Case Study: Boston Tattoo Shop Uses Deals to Build Email Database

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At Stingray Body Art in Boston, events and promotions manager Adam Femino takes a more-is-more approach to hyperlocal marketing. In the past few years, Femino has used digital platforms like Groupon, LevelUp, and Privy to acquire new customers, promote brand awareness, and grow his company’s email database. Stingray uses Constant Contact to manage more than 20,000 customer email addresses, and sends out monthly newsletters to let customers know about special promotions and events.

What marketing challenges do you face at Stingray?
We have so many people coming to us. We are always trying to put together a fall campaign for when students come back — because we are in a very college saturated area of Boston — and everyone comes at us full steam because they know we advertise a lot. With all the Groupons and LivingSocials and things like that, it’s about trying to get the best prices out of them. We try to customize our own packages, because they’re coming at us with these really big packages. We try to work with them as best we can to get something that will work for us, but also at the same time is not too costly. We also do radio advertising, as well, with all the different stations.

If you’re inundated with calls from various marketers, how do you decide which platforms are worth trying out?
That is tough. I usually handle everything the first time around and set up meetings with them. We will work on something, and then we will have a follow up where our owner and/or financial manager sits down with us. We look at our budget for advertising, and then we do some number crunching to find out where the best value will be. Sometimes we will try something new and it won’t work out. That sucks, but you live and you learn. Our owner is very business savvy, which is great because I’ll see something I may like and I’ll go to him, and it’s assuring to know that I have his support. So we see what is offered, we’ll narrow it down within our budget, and then we’ll go with it. We’ll monitor what we get back [based on] what we spent.

Have you found that daily deals work for a business like Stingray?
They do work. Originally Groupon was one of the first ones, and we used them. It definitely worked by getting people in here. Now other companies like LevelUp and LivingSocial have come up, and they’re offering better cuts of the deals and better numbers for us. Some of those [platforms] have worked just as effectively, but they cost us less. Then Groupon comes in, and I don’t know what it is but they don’t budge with anything. We try to work with them, and I suppose they try their best at cutting us certain deals, but it gets to a certain point where they’re like, “We don’t do that,” and we’re like, “Well sorry, we’re going to use somebody else.” So those types of promotions do help, but those go alongside lots of other advertising that we do. As far as Google AdWords, we are at the top of every search in the Boston area for “Boston tattoo.” We do spend money. You’ve got to spend it to make it.

What are your goals with online marketing? Are you more interested in acquiring new customers or retaining loyal ones?
We are just trying to expand. We have been on a steady ride since we opened; it’ll be seven years ago at the end of the summer. We are in a small building right now where half of the building is [taken up by] a small bar that nobody goes to. Our goal is to buy out the building and knock out a wall to expand our shop. Maybe in a few more years we may even open up a second location.

I’ve heard that you have a large customer email database. Do you have any tricks for collecting email addresses?
We have an email database that is in Constant Contact, which we pay a monthly rate [for], and we put out newsletters every month. We do one-offs for special events, as well. Every time you get a tattoo or a piercing you have to sign a form and there are little check boxes indicating if you’re a return customer. If you’re a return customer, we don’t take your email. But for new customers, we have them put down their email. We have some administrative workers who enter the email addresses one by one into the database. We have acquired over 20,000 of them in the last six or seven years.

I know that you’re working with Privy right now to run some deals on your website. What was it about Privy that made the platform attractive to you?
They take a smaller percentage than some of the other companies, and it is very easy to do. We run promotions right off of our website, or we can do them through our social networking, or we can post them in our newsletters. Also, every person who acquires a voucher — because they don’t actually buy the voucher, they acquire it, and when they come into the shop is when they actually purchase the voucher — gets entered into our system. I have an inbox where I see their names and emails.

Right now our deal is 25%-off a piercing if you buy gold jewelry. So [customers] don’t spend any money until they come into the shop, and then when they get the gold jewelry they will redeem [the voucher] with their smartphone or they will have a physical document they printed out. We can go into our system and redeem it, and that way we actually collect their emails. We started using Privy a month ago, and in that time we have acquired 188 new email addresses. We see them and we download them into a spreadsheet, then I just copy and paste them right into our database. Right there, it’s 188 more emails.

Aside from being able to collect email addresses, what other types of results or benefits have you seen from your Privy deal?
We have definitely seen people come in and ask about the deal. When they acquire these vouchers, it’s shared on their Facebook [pages]. We can do all the promotions we want on our own social networks, but it’s only the people who ‘like’ us or follow us who see them. Whereas when people acquire these vouchers, it gets splashed out to all their friends, so people who don’t already ‘like’ us or follow us see it, too. If [a customer has] 1,000 friends, there may be only 10 of them who click on it, but that’s still 10 extra people who wouldn’t have seen it before. And it costs us nothing.

Are the people who respond to your digital marketing efforts any different from your regular customers?
When smartphones were first coming out a few years back, they were different. But pretty much everyone has adapted to that. We really only see people with smartphones [now]. Our age range, legally, starts at 18. The average is 18 to 35, but we have people of all ages come in here. With the evolution of smartphones and technology, everyone has one. So [mobile marketing campaigns] aren’t leaving a lot of people out, because most people in our age range already have one anyway.

Looking forward, what are the next steps you’re planning to take at Stingray, as far as marketing is concerned?
We have a small street team that we send out to events. Right now I run it, but we are trying to expand that. Radio stations have their street teams. That presence outside our shop is important so people see [us]. The way our town is, there is always a big turnover as far as people living here, because it’s a huge college town. There’s a new crop of people living here every fall, so we are always getting fresh faces and we need to reach out to those people who may not know about us yet. We are pretty much the most well known shop in Boston as is, but we need to keep that up.

Stephanie Miles is an associate editor at Street Fight. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.