Marketing Your Product

In business, being nimble-footed has everything to do with success, and you only have to look at your nearest bagel shop for proof of that fact. Those stores usually have owners who keep abreast of their competitors, whose stores have distinguishing characteristics and who respond quickly to changes in the marketplace.

In San Antonio, Mark Morales, who owns Chicago Bagel & Deli with his family, has been shaping bagels since 1995. What sets his business apart, Morales says, is his refusal to simplify the bagel-making process with the latest technology, sticking instead to tried and trusted boiling and baking methods.

“A real bagel is supposed to be boiled in water before it’s baked, a very labor intensive process,” he explains. “The latest oven technology, used by most of our competitors, injects steam into the bagels, and the result is a totally different texture. Sure, the way I do it is a lot of work, but our bagels are authentic.”

Morales is fastidious about learning what his competitors are doing, and regularly calls other area bagel stores to find out their prices. “I also check out bagel shops on the east and west coasts, to see what they’re doing,” he says.

Keeping abreast of rival businesses is extremely important, says L.J. Shrum, Ph.D., marketing department chair at the University of Texas at San Antonio. “In any industry customers are popular and there are lots of companies chasing them. The question is, why would they want to come to your business instead of going somewhere else? In order to answer that question business owners have to understand not only what they do, but what others providing similar services or products are doing, too.”



Know Thyself

Being aware of the competition also helps business owners hone their company’s distinctive features, Shrum adds. “There are so many ways to differentiate yourself. Using bagels as an example, it’s difficult to compete on the most traditional types of bagels. But if you’re appealing to a younger demographic, they tend to be less tradition-bound and more receptive to going outside of convention.”

There are extremes in every situation, and some business owners get too caught up in what their competitors are doing, cautions Mick Prodger, owner of Design Panache, a San Antonio advertising and marketing company. “I like the approach of forgetting what your competitors are doing and looking instead at what the end user or customer wants. Talk and listen to your customer,” he advises. “Get as much feedback as you can. In my business, for example, I try to listen to what my client’s customers want and build that into whatever we’re doing.”

Frequently called on to create or revamp websites, Prodger says he looks at popular consumer websites, examines their easy navigational strategies and tries to put those traits into his work. “Sometimes it doesn’t pay to try and be too clever or to copy your competition, because they could be doing it all wrong,” he cautions.



Know Thy Edge

The varieties of bagels available today are there for a reason, Prodger says. “Bagel makers looked around at what was popular, put those ingredients into a bagel and it worked.” At BadaBing, a bagel shop on South Padre Island, co-owner Andrea Liberatore sells 17 varieties of bagels – some of them packing more calories than others. The low-carb craze was going to have a potentially negative impact on her business, but she stayed sharp and began educating herself on carbohydrates and on which bagels were healthier for those watching their carbs.

“I stocked up a little more on those healthier flavors, so when someone comes in and is concerned about their calories, I know where to steer them,” Liberatore says. “That way, I still have the opportunity to sell a New York bagel deep in Texas.”

BadaBing’s distinguishing characteristic is the origin of her bagels: Long Island, New York. “When we set up the business we wanted to provide a good quality product without working 24/7 to get it, so we sourced from New York.”

As one of the only bagel shops in her area, Liberatore says she’s ceased most of her advertising, relying on word of mouth to fuel the supply of customers to the store.



Know Thy Demographic

How and where you advertise can make a big difference to your bottom line, Prodger says. “In some businesses you can still get by without being web-savvy, but in five years you’ll have to realize that this is how Generation Y communicates,” he says. “Word of mouth used to be the best form of advertising, but now it’s become word-of-social networking, and word-of-Facebook.”

Like many who spend time online, Prodger subscribes to a number of blogs, one of them a coupon blog. Recently he received a coupon for a bagel shop he never knew existed. “I’d never have known about the store had I not received their web marketing.”

This is a perfect example of the way internet marketing works, he explains. “I might put my bagel discovery on Facebook and six people might try the store as a result. Before you know it you have a huge network of new customers created purely through social networking.” The key, Prodger says, is to build social networking into your budget.

Another effective and potentially low-cost alternative to traditional advertising is public relations. “If you could get written up in the newspaper, that publicity is often the best marketing tactic because it’s perceived to be non-biased,” Shrum says. “The hard part is getting that publicity and making sure your target market is watching or reading.”

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