the sad state of my Michelins and suggested I head to Costco for replacement tires. But I believe in keeping business on the hill. So, instead of supporting a big box store in San Bernardino, I paid $598 to Tony’s Repair Shop in Crestline and proudly drove my Mastercrafts around the mountain, confident that strangers would approve.

Imagine my surprise when someone stopped me in the Village last week to ask why my vehicle was sporting Nascar Slicks. I was horrified that he was right! After only six months and 8,000 miles, the tread pattern was completely absent on all four of my tires.

A little research revealed that Cooper Rubber & Tire Company warranties the Mastercraft line, but Tony (who also owns Action Auto in Running Springs), refuses to stand behind the products he sells. So, this time around, I had no choice but to head down the hill to buy replacement tires at Costco.

My reasons for sharing this story are threefold:

  1. If we want our mountain community to survive, we have to buy local.
  2. If we buy local, merchants need to show their appreciation for our support by going the extra mile.
  3. As consumers, we should take advantage of electronic forums to share positive and negative experiences about merchants near and far.

It breaks my heart to see San Bernardino Mountain businesses fail. This month alone has ushered the closure of several small shops. In the Village, scantily-clad mannequins try in vain to distract shoppers from the empty storefronts that pepper the local landscape. And while the economy is at least partially to blame, the onus falls on us.

With a vested interest in our community’s success, we need to count the cost before driving down the hill to buy everything from toothpaste and toilet paper to furniture and life insurance. By the same token, business owners should value the commerce that comes our way by delivering a caliber of service and quality of products that is a cut above anything available in the valley below.

Entrepreneurs used to carefully guard their reputations because they understood the power of the people. Because news traveled fast in small towns, an investment in one customer paid dividends with the next. But as populations grew and technology introduced anonymity to the mix, some business owners stepped away from the old ways of doing business—to the detriment of us all.

Ironically, in some ways, the Information Superhighway allows us a return to the days of old, where, on sites like Yelp and Epinions, we can make sure that consumer news travels fast. And, good or bad, online reviews have a long shelf life. So flex your consumer muscle by taking the time to submit reviews.

Please allow me a departure from my regular column format so I can share the ways that one small local business is getting it right. (Disclaimer: Blue Jay Nails & Spa is certainly not the only store on the hill that employs good business practices. Also, Blue Jay Nails & Spa is not a client of Mountain Marketing Group.)

10 Lessons from a Successful Small Business

1. Go the distance to find business

Manicurists at Blue Jay Nails & Spa live down the hill. They commute up and down each day because they are willing to go where the business is. Are you willing to go out of your way to develop new leads?

2. Touch base early and often

A chorus of chipper voices greets everyone who comes in the door. You don’t have to immediately be available to everyone who inquires. Just let them know you care about their business and will help them as soon as you are able.

3. Involve clients in the process

To help pass the time, the happy staff at Blue Jay Nails & Spa directs customers to select their nail polish. Later, they instruct patrons to choose an empty spa chair. The activity fools customers into believing that the wait is shorter than it actually is. Involve your clients in the process to foster buy-in.

4. Don’t be afraid of a little hard work

Just watching them bend over makes my back hurt. I am impressed by how diligently everyone at the salon works. At the end of the day, hard work pays off.

5. Invest where it matters

A large flat screen TV keeps customers entertained. Also, Blue Jay Nails & Spa stocks so many bottles of nail polish, they could paint a Tacoma.

6. Pamper your peeps

Luxurious leather spa chairs line the entire left side of the salon. Decorative floral murals and soft music make it easy to relax. Happy people are more likely to spend money than their uptight counterparts.

7. Supply the demand

While manicures and pedicures are their specialties, Blue Jay Nails has answered customer demand by adding extras like massages and eyelash extensions. Why not increase your offerings to include additional products or services that interest your clients?

8. Don’t be afraid to up-sell

I usually budget $25 for a pedicure but end up spending closer to $40 because the technicians at Blue Jay Nail & Spa aren’t afraid to offer upgrades like paraffin wax, French manicures and flowers. Don’t be afraid to offer additional service lines to current customers.

9. Smile

Maybe it’s because they work all day with Acetone. I’m not sure. But the one thing you can always count on from the staff at Blue Jay Nails is a smile.

10. Advertise

Of course, I’m biased when it comes to this particular business strategy. But one of the reasons Blue Jay Nails succeeds is because they employ a multi-pronged marketing strategy including prominent signage, word-of-mouth marketing and phone calls to regular customers to remind them when it’s time for a wax or a fill. Makes me wonder if they’d be willing to remind me next time it’s time to rotate my tires.

Until next time, I’ll be Bowling for Business.