About four years ago I was working as an engineer for Bobcat Company in North Dakota, but it wasn't the right place for my family. In order to make a change, I decided to buy out my father's meat market business back home in Bemidji, Minn.
Stittsworth Meats has been in our family since 1993, when my dad and his brother opened up an old-fashioned meat market in a location that had been in the neighborhood for 100 years. They were known for their brats, but eventually expanded to turkey drumsticks, hot dogs, pepper sticks and more. I'd been around the shop all my life. I remember doing cleanup and wild game processing starting when I was 13.
The business did pretty well, but it was in a low-traffic area and most people only thought to come to us for big events and special occasions. I wanted to make Stittsworth Meats a destination and a place for people to do more regular shopping. I felt like the timing was right. The world is starting to move away from the idea of the one-stop shop, and we're going back to having more specialized markets. I figured once people realized what we did at Stittsworth Meats, they would start coming to us instead of the grocery store.
One of the first things I did after I bought the business in 2010 was create a Facebook Page for it. We had a great name among people in town so I knew we could get fans. The idea then would be to make posts that would remind people to come into the store. It worked just like I thought. I'd post about taking a batch of salmon out of the smoker or about a new brat recipe we developed, and we'd sell out right away. People would tell me how they were looking at Facebook at work and decided to come by on their way home after seeing something we shared.
A few months into owning the shop, I decided to try something else new. For years my dad had put an ad in the local newspaper every Saturday. The ad would highlight six items and include a coupon that people could clip out and redeem. The ad cost $100 every week, and it quickly became clear that this wasn't worth it. Only six coupons were redeemed in a month and a half.
During my time at Bobcat, I was in charge of buying tools for the factory and I had to analyze the return on investment for everything I did. I was always looking at data to make better decisions. So when I saw the numbers on advertising in the paper, I knew I had to do something different. I thought, why not give away $100 worth of something to one of our customers instead?
I put together a gift basket and asked people to like our Facebook Page and enter our drawing. We got people to connect with us online, we reminded them to visit the store, and we were able to do something good for our customers. The strategy worked, so I did more giveaways. Whenever traffic slowed, we did another one. It's something we still do today. Taking what we used to spend on conventional ads and spending it instead on giveaways and Facebook ads to boost our posts has been much more effective at driving traffic to our front door.
Yearly sales are up 250 percent. We've also been able to move into a more central location with higher traffic. What's even better is that people are realizing that our quality is better than what the big-box stores offer and our prices are cheaper or the same. We're not just the place people go to on occasion. We're their local choice.