Case Study: New England Dessert Bar Grows Email List With Monthly Contests

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Merchant: Treat Cupcake Bar
Location: Needham and Chestnut, Massachusetts
Platforms: Constant Contact, Facebook, Google+, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter
Bottom Line: Small businesses are willing to pay for online marketing services when they’re provided with metrics that justify the cost.

There aren’t enough hours in the day for Sarah Waters. At Treat Cupcake Bar, the Massachusetts dessert company with two locations, Waters’ responsibilities run the gamut from online and offline marketing and social media management, to event organization and employee development. Of all her responsibilities, it’s online marketing that creates some of her biggest challenges.

“[There’s] no marketing team, and a small budget, so I have to work fast and be hyper creative,” Waters says.

Waters spends five to 10 hours each week promoting Treat through a combination of offline and online channels. In addition to posting flyers for events at other businesses in the area, attending networking events, donating to local charities, and distributing delivery information to local colleges, Waters also manages Treat’s accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+. She works on boosting rankings and SEO for the company’s website and online cart, maintains a blog, and uses Constant Contact to send weekly newsletters to more than 1,800 email subscribers.

“Email newsletters have been the most effective [tool] to increase attendance at events or during special promotions. Facebook is great for keeping customers up to date, as well,” she says.

Waters says the worst marketing decision she made was to pay for online advertising on a hyperlocal news website. These days, her company spends almost no money advertising online.

“It’s just our time cost for putting content together and sharing—which is a lot of time,” she says. “Our cost for offline is just the cost of printing postcards, menus, and flyers, which is about 11 to 30 cents for collateral, costing about $400 to $600 per month for everything printed. That gets distributed by our team.”

Treat also pays around $195 for Constant Contact, the online marketing service that Waters uses to send email newsletters. She closely tracks open rates and click-through rates on her email newsletters, and says she’s been able to steadily grow her subscriber list using in-store signups. Customers are entered into a contest to win free cupcakes in exchange for providing their email addresses.

“Email is integral, as it is targeted to people who have expressed interest in our company … I email subscribers about once a week to let them know what our specials are that weekend, as well as any events or classes coming up,” Waters says. “The open rates are 15% to 25%, which is higher than our industry average.”

In addition to watching open rates and click-through rates, Waters also looks at how many guests register for events through Treat’s newsletter, versus finding out through Facebook or other online channels. She says that her research has shown that email marketing is the company’s most effective marketing channel.

Social media has also become a source of pride for Waters. Treat now has more than 4,500 ‘likes’ on Facebook and more than 1,000 followers on Twitter. Of course, coming up with content is easier for a business that turns out picture-worthy desserts each day.

“I have two goals when I post,” Waters says. “I am trying to give something to our customers—such as advice or knowledge—and entice them with treats.”

Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.

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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.