In 2009 I was having lunch with a friend, Heidi Kallett, CEO of The Dandelion Patch retail stores. We were discussing the recession and how it was affecting our businesses. She mentioned that her Reston store was her biggest challenge. She said the rent in the Reston Town Center was high and that her sales were solid but only marginally profitable. I pondered her dilemma for a moment and then I suggested that the two of us join forces on an event to bring her more business.
Reston Limousine was founded in Reston — in fact, at the Reston Town Center where her store was. I knew I had a lot of clients in Reston but had never reviewed our client list by geographic area. I found 1,500 clients in Reston. I then narrowed the list down to the top 250 corporate clients
closest to the Reston Town Center. We then planned a lovely lunch at Il Fornaio Restaurant. The lunch would be superb with appetizer, choice of entrée and then to top it off, three desserts!
I emailed my clients and invited them to a client appreciation lunch. I told them that I was inviting 250 and we could only accommodate 50 people so they had to RSVP right away. We had 50 RSVPs in the next 24 hours!
So now I had a group of 50 clients for Heidi to meet and I thought to myself, “Who else would like to get in front of these clients?” Thanks to 10 years of networking, I had a vast list of companies to invite. The clients that were attending the lunch were the administrative assistants, HR managers and office managers of large corporations in Reston. I invited representatives from a florist, a catering company, an event planner, an office moving company, an office supply company, a bakery, a bank, a CPA firm, a housewares outlet store, an ice cream franchise, and a spa.
The day arrived and we had a wonderfully successful event. Each sponsor was able to pitch their business for one minute and give out a door prize. When it was my turn to speak I reminded my clients that I have sedans, buses, vans and limousines. Some of them were only using our sedans. Some were only using buses. I also reminded them of all of our offerings on our website: the wine tours, shopping trips to New York and brew tours. I also told them that we now offer a car in any city in the world through an affiliate network.
When it was over, the sponsors sat down to a beautiful lunch. They all looked at me and said, “When are we doing this again?” We replied that it was a one-time deal. They then told me they wanted to do it every month. Then the bill arrived and it cost each of us $150 to take these clients to lunch. Out of the very first lunch, The Dandelion Patch got a $33,000 order for holiday cards. The event planner got a 500 person picnic! The florist picked up a 12 restaurant chain!
Reston Limousine has benefited greatly by these lunches also. We now book clients in other cities all over the world. This lunch triggered an account with an international relocation client that gives us 20 trips a day. So we started doing this lunch every month. We moved it around from Reston to Tysons to DC to Alexandria to Chantilly to Herndon. Each month after the event, the sponsors would sit together and try and figure out how to get more business from these clients.
Instead of trying to figure out ourselves how we could get more business from this group, I suggested that we start a focus group with our clients.
I invited top clients to another lunch at Morton’s. This time it would be a working lunch. They could order whatever they wanted but we would
be picking their brains.
Here is what we learned:
• Clients just want a great experience.
• Most administrative professionals are overworked and underpaid.
• They don’t have time to shop vendors.
• They want one reliable vendor they can call each time and not have to worry about the service/product.
• We learned that restaurants give incentives to admins to order to go lunches.
• For every six lunches they ordered to go for their office meetings, they would get a free one.
• We heard other catering companies were offering cash back incentives for online orders.
• We learned that just because one person was using us, it did not mean we were getting all the business!
It was a very interesting lunch. We received a lot of information from this group.
The other great byproduct of this concept was that we had now created ambassadors for our companies within large corporations. We now had an advocate in the building who was suggesting everyone give us the business. Lastly, the sponsors all became ambassadors for each other’s business and we all started referring business to each other.
The bottom line is people want to do business with people they know and like.
This idea alone grew my business by 27% and it was during a recession! It became so difficult to win new clients, we won by going back to our regular clients, thanking them for the business, getting to know them better and having a regular presence in their lives.
By: Kristina Bouweiri
CEO, Reston Limousine