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0 comments | Posted by: Terri on September 21, 2012 | Categories:
What do you see when you look at your car? Most people see just a way to get from Point A to Point B. Greg Charanduk, Founder and CEO of Sobil Media sees two things: underutilized advertising potential and an opportunity to be rewarded for some brand-name love. While consulting for a sign company, Greg was sitting at a traffic light when he was struck by a thought, “All these mobile billboards were surrounding me with no advertising on them.” Wanting to inject some warmth into the idea, he added a social media component and launched Sobil Media, an advertising company combining mobile advertising, social media engagement and fan rewards. The whole concept boils down to one sentence, “It’s easier to love a brand when the brand loves you back.”
Below, Greg talks about the changing advertising industry and the power of fandom.
How did you come up with the idea of combining social media with the concept of literal mobile advertising?
The whole advertising environment is changing very rapidly. Maybe not in the advertisers’ mind frame, but in the consumers’ mind frame. The younger generation—any generation for that matter—they really don’t have time to look at advertisements. There’s been a disruption. Companies buy advertising, either in radio, TV or print and the social groups are saying–whether consciously or inadvertently–“You know, I’m not going to buy into that anymore.” The consumer has started to tell advertisers what they want. Now, the biggest challenge for advertisers is engaging the consumer or getting a return on investment from their social platform.
Let’s say you love Red Bull, for example. You like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter. But how does Red Bull engage you in a real, tangible way? Well, Red Bull can solicit you from Sobil Media as a mobile billboard. They go onto their Facebook and say, “Hey, followers, we got this great offer through SobilMedia.com. When you register as a driver there, you may have the opportunity to drive our brand on your car.” Now they’re not just advertising on a billboard or on a helmet. They’ve taken their whole advertising campaign to reward a follower and crowd source their follower base. If Red Bull says to Sobil, “Hey, we’re willing to give $100 of Red Bull every month to our follower for advertising,” there’s a real cash value to the consumer of $100. But the investment dollars from Red Bull is considerably less. And what business wouldn’t want to reward followers in the product or service that they’re offering? It changes the whole relationship. And there’s nothing more powerful in advertising than the spoken word of a satisfied person.
Looking at your website, it seems like you’re reaching out not only to businesses interested in advertising but to drivers as well?
Yes, we’re going to actually add another dimension to Sobil Media, where you can earn Sobil Rewards just for driving your car. Say you drive 300 miles in a month. You’ll be able to redeem rewards from those miles, just by driving. There’s no fee. There’s no catch to it. We’ll reward you Sobil Rewards for the amount of miles you drive, and you’ll be able to redeem offers from advertisers, like a free oil change, a free cup of coffee, all types of offers from advertisers we partner with.
How would the vehicle owner get the advertisements on their car? Would they have to take it somewhere?
All the advertisements are going to be professionally designed by authorized Sobil advertising agencies. It’s not going to look corny or cheap. Our plan is to partner with decal companies all throughout North America. We’d say, “There’s a window of time between Monday and Wednesday, when’s the best time to take your car down?” If the client allows, we’ll eventually go mobile. We could put the advertisement on at your place of work or your home in the evening. We’re trying to make it easy for the driver so they don’t have to take a day out and try to get there car to someplace to get the installation done.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced getting this started?
The biggest challenges have just been normal early adopter objections, like, “Will I have to drive any advertisement?” Obviously there’s no obligation to the driver. You can say no to any campaign. You can say yes to any campaign. There’s no obligation to the driver to drive any brand. People are always wired to think there’s a catch. But there’s no catch.You just drive as you drive, you love the brand, you drive responsibly, all the things that 98% of people would do anyway.
0 comments | Posted by: Terri on July 30, 2012 | Categories:
Most of us have only one response when encountering a bat in our home or business: panicked flailing. While Michael Koski of Get Bats Out admits to a little screaming when he first entered the bat removal business sixteen years ago, he’s grown to respect the flying mammals and their place in our world. “We found a nice niche where we can serve people, the bats and our ecological system.”
Michael talks about the many misconceptions surrounding bats and what not to do when faced with a bat problem.
How did you get started in the bat removal business?
About 16 years ago, my dad and I were working in an art gallery in Aspen, Colorado. We had bats in the gallery, and nobody knew how to get rid of them. We tried pest control companies and state agencies. We finally had to fly somebody in from another state who took care of it within 24 hours. My dad bought a franchise from him for the state of Colorado, and I went to work for my dad for the first ten years before going national myself.
What are some of the most common misconceptions about bats?
They all have rabies. In fact, it’s a little bit less than 1%. People are overly terrified of bats. Bats do bring some health problems and property damage, but it’s not like a fire; it’s more like a leaky roof.
Another misconception is that it can be treated inexpensively, like a bug or mouse problem. Ninety-five percent of my customers are surprised by how expensive it’s going to be. Instead of the $180 for the pest control guy, it’s $3000 to have some work done on the outside of your house. The only way to get rid of bats—by the way it’s not legal to kill them; they’re protected—is to completely seal up the outside of the house and install one-way doors. It’s a little bit dangerous. You’re working at the top of a 32-foot ladder and a hundred bats fly out in your face; you can fall.
People also think the scattered droppings are toxic, and they’re really not. They’re not any different from mouse droppings. Now when there’s there’s a pile of it, you don’t want to touch that. There’s a fungus that grows in there that can make you quite sick; some people die of it each year.
Okay, so if I had a bat somewhere in my house, what would I NOT want to do?
That’s actually a great public safety question. I have an article on my website, “If You Have a Bat in Your House Right Now.” First of all, you don’t want to touch it with your bare hands. And before you let it out, you want to make sure it wasn’t in a room with a sleeping person, a child, an intoxicated person or someone otherwise impaired. Sometimes people get bit and don’t know it. If that happens, the bat should be captured and tested for rabies. Otherwise you end up with post-exposure rabies shots which, this year, are running a little over $4000 per person. The state will test it for free. Animal Control will come pick it up, the health department will test it, and 99% of the time you don’t need shots. But if you let the bat go, you have a one in one hundred chance of dying, so you better get the shot.
You have a book out, The Homeowner’s Essential Guide to Bat Removal. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
My service is expensive. What I specialize in is more difficult problems: someone had tried and failed or there’s a thousand bats in the attic. A lot of people come to me who can’t afford my services or don’t have that serious of a problem. We wrote the guide to meet that market, to help do-it-yourself-type people stay safe and understand how to do it without going in there and killing the bat. It’s partly to help people who can’t afford my services and partly to make sure they stay safe. It’s also designed to help protect the bats. I’d like them to be humane and not just go in there and act with no knowledge.
Has this job changed your personal feelings towards bats?
Oh, absolutely. My first year or two, I was very scared of them. I jumped off a few ladders, screaming. Then, for a while, I was kind of indifferent about the bats. Now, I’m kind of fond of bats. They’re amazing creatures.
What is your favorite part about this job?
Every job is an adventure, and I enjoy the travel involved. And I’ve hand-picked old friends and colleagues from my whole life to work with. So I’m working with all my friends, basically.
It’s kind of fun being a hero too. You show up at a school, half the place is terrified. They’re worried they’re going to get shut down, the health department’s involved, and we come in with our black T-shirts and get rid of the problem. It feels like you’re doing a real service.
You’re doing a service not only for those people in the building, but to the bats as well.
Absolutely, yeah. There’s too many problems with bats and White Nose Syndrome anyways. So many bats have died from it in the last few years. They’re very important to our ecology. We found a nice niche where we can serve people, the bats, and our ecological system.
Can I make one more statement? This is something I occasionally run into in schools and commercial settings. People are often unaware of the liability and property damage they’re facing when they ignore a bat problem. If they just did a little Google search, they’ll find other commercial properties, homeowners and hospitals that had to face the problem after it got picked up by the media or the health department. In a commercial setting, people should be a little more proactive about solving the problem instead of minimizing the problem. It’s a serious matter.
Got bats? Check out Michael’s website for contact information and a wealth of helpful articles and resources.
0 comments | Posted by: Terri on July 11, 2012 | Categories:
Studio 94 Photography is a Southern California-based photography studio specializing in portraiture. In business since 1994–hence the name–Studio 94 has photographed over 100,000 people. “You can never guess what a customer is thinking,” advises Kyle Robinson, President and Found of Studio 94. “You need to listen and put yourself in their shoes.”
Below, Kyle talks about his journey from rock star drummer to professional photographer to reality TV star.
How did you get started in photography?
I was attempting to become a rock star. I was taking pictures people thought were good, so I pursued photography at the same time. As a drummer, I relied on other people to make something that could earn money. As a photographer, I would only need to rely on myself.
What type of photography do you enjoy most?
Fine art. There’s not much money in it; that’s why we do other types of photography.
I love symbolism and the meaning inspired in an image. It’s very challenging to tell a whole story or convey a point through one picture while keeping artistic integrity. I love the challenges it brings.
What sets you apart from other photography studios?
Customer service. Photography is an art and subjective to opinion. We need to invade our customers’ expectations to produce something they want to purchase. We can’t always get it right the first time, so we have to be willing and able to adjust to that expectation, even if it’s below our ability. You can never guess what a customer is thinking. You need to listen and put yourself in their shoes. That’s what sets us apart. We guarantee you’ll love your pictures.
When working on location, as opposed to in the studio, how do you deal with the challenge of being in a less-controlled environment?
We always control the environment, even if it’s outside. We have all the tools needed. We schedule for specific times or we bring the control devices along. Your best when you’re in control.
I see you’re going to be on television! How did that come about?
It’s a weekly reality TV show called American Studio. It’ll be about the day-to-day workings of a studio that can do just about anything photographic. It was an inspired idea we developed and believed in. There’s a long road before it’s on TV, but I think it will be very entertaining when it arrives.
Do you foresee any challenges working with a camera crew?
Yes. We still do our best to give our customers the service they expect, but they love the novelty of it too. Our staff is very familiar with cameras. They’re all required to experience photo sessions to know what the customer deals with. There are not very many camera-shy people here.
Where do you find your inspiration?
I am inspired by the Creator. After years of research, I’m fully convinced the God of the Bible is the Creator. I believe if He can imagine this incredible universe, then I can imagine great things as well. After all, you and I were created in His image. That’s remarkable if you think about it. He continues to give me remarkable, inspired ideas. Everyone I know that pursues Him receives Him and His inspiration.
What is your favorite part about your job?
Some of our customers are forced to be here because of parents or school rules or whatever. Some of them don’t think very highly of their appearance or consider themselves ugly. The best feeling is when someone like that sees their professional images for the first time, and they look amazing. For that moment you have changed their consideration of themselves. They will have that with them forever. That is the best part of the job. When people love their pictures they think better of themselves.
0 comments | Posted by: Spencer on June 18, 2012 | Categories:
Samantha Moon founded Lunar Ink, an online wedding invitation and stationary boutique, after a potentially sobering realization: “I wasn’t very satisfied with my wedding.” So she made it her business to help other wedding couples stay satisfied with theirs, starting with the invitations. Her role is part artistic advisor, part counselor, and—reading between the lines—part diplomat. With two young kids at home, Lunar Ink is a 24/7 gig, and Samantha loves creatively responding to frequently high-pressure situations. “When you’re getting married, it’s stressful,” she says. “You have to talk through issues. That’s what we do.” (Happy to report that if Samantha’s wedding was less than perfect, her marriage has trended positive: “I get a lot of support from my husband. …It’s wonderful to have that support at home.”)
How did you launch Lunar Ink?
My education is actually in biology. I went to a liberal arts school, and one great thing about liberal arts schools is that they teach you more than just your degree.
I wasn’t very satisfied with my wedding, looking back on it. I decided that I had an interest in invitations. I wanted to help other brides find something that was priced well and fit what they wanted. My husband’s grandmother had sold invitations for many years; she advised me how to get started. That’s how I started Lunar Ink.
What’s Lunar Ink’s specific focus?
What sets us apart is the fact that we’re an online business that treats you more like a boutique business would. I get to know each bride who orders from me, and I get to know their tastes and styles. I work as an advisor and sometimes more like a counselor. When you’re getting married, it’s stressful, even when it’s not that hard. Lots of times, there are questions on etiquette: “Should I or should I not invite these people?” You have to talk through issues. That’s what we do. We’re more like a boutique experience, but it’s online, so you can shop whenever you want. I work 24/7. Whenever emails or calls come in, that’s when we’re there.
How do keep work-life balance?
It’s not easy. I have two small children—one is three and one is almost eight months—and there’s the craziness with that. What I try to do is devote certain times of the day to each item I need to do. If there’s calls coming in, AnswerConnect handles them for me during certain periods of the day. After-hours calls I deal with as I have time; lots of times, that’s late at night, when the kids are in bed. I’m kind of a night owl. For a long time, when the baby was little, I was working at 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning. It’s the way it worked out.
I get a lot of support from my husband. He’s a good guy. On the weekends, when I want him to watch the kids for me, he’s there. It’s wonderful to have that support at home.
Does he work from home?
Yes; he works at home, during normal business hours. I work anything and everything in between. I managed to hire on summer help—two new employees—for the busy season. They’re both part-time. One is a sitter to watch the kids for a couple hours, and the other one assists me with other things.
You said you help brides with wedding invitations. Do you usually work with just one partner?
Generally, it’s the bride contacting us, but I also sometimes deal with the groom or the parents of the bride or groom. I’ve also dealt with bridesmaids. I’ve dealt with wedding planners. But generally, brides themselves like to be in control of this part of their wedding because the invitation sets the tone for the ceremony. Is it going to be fancy or casual? Where is to going to be: in the same town? Is it a destination wedding? Most brides like to be in direct control, though of course, there’s always the exception to the rule.
I also work with [same-sex] partners—lesbian, gay, transsexual—as well. We help everybody. Everybody gets treated the same.
What are some challenges you’ve faced with Lunar Ink?
One of the biggest is staying up-to-date with the current wedding trends. It’s amazing how many changes there are, just in a year, especially with color and designs.
For awhile, we’ve been talking about launching our own product line instead of being a retailer for one of the companies we work for. The challenge is finding time to work on that and source our print shop and learning the technology. There’s a lot of demand for custom designs. I have to start learning design software.
The fact is, AnswerConnect frees me up to learn and do those things. They can take messages; that way, when I call back my clients, I have a targeted way of addressing their concern, because AnswerConnect has already let me know what it is.
How much time do you spend on marketing?
That’s hard to say. Generally, we focus on marketing at a certain times of the year, usually between Thanksgiving and the new year. The rest of the year, usually, we’ve already gotten our marketing plan into production. Bridal season starts in January. The high season runs from January into May. Then after May, you’ve typically finished, with just last-minute ordering into fall. So the bulk of my time in the off-season is working on marketing.
What do you love most about your small business?
It lets me be creative. I really love that. I see a lot of things that other people have come up with. And if a bride likes one invitation, and the price isn’t right or she wants to make changes, we do custom-ordering. That allows me to get creative. That’s what I love. I love the fact that I can write and research about it and let my imagination move with the business.
1 comment | Posted by: Spencer on June 12, 2012 | Categories:
Three years ago, Sam Hendren founded Tech Gone Wild, an online electronics store. He worked in electronics retail for years and loved it, but realized he wanted, as he says, “to say it was my own.” Customer service is the leverage point that sets Tech Gone Wild apart from the big e-commerce players. Hendren and his four other employees will personally call new and returning customers to thank them, and they’ll regularly bend their own return policies to make a customer happy. “I love being able to service people,” Hendren says, “to know they’re going to use their new product and enjoy it.”
Tell me about Tech Gone Wild. How are you different from your competition?
We’ve only been around for a few years. At first, we mainly sold accessories for electronics; iPads, computers, that kind of thing. We’re just starting to get into the electronics business. But our main focus is on accessories. We’re very price-competitive. So is our service. We try to be better than Best Buy and Amazon, and we do customer service very well.
How has your role changed since founding your company?
Now I manage it all. I have a say in everything that happens. We don’t do the shipping in-house anymore; we’re contracted with a warehouse in Oregon. We send our products to them, and they send the orders out. But I oversee everything. And we’ve got four extra guys here.
What’s your professional background?
I’ve been in the retail business for about six years now. I actually used to work at a small store here in Arizona. I was a salesman there. I like the work, and I wanted to do it on my own, to be able to say it’s my own.
What’s been the most difficult part of launching Tech Gone Wild?
Probably getting funds. Building and marketing these websites, it costs thousands of dollars, and you’ve got to be able to sell that much to pay for all these costs. So definitely, marketing and running the website is not cheap. That’s probably the biggest challenge. I mean, Amazon, they’re spending tens of thousands of dollars every day, just on marketing. We are not able to do that. So that’s the hardest part, getting ourselves out there.
Getting yourself out there is one step. How do you build (and cultivate) your brand’s trustworthiness?
Our customer service is high priority; from the feedback I’ve gotten from our customers, they’ve really liked that. They feel like we really care. You know, on some products—some items that are manufactured by HP, say—we can’t be price-competitive, because Amazon can purchase way more inventory and get lower prices. But our customers say they’ll pay extra to come with us because of the service we’ve given them before.
How do you build loyalty with your customers?
A month or two after ordering, we’ll personally give them a call and thank them. Sometimes we’ll give them $5 or $10 in store credit, just to keep them coming and keep it on a personal level. We generally have a 30-day return policy, but if somebody’s 45 days out, we might take the item back.
What about social media—do you use those platforms much?
Facebook is our biggest one, although we do have a Twitter account that’s just linked to our Facebook account. On Facebook, we do some things, like “The first person to Like this gets store credit.” Or we’ll post a random gift card code; things like that.
To someone in the early stages of launching a similar e-commerce business, what advice would you give?
I would say start off on eBay and Amazon before you buy your own site, to get a feel for how it works. Then launch a small DIY website yourself instead of investing thousands to get it professionally designed. You never known where it’s going to go.
How did you raise start-up capital?
We started with $500. We bought 100 iPad cases at $5 and sold it all on eBay, making $5 to $10 a case. All the money we got back from that, we put into buying more cases. We kept doing that until we had a nice pocket of cash, and then we moved into selling another product. We didn’t worry about marketing, and we didn’t have any overhead until our shipping got high enough. Then we got our first shipping agreement with FedEx, got discounted rates, and started in with different products. It grew from there.
Sounds like “start small and be patient.”
Yeah. We didn’t want to have to go to a bank and worry about loans.
How has outsourcing your warehouse and shipping worked for you?
It’s been nice. We don’t have to worry about customer service or shipping; now, it’s mainly just customer service. We’ve got a data feed that runs all our orders from our side automatically to the warehouse. They’ll process and ship the order, and we’ll bill directly on our FedEx number. It’s been working nicely. We offer a same-day shipping option, and we haven’t had any problems yet. It’s made our lives much easier.
What do you love most about your job?
I love being able to service people, to know that they’re going to use their new product and enjoy it. I especially love it when they come back and place a second order. It’s a very diverse working setting, a fun job to have, and I enjoy it very much.