I’d like to share with you a great idea on how to build the foundation of a strategic marketing partnership that will pay back repeatedly with increasing sales year after year.
Several years ago I wrote about moving across my hometown of Bakersfield, Calif., and attempting to develop a relationship with a restaurant in my new neighborhood. I found a nice little place called RJ’s. With a great wine selection, full bar, upscale menu, indoor-outdoor seating, and more TVs than I could count, I felt this was a place that would be like Cheers to me.
It is a place where you should make reservations, but if you don’t, they will work you in. This is important because you want your restaurant partner to be upscale for you to share mutual customers. It was time to get to work.
I started by sending an introductory letter to the owners of RJ’s telling them of our service, vehicles, rates, and experience, and inviting them to give us a try at 50% off our normal rates. No gimmicks, no obligations, just a chance to show them our superior service and how confident we were that we bested anyone they were using.
The Partnership Begins
We soon took an order from RJ’s when they hosted an employee night out. It had to be flawless. We sent our best limousine and chauffeur, and we paid attention to detail. I reciprocated and made a reservation at RJ’s. I watched how they treated their clients and how they worked as a cohesive team. Food servers delivered food and filled water and iced tea for each other. Every table belonged to the team instead of a single server. Servers sat down to take orders. Guests were greeted by name on arrival. People who appreciate these things tend to be the same people who enjoy luxury transportation and enjoy being pampered.
We would be asking them to share their clients with us, and we would be directing our clients to use them. Both companies have to uphold the reputation of the other. If either partner has a customer service issue while working together, the failure is reflected on each company.
Developing the Partnership
I began dining at RJ’s once each week. I made it a point to introduce myself to each server and let them know we were in the limousine business. I left huge tips to make sure we were remembered. I gave everyone business cards.
I asked to meet the owner. I learned there were two, Russell Carter and Jason Cox, hence the name, RJ’s. I shared with them my observations of what made their restaurant one of the hottest in town. I asked them to partner with me. Russ told me they had used several other limousine companies. He said, “When I went on that first trip with you, I could tell this was a company that cared about their equipment and had top-notch customer service.”
Soon they began referring to me their customers who were celebrating events at the restaurant. RJ’s also continued to do business with us, soon becoming one of our top 10 most frequent clients.
We began discussing how we could get more people in the restaurant delivered by limousine. We started with a Monday Night Football promotion. Each week a drawing was held to see who would get a VIP party for the following week. Of course, a limousine was part of the package. RJ’s advertised daily on the radio, including our name in every commercial. We provided the limousine to the winner in exchange.
Soon, people were calling us to get limousines to go to RJ’s on Monday night even if they didn’t win. We in turn included RJ’s in other promotions we did with TV stations, and RJ’s was included in TV spots. They provided free dinners to winners of the TV promotion.
Next we began pairing up on gift certificates, offering dinner for two with limousine transportation. We give these out to almost any charity that asks, such as the American Cancer Society, American Lung Association, Juvenile Diabetes, and other organizations seeking raffle prizes at large events.
Today, both companies freely give away certificates to causes we deem worthy without consulting each other. Because we target the same type of clientele, if it is good for the restaurant, it is good for us. It has become commonly known around the community that we pair up together with customers of both businesses asking us questions such as, “When are you going to do another promotion together?”
We consult with each other on cash sponsorships of charity events where both companies make cash contributions, and we share space for our logos on items such as T-shirts and banners.
We continue to work together to develop promotions that allow us to reach out to the same customers while combining our advertising dollars, radio station trade accounts, and marketing forces.
I asked Russ and Jason their thoughts about our partnership. Russ was quick to point out he likes the monetary portion of it the most.
He says that shared advertising expenses and the increased business by association with our company are two areas important to him. Russ also told me that he feels the association exposes him to many of our clients that he might not otherwise reach, as we do mass e-mails and promote special events coming up at RJ’s and offer a special price for clients going to RJ’s.
Cultivating the Partnership
To keep the relationship growing, it needs to be constantly nurtured like a garden. I still eat at RJ’s once a week. I regularly socialize with Russ and Jason. We attend community events together as both friends and business partners. They still rent limousines frequently, and every once in a while when they go out on a Sunday night, I comp the trip as a gesture of appreciation for their many referrals and frequent patronage. Every once in a while, they invite us to be their guests and dine with them at RJ’s.
Through this socialization, ideas get thrown around and discussed while having a good time with friends. We talk about a concept idea and who it would appeal to. We then consider the best methods for getting the message out. Finally, we arrange the logistics of who pays who and who will be responsible for what media purchases. Before we know it, we are on the air doing something spectacular together again.
Before You Partner
It is important that you really spend time at a restaurant and know first-hand the level of service it offers, the quality of the food, the speed of service, and the general atmosphere of the dining area. You will be asking your clients to take your word that this restaurant is a good place. You must know that the overall experience will be outstanding from beginning to end, and likewise you must know that the restaurant’s customers will fault them for anything that goes wrong on your part.
Jim A. Luff, an LCT contributing editor, owns The Limousine Scene of Bakersfield, Calif.