When ex-RAF couple Katie and Phil Diacon launched their new franchise business, Pack & Send, in Bristol earlier this year, they were, like many start-up owners, filled with optimism.
But the results they’ve achieved in a few short months thanks to the business building and marketing techniques they’ve learnt from Digital Lighthouse have far exceeded their expectations.
“It’s gone ballistic,” reports Katie. “We’re getting £500 worth of business a week from referrals, using the referral generating techniques we learnt from Digital Lighthouse. We have also pretty much doubled what we have turned over every month. We’ve got a big £30,000 order coming in next month so it will be another big month.”
Such is the growth of the business that Katie and Phil had to take on a new member of staff and are considering hiring another in the next two months.
“We had planned to hire someone in month six but we ended up having to do it in month four. About two months ago, I actually thought that if we continued growing at the rate we were, we wouldn’t be able to cope, so we took someone on.
“We’re not saying ‘no’ to anything but we are already again at the stage where we can’t physically do it all.”
They are part of the international packing and delivery franchise, Pack & Send, which is still fairly new to the UK – so far, Katie and Phil’s Bristol branch is one of just six.
Their rapid growth of their branch has astounded the other franchisees.
“We’ve had one the fastest growing stores in the UK,” says Katie. “This month it is likely we will turn over more than Pack & Send Reading and they have been around for two and a half years. I don’t think any of the other stores other than Reading have turned over what we’re going to turnover this month.”
Not surprisingly, their fellow franchisees have been keen to replicate their success. “They phone up and ask what we are doing or if they can have the email templates I am using. I send loads of links to companies that are near them that I think would be useful to contact. Some of them have done business off the back of that. I’ve given them ideas and I’ve let them use letter templates that I’ve done, I’ve talked to them about who they should be approaching and where the money seems to be coming from.”
The master franchise holder in the UK has also been quick to recognise the success of the Bristol branch and to use it as a showcase to prospective franchisees. “Every prospective franchisee has been offered the chance to speak to us or come and visit us.”
Digital Lighthouse taught Katie the need to establish herself as the ‘go to’ person in the packing and delivery market. An easy way to do that, she learnt, was to become a published author so she wrote a tips booklet “Expanding Your Business Domestically and Internationally: Your Six-Step Guide to Getting Your Items Delivered Anywhere in the World”.
The booklet, edited and published by Digital Lighthouse, is about to be offered to 1,800 people involved in the arts community in Bristol via one of Katie’s joint venture partners.
She is emailing 1,800 of her newsletter subscribers to offer them our free tips booklet. We will get some good leads from that.
“That joint venture partnership came about through a contact I made a few months ago. We’ve already done some introductory offers for artists.”
Digital Lighthouse also encouraged Phil and Katie to segment their marketing to make it more appealing to the audiences they were aiming at.
“I sat at my computer a few months back, wondering ‘Who are the people who are going to give us the most money?’” recalls Katie. “I realised it would be customers who had needed fragile items to be packed and delivered. I found a website run by a company that sold used NHS medical equipment. I rang them and they told me they didn’t have a company that had the ability to handle one-off items and have them sent by air. I explained how we could help and they said, ‘We’ll trial you’. The next day, we had our first referral from them. That job went really well. Since then, work has been coming in from them regularly. We’ve had £24,000 worth of work from them so far on the back of that one very targeted phone call. It wasn’t just a cold call – I really considered what their issues and problems would be before I rang them.
“It’s the same with every auction house and art or antique gallery that I have spoken to – I’ve thought about the challenges they face and then explained how we can help to overcome them. We’ve also given them lots of introductory offers and trials. A lot of them have picked up on what we do.”
Katie also sends a newsletter to each of the company’s target audiences with information that they will find interesting and useful.
“I look at what we’ve done during the month that might be of interest to our different market segments – antiques, art galleries, and so on. For example, a few weeks ago, we sent our first limited edition Banksy print which was quite a big thing for us. A lot of people in the local art market were interested in that because Banksy is a famous artist from Bristol.”
She has also used direct mail tactics learnt from Digital Lighthouse to capture the interest of some major prospects.
“We sent sales letters to targeted companies – art galleries and auction houses. We’ve had the best response from the auction houses – we’ve done a lot of business on the back of that.”
One very low cost direct mail campaign has so far brought in £1,000 of direct business and a steady stream of referrals. “I did a lumpy mail campaign in April to demonstrate how we can look after fragile goods in transit.” Lumpy mail is a direct mail piece or package whose unexpected bulkiness is so intriguing people open the envelope or box to find out what it is.
“I sent Easter eggs packed in expandable foam to three of our really big prospects – curators of museums and art galleries.” The expandable foam – one of Pack & Send’s product offerings – gives protection to fragile items in transit.
“Until I sent the Easter eggs, those three prospects would talk to me but they wouldn’t use our services. After receiving the Easter egg, one of the curators referred business to us and another started doing business with us and is now referring us to a lot of artists and galleries in the area. It cost about £5 and it has been worth about £1000 in business and they’ve asked us for far more and referred us to other people. They’re very valuable to us.”
While sales letters have proven very successful, the couple have found that personal phone calls are also a powerful way of getting new business.
“Since we opened, I had been trying to get a contact in a particular multi-national company, which products audio visual and broadcasting equipment for TV stations” recalls Katie. “I just kept persevering. Not long ago, someone gave me the telephone number for the Head of Operations for the UK. I spoke with him and he said it sounded like it was a good fit and then he put me in contact with the company’s Logistics Manager. He sent through the forms I needed to complete to become a preferred supplier. I’ve completed those now and we’re waiting to hear what will happen. It would be worth tens of thousands for us over the course of the year I should think because it is a big company and does a lot of shipping.
“I generally try to talk to people over the phone because it’s much easier to establish a relationship, whether you’re trying to sell to them or ask them for something.
“Email is so difficult. It’s very impersonal and difficult to do unless you already know the person you’re dealing with. Generally when a big request comes in, we pick up the phone up and talk because we find it far easier to talk about the benefits and value that we add and make a sale over the telephone than in an email.”
Digital Lighthouse has also taught the couple how to set up a referral network, something which has had a dramatic impact on turnover.
“Customers are referring people to us all the time. We’ve got thousands of pounds of business as a result of asking for referrals. When we have a successful delivery we send somebody a letter saying: ‘Your consignment has been delivered and it was signed for by this person at this time. If you had a good service with us would you please refer us? This is what happens when you refer us… it’s easy to do… Here’s how to do it… And if you want to leave us a review we’ll give you a £10 Amazon voucher.’ Some of the people that have written reviews have then sent their testimonials directly to the MDs of the companies that referred us.
“Incentivising reviews and referrals has worked really well and we ended up with lots and lots of different review sites which has boosted our profile online.
“In fact with all the back links and the reviews we have received it’s boosted our profile so much that our landing page is bringing us customers from the territories of other franchisees because our page ranks higher than the paid site.”
Katie has had similar success with asking customers to write testimonials. She sends them a written testimonial with a note saying, ‘If you are happy with this then just send it back or feel free to write your own’.
“Some people have written their own and they are better than the ones I wrote. Some people have just said ‘Yes, I’m happy for you to use it. Go ahead’. It was really easy to do. I did get nervous thinking people were going to say ‘no’ but actually most people emailed back almost immediately to say ‘Yes, not a problem’.”
So far, no one has refused to provide a testimonial.
The couple have used other marketing techniques to raise their profile in Bristol, including networking, making contacts among the local media and sponsoring a children’s charity, Cots for Tots.
“I made contact with the Editor of “The Bristol Magazine” – a high end magazine – and she ran a story about the business and our special offer for her readers. We did business of the back of that: someone even came in with a cutting of that article, wanting to take us up on the offer we’d made and we ended up sending some stuff to the US for them.
“Both Phil and I do a lot of networking. I think that’s quite important when you have a limited catchment area. I’ve also done some online networking via social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. It has helped raise our brand awareness.”
They have also just launched a website to promote a treasure hunt they’re sponsoring to raise money for the Cots for Tots charity, which provides vital neonatal equipment for the Bristol Royal Hospital for Children and the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at St Michael’s Hospital in Bristol.
“We’re the official sponsors of the treasure hunt and have donated an Apple iPad. I’m now forming joint ventures with companies who can donate more prizes, advertise the charity treasure hunt and get the word out about it.”
Using all these business building and marketing techniques means Pack & Send Bristol has already achieved its owners’ expectations, months ahead of schedule.
“We’ve used all the techniques we’ve learned from Digital Lighthouse and we’ve got business from it. We wouldn’t be at the level we are if it wasn’t for Digital Lighthouse.”