On days when I feel restless and distracted in my office, I work elsewhere.  One place I like to go is the Charles River Coffee House (CRCH) in South Natick.  It’s independently owned, has a homey, non-institutional feel and serves great tea (tea-aholic that I am).  Their front windows frame a beautiful view of the historic Bacon Free Library and the South Natick waterfall across the way, helpful when my eyes need a break from the screen.

Not only is their tea good, but their marketing is smart, innovative and inexpensive to implement.  Two of their marketing efforts grabbed my attention.

The first one probably cost them all of $2.99.

I first saw this marketing tool in action last July 22, when it was 99°F degrees out. Steve, the owner, took a large blue plastic bowl out from a shelf below the counter.  He filled it with water and placed it outside on the sidewalk.

Upon closer inspection, I saw that the bowl had the words “Dogs Water Bowl” handwritten on it with a marker.  Not long after, two dog walkers stopped at the shop.  They chatted, let their dogs drink from the bowl, and then secured the dogs’ leashes to a post while they went inside to buy iced coffees.

This inexpensive bowl now makes this coffee house an obvious destination for dog walkers.  It conveys a friendly, welcoming attitude and provides a focal point for a walk, knowing that there is a benefit for the dog.  Chances are pretty good that the walker will buy some refreshment there.  The likelihood that dog walkers in the know will tell others?  Even better.

What a great way to increase traffic by the shop, and with it, sales of beverages and food!

CRCH’s second marketing stroke of genius is their sponsorship of the Charles River Coffee House Scarecrow Contest to benefit the Bacon Library across the street.  For the second year in a row, the coffee house is providing stakes and tying supplies for anyone entering the contest.

Contestants come into the shop to get the supplies.  Registration fees from individuals ($10) and businesses ($25) benefit the library.  CRCH offered employee help on Saturday October 9 to mount entries, but the supplies are available for the entire month of October.  Judging will occur on Halloween.

How smart is this?

Based on my research online, supplies for 100 entries (wood stakes and twine) would cost about $250.  In exchange for that relatively small sum and a few hours of the employees’ time (Steve’s daughters run the place with him), CRCH gets:

  • Front page notice of the contest on the Bacon Free Library website.
  • Signage outside the library.
  • Mention of the event during the month of October in the local papers.
  • Good will with the library and the community.
  • Contestants coming into the store to get supplies.

For less than the price of one print ad, CRCH gets a ton of publicity and increases the traffic over its threshold.  Contestants who may not have entered the shop before now have a compelling reason to do so.

And of course many community members will come by to view the scarecrow entries during the month of October and on Halloween.  More traffic!

Note:  there is no Groupon, coupon or discounting involved.  Patrons pay full price for the refreshment they purchase.  CRCH probably makes back the cost of the supplies and then some with the extra traffic generated.

Smart, innovative, and inexpensive marketing.  Kudos!

By taking some pictures and posting them in the coffee shop, they could inexpensively extend the good will year round.

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