This is the kind of advertiser we all want to hear from. Walt Blasberg is the owner of the North Hero House in North Hero, VT. North Hero House is an Inn and restaurant on Lake Champlain. It’s not the typical advertiser you’re going to hear on the radio every day. Yet, as soon as Blasberg decided to incorporate radio into his marketing campaign, his business took off.
Our thanks to Candice Leopold who is the Sales Manager for Hall Communications in South Burlington, VT.
Radio Ink: Tell us about your business.
Walt Blasberg: We are an Inn and restaurant located on Lake Champlain. The Inn has 26 rooms for overnight guests and the restaurant is casual fine dining with an American theme. We have a marina with another restaurant that is open in the summer on the pier. We have a sandy beach and are right in the middle of an 18th century town with courthouse, church, general store and a village store right on Lake Champlain. It is a destination for people to come mostly in the warmer months like May to September. We are open year round but in the winter we have to create the demand. That is one of the areas radio has helped a lot doing events, advertising locally to get people to come. I bought the inn in 1997 so this is our 22nd year. I was in the investment management business. I have had a home here on an island for most of my life with my parents and I built another home. One of the attractions of the inn was the marina where I could keep my boat. I like real estate projects and thought I can have a marina and an inn that I can make beautiful, but it is really not an estate project but a management problem. We have to have 60 people in the summertime and managing that is the hard part.
Radio Ink: What was it like in the early days when you first opened?
Walt Blasberg: The inn was started in 1891. It was started by same family up until 1970 and then purchased by a dentist from New Jersey who rehabilitated it and made it nice. He sold it for a lot of money at the peak of the real estate market in 1985 to someone who spent all their money on debt service rather than maintenance. The place fell into disrepair and there was not a lot of repeat guests. I had to completely gut the place — re-do every room including the plumbing, heating, electric etc. — and build the business from scratch. In those days, I used the local newspaper doing print ads and we actually were one of the early players in the ad words games and that drove a lot of traffic to us. It was learn-as-you-go because I was not a restaurant or inn professional. I learned from the school of hard knocks and after 20 years we got it down.
Radio Ink: What changed in your marketing philosophy that got radio involved?
Walt Blasberg: Candice was a pain in the ass and kept bugging me to get involved with radio. She invited us to a seminar where we could receive a presentation and talk to others who used radio. I was not a believer in radio. People were listening to Sirius and whatever other GPS-related thing/stations. She told me that after a year people let it go and listened to the radio. We listened to the presentation and started advertising 10 days a month throughout the whole year. The phone started to ring and we doubled our business at our outdoor restaurant in the summertime. We doubled our business for special events like Mother’s day, Easter etc. It really was her persistence in getting us to do it and our success getting business.
Candice: One of the things Walt does extremely well is his commercials. I have told him you can advertise on a station that has only 3000 listeners but if you have good ads it will get a response. Fortunately, we work with the four top FMs and a good AM so he is on five stations in our group. His ads are spectacular and the stations are powerful, so it works.
Radio Ink: Candice, tell us about that first presentation?
Candice: It was difficult to get him there. He and my husband have been friends since they were young. I could use that to push him a little. We do the Advantage Systems Program, I got him to come. He was on the fence so I asked him, “What would it take for you to be glad you did this at the end of the year? I want to be able to quantify this so you will continue with this.” He said a 10% increase in his dining room. I was on a mission from God to make that happen. I made sure all his ads were focused on making that happen. It worked.
Walt: We probably had a 25% increase in the Pier bar that year. It has grown every year. For me, one of the measures of success everywhere I go they tell me they hear me on the radio. My employees vacationing in Arizona and streaming the radio hear my ads and are upset because they can’t get away from me.
Radio Ink: Tell us how you are using radio?
Walt Blasberg: They are ads I record myself. I listen to the radio and hear all these car ads and they sound like they are hucksters at a circus trying to hype. Those ads are just noise, I don’t even hear them. If someone changes the pace, slows it down, I will pay attention. I deliberately use fewer words than they tell me I can get into a 60-second ad. I say it leisurely and something about what we are doing. I limit it to one or two things. I don’t like a lot of different things in the same ad and that has worked well. We have murder mystery weekends in the winter. We are far from a city and it is not the most hospitable place to be in the winter, but every single one of our murder mystery weekends sells out the first week we start. You can design all the events in the world but if you can’t sell it you might as well not do it. Radio sells it.
Listen to Walt’s Mothers Day commercial:
Listen to Walt’s Steak commercial:
Radio Ink: Earlier you said you didn’t think radio worked. Why did you think that?
Walt Blasberg: I wasn’t listening to it at that time. I had a new car and was listening to satellite. I would listen to NPR and I advertised on there for a while. That is brand awareness, you can’t do a specific thing to gain money or revenue on a specific event.
Radio Ink: After seeing the success, what is your opinion now?
Walt Blasberg: I am a believer. I tell everybody how great it has been. I am on the board of the Chamber of Commerce and people tell me they hear the ad all the time. I tell them they should try it and explain how to do it. The thing I like is even though we are advertising a specific event like Murder Mystery weekend it allows people to know we are open in the winter. They know they can come overnight or for Christmas. It has been huge at increasing our brand awareness. Before we were little-known, now everybody knows who I am. It has a positive benefit when I go in to do a partnership with wine companies — they tell me they have heard the ads. Before they had no idea who I was. It is a significant turnaround in local awareness and getting revenue in the door.
Radio Ink: What advice do you have for other advertisers who are afraid to try it or who are just using Google or whatever the digital thing of the day is?
Walt Blasberg: Obviously my success speaks for itself. I am a huge believer in digital advertising. We use direct email campaigns because we have a big list of members who belong to our email club to date. We have 10K names and those things really help to sell. We use the Internet with keywords to get people in the door. Those help us with business from far away, but as far as local people are concerned there is no way you can get the presence with digital that you can get with radio. It just doesn’t happen. We can advertise a murder mystery or wine pairing on our email list and do a special page or buy ad words but the bottom line is the event doesn’t start to sell until the radio ad comes on. Particularly for local stuff it makes sense.
Radio Ink: What is it about Candice that other salespeople can learn about her persistence and what she has done to get you to be a regular customer?
Walt Blasberg: I don’t generally like salespeople. I tolerated her because I knew her. I have done testimonials for their program that originally got me involved as a success story. I think she uses it and other stories to get people in. I really think if people believe it will make a difference in their business they will buy, and if she can tell that story that will get people to sign on the line.
Candice: For me it is fun working with Walt. He listens to ideas I have like making sure he was the voice. It makes me proud to know that radio has helped him to the degree that it has. I did and do everything in my power for my clients to make it successful.
Walt: Our Pier bar, when we started, was a minor source of revenue and now it is a huge revenue center. We are getting almost $500,000 in revenue in about 2 ½ months. That is almost as much as we make in the restaurant for the whole year. When we started we were under $200,000. It made a big difference in my business.
Reach out to Candice Leopold to congratulate her on a job very well done with this non-traditional client at [email protected]