Carla Vercoe is the owner of Studio BE, a popular Pilates studio in Fairfax, Va. Although running a deal with LivingSocial may have cost her money up front, she says it was worth it to be able to instantly connect with her target clientele.
What makes Studio BE different from other Pilates studios in Fairfax, and who are your target customers?
In Fairfax, Studio BE is the only Pilates studio that is an actual commercial studio. Just because Pilates is an expensive form of exercise, the people who come regularly are usually in their early 30s and up, and fairly well off.
With the LivingSocial deal, I was targeting a little different group. Our mat classes are the most inexpensive classes we offer, so that was my target with the LivingSocial campaign. It worked out perfectly, as far as who responded and who bought the packages. More of the younger people went for the mat classes, I had a pretty good range of clientele that purchased the private classes, and then I had a mixture of clients that bought the combo classes. It worked out just like I thought it would.
With LivingSocial, the first ad they came up with had nothing to do with my studio. I said, “You know what, I don’t like this. I want to see this and this,” and they came up with a great ad.
How did you come up with the different options that you were going to offer on LivingSocial?
I had something a little different in mind, and the LivingSocial people were pushing me more towards offering group classes. However, you can’t have somebody that’s never done Pilates before come in and do group equipment classes with people who have been doing Pilates for years.
At first I was a little bit put off, feeling like, “You know what, you guys don’t really understand this.” [LivingSocial] had worked with different Pilates studios before, but some other Pilates studios have total beginners classes where everyone is a beginner, and our studio doesn’t run that way. We require clients to do five private sessions before they start taking any group equipment classes. But, we also teach a mat and tower combination class, because the tower is a little easier and a little safer than the reformer. So, I structured the offer so that new clients could do the combo classes and I added new classes onto the schedule to accommodate these clients.
What ended up happening was the LivingSocial people starting taking the new classes, and then some of my existing clients started feeding into them as well. I actually had very few LivingSocial people feed into my current combo classes. I think it was because of the demographics. The younger people either need to get in during the early morning or late in the evening. My current classes are usually 9 o’clock classes, so those are usually your stay at home moms, or people that are retired, or just aren’t working anymore and are more flexible with their time.
How did you decide to go with LivingSocial, as opposed to Groupon or any of the other daily deal companies?
Well, I wanted to go with Groupon first and I called them three times and they never returned my call. I know a couple of other people in the area that have yoga studios and they went through LivingSocial, so I asked them about their experience, and they were happy. So then I called LivingSocial and they called me back.
What could the daily deal companies do to make the experience better for businesses like Studio BE, aside from calling people back?
To be honest, [not returning calls] was the only thing I found. It was the same with LivingSocial. I understand it completely – they are swamped. They are busy and they can only help so many people. I’m assuming they are helping people in the order of when their deal is going to run.
With LivingSocial, I sent them the copy and the pictures, and the first ad they came up with had nothing to do with my studio. It was nothing I sent them. I said, “You know what, I don’t like this. I want to see this and this,” and they changed it and came up with a great ad. So, they were easy to work with and they were fairly responsive.
The one thing I will say, and this is an after the fact, is that it stated right in the copy [of the ad] that you were only allowed [to buy] one deal per customer, and you could purchase up to two more as gifts. Even though it said that, people were still allowed to buy more than one package. Some people get excited and they just hit the button. So, I had a lot of people who bought more than one package and they were upset with me because I wouldn’t honor it. I hated to send them back to LivingSocial for a refund, but [LivingSocial] totally understood and I guess their software didn’t allow them to do that. Whereas, I’m pretty sure Groupon’s software does. I buy stuff from Groupon, and when I buy the second, it only allows me to buy it as a gift.
[LivingSocial] wanted me to honor it anyway, but I was like, “I really can’t because I have people that would’ve bought more,” and that was my biggest concern. I didn’t want to upset my current clientele or put them off. You want to take care of your current customers first and not have them say, “Oh, I can’t take a class because all these new people took my spot.”
Overall, it actually worked out really well. I was afraid it wouldn’t, because I have a friend who has a day spa, and she ran a hair laser removal [coupon]. Groupon sold a thousand of them, and I got an email from [the spa] saying, “We understand people are having problems getting through to us,” because everyone was calling to book their appointments.
That’s the other thing. I have Mindbody Online, which is an online scheduling system. We were able to feed people right from the [LivingSocial] voucher to our website, which gave them instructions on how to register and sign up for classes. They could do everything online, so I didn’t have to worry about having my desk manned all day. That’s another thing that people don’t always take into consideration. Your phone is going to be ringing off the hook for a while, and your regular customers might get a little ticked off.
Aside from LivingSocial, has there been anything else that you’ve found advertising-wise that has worked well?
I’ll be honest. I bought my business from somebody who I worked for before, and I remember her telling me that no advertisement she’s ever done worked. The only way we got new customers was from word of mouth or from the website. Since I’ve owned the business, I’ve tried some direct mail stuff. I have had booths at festivals, and I’ve placed ads in magazines – nothing worked.
I figure even though [LivingSocial] may have actually cost me money – because they keep half of it, and I still have to pay my employees – I’m paying for people who are already my target audience. And I know they want to do [Pilates], as opposed to blindly placing an ad and hoping that somebody gets it. So, I honestly don’t know if I would do any other type of advertising besides this in the future. I was happy with it, it worked out well for my situation, and like I said, nothing else in the past has worked.