Wow, this has been one heck of a year! Hurricane Ike (now calculated as being the fifth most costly American storms of all time) was followed by the economic meltdown that brought the United States and the world to the brink of an economic disaster.
We are now being told by the economic pundits that the recession is now over...that we are in recovery (mind you, we haven’t recovered, but we are getting better). However, for most of us, the path ahead is still full of questions. Are we really out of the woods or have we just hit a leveling off period? Are we going to experience a fast recovery as past steep recessions would predict...or is this recovery going to be flatter and slower? And then there’s the question: “Do any of us really want to return to the prosperity, the greed and inherent instability that the first decade of the 21st century offered?” These are critical concerns for all of us engaged in the business of small business. After all, we small business people are the economic engine of America.
In the midst of these questions, we need to maintain a perspective. One thing for sure; we should feel fortunate to live in Houston. We were slow to slip into the recession and we have been fortunate not to have slid nearly as far as much of rest of the country. We have the energy industry which will be a leading force in both the near and long term of our economic future. We have one of the country’s largest medical centers and all indicators forecast continued and rapid growth in this economic sector. Houston also has the 3rd largest port in the country, and as the world economies stabilize, the port activity will certainly expand (in fact, it already has). The space center was recently given new life and a new direction forward. Our local high tech industries also bode well for the future. So from this perspective, Houston sits atop a very sturdy five-legged stool.
We are also fortunate to be involved in the business of caring for our children. Most of you are or have been parents, and your experience tells you that parents will do whatever they can to provide for their kids. While being part of this market niche doesn’t shield any of us from the realities of today’s economic uncertainty, it does provide us with a fair amount of insulation. Case in point, many of our advertisers have yet to see any substantial slow down in their business.
That said, all of us in the business of small business need to be cautious as we move ahead. The Kid’s Directory has some ideas from our end of the room that we would like to share with you. We have also put some really helpful programs in place to strengthen your marketing programs and reduce some of your marketing costs. You’ll find these later on in this newsletter. But first, I want to tell you a story of one of our advertisers. It is a remarkable story of ‘grit’, a story of turning a ‘sow’s ear into a silk purse’, or said another way, it is a study on how to survive in these uncertain times.
Shari Risenfeld started Mad Science over 15 years ago. She has been a customer of the KD for over 14 years. She has also directed an aggressive and astute marketing program. And much to the credit of her and her staff, she has been among the most successful franchisees in the country for the past 15 years.
To make a long story short; Shari’s business was rendered homeless by Hurricane Ike. She made do, setting up the company’s office in the home of a friend with her inventory scattered betwixt hither and yon. In the months that ensued, Shari dealt with a severe staph infection she got from wading around in the hurricane flood waters in and around her house, one of her kids was hospitalized for 3 or 4 days, and her father began a chemotherapy regiment. More on the business side; Hurricane Ike forced Houston Independent School District (her main customer) as well as other area school districts to shut down and with that, much of Mad Science’s cash flow disappeared. Couple the hurricane with the onset of the recession and Mad Science was in more than a bit of a pickle. But despite the personal burdens and the extraordinary business challenges, Shari pushed ahead. She knew that if she could get to the other side of these crisises, she and her company would emerge much stronger.
Now over a year later, Mad Science finds itself in new offices negotiated during a sluggish economy with space that is twice the size of her former facility. With the new space, Mad Science now offers ‘laboratory’ classrooms and party rooms on site. Shari also evaluated all her various marketing and advertising vehicles and trimmed her marketing budget down to only those things which she determined had worked. To paraphrase a Kid’s Directory expression, she figured out what worked and she fired the rest! She and her team pushed the heck out of their summer registration and it became strongest registration drive...ever. So despite the enormous difficulty that confronted Shari and her company, Mad Science is now a better, bigger and a more viable company than it was in September of 2008...before the hurricane and before the crash.
There is good news for the KD in all this as well. Last fall, I got a call from Shari and she suggested I come by to look at the results of their latest tracking study of where all customer leads were coming from. I told her that I was swamped and could she please mail it. She responded with “No...no. I really think you need to come by.” So I did. Now, they have always kept track of the effectiveness of their marketing efforts and their advertising dollars, but this particular study was more controlled and focused on their upcoming summer programs. The results, listed below, are astounding.
Sources of Customer Leads
The Kids Directory......................
Word of Mouth............................
T.V., Radio, other........................
Fort Bend Parent Magazine.........
Katy Parent Magazine..................
Houston Family Magazine...........
Space City Parent Magazine........
|% of total
*Call us and we can forward the complete tracking study as well as some sample tracking tools that you can use to refine your marketing budget as well.
Special Incentives and
To reach out to our customer base, the Kid’s Directory offers some special promotional programs that will provide a bit of relief to your marketing budget.
Our own ‘economic stimulus package’ ESP
In late spring of last year, in response to the economic stimulus program initiated first by the George W. Bush and then followed by President Obama, the KD decided that it was time for us to offer up our own ‘Economic Stimulus Package.’ We are continuing this program and will extend it well into 2010. It’s available to all customers both old and new. Call us and we will give you the details.
A Special Introductory Offer for
1st time advertisers
As a way of introducing new advertisers to the Kid’s Directory, we have put a special promotional program in place. During the months of February and March, all first time advertisers with the KD will be offered a discount that will be good for the first three (3) consecutive months of their advertising. Be forewarned...our advertiser retention rate is over 90%. So it is our belief that once you experience the KD, you’ll be hooked and you will become part of our family for a very long time. It’s a win-win situation for all of us. But remember, this offer is only good for the three month period after the February or March start.
WOW! Home Delivery
Since the last newsletter, our general distribution has remained around 100,000 each month. But we’ve added another dimension. Last fall we initiated an online view of each of the Kid’s Directories on a page by page basis. That means that another 20,000 to 30,000 moms are browsing KD’s online in addition to our normal circulation. If you’re an advertiser, consider this move a significant increase in circulation and if you’re a reader, you now have Home Delivery.
Kamp Kids Directory:
A Free Promotional Program
Starting in February, each of the 100,000 plus Kid’s Directories delivered throughout the city of Houston and beyond will contain a promotional ad listing all the summer programs and all the summer resident camp programs that we are familiar with. Building on a trust level built over the last 20 years, we expect this promotional ad to push readers to our website where additional information will be offered on the different programs listed. From our website, readers will be directed to the websites of the various summer and camp programs listed. This will be a free service to resident camps irrespective of whether they are advertisers or not and will be offered as a value added marketing tool to all of our advertisers who operate a spring/summer (non resident) program. If you have any questions about this promotional program and/or want to make sure that you are included, give us a call or contact us through our web site (www.kids-houston.com).
Special Sections and Upcoming Events...It’s the Big Bang for your Buck time of year!!
The KD Spring and Summer Activity Guide
(January through June)
This special section has become the gold standard for Houston families for 19 years. The section houses all those businesses who market to families and kids for summer programs, sports clinics, spring break activities, special family events, vacation ideas and destinations, enrichment programs, summer schools and so much more. It’s a perfect environment: a wealth of information on one side and a huge audience on the other. It’s the place where all of Houston’s businesses who market to spring and summer gather. Talk to us and we will give you all the details.
This is the Big Bang for your Buck time of year
The Kid’s Directory will be sponsoring and participating in more events and activities this year than at any other time in the past. The events range in size from small to huge. Each one offers a rich environment for Houston families. In order to meet the demand of the increased circulation created by these events, the Kid’s Directory will be overprinting like crazy. What this means for our advertisers is that our circulation and their potential customer base will be enlarged...by a bunch...at no additional cost. Advertisers win because of increased circulation to a very targeted group of readers, the KD wins because we sell more advertising space, and the various events win due to our sponsorship and support. It is literally a win, win, win situation.
This is a listing of the events that we have so far. You can also find updated listings of upcoming events on our website (www.kids-houston.com).
The Bayou City Art Festival
(March 26th–March 28th)
This will be the first year that we will sponsor this event. There is an Interactive Creative Zone for Children where kids and parents can explore the fun of art. This is a wonderful outdoor event. Some 60,000 people are expected.
Houston Children’s Festival
(April 10th and April 11th)
Now in its 21st year, this is still Houston’s best and largest family event. Tremendous corporate sponsorship (including H.E.B., Baker Hughes, Shell, amongst many others) provides for an outdoor event that takes up a good part of downtown Houston. There are lots of activities, a bunch of entertainment stages, and scads of fun for the whole family. Attendance is expected to exceed 60,000.
Houston International Festival
(April 17th, 18th, 24th and 25th)
This will be our first involvement in this extraordinary event. With an attendance in the neighborhood of 250,000 over the 2 weekends, and an amazing array of art, food, and entertainment, it is no wonder that this event has achieved an enviable national reputation for excellence. The Kid’s Directory will be a participant in the Target Kids Zone where there will be a myriad of activities, entertainment and arts and crafts.
Pasadena Strawberry Festival
(May 14th–May 16th)
An event that celebrates the time when Pasadena was the Strawberry capital of the south. It is a wonderful family event with lots of activities for the kids. Attendance is expected to exceed 60,000.
Remember that all advertisers are welcome to participate with us in any of these events. If you are interested, call our offices or email us (Vanessa@kids-houston.com). She’ll get you scheduled in. Your participation offers good exposure for your business and it presents an opportunity to interface with thousands of potential customers. But mostly, these events are just plain fun!!
As is always the case, freebies are for our advertisers or those who we can bribe...or hope to bribe to advertise in the future. We have a lot of tickets this time around so just call and ask. We don’t want the tickets and passes to go to waste.
The Harlem Globetrotters: Feb 5th and 6th
Monster Jam: Feb 6th
Sesame Street Live: Feb 4th -7th
Lipizzaner Stallions: Feb 28th
Schlitterbahn Water Parks:
Galveston starts March; New Braunsfield starts May
We have passes available through the end of April
Theatre Under the Stars:
we have a few tickets for Miss Saigon on Feb. 28th
tickets through end of the season (April 10th)
A Final Comment
I sort of think that the future for us is a bit like learning to snow ski. Picture yourself, all bundled up, standing atop your first set of skis on the ‘bunny slope’ heading downhill. It’s only natural for you to become nervous and a bit frightened...so you pull back and sit back on your skis. If you do that, you’re going to fall right on your rump...because the secret to skiing is counter-intuitive. It is precisely at that moment when you think or feel that you are about to fall that you should instead lean forward down the slope and...ski. It sounds reckless, but it’s not. It’s smart. Mind you, this metaphor doesn’t hold up if your nervousness is due to the fact that you are about to fly off the edge of a cliff. In that case, your keister may be the better alternative...Nonetheless, given the metaphor, it is time for all of us in small business to be smart, to evaluate and then lean forward towards our future.
The Kid’s Directory does believe that the future is bright but we also believe that the future holds a new paradigm for all of us...a global reality check if you will. We think, indeed we hope that the quality of our lives will now reign over the excesses of the last decade. We hope that we will come to value the richness of our lives more so than the richness of our lifestyles. While we know that a better future awaits us all, we also know that our economic recovery, our prosperity will necessitate that all of us work much harder and much smarter than we ever have had to work before.
We are here to help in any way we can. We want to be your ally in success. Thanks to all of you for your business and your continued support. Here’s to wonderful skiing for all
Robert Spott - Publisher