As the owner of Premier Integrative Medicine, an acupuncture clinic in New York City, Humberto Toledo has struggled to generate walk-in traffic without a street-level storefront. To combat this issue, Toledo began working with Signpost in 2011. Toledo now uses Signpost to run regular deals and incentives to attract new customers, and says the company is less “intimidating” to work with than competitors like Groupon and LivingSocial.
What are some of the biggest advertising challenges you’ve faced as a small business owner in New York City?
I’m in the healthcare field, so I would say that one of the challenges that I’ve had is not having that storefront — that value where people can walk right past and say, “Hmm, I may give them a try.” Considering I’m in New York City, you couldn’t imagine what types of businesses [are inside] most buildings. One of my offices is on the second floor, so I don’t have that street value like a storefront would have. On top of that, there are other businesses around us, and we can’t just clutter the sidewalk or the side of the building [with signs]. That’s one aspect of being an acupuncturist in the city. The other is letting people know who you are, where you’re located, and why they should come to you.
So how did you try to overcome those hurdles when you first opened your business?
One of the ways that I tried advertising was through Facebook, or with a mass email to friends. Basically that was it. Usually in our line the best advertisement is word of mouth, but the only way you’re going to get word of mouth is when you get patients coming in your door.
How did you first get linked up with Signpost?
When I finally decided to start my own private practice, I knew Groupon was the big things and I thought, let me give them a try. I ended up Googling the best 10 online group coupons deals or companies, and Signpost was one that was on there. Obviously, Groupon and LivingSocial seemed to be the bigger companies — they were a bit intimidating. Considering that I’m a small business, I didn’t know if I would fit their qualifications to be a part of their network. So I gave Signpost a try. I believe I’ve been using Signpost since last year — maybe July or August — and Signpost has really given me the opportunity to let other people know about me, who I am, and what I do.
Can you walk me through how you use the platform, and how it has worked for you?
Basically what I liked about it was that you could sign up, and they would get back to you within 24 hours. You tell them about yourself, what you do, and what type of services you’d like to provide, and then they have a whole marketing team that basically lays out what you [should] do and what keywords may work to [attract] people. You kind of wonder, do these people know what they’re talking about, and can they handle the business? With that said, they basically got it right with my practice. They put a whole layout together, and then I approved it and it went live. Shortly from there I got a lot of patients coming into my private practice.
What kind of deals are you offering with Signpost?
Because I’m an acupuncturist, I have a set price for the treatments that I do. But in talking to their marketing team, they said to me that one of the best things was to [offer] a treatment that I could do to relieve stress, and [sell] that at a pretty substantial [discount]. So, in the layout they wrote about me, they wrote about my practice, and how people — especially in New York City — are so stressed out. We came up with a deal together, and that’s what we ended up putting up. [Signpost’s deals] look very professional, which is very important to me. When someone wants to look at different deals online, I [don’t want mine] to look gimmicky. I did my own research, and I looked at what other companies are on Signpost. It seemed like a lot of the other companies that are on there are pretty reputable. I just felt like someone would go online and look for an acupuncturist, and knowing that they had purchased from [Signpost] before and it worked out would make me look reputable, also.
What are some of the reasons you’ve opted to work with Signpost, versus its larger competitors?
Considering that Groupon and LivingSocial are very huge, I can only imagine that their cut would be substantially larger. I’ve been with Signpost since they were taking a certain percentage per patient that I received from them, to the point where I was paying a monthly fee to be on Signpost because I believed in them so much. Now, it’s just a monthly fee. The other thing is when you’re a small business and you’re just starting out, Groupon and LivingSocial make it a big deal to try and even get on their marketing system. For example, one of the things that Groupon wanted me to do was be on Yelp. I needed to have patients talk about me [on Yelp], which shouldn’t be an issue if I’m doing a great job. But considering that I’m in the health field, not everyone wants to let everyone know that they’re receiving acupuncture. Sometimes [patients] are very secretive for whatever reason, depending on their health. I was actually pushed back by that. I had one patient who did sign up for Yelp, and then she got all these emails that she didn’t even want. She was doing me a favor by signing up and getting onto Yelp, so I said, “Forget about it.” That pushed me away from those big companies. When I found Signpost, l emailed them and [they got] in touch with me within 24 hours. It felt more intimate in that sense. I actually had a team of people working for me.
How do you measure the success you’ve had from working with Signpost?
I think No. 1 is the substantial amount of new patients that I’ve gotten, which [is] fantastic. There were some points where I was getting so booked that I had to refer [patients] to other dates, which was nice. After going on Signpost’s [dashboard] and looking at my bookings, and then looking at my accounting, [I could see that I was] getting out of the red and into the black. I’ve had returning patients that started off from Signpost, and now they’re my regular patients once or twice a month.
How do you encourage new clients coming in through Signpost to book follow-up appointments?
If they’re referred by Signpost and they enjoyed [their appointment], then I tell them, “If you would like to return, I’ll give you another deal for coming back in.” I give them another sweet deal in order for them to return. Then once I’m seeing the patient after one or two treatments, they’ll just want to continue to come back and they will pay my regular rates.
Have you had any challenges in using Signpost?
Oh, absolutely. Being a merchant in the beginning, when I needed to log onto the website a lot of times it wasn’t clear what it was that I was seeing. Sometimes the vocabulary and the words [on the site] would cross-reference each other and that made it confusing. I actually emailed them about that, and told them that as a merchant I didn’t understand what I was reading or how many patients I was seeing coming from Signpost. But at this point, they have rectified a lot of that. Like I said, I emailed them and they got back to me within 24 hours and explained to me what the vocabulary meant and [said] they were trying to make the system better. And ultimately, they did. I [have been] very happy with them because it feels very intimate, and it feels like I have gotten to know them in that sense.
Stephanie Miles is an associate editor at Street Fight. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Click here to read more Street Fight local merchant case studies.