For Ryan Smolkin, Canadian entrepreneur and founder of the popular Smoke’s Poutinerie franchise, success is about more than fries, gravy and cheese curds – it’s about equal servings of passion and fun, engaging an online community of fans, and getting hard-earned news media coverage.
I spoke with Mr. Smolkin last week about the success of Smoke’s Poutinerie. What started out with one location in Toronto a little more than two years ago has grown to a national operation, with 10 franchises in Ontario – six of them in Toronto, including a mobile truck – one in Mont-Tremblant, Que., and another in Winnipeg. New franchises are in the works from east to west, in cities such as Halifax, St. John’s, Montreal, Hamilton, Guelph, Waterloo, Edmonton, Vancouver and Whistler.
“When I opened the first store, all I had to sell the product was my own excitement. I was convincing people one at a time to try the poutine – family, friends, even strangers on the street,” Mr. Smolkin says. “Now, people recognize us – they saw us on the local news, or they heard about us through a friend on Facebook, and that has helped credibly build the Smoke’s Poutinerie brand.”
Mr. Smolkin has used traditional media relations and social media as marketing tools of choice. You won’t see print-ad campaigns in his stores – the walls are lined with news clippings about the company from influential media outlets. Mr. Smolkin believes his 18- to 25-year-old target customers are still active news consumers, but they may digest it through a re-tweet or a Facebook link rather than a hard-copy newspaper.
When great articles and clips appear about the business, Smoke’s Poutinerie is quick to share links with its followers online to help spread the word. Mr. Smolkin ensures all social media efforts remain authentic to resonate with his fans. They rarely push incentives, choosing instead to converse one-on-one, add funny, engaging content and even encourage followers to recommend new flavours – bacon, eggs and maple syrup poutine, anyone?
Mr. Smolkin is using this approach to launch the newest Smoke’s Poutinerie franchise in Hamilton, opening July 11 in the city’s popular Hess Village entertainment district.
He began building buzz months ago during the construction phase. Instead of covering the store windows with old newsprint, passersby instead saw the distinctive red and black plaid company logo promoting the website and its Twitter and Facebook channels. The company began teasing photos and updates through its social media channels to build excitement. Now closer to launch, Mr. Smolkin is reaching out to local Hamilton-area media outlets to try to earn coverage for the store.
It seems to be a successful strategy: on opening day of the Winnipeg franchise earlier this month, the line-up snaked out the door for most of the day, and Smoke’s Poutinerie was one of the top trending Twitter topics in Winnipeg.
As a small business owner, you can leverage social media and traditional media outreach as cost-effective ways to build awareness and generate excitement for your brand. Using traditional news media for coverage can deliver more credible third-party exposure for your brand at a fraction of the cost of traditional advertising. Social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter can help build a community of supporters who can virally and authentically promote your business.
With this approach to marketing, Mr. Smolkin believes the future is bright for his homegrown business.
“The goal is to hit 20 Smoke’s Poutinerie franchises in two years, and then we’ll try for global domination.”
Special to The Globe and Mail
Mia Pearson is the co-founder of North Strategic . She has more than two decades of experience in creating and growing communications agencies, and her experience spans many sectors, including financial, technology, consumer and lifestyle.
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