Friday, January 13, 2012

Small Business Series, Part 3: Bar Marco is Open For Business!

After all the trials and tribulations…Bar Marco is finally open for businesses!This week I caught up again with Bobby for an update on how things are going now that Bar Marco has started serving guests. We focused our discussion on marketing – and what he is doing to get customers in the door. He also offers some good advice for District Managers on how they can support start-up businesses like his. In the case of Bar Marco, Neighbors in the Strip, the local non-profit whose mission is to promote and improve the Strip District, has been a great resource and advocate for the business.

The strategy for Bar Marco right now is to build a loyal following in an organic fashion. “We are in it for the long haul” says Bobby. He and his partners are resisting the urge to position themselves as the next best thing in the market. Growing too fast is a concern, as it might hurt them in the long run by testing their ability to maintain the quality of the customer experience. As many of us know, the most successful restaurants are characterized not by sexy advertising campaigns, but by their repeat customers and word-of-mouth advertising. This slow build to success is what Bar Marco is aiming for – and what Bobby believes will allow the restaurant to maintain focus on the little details that make or break the experience for diners.

What that means is that the beginning can sometimes be slow going. A few nights here or there have been quiet, particularly before the service industry folks starts walking in the door. Yet when coupled with the private parties, Bobby says they are already covering all of their expenses with revenue earned. Quite a feat for newbies!

Here are some elements from the Bar Marco marketing playbook…

  • Building relationships and creating genuine connections. For Bobby this means many things, and is really at the core of his belief system. Early on, even before opening their doors, the partners connected with local artists and gave them the space to show their work. This is a win-win for all involved. The walls of Bar Marco are covered with original art work, giving local artists a place to show and sell their work, it also give Bar Marco a nice genuine local ambience, while giving artists a reason to promote Bar Marco to their own networks.
  • Serve the service industry. The Bar Marco kitchen is open until 2:00. Now, this is unheard of in ‘dem parts! Yet Bobby thinks their effort to reach this group is an important piece of their success strategy because these are the folks who are the real influence peddlers in the Pittsburgh market. Not only that, but it seems to me that as trust relationships are built, this clientele's experience and input into what is working and what isn't at Bar Marco will come in handy!
  • Start slow. In this case with private parties. These provide steady revenue and provide a strong foundation for word-of-mouth marketing. They also give the back of house opportunity maintain the quality of the service and food and ramp up to more ambitious dishes and robust menu.
  • Finally, they have gone the route of tried and true sales marketing. In this case, they provided free ‘small plate’ tickets distributed locally. Since food is relatively inexpensive give away, it provides folks with a reason to spend more on higher ticket items like wine and drinks.
We’ll keep an eye on Bar Marco to see how these strategies work over the long haul.

So what can a district manager do to help small business owners like those at Bar Marco? I posed this question to Bobby and he was quick to say that Neighbors in the Strip has been great, and offered some additional ideas for my readers.

  • Talk it up! By promoting and talking up local businesses, helping drive early success and consistent traffic through the front door.
  • Keep tabs on the business. A district manager should visit new businesses regularly, keep on top of ways you can support the new business.
  • Use your district networks to promote the business. Bobby suggested posting updates about new businesses in the form of a blog on your district web page. I would add that District Management Entitites should celebrate business openings with great fanfare, including a ribbon cutting with local officials and a press release…buzz begets more buzz and interest in the district.
  • Build a brand. Help by building a district brand. This will differentiate the district from others, and in turn help attract visitors to the district without the business having to spend marketing dollars.
Here are some fun pics of the great food, the dining room, and our good friend Bobby behind the bar!
Don't forget to join Bar Marco’s Facebook Page. And be sure to visit when you are in Pittsburgh.

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