How To Start and Operate Your Own

By Dusty and Bonnie Henson, Owners "World Famous" El Paso Saddleblanket Co., El Paso, TX

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Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V
Chapter VI
Chapter VII
Chapter VIII
Chapter IX
Chapter X
Chapter XI
Chapter XII
Chapter XIII
Chapter XIV
Chapter XV
Chapter XVI
Chapter XVII
Chapter XVIII
Appendix A
Appendix B
Appendix C
Chapter IX


It has been said that 50% of all advertising is wasted. How can you determine which 50%? Making smart decisions and doing your homework can steer you toward the better half of advertising.

First of all, do you need to advertise?

If your store is in a mall or in the middle of a group of shops in a tourist area, you can keep your advertising budget to a minimum. Traffic is already provided, so your job is to get them through the front door. Situations like this call for excellent store window displays. As people walk by, they must be so attracted to something they see that they make the effort to enter your shop. Good lightning and professional displays can enhance your merchandise.

If your store is not in the middle of the action, you need to lure your customers on your own. A large outdoor sign is beneficial for stores located on a major traffic way. Neon is a little bit expensive but may pay off in the long run, particularly if at some point you determine it would be profitable to stay open until 8 or 9 p.m. at night. Most gift shops close about sundown because everyone has gone home. However, there are some areas where customers would patronize the evening hours.

Besides having an attractive sign out front, your store needs other ways of inviting customers to discover you.

The most obvious forms of advertising are radio, television, cable television, and newspapers.

Radio spots can be termed "vanishing" advertising. It is a verbal message put out on the airwaves for 30 seconds and it's gone. The question is how many people had their radio on that particular station and were they paying attention? The lady driving her three squabbling kids to school in the morning might not digest every ad. She probably doesn't even remember what songs played during the drive. Radio, even though it's right near you, might only be background and take a back seat to more pressing issues on your mind.

To be truly effective, radio ads must be run consistently, over and over until customers finally listen to your message. That's why Coca-Cola and other marketing giants have recognizable jingles that play over and over till people have a subconscious recognition of the product. Retail stores do not have the kind of profit margin needed to field such a campaign unless they are franchises with shared national budgets.

Radio ads can be effective in certain situations. Let's say it's rodeo time in your town and it's likely that most of the out of town participants and spectators will be listening to the country western station as they drive around town. These people are hot prospects for the Southwest merchandise you sell. You just need to offer them something they need or want, make it sound like a special deal, let them know where to get it, and indicate it's a limited offer so they better hurry in. When you focus on a particular market, interest them in a product and convince them you've got the best deal for them, radio ads can work.

But don't pay retail for this advertising. Radio stations have an inventory to sell. Their inventory is airtime. If it doesn't get sold it is lost forever. There are deals to be made. Just like you should arrange for a loan when you don't need it, you should also arrange for your advertising well before you need it.

Shortly after opening your store call several radio and TV stations to inquire about ads. Indicate that there is no urgency, but whenever one of their salespeople is in the neighborhood please have them drop in to get acquainted. The aggressive ones will be there the next day. When a media salesperson visits your shop introduce yourself and accept their business card. Carry the card around with you so you don't forget their name. Walk around the entire shop engaging the salesperson in conversation about the merchandise and the activities of your business, After a few minutes, let them begin the sales pitch.

There will be the glorification of their station, their market share, their ratings, and you will be shown lots of charts that are meant to be intimidating and confusing. All this is leading up to the pricing of their ad spots. Make a mental note of the cheapest time slot and write it on the business card after the salesperson leaves.

Tell them you're not quite ready to develop an ad at the moment but you'll get back to them. Give them one of your business cards as they leave. Repeat this procedure with every media person that calls you and save all their cards. You will definitely become part of their card file, and whenever they get into a selling slump, you can be sure that they'll be back. If you can use any ads at that time, it's a good time to make a deal. Run just a few ads and drop it. What you have accomplished is establishing a relationship with the station and set a precedent for price. When rodeo time comes around you have a bargaining chip.

Television or cable ads? Probably not in your first year of operation. Television may broadcast to a much wider market than your prospective customer base. However, there are expectations. In cities of less than 500,000 people that have their own television stations, there could be potential. You will have to weigh the cost against the projected new sales created by the ad.

If you should have a TV station produce an ad for you, make a sure a copy of the videotape is your own property. You might later make a deal with smaller regional stations that will run the ad at bargain basement prices.

Newspapers may be your best advertising value at the beginning. Again arrange for it before you need it. You might want to contact the newspaper even before you open your store. Chances are you can get some free exposure.

Have someone take a picture of you in your activity showing you getting your shop ready to open. It should be a special interest, perhaps holding a particular beautiful or unusual piece of merchandise. Then write up a short press release giving a few interesting details about the shop, its location, and the opening date. The editor of the "money" or "financial" or "local interest" section of the paper might jump on it. They are always looking for a good news item about the economy and new shop openings to epitomize the American dream.

Collect information from newspaper and salespeople the same way as for radio and TV. Do you realize how many potential customers have already seen your store? They might make a special effort to trade with you to get your account. They all have family and friends. Any word- of- mouth advertising you get from this group alone is good starting at budget clientele.

When you do decide that newspaper ads would be helpful to increasing sales, telephone one of the salespeople who visited your store. Rehash the rates that were originally quoted. Then ask if there were any "deals." Possibly a "combo" of an ad in the morning and evening gets a discount. Or inquire if running the ad a certain number of times in a month gets a discount. Salespeople have a number of options they can offer. If nothing sounds reasonable, tell them you'd really like to advertise with them but you'll just have to wait a little. They will get back to you with some sort of compromise.

What do you put in the ad?

Choose a size that is affordable and create ads that will be consistent noticeable and will sell merchandise. Ad space is sold by the column inch, - that is the width of their standard print column by the number of inches long. Ads as small as two column inches (two columns wide by one inch long) can be effective if they can stand out. A good border, a logo, or the use of "reverse" white print on black background can call attention to your ad. Some sample ads are included in Appendix B.

Other "opportunities" to advertise

Other print media to check out includes all types of publications directed at tourists and regional residents who frequent your city for events and shopping. Many of these are widely distributed in hotel/motel rooms, restaurants, highway tourist bureaus, gas stations, and other locations at which visitors are apt to stop.

Probably the best of these publications is a small color magazine called "Travelhost." It is a national franchise but is printed in dozens of cities with each area advertising its own special attractions. If a great number of people stay in hotels near you, an ad in Travelhost could be a wise investment.  Develop one nice ad and it will appear in each new monthly edition. Contracts usually last one year.

After your shop gets noticed by the local community, all kinds of sales people will be calling on you to place ads. Most of these publications won't be worth the recycled tabloid paper they're printed on. Selling advertising is a commission business. Don't let any high pressure flake con you out of your precious advertising dollars. Do some research to find out how many of these papers actually get distributed and at what locations. Their so-called "readership" numbers could be pumped up to sound impressive. Many assume five to eight people will read every paper dropped off at a hotel or restaurant. Do you think that's a fair estimate? Call the front desk managers of a few local hotels for their opinions of certain publications. If they can't recall seeing them, your salesperson may have been a fly-by-night hustler.

Other types of advertising to avoid are high school yearbooks, charity balls, police or firemen's newsletters, booster clubs, etc. Only give an ad to these causes if it is a special favors to a very close friend, relative, or very good customer. There is nothing wrong with charity if you recognize it for what it is. You are giving money away. It is not an advertising investment. Chances are very small that additional sales will result. You will have to sell approximately $1,000.00 of extra merchandise to new customers to cover a $100.00 ad in profits. (Based on an assumption your net profit for a year is roughly 10% of gross sales.)

Occasionally it can be rewarding to give away merchandise to a convention or charity event to raffle off or use as a door prize. If the master of ceremonies gives your shop proper recognition, the attendees of the event might later remember to visit your store.

Another way to solicit out of town visitors and conventioneers is to distribute your own preprinted propaganda. Your local convention bureau might be very cooperative in including your brochure or flyer in the registration packet each convention participant receives. Make sure the convention director has allowed free time between the events of conference so the attendees have a chance to go shopping. One-day conferences where everybody flies in, has a meeting at an airport hotel and goes home won't do you any good. Be selective on how you distribute your propaganda.

Many hotels and restaurants have display racks full of brochures about local attractions. Get the display company's name and phone number, and check out their rates.

Providing your own brochure or flyer means you need a printer. Use more or less the same techniques on soliciting printers as you did with all the media sales people. Being loyal to one printer for all your small printing needs may pay off later if you ever need a big job done. See Appendix C in the back of the book for a sample brochure suitable to distribute to hotels, restaurants, and convention bureaus.


Updated 2001
© 2001. El Paso Saddleblanket. All rights reserved
No part of this book may be reproduced without the written permission of
El Paso Saddleblanket Co.

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