Three Marketing Experts Advise a Start-up

by Shel Horowitz

Amy Zuckerman, Sheldon Snodgrass, and Darby O’Brien had plenty of advice for Jeff Glaze – and for other FBC members – at the May meeting.

Glaze, a long-time FBC participant, has recently diversified. His original company sells strictly to manufacturers; a new venture with his son Justin goes after the consumer market: specifically, motorcycle decals for motocross riders. Glaze received specific suggestions from marketing consultant Zuckerman, of A-Z International in Amherst, sales trainer Snodgrass, of Steady Sales Group in Williamsburg, and O’Brien, of the South Hadley ad agency that bears his name. And all three framed their points in the larger context of general principles for any marketing effort.

Zuckerman started by debunking common marketing myths: that marketing is a one-shot effort, that news coverage automatically translates to success, that face-to-face is always the best way to market, and that advertising should be the core of a marketing strategy. All of these are appropriate some of the time, but every business, every situation, is different.

Snodgrass also roots his approach to sales in the fundamentals of marketing, as preached by Jay Conrad Levinson, author of Guerrilla Marketing and many other books:

The four time-honored ways to increase profits:

  1. Decrease cost, increase efficiency. “Think about your cost structures; you’ll find some opportunities for savings.”
  2. Increase the number of new customers (including referrals, which are much easier to obtain than starting from scratch).
  3. Increase customer transactions.
  4. Increase the average revenue per transaction.

Darby O’Brien isn’t one to go by the book. His vision is the street-smart entrepreneur who goes with instinct, and his models include Bobby Kennedy and champion boxing trainer Angelo Dundee, the corner man for Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard.. “When [Kennedy] ran a political campaign, he didn’t run focus groups. He hit the street. He’d hang around in diners, baseball games, neighborhood bars, and he’d ask people. The best ideas are driven by the gut.”

After these initial concepts, the three consultants focused on the case. Jeff Glaze outlined the situation:

“In the late 90s, we had 80 employees, we said, ‘hey, we’ve got the formula.’ Then the industrial economy started to slide. With China, we lost about 25% of our business, one large customer. The other 25% we lost through other factors. But I recognized from the mid-90s on that we should diversify into other markets. My son Justin started racing motocross, and we recognized a need for graphics on these bikes. It gave us retail, a completely different market.

“About a year ago, we found that some technology had come along to allow very small volume graphics, to do a run of five or even one. We bought a digital printer. About 8 or 9 months ago we started to have some success. We found the demand for our product was on the consumer side.

“We’re looking for other markets that are “china-proof,” and could be sustainable over time.”

Believing the motocross market will “tap out quickly,” Snodgrass advised the Glaze family to leverage the skills they’ve gained in that market and go after other vehicle graphics markets, such as horse trailers and RVs, and to explore partner relationships with those alredy in those markets.

Zuckerman agreed that other markets have good potential, but stressed the importance of understanding the differences. “There’s a need for systematic market research. Don’t just do scattershot. You don’t know if the racing is the only niche. You can quickly and inexpensively, survey the new customers: how shallow or deep are they? Will they keep coming back? Go to ten dealers in the region, interview them. Go to the track for market research, hand out some products, see where the interests lie.”

But she also told Glaze not to write off his original B-to-B markets. “There is disquiet around China and Asia. It’s extremely costly to have a company in China. There are payola issues, shipping issues. Go back to your old line customers and see if they’d look again at the U.S. Anything to do with coping with the China factor becomes a news story.”

O’Brien sees that the Glazes’ technology could work on pickup trucks, and sees football games as a place to sell them. “You’ve got a lot of avid fans who tailgate. Now [the graphics on fans’ trucks] is done by local sign shops. So we kicked around tailgating at a Patriots game. You find the stylemaker in the crowd, go to a few games. They’ve got a neat name: Go For It Graphics, and it’s ‘go for it, Patriots!’ You do the vehicle for free, and you hand out [stickers with contact information]. You could do that all across the country, because football fans are nuts and they want that identification on the vehicle.”

Make sure, he cautions, that any such campaign has its ducks in a row with regard to licensing, and the company’s relationship with the pro team.

Jeff Glaze sees the motocross market as far from exhausted: “We’ve designed unique materials that adhere to the specific types of plastic. We’ve done the shapes so that this niche will appreciate that we’re covering the entire fender. A local sign shop just looks terrible in comparison—but maybe we should sell through those shops. People come and say I want a custom graphic. ‘What do you want?’ ‘Well, I don’t know, show me what you have.’ I show them three and then they say, ‘yes, that’s exactly it!’ But the next year, we have to come back with something bigger and bolder.”