Can Groupon Sales Actually Generate Lasting Customers? Meet Corinne Lettau.
How did a former stay-at-home mom buy a 32,000-sq. ft. equestrian complex and start a horse riding school so trusted that its clients come from as far away as Australia? We *had* to hear her crazy story, so we asked Corinne Lettau, owner of Denver Equestrians Riding School, to share with us how she used Groupon to launch her business and why she focuses on word-of-mouth momentum to build customer relationships.
We'll let Corinne take it from here...
Business: Equestrian Center Owner
How did you create your amazing job?
Back in 2008, I was a stay-at-home mom and my child was starting kindergarten, so I made the decision to go back to work. I couldn't find any jobs in my previous field, which was advertising and marketing, so I thought, "I'll just teach some riding lessons and see how it goes."
Then I heard about Grouponin 2009. I recognized it as a fantastic opportunity for finding new clients, so I jumped on it immediately and set up my first promotion. I sold 80 Groupons for riding lessons and kept 40% of those customers as ongoing clients.
Before I knew it, we had to move our operations to a new barn, and in our first quarter we grew 400%, hired two people and bought six horses.
Come the following quarter, we grew another 400%. It was a crazy time!
Then, one of the big trainers at the barn suddenly pulled up her roots and basically emptied the facility. I felt like it was a message calling me to the next big step for my business. I thought,"I'm going to be the one to buy this place."But it wasn't that easy.
Getting a loan was so difficult that we delayed our close date four times and the sellers ended up putting it back on the market. In early 2012, a fellow trainer told our story to a woman she'd met at the tack store who said, "Hey, my husband can help them out!" She passed along a post-it note with her contact information and the rest is history. From there on out, it felt like money just fell out of the sky.
You mentioned Groupon, which is a really hot topic of discussion. What was your experience with using it?
There were advantages and disadvantages. Our first year after running the Groupon promotion, we were in the red. After Groupon's cut and the discount, we were getting only 25% of our original price and spending a ton on horse maintenance and the new facility. We had nothing left to service our customers, so it was really tough.
But Groupon *did* give us an unexpected cash boost: we got to pocket the fees from the 40% of Groupon customers who never showed up. More importantly, we also built up an incredible amount of word-of-mouth support via the folks who did take advantage of the offer. After the promotion ended, new customers were still flowing in via referrals and paying full price, which got our customer service numbers back up to speed. Our
momentum started there, and now we get clients coming from France, England and Australia just through word-of-mouth.
I can honestly say that if we hadn't used Groupon, we wouldn't be here today.
How do you stay competitive?
We're specialized: our riding lessons build on one another in succession, and we implement standardized testing and curriculum from the Certified Horsemanship Association(CHA), which isn't the industry norm. Three times a year, our students measure their level according to a U.S. and Canadian standard, so I know exactly what each of our riders is capable of.
I also get to use my past experience in marketing and advertising to stay on top of the social media game for our business. Right now we're running Facebook ads targeting very specific audiences. For example, I've targeted women between the ages of 35 and 54 who've expressed interest in the U.S. National Equestrians, or parents who have kids around 12 years old and love horses. The natural reach of a Facebook post is limited, andboostingposts is affordably priced, so I frequently make use of that feature on our Facebook page.
How do you manage reviews and feedback?
Every week of camp I send out an email survey through Constant Contactwith 12 questions. I like to ask our customers about what they loved and what they didn't love about the experience.
Most people aren't exactly jazzed about filling out surveys, so I offer this incentive: they get their name entered into a drawing at the end of the summer for $225 worth of three group lessons when they complete the survey and then again for each review they post online.
I also ask customers for feedback every season, then reflect on what did and didn't work so I can tweak and offer improvements the next year. It's a constant cycle of feedback and change.
Our website has a lot of positive reviews now, but back when we were struggling, I took the negative reviews so personally. Now, I let all the personal slams roll off my back. I filter out the important feedback and focus on what we could have done better, because there is always some level of truth to every review.
What do you want to learn from a community of other small business owners and self-employed professionals?
I'd love to meet other folks who work in education services and ask them specifically about how they stay ahead of an ever-changing customer base.
Our customer base will always be learning and growing, and the percentage of our students at each skill level will always be changing.How do you stay ahead of that? How can you prepare for accommodating folks at all levels at all different times?
Help Corinne out! How do *you* stay ahead of an ever-changing customer base?
Do you have a customer base that's always growing, learning and changing? How do you make sure you're accommodating everyone's needs and you're ready to take them to the next level?
We want to hear your experience! Share your story below and help Corinne out.