At the start of each year, many business owners (me included), sit down and review their last year of operation and deter-mine how they are going to get more business in the coming year.

In most cases, the answer isn’t ‘sales’. Once you get someone into your store, you typically can do a pretty good job ‘selling’ them the product. So, the issue is – how do we get more people into the store? The answer comes down to marketing – plain and simple. The more effective your marketing is, the more people will know about you, and the more bodies you can get through your door. At that point, your sales skills take over.

I get asked all the time – “What is the best way to market our store? Social media? Facebook ads?” With the myriad options available, it can be pretty overwhelming – and you can easily see your marketing dollars go up in smoke (or vapor), if you don’t do it right.

Here are some proven marketing methods – both online and offline — that will help you build your business in 2016.

Store Events
How many times have you had someone come into your store and say “Oh, I didn’t realize you were here. I was just driving by …” That is one of the most infuriating statements a store owner can hear. You’ve spent money buying ads in the local newspaper, or billboards, or sign-spinners, or …. You name the method. And yet, these people didn’t know you existed.

In the type of business that you are in, you need to be sure to develop solid relationships with your customers, as it is this relationship that brings the person back to your shop time and time again. This can be accomplished very well using business automation (more on that later), but by hosting store events, you help to brand yourself as THE go-to place for customers to get their products. They become loyal customers.

Store events aren’t that hard to host. If you are a smoke shop who is trying to get into the vape market, you could try to help smokers quit by teaching them how they could transition from cigarettes to vaping (the is a great website that helps with this: http://KickTheSmokingHabit.com). Or, if you are strictly a vape shop, offer a ‘sample day’ where people can come in and try tons of different flavors or juice. By partnering with a supplier, you can typically get them to supply the products that you are going to be sampling, and maybe help with some of the marketing expenses.

The basic format is simple: Prepare and send out 10,000 postcards to households surrounding your store. You can get these mailed out using Every Door Direct Mail (https://www.usps.com/business/every-door-direct-mail.htm). It is cheaper than regular mail because everyone on a specified route gets a postcard.

On that postcard, encourage people to ‘pre-register’ on your website, or via email. This serves two purposes … not only will you have a decent idea of what the turnout will be, but you also capture their email address (critical to future marketing).

On the day of the event, structure the venue in such a way that they have to go through a specific entrance point. The main reason you are doing this is because you want to make sure that everyone who comes to the event gets ‘registered’ – meaning that you capture their name and email address. You could let them know that you are giving away “X” prize or prizes and by registering they are making themselves available to be a winner.

Once they are there, make sure that you have a short ‘welcome/sales’ presentation. Let them know why you are doing this (expand their knowledge of the industry), introduce the vendor partners that are there and maybe let them say a little something about their brand, and then emphasize that you want to be their store. After that, make sure that you mix and mingle, talk, and shake hands with as many people as you can.

The power of having an event starts to really kick in when you deploy some business automation.

Business Automation
An email address is useless to you unless you actually use it. With business automation, you have a system that is built to automatically market to your customers based on their likes and dislikes.
Just as the “I didn’t know you were here.” phrase drives you nuts, when I hear “Yeah. We have a system to do our email marketing, but we don’t really use it?” As I mentioned in my last article about email marketing (http://smokeandvapemagazine.com/editorial/kickin-it-old-school-why-email-marketing-still-works/) email marketing is still one of the most effective ways to boost your business. If you implement business automation, you turbo boost it.

If you want to see how automated marketing works, go over to the soon-to-be-launched National Smoke and Vapor Association website (www.NSVA.net) and sign up for your free membership. You will get a “Thank You” message and a request to complete your profile. But … don’t complete it. At least not yet. Wait a few days and the system will start to send you reminders (go ahead and fill out the info then). You could implement the same type of system for your store. Someone signs up (either online or in-store) and they start to get emails – automatically – to drive them back into your store. You can drive them to a profile completion page (like the NSVA does), so that you know about their likes and dislikes. From there, your system will market to them about the items they like, and send them periodic short-term coupons to drive them back into your store.

Just stop and think about how powerful – and easy – it would be to build your business if you were able to contact all of your customers every single month (or more) and the only work you had to do was to enter their email address.

Search Engine Optimization
Let’s face it. Any time you want find an answer to anything you “Google it”!

That’s how your customers do things, too. How many ounces in a pound? What’s the best vape shop near me?

If you aren’t working on your website’s optimization, the folks who are searching that last question are finding your competition – even if they are right across the street. You need to have your Internet presence dialed, and by using search engine optimization to boost your website’s rankings, you can dramatically increase your business.

SEO is a scientific process and many people say they can do it. The important thing is that you engage with a reputable company who has success stories for local businesses – and a company with success in the smoke/vapor industry is even better.

What Does This Cost?
We’ve covered some basic forms of marketing that cover both on- and off-line methods. Now, down to brass tacks … what do these things costs?

Store Events
A well-planned and orchestrated event should cost somewhere between $1500 – $4000 (with the primary cost being the cost of the mailing). In many cases, you can successfully negotiate with your vendors and get them to cover all the costs. I’m familiar with one brand, Outlaw Dog, who actually develops your marketing materials for you and splits the cost of the production of the postcards, saving you a bunch of money.

Business Automation
This type of powerful marketing is typically reserved for huge corporations with massive marketing budgets. If you try to do it yourself it would cost you thousands of dollars per month for software and staffing. We offer a service to smoke and vapor shops that piggy-backs on the software and expertise that we already have, so we are able to offer the service for just a couple hundred dollars per month.

Search Engine Optimization
Just as you spend money on billboards or other print advertising, a good SEO program will probably cost you between $750 – $1000 per month for penetration in a local market. Choosing a firm that charges just a couple hundred dollars a month could actually hurt your rankings due to them using ‘black hat’ techniques. It’s a pretty complicated process, but trust me on the price point. My company has had to try to recover websites that have been damaged by cheap SEO, and the company owner spent far more in the long run trying to recover from the damage than if they had gone with a solid company from the get-go.

In my article, I’ll touch on how using industry specific ‘deal sites’ (like http://www.AwesomeVapeDeals.com), social media, and paid click-ads, can work into your overall marketing plan, but the three items listed above are a great start to being able to capture new business (events and SEO), and then continue to bring those new people back to your company (business automation).

To start the year off right, my company is offering 20% off websites, SEO, and business automation packages for 2016. Just go to http://4SpotMarketing.com/svbs and complete the registration form to get your 20% discount.

Here’s to your success in 2016! SVBS

Jeff Arnold HeadshotJeffrey Arnold is the President of 4Spot Marketing, and has been involved with Internet marketing for the past ten years. He combines 25+ years of business management experience with his expert knowledge of search engine optimization and Internet marketing techniques to provide companies with comprehensive Internet marketing services.  His success is evidenced by his clients’ top Google rankings time and time again. Mr. Arnold can be reached at (702) 721-9763, via email at [email protected], or via his website at www.4SpotMarketing.com.