On a new track for success Featured

9:49am EDT July 22, 2002

It was just like having a teen-ager taking messages for you. Yes, people called, but who they were and what they wanted was lost to the ages.

That was life at Michaud’s Towne n’ Country, a 60-year-old banquet hall in Strongsville that caters mostly to wedding parties and school reunions. With a small staff, the head chef or someone on the maintenance crew might answer the phone. Tracking potential business simply didn’t happen. Follow-up calls were nearly impossible.

Enter Mandi Kobasic, marketing coordinator, a woman with a plan.

Kobasic implemented a marketing program which has put the company on pace to shatter last year’s earnings. The crux of the plan is a simple tracking sheet, which becomes a plan of action for every prospect.

“Before, we would get a telephone call and rattle off our information,” says Lyle Michaud, owner. “It is possible that we never heard from them again. Now, a caller gives us name, e-mail, address, how they heard about us and we ask them more questions about their event.”

Explains Kobasic, “Everyone has a (tracking) sheet right by the telephone.” That sheet follows the potential client throughout the booking process. And while just about anyone still takes calls at Michaud’s, it’s Kobasic who returns them.

“Three days later, I give them a call and say, ‘I know that you were planning on having a 60th birthday party. I just wanted to make sure you got the information.’ And then we go ahead and set up an appointment for them to come in.”

So far, the system is working.

“We are busier than ever because we are booking more parties,” Michaud says. “We are currently 50 bookings ahead of where we were last year, which translates to at least a 30 percent or $250,000 increase in business from last year.”

That hasn’t come without a price. Marketing costs have escalated since Kobasic’s programs were implemented. Michaud’s has spent about $10,000 in the last six months. During the same period last year, the company spent about $2,000.

It’s a small price to pay, however, for the results. Previously, without any systems in place, there was no way to trace whether a call ever turned into a booking or was lost for lack of follow-up.

“I tried in my own clumsy way several years ago using the appointment book, trying to keep track of how many people who came in actually booked,” says Executive Administrator Kathleen Kobasic. “What (this program) has done is gotten us more involved with people. It has given us background that can only help when you meet them face to face.”

Now, even when people choose not to make an appointment or ultimately select another site, that information is recorded, says Mandi Kobasic.

“Obviously, the end result would be to set the appointment and to have them book the affair here,” she says. “If they don’t book the event, we have it all marked down and we mark why. We put into a spreadsheet why people didn’t select us. So over a period of time, if it was because of the bathrooms — something that we can control, then we know what improvements we need to make.”

To make the program work, Mandi says, everyone had to be on board. That’s why there have been mandatory training sessions for every employee each month since the program was launched. They learn how to answer the phones, and how to use the tracking sheets.

“Now they realize the importance of probing a little bit more,” she says.

There is more to the marketing program than just a tracking sheet, though. Michaud’s recently launched a Web site (www.michauds.net) that provides detail about the facilities. There is also a post-event survey.

The survey has helped Michaud’s learn that 60 percent of customers heard about the company through word of mouth.

“So we geared the rest of the marketing program around that,” Mandi says. “If people are hearing (about) us from word of mouth, then every contact that they have with us better be a pleasant experience.”

According to Michaud, “Before, we marketed mostly to the people using our facility. Now we market externally to consumer and commercial events. The overlap of someone we’ve met with for a commercial event that just so happens to have a younger family member getting married is amazing.

“Dipping into business event management has helped us increase our strong consumer business and introduce us to commercial prospects. We are forming more relationships and shaking hands with people in our industry.”

How to reach: Michaud’s Towne n’ Country, (440) 238-7078

Dan Jacobs (djacobs@sbnnet.com) is senior editor at SBN magazine.