Looking for other sources of revenue has never been more important. Many operators are finding that one of the best ways to capture new business is by seeking out new customers. At Kingman Regional Medical Center in Kingman, Ariz., Robin Rush, director of nutrition services, says her team’s No. 1 target for new customers is hospital employees who do not currently use the department’s services.
“We are attracting new internal customers with constant new specials, demonstration cooking, a retail cake bakery and products that might entice people to check us out,” Rush says. “Advertising is done via e-mails and word of mouth. A banana split/sundae/smoothie day brings in staff we may not have attracted previously.”
New business ventures: Rush has also found great success in finding new customers since opening the hospital’s bakery. The bakery serves not only hospital staff but also takes orders from members of the community.
“Our hospital departments now order all their cakes from our bakery chef and when employees see and taste the cakes, they ask where they were purchased and we get another new customer,” Rush says. “By recognizing opportunities and responding to them, we have continued double-digit revenue increases. We’ve added items not typically seen in hospital cafeterias such as one-pound packages of nuts, decorated cookies and a wonderful fresh fruit bar. Patient family members and visitors come in, see all the choices and end up coming back. We have an increasing number of people from the community coming over for breakfast and/or lunch. We are in the process of developing a take-and-bake pizza service to entice even more people to use us. Saving time and gas is a great motivator to keep purchases in house.”
Rush feels the challenging economic climate has made it hard on hospitals, which often have to cut staff when times are tough. However, by increasing revenue she says she has been able to keep current staffing and even add a chef to the bakery.
“Fortunately, we have an excellent administration who really listens and trusts us to accomplish our goals,” Rush says. “Victoria [the bakery chef] has more than doubled our monthly revenue, which was averaging $6,500 and is now more than $16,000. The best advice is to target your hospital employees who do not use your services and find out what would get them to your operation. Once you have established an excellent reputation, word travels fast.”
Small steps: Innovative promotions can also have a big effect on an already captive audience. At Covance, a Guest Services account in northern Virginia, a promotion called Breakfast Blast was a big hit for the company’s 550 employees.
“We had a different menu every day during the promotion,” says Dustin Payne, manager of foodservice for Guest Services at the account. “The first day we had a frittata, which nobody here had tried before. The second day was an Italian omelet with sausage and mozzarella cheese. The third day we did pork chops and eggs. It was designed to bring customers to breakfast who don’t normally eat with us.”
Payne says they also had giveaways to draw interest in the promotion. He adds that being in a place where he sees the same customers every day, it’s important to have special days that re-engage customers who might have been away for a while.
“I try to think of myself as a consumer and think, what would I want to see?,” Payne says. “Always try to think outside of the box and don’t be afraid to get weird with it. If you have a really special menu item, they’ll go back to their offices and tell others.”
Great services and products are also the best marketing tool for 29,000-student University of Iowa in Iowa City. Greg Black, director of residential dining, says his department’s efforts to market meal plans to non-resident students, faculty and staff have been so successful they’ve had to scale back their marketing efforts this year because the dining facilities are operating at capacity.
“We have two plans that appeal to non-resident students the most,” Black says. “We have close to 900 non-residents, faculty and staff currently using meals plans. Usually, we do a direct mailer to students to remind them that even if they’re living off campus, they can still enjoy the benefits of dining on campus. We remind them that if they live off campus, they’ve got to shop, cook and clean up, which are all things they don’t want to do. This year, we haven’t been very aggressive in marketing because we’re finding that our two marketplaces are working pretty much up to capacity, especially during that peak noon hour.”
One thing they are doing this year is a small marketing push in partnership with the university’s residential life program. The program is trying to get more faculty involvement with the campus’ living and learning communities, so Black and his team are trying to help in any way they can.
“We’re going to host a luncheon in January to encourage the faculty to interact with students more and use our facilities to do so,” Black says. “What we tried to do was stress that we’d like to build a menu around any particular interest that the learning community has. With languages it’s really easy; we can do a German or French meal. We do try to use food as an enticement and we want to complement whatever the academic need is.”
The economical choice: At the four high schools in the 27,000-student Visalia (Calif.) Unified School District, the students (except freshman) have an open campus for lunch, which provides its own challenges in attracting and retaining new customers. Lynnelle Grumbles, director of child nutrition, says her team tries to offer original items, but the real trick is the fact that school lunch is so much cheaper than eating elsewhere.
“We have a special pizza that we make called Big Daddy’s, which is a Schwan’s product,” Grumbles says. “We bake it fresh and we do some POS marketing for that. We also have Subway sandwiches, so we have a recognizable brand to try and draw them in. Then we just try to be cheaper than anybody else in town. Honestly, I think that’s what’s boosted my sales this year. High school kids are putting their money in the gas tank and they don’t have as much leftover for breakfast and lunch.”
Grumbles says meal counts are up, although current numbers were not available. She also credits the department’s combo meals and choice of 11 different daily entrées with enticing kids to stay on campus for lunch. The high schools also offer Campus Cruisers, which are little carts located around campus that sell sandwiches and salads, bringing the food to the students.
Director looks for ways to encourage kids to buy lunch at school.
In 13,900-student Turlock (Calif.) Unified School District, Scott Soiseth has been hard at work marketing his rebranded nutrition program, called RealFresh, to his students. Now it’s time to sell school lunch to the students’ parents, who have so far resisted his efforts. To make the sale, Soiseth is trying to make his menu do some of the marketing work for him.
“We’ve expanded our menu, of course, but we started gearing the menu toward some of the items that kids bring from home,” Soiseth says. “Things like chicken wraps and deli sandwiches, because they stay pretty basic. We also have our grab-and-go bag lunches with the Uncrustable sandwiches or a chicken Caesar wrap with a juice and a piece of fruit. It’s a complete meal. We’re also offering nutritional salads and right now we’re in the process of setting up smoothie bars. Those are not necessarily things the kids bring from home, but smoothies are something they would get after school. So we’re trying to capture them at lunchtime instead of the students not eating all day and then going after school and getting a smoothie somewhere.”
Soiseth says the smoothie bars are all but finished and should be open before winter break.
“I’ve built the bar, I’m ordering the blender and we’ve got a great smoothie pack ready to go,” Soiseth says.
“We’re going to test it at one high school for now but I want to expand to all the secondary schools eventually. The tricky part is I want it to be a national school meal reimbursable meal but I’ve got to work to get a protein either in it or with it. So I have to work through some regulations to see if I can make it qualify as a reimbursable meal.”
Soiseth says the marketing really started with the branding of the entire department as RealFresh, which now includes all paperwork, posters, and even the wax paper wraps and sandwiches are packaged in. The next step for Soiseth and his team is working with the educational component to breake down the stereotype around school lunch.
“What we’re marketing right now is that we can provide students a healthy meal that is cheaper than bringing it from home,” Soiseth says. “If you think about it, it’s $2.50 and you get a complete meal with two fresh fruits and vegetables. So we’re doing a marketing push where we’re going to classrooms and telling the kids that it’s not expensive to eat a healthy meal of school lunch.”
The next step is Soiseth reaching out to the parents and educating them about what he’s done with the program.
“We partnered with the PTA to put on workshops for parents that talk about how the department is marketing to the kids, the nutritional values of the meals and just educating them on what we do in school lunch,” Soiseth says. “Telling them things like we serve nachos at school, but it’s with turkey meat and it’s a healthy product but the kids don’t know that. The feedback has been really good. Once we’re done, the parents are pretty amazed at what we do, how many meals we put out, what their kids eat and what they don’t. They want to believe their kids are coming in and grabbing fruits and vegetables. We enlighten them that that’s not always the case.”
Creating recognizable identities for a program helped capture customers.
When prices started to rise for 305-bed Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana, Ill., Director of Food Operations Michael Watz decided the best way to combat rising costs was to make more money, and gaining new customers was a big part of that strategy. Watz talks about his most successful tactic in finding and keeping those vital new customers: branding.
“About six weeks ago, I decided to make a big change with our catering to increase revenue. We always had a catering department but I decided to brand our catering as a separate business so we are able to distance ourselves a little from the hospital. So instead of simply being Carle Catering, we are now Carle’s Moveable Feasts. Now, we are not just promoting to our internal customers, but we are actively going out into the community to find business.
For the catering brand launch, we are using simple fliers and have our own business cards. We’ve also done a mailing and included information on the hospital’s internal Web site. Additionally, we do a lot of events with the board of directors and the foundation’s governors, so we always use identifiers on the tables so when people say, ‘who was the caterer?’ There’s no way they ever think it’s going to be Carle and they’ll say ‘wow, I didn’t know they did that.’ It’s a huge departure from where we were a year ago. We’re also affiliated with the University of Illinois. The medical school is attached to our foundation and we do a lot of business with the university. We’re actually going out to market to the individual departments and deans to let them know we have these services available.
Some other ways we’ve tried to attract new customers is by cleaning up the physical structure of our three retail areas and giving brand identity to each area. Our area that does the most business, about 1,500 customers per day, we renamed the Carle Café. Completed in January, the café has four 46-inch TVs, hardwood floors, new furniture, new light fixtures; the whole package. Now it really feels like a café. With the menu, we’ve gotten away from the former type of food that was served, which was very heavy with a lot of fried foods. Now we do a lot of healthy salads, sandwiches and wraps. We have a lot of folks in the community that actually just come and visit us to eat because it’s such a great environment.
We also rebranded our Starbucks area as The Breezeway and have made it much more than just Starbucks. It now carries sandwiches and salads, and I’ve recently introduced a whole line from a local bakery. The bakery items really look homemade, which is what I had been looking for the past year. It looks like they were made in Grandma’s kitchen. They really do help increase the price point in that location. That area’s rebranding has been ongoing since I came here a little more than a year ago.
We also branded our third area as The Coffee Shop. We did a small facelift in there with things like new lighting fixtures, new wall coverings, warmer colors—just less of a stainless steel look. The Coffee Shop is close to one of our public entrances, so we set up show plates outside the door. So when people walk by they can see the show plates and hopefully that will entice them inside.
We really wanted to make each retail area have its own identity and personality. I think each area has its own market. It’s important to separate and define who your customer is, and once you do that, you target them with specific product lines and pricing. When I first came here, you went from one area to the next without feeling any difference. Now, you see the different customers for the different areas. For example, The Coffee Shop has an older clientele that feels really comfortable in that space, therefore the products and the pricing were determined with them in mind. Since all these changes were put in place all three areas are up in sales. The Café is up 20%, The Coffee Shop is up 8% and The Breezeway is up 10%.”