Local Store Marketing: Coupon Books

By John Matthews, founder and president of Gray Cat Enterprises Inc.

Growing up in Michigan, I was a part of a very prestigious high school baseball team– the Plymouth Canton Chiefs.  Year in and year out, our team was highly ranked and continually vied for the state championship.  Playing on this team was a sign of prestige at the high school and carried the BMOC (Big Man on Campus) status.

Like every other team, though, we were challenged with raising funds to help offset the team expenses for equipment, uniforms and the like.  Most teams seemed to sell candy bars or other simple items like that, but not our team.  Imagine my shock and disbelief when players had to help raise funds for the team by selling yellow plastic tumblers with a little ladybug design on the outside.  The “prestige” was quickly tarnished as each member – armed with a tumbler sample – set out to solicit unsuspecting moms in an effort to raise funds for the team.

The project was flawed from the start.  Each player would go up to a house in their neighborhood and mothers had the privileged honor of purchasing these tumbling gems in groups of six.  The troubles started from there.  First, we had to find people home.  This wasn’t always an easy task as most parents were busy.  Then, if they were home, we had to sell them on the notion that they really needed these tumblers – just look at the craftsmanship!  Once in a while, we would actually make a sale.  That’s where the fun began.

Each parent’s order would be added to our list.  The parents would have to put down a deposit, then we would place all our orders at once at the end of the selling cycle.  Each player had three weeks to sell the tumblers – and then it took four weeks to process orders.  So imagine the parent that ordered the tumblers in week one, and then had to wait nearly seven weeks to get their shipment.  Once again, this was a problem.  With my father’s car filled to capacity with cases of tumblers, I had to head back out to my neighborhood and deliver the goods.  I navigated through finding the parents again, constantly reminding them that they ordered these tumblers a few months ago, delivering their tumblers and collecting the balance.

Each player brought all of the monies back to our coach.  We collected a decent amount of money and then the pain set in.  Collectively, I believe we rose over $800 for our team one year – and then we had to pay for the tumblers – which depleted our money by 50%.  After all the efforts, we netted only $400 for the team.

When I was at Little Caesars as well as Clark Retail Enterprises, I remembered this experience as what not to do when developing an effective coupon book program.  After having to raise sports-teams funds over the years, in addition to being asked to sponsor countless teams throughout my business career, I wanted a simple-to-execute, effective program that benefited both teams and my company.  The program’s goals included: a) ease of execution; b) reducing costs of sponsorship for the company; c) building the brand in your community; and d) being a money-maker for the teams.  It achieved all four.

The coupon book program works whether you have proprietary or vendor products to sell at your stores.  My company’s coupon book offered deep discounts to our customers that provided savings above and beyond any of our other advertised specials.  We would offer our own proprietary products or sell pages to our vendors promoting their products.  We always tried to have enough discounts in the coupon book to create real customer value – at least $7.50 in total savings.

After we secured vendor commitments and assembled our coupon book, we contacted community organizations and offered these books to them for free.  They in turn, would go out and sell these books for $1 per book and keep 100% of the proceeds.  Obviously, since we had kids selling these books, we limited our vendors to non-adult products (no alcohol, tobacco, etc.) and it was a one-time, on-the-spot sale.  Essentially, through this fundraising effort, we created a non-payrolled sales force of 13-year-olds!   Annually, we were able to distribute more than 750,000 of these books in our communities.

Coupon books provided a great opportunity for low-cost local store marketing tie-ins with your community.  Your brand cements itself with area organizations that make the community run and make your brand integral in their all-important fundraising efforts.

John Matthews is the founder and president of Gray Cat Enterprises Inc., a strategic planning and marketing services firm that specializes  in helping businesses grow in the restaurant, convenience and general retail industries.  With more than 20 years of senior-level  experience in retail and a speaker at retail-group events throughout the U.S., Matthews has recently written two step-by-step manuals, Local Store Marketing Manual for Retailers and Grand Opening Manual for Retailers, which are available at www.graycatenterprises.com.

 

 

 

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