Why Does it Surprise Us?

Why does it come as a surprise every year when sales hit the wall the week after Labor Day? Feel free to disagree with me, but, in my experience, the first week in September is the worst week of the year. I first experienced this years ago when I was with Max & Erma’s, and it has proven true for every brand I’ve worked closely with ever since.
  • My first fall in the business, it seemed almost as though someone had pulled the plug on our sales that first week of September. Then every week thereafter sales became stronger and stronger until they regained momentum going into October. It seemed to me at the time that it reflected a fundamental lifestyle shift that people were going through from their summer lifestyles to their autumn lifestyles. And because restaurants support lifestyles, dining out occasions shifted along with the seasons.
  • That’s why I wasn’t surprised when I heard a presentation back then by A&W Root Beer about a sweepstakes promotion they had rolled out the first week in September that had proved to be extremely disappointing. I suspect that it wasn’t the promotion as much as the timing of the promotion that accounted for the lackluster results. At the risk of stating the obvious … Timing is everything.
  • Mass media, marketing and promotions can garner a larger slice of the pie. But promoting during a period like the first week in September is like going after a larger slice of a much smaller pie.
  • You really have to ask yourself, will I get a positive R.O.I. on this? I might be inclined to do it if I had unlimited resources, but, when you have limited resources, you’re really just trying to swim upstream, and you’d be better off to fish while the fishing is good.

But what do you do when sales hit the wall?

I’m usually inclined to look for alternatives that capitalize on the traffic already coming in to the restaurant or in the local trade area: local store marketing and in-store merchandising versus media.

  • At Bravo! we did a server incentive contest last year for add-on sales: “A September to Remember.” We worked with vendors who supplied great incentives like iPods, GPS systems and Bose speakers to create a fun and exciting internal promotion. Think about it…the only people more depressed about down sales than you are your tipped employees. The extra benefit, over and above add-on sales, is the morale you can create among your team.
  • I also love promotions geared toward teachers. Having been a teacher prior to going back for my MBA, I know for a fact that no one is more appreciative, and no one is more in need of a morale boost than the teachers that are leaving summer vacation to go back to school. (On a side note, I am heading back to school this fall myself…at least part time. I’ll be teaching a hospitality marketing case study class for Ohio State University’s Hospitality Management program. I wonder if it’ll be as tough a crowd as a GM conference? Just kidding, of course.)

In-store promotions, server incentive contests and local store marketing initiatives can be executed very economically. But more importantly, with a little creativity, they can create that all important emotional connection that magnify the impact beyond the actual promotion itself and help to build the brand.

Until next time…I’d love to hear your thoughts.