Sunday, December 14, 2008

An Open Letter to Local Business Owners

My dear purveyors of good stuff,

Right now, I live in a hotel. And before you ask, the answer is: No, there's nothing glamorous about living in a hotel. I used to think living in a hotel would be sexy. Manny Ramirez lived in a hotel the whole time he played for the Sox. Kelsey Grammar's character in the tragically short-lived sitcom "Back to You" lived and loved in a hotel room. Heck, it worked for Zack & Cody for three seasons until they took their game onto a cruise ship. (Please don't ask how I know this. Let's just say that convalescing makes strange TV bedfellows. FYI: Dan Savage brilliantly eviscerated said show on This American Life last year, claiming Zach and Cody were turning his son into the worst kind of heterosexual.)

Alas, the Residence Inn is not the St. Gregory from that mid-80's Aaron Spelling show starring Brand Walsh's dad/Babs's husband (are they still married? is anyone still married?).

Last Friday, I came home from work to find that the housekeeper (and yes, having a housekeeper IS sexy-- that's the best thing about hotel life) had left a flyer for 32nd Annual Old Louisville Holiday Home Tour on my coffee table. And when I went downstairs to check about my mail, there was another full-color flyer for the Home Tour displayed on an acrylic stand. And I thought, "Oh how nice. I'm a little broke right now, but I can always hit it next year."

A few hours later, it dawned on me that I've been living in this *&^%^&* hotel for almost three months now-- Ooohh! No, today is my three month anniversary! I've now lived in a hotel for 1/4 of a year. Sigh.-- and that was the very first piece of local advertising I've seen pass through the doors of the joint. Sure, there's the obligatory "brochure shelf" tucked out of sight down an unused corridor, but the Home Tour folks put that full-color photocopied, attractive, festive ad in my face-- both in my room and right on the front desk-- all weekend long. And if I hadn't been a Villager, hadn't known that I'd have another chance to go at the 33rd Annual Home Tour, I would have jumped at it.

At least a couple times a week, I'll be hanging in the lobby or waiting in line at the front desk, and I'll hear some tourist or business person ask for dinner recommendations. If they're looking high end, the answer from the front desker is always the same: Jeff Ruby's. If they're just looking for something to fill their bellies, the front desker always directs them to... you guessed it: 4th Street Live.

Sometimes I stick my nose in. Sometimes I don't. I almost always stick my nose in when I hear folks mulling over dinner options in the elevator or in the hallways. (This takes a lot of effort as Mama is painfully shy around strangers.)

There are lessons to be learned here, Owner friends. First of all, there are 140 guest rooms in the Res-Inn. If the Home Tour people paid 15-cents per color copy, that meant that they spent in the neighborhood of $21 to blanket my hotel and get a brochure into the hot little hands of every single person staying at the hotel that weekend. A single, day-of-purchase ticket for the Home Tour was $30. If one Res-Inn resident hit the Tour, the Tour still made $9.

There are approximately 17,000 hotel rooms in the Louisville Metro area. That's a lot of color copies, sure. But if you're having a special event and you can share the cost with other businesses (Trolley Hops and Bardstown Aglow and Buy Local First and Louisville Originals folks, I'm looking at YOU), you've got quite the captive audience in hotel dwellers, whether they be tourists, businessfolks, or townies like me.

Secondly, if you're a local business within comfortable walking distance of a hotel, why don't you drop off some discount coupons for the front deskers to give out to arriving guests? It's only because I'm such a 'net nerd that I discovered the ill-fated Park Place's awesome Happy Hour deal. Heck, if Park Place had put a little ad in every Res-Inn welcome packet saying: "Hey, we're a high end eating establishment, but you can enjoy fine cocktails and appetizers at half price EVERY DAY and eat and drink like a classy person for the same price you'd pay at TGIFridays" they might have lasted a bit longer. Likewise, it's only through active interweb hunting that I've found out about the daily deals at the BBC Taproom and Artemesia. You don't even need to make it a discount coupon. Why is there no 1/4 page b&w photocopied flier on our brochure rack advertising BBC's daily specials? That's nutso!

And finally, I love me my front desk friends. They're a super sweet group of folks. I have no doubt whatsoever if you, Local Owners, scratch the front desk folks' backs a little, they'll scratch your backs A LOT. Just after Hurricane Ike, I was in a Highland coffee shop (Highland Coffee, to be exact) and a woman from one of the neighborhood Irish pubs came in and handed the baristas coupons for free beers on a particular night. I was behind her in line, so I didn't hear everything she said, but it was something along the lines of: we're thanking our neighbor businesses because we had power and were able to serve food during the dark days and our neighbors sent a lot of business our way. Aw. That's classy, folks.

There are approximately seven or eight people who work the front desk at the Res-Inn. Give them each a gift certificate for $25 at your eating establishment (you know they'll spend more than that). Give them a 25% off coupon for your store. If you're a tourist attraction, let them in free. And don't just do this once-- do it aggressively-- there's all kinds of turn over in the service industry, and you want to keep YOUR business at the front of their minds.

I'm still sick about the fact that I've seen six restaurants within walking distance of the Res-Inn go belly-up in the past three months: Primo, Market on Market, Melillo's, Jenicca's, Park Place, and Browning’s (she intones the litany of the dead). I’m trying to do my own broke-girl part by signing (and abiding by) the LEO’s Shop Local pledge. As soon as I’m finished with my work (if you can call this “work”), I’m heading over to Wild and Wooly to submit my 10 Buy Local receipts to enter their Holiday Passport contest.

But Local Owners, you gotta put yourselves out there a little more. Us Loueyvillagers don’t want to see you croak. We don’t like driving by the Spaghetti Warehouse (or whatever it’s called) and seeing it full to bursting, while 301 Bistro across the street has empty tables. It’s not that we don’t like the Warehouse—it’s yummy and cheap. We’re not unhappy that 4th Street now has a Panera Bread, as long as Panera doesn’t put Toast in jeopardy. Lou will probably end up spending her New Year’s Eve at one of 4th Street Live fine establishments. So, I’m not anti-chain. I’m just pro Local, for all the reasons one should be.

Rant over.

Lots of love,


wino forever said...

as someone who works in the local tourism industry, the issue of local vs. chain restaurants with tourists is complicated. many come downtown without cars, and while we try to direct them to places like bistro 301 and bristol, they can't get out to bardstown road or frankfort avenue without taking a bus or cab. plus many are looking to pinch pennies and get a "reliable" meal they are familiar with over at 4th street live. it's extremely frustrating constantly being told that places like proof are too fancy, too pricey, etc. by people spending $30 in a gift shop on chotskies.

many brochure racks charge yearly fees... to become a member of the louisville convention and visitors bureau and have the right for your brochures to be displayed at the downtown visitor center is at least$250 a year. it's open to any local business but not everyone knows it's there.

bearno's by the bridge is a great example of workable local marketing plans. bearno's drops free pizzas by the visitors center for employees (who refer visitors to restaurants) and stock us up with menus and coupons for the brochure racks.

perhaps too long of a comment, but you bring up a valid point and i wanted to share some insight with you.

Anonymous said...

Another thing local business does is complain about no support from the Mayor. Know what? Don't count on it. Make it work. Stop the complaining and get creative, Louisville. Whining won't keep your business open. I still question whether Jennica's really wanted to be a business or was a trial 'gig.' Just because you build doesn't mean they will come.

M said...

Thanks so much for the insightful comment, Wino. You definitely confirmed a lot of what I already suspected. Tourists are tourists everywhere. I grew up in a tourist town in New England and was always aghast at the number of people who bought their lobster rolls at McDonalds (yes!) over the local seafood restaurants. Business travelers are a little different, though-- especially the long term business travelers. Sounds like Bearno's is already doing much of what I suggested in my open letter. Thanks for the view from the other side of the issue.