Will Bathke is just one of many middle-aged Twin Cities business owners who are trying to figure out how to market to young adults in this new age of social media.
It’s not a natural transition for Bathke, 54, or his company, Aero Drapery & Blind, whose typical customers are women between 45 and 74, with a 20-person sales staff aged 50 to 73.
A panel assembled by the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal to discuss how Bathke can reach adults under the age of 35 was quick to tell him what doesn’t work with younger people.
When asked what kind of marketing Aero does toady, Bathke pulled out a 3-inch-by-8-inch flyer with WCCO-AM’s Michele Tafoya on it that gets stuffed into a Valpak envelope and is mailed to 780,000 Twin Cities households every month. Aero averages 80 appointments from each mailing.
While that kind of advertising may work with one generation (Bathke said he likes getting mail), the panel agreed that it’s not the best way to get to younger adults.
One of the panelists, Troy Hutchinson, 35, an attorney with Briggs and Morgan who has helped several startup companies, was asked if he reads the direct mail he receives.
“Only as much as I could see as I was carrying it to the trash,” Hutchinson said. “If I get that in my mailbox, I’m throwing it out.”
Tyler Olson is even younger than Hutchinson and had even stronger feelings.
“I hate mail!” the 25-year-old owner of social-media agency SMCpros said.
The panel was unanimous that if Bathke wants to reach young adults, he has to embrace new technology and “social media” — Facebook, Twitter, iPhones, iPads and YouTube, to name just a few.
On one hand, he doesn’t need to. His Little Canada-based company is successful. It’s profitable and had about $4 million in sales last year. It has been growing as competitors such as HomeValu have gone out of business in a tough industry and down economy.
But Bathke is trying to proactively figure out how to attract younger customers so he doesn’t have to depend only on his older clients.
He has about 11 percent of the Twin Cities market share in drapes and blinds, and he wants more of it.
Aero’s sales staff get leads and set up in-home appointments. If they get the appointment, they have a 74 percent close rate with an average sale of $2,500. The question is, how to get the attention of younger prospects?
Bathke said Aero isn’t well known to the general public. When people think of window treatments, they often first think of big-box stores such as Home Depot. Or, if they hear about Aero, they think it must be more expensive because of the in-home service, although Bathke said Aero is often cheaper than Home Depot.
One way Aero can reach out to young people is by interacting with them online. The panel advised that embracing online marketing would help his company reach older age groups, too.
“Grandmas are online, too,” said John Schneider, group director for digital and social strategy at Minneapolis-based Beehive PR.
Schneider encouraged Bathke to use videos to tell the story of the quality service and design Aero provides, and then to use social media to promote the videos.
“The videos don’t have to be polished,” Schneider said. “One to three minutes — you can introduce a salesperson and focus on hot topics.”
Everyone on the panel agreed that video is attractive to all generations.
They encouraged him to monitor Twitter and use it to interact with potential customers. While the panel and Bathke were discussing how that could be beneficial, Olson pulled out his iPad and found that there were 25 mentions of window blinds on Twitter in the previous 10 minutes from around the world.
Olson said having a person interact with those people on Twitter could lead to sales.
Hutchinson encouraged Bathke to use before-and-after photos on Facebook.
“I think people will be proud of their new window treatments and want to show their friends,” Hutchinson said.
He also encouraged Bathke to develop relationships with younger real estate agents who could recommend Aero to new homeowners who want to update the window treatments in their houses.
Anne Cohen, a senior lecturer at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management who has 15 years of experience in the interior design industry, suggested Bathke use gift certificates for free in-home consultations or a discount off of window treatments.
Give those to real estate agents, and they can distribute them to home buyers, Cohen said.
The math works: Even if Bathke gives a $100 discount, it’s cheaper than the $175 he pays on average for a new lead.
The panel also encouraged Bathke to add a couple of younger salespeople (he’s trying to) and to use them in his marketing to the under-35 demographic.
But with all the talk of social media and a host of things Bathke had never heard of (Hulu? Google alerts?), Schneider reminded the group that Bathke shouldn’t change the marketing he’s already doing.
“Your traditional marketing is working. We’re just adding in components,” Schneider said.
Ed Stych , Staff Writer