Case Study: Bakery Relies on Hyperlocal Press, Yelp for New Customers

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SCWhen Donna Lawson first opened the doors at Stuffed Cakes, she ran a series of daily deal promotions through CBS Local and Urban Dealight to spread the word about her Seattle-based bakery. Now two years later, Lawson relies primarily on press mentions on hyperlocal sites like the West Seattle Blog, as well as positive reviews on Yelp, to bring new customers to her door.

Back when you opened Stuffed Cakes two years ago, how did you go about spreading the word about your shop?
I started the company with a business partner, and it was a pounding-the-pavement kind of thing.

I focused on getting something up and running online, and the fastest thing I could do was use a Blogger site. It was just something I could get up quick and easy. Soon I didn’t have a business partner any longer — he decided to do other things instead — and at the time our main marketing [involved his] going out and meeting people. After I took over the company 100%, I decided I wanted to do some of those daily deals.

[CBS Local’s deals service] was new, and they had approached me about doing one, and I thought the timing was perfect. What I liked about them is they were new in the daily deal business and I knew they weren’t going to have a huge amount of people buying these [deals]. I knew I was going to have to fulfill these orders myself — I didn’t have a storefront at the time; I worked in a commercial kitchen — so whatever I was going to get, I was going to have to produce. I didn’t want something like Groupon where I would sell hundreds if not thousands of Groupons. I wanted something that would just sell a few, under a couple dozen. [CBS Local] did just that, and it got my search engine placement through the roof.

It worked wonderfully, and I was very excited about it. So I decided I was going to do another deal. This time I worked with Urban Dealight, and quite honestly that time was a nightmare. It was funny how quickly I found out how different their [subscriber] lists [were]. Urban Dealight [had] the deal seekers, where[as] CBS Local had people who were online looking at local news. I think they just happened to be higher income earners; they weren’t just looking for the best deal out there.

[The Urban Dealight deal] ended up being a nightmare because they sold more than double what I’d asked them to. They kept it running over twice as long as they were supposed to. They were not based locally, so I didn’t have a contact there. It ended up that basically nobody [from that deal] ended up being a return customer, which is the goal for those things. At that point, my business was growing enough from Yelp reviews and search engine placement that I [decided to] just keep doing what I was doing.

Has Yelp played a big role in acquiring new customers?
Yelp honestly was probably the best thing to grow my business. I know people have a love/hate relationship with Yelp, but it has just kept growing and growing, and I keep getting great reviews.

Do you do anything in particular to encourage customers to post on Yelp?
I don’t. When I first started the company, I put out the word to friends and family and anyone who has tried the product, “If you are on Yelp, can you [create] reviews?” But after that, I haven’t done anything.

What I have found with Yelp is that I won’t have reviews for a couple months, then there might be three in a weekend. Then what happens is the way they do things, they’ll end up filtering most of them out. So I’ve learned that it seems like if we push it and ask people to do reviews, and if too many people do it at once, they don’t even allow them to be viewed. Maybe once or twice I’ve mentioned it on Facebook. Our Facebook page is what I update most often and where we have the most communication with our customers. But other than that, I just let these things happen.

What else has been useful for you in promoting your business?
In West Seattle, we have a really huge sense of community, so people are very loyal. They want to shop local. They want to support our local businesses. We have the West Seattle Blog, which is the most successful blog in Seattle, and people follow it religiously to get the most up-to-date news. And then we also have our West Seattle Herald, which is a small newspaper, which is the same thing. So when both the blog and the Herald featured the shop and myself, then business kept growing. We make sure to do things from time to time, like [on] our one-year anniversary [when] we gave away free cupcakes, to keep getting free press.

Now that your business has been around for a few years, what platforms seem to be bringing the most people in? How are people finding out about you now?
I think a lot is Yelp. A lot. We get a lot of people who come in and they’re not familiar with the area, but they say, “You guys have the best reviews of anybody.” We get tons of word-of-mouth.

One thing I’m doing is I’m actually planning on relaunching my website here in the next couple of days with Wix. I’m really excited to get off of Blogger. It’s a little worrisome because I’ve had two years of growing my search engine placement with a different URL, but I’m hoping it’s going to be seamless. I’ve had other friends who recommended Wix to me, and they could not seem to get anywhere with their search engine placement, and [since] the day they switched to Wix, their business has grown. So I’m really hoping that not having a redirect to a Blogger site is going to help my search engine placement quite a bit.

When you’re redesigning your website, what features are most important to include?
[Links to] Yelp or UrbanSpoon. What I really feel [is important] is integrating all of our social media. I’m hoping this is going to grow our Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest presence. Pinterest is something new for us as a company. Twitter — I have it because it feels like you have to. I personally don’t like it, but I think as a business it’s something you have to do. But besides having Facebook automatically post to Twitter, it’s not something I focus on. I’m also looking forward to having lots of different galleries and photos, so we can hopefully grow on Pinterest.

And you have an e-newsletter, too?
That’s actually something new. My goal is to make it monthly. The hard part right now is I’m stretched so thin. I work at least 100 hours a week, and I’m the one doing any kind of marketing. I’m trying to do something where it’s hopefully going to be easy. My goal is to do a monthly newsletter so we can showcase the flavor of the month and talk about whatever holidays are coming 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.