Business anniversaries are important to the business owner, but they are only important to the media when you make your pitch relevant to the reader.
I've been shopping at Heartland Interiors for over 20 years. During a January 2010 visit to the store, the owners mentioned they were preparing to celebrate their 25th business anniversary. After extending congratulations, I asked some questions, just as any curious journalist or DIY publicist might.
How did your business get its start?
How have things evolved over time?
What have been the most powerful lessons you've learned over the years?
As Co-Owner Val Scalzo shared her answers, I knew right away that their anniversary story had value to offer for readers of the local media. I made my pitch by email to the editor of the Bothell/Kenmore Reporter, and — voila! — the story ran in the paper just this week.
(By the way, this result stemmed from Val Scalzo renting my PR brain for one hour. Since I had 20 years of personal experience as a client with her company, the story came together in record time.)
Now, I know that staff members of community papers are short on time, so I prepared a very thorough pitch to make their job of telling the story as easy as possible. To follow is the pitch I prepared so you can see how I made my approach and enlisted interest.
Dear Andy and Mary:
I've got a business story that is likely to have interest among the readers of both the Bothell/Kenmore AND the Redmond Reporter that is well times for Valentine's Day. Here comes the pitch:
In today's demanding and slowly recovering economic times, it has grown challenging for small businesses to survive and thrive a few years, yet alone reach a 25th anniversary. Heartland Interiors (www.heartlandinteriors.com), a Bothell-based furniture store that provides custom interior design services, is set to begin a year-long celebration of its 25th anniversary starting next month with a series of customer appreciation events, special sales and Girls Night Out celebrations. How this business built by two best friends who love what they do got its start and took root to grow into a million dollar company is what makes this business anniversary story timely and interesting right now. The practical, wise, and hard won lessons they have learned are especially relevant for those who are pondering starting businesses of their own.
Owners Diane Wainhouse, a third generation Bothell native , and Val Scalzo, a resident of Redmond, started their company on February 7, 1985 with high hopes and humble beginnings. They each deposited $75 into a local business checking account and started along their journey to create and manufacture a gift line from their homes that they sold to specialty gift shops in the area as well as Nordstrom stores. Soon outgrowing their homes, they moved into a small manufacturing space and then into their first retail store where they incorporated their own gift line with other merchandise from local artists and suppliers. From the very beginning, the store took on its own personality and offered the public a fresh, new look in home furnishings. Since then, Val and Diane have grown their company into Heartland Interiors — a retail boutique now located in cozy quarters at Country Village in Bothell. The store offers artwork, lighting, furniture and accessories, along with a very personalized interior design service that addresses choosing paint colors to furnishing an entire home. What once was a cottage industry has transformed into a destination shopping experience that has generated revenues in excess of $1 million for each of the last several years, thanks to a team of staff members that has fluctuated from 10-12 people to today's staff of 3-4. That is no small accomplishment, given today's daunting economic times.
Val says one of the best moves she and Diane made was aligning with John Heller's Street of Dreams Tour of Homes in 1988. During this showcase event of model homes, Heartland Interiors earned a number of “Best of Show” awards for their work over a ten-year period, along with awareness, fans, and followers who now gladly travel from all points around the Puget Sound to Bothell to experience and enjoy the elegant French country chic and natural relaxed designs for which Heartland Interiors has become well known. Prominent business executives, sports personalities from the Seattle Seahawks and the Seattle Mariners, and people who love to make their houses homes they are proud to share with others have come to rely upon Heartland Interiors to make their houses homes they love. Val says that participating in the Street of Dreams delivered extraordinary exposure and credibility to Heartland Interiors among a perfect audience of potential customers. Val and Diane remain incredibly grateful to John Heller and all the builders who have been part of the Street of Dreams for their part in creating the success and longevity that Heartland Interiors enjoys today.
Along their 25 year journey as successful women business owners, this duo has learned a lot of useful lessons that can inspire others with business ownership dreams. Here are some of those lessons, along with explanations from Val:
* Go ahead and dream big, but start small.
We started small and built our business one order at a time. Creative energy and financial worries don’t mix well. By never taking out a loan the business had to support itself -so if it worked, TERRIFIC!, but if not – it didn’t cost much more than a dream. I think this was a crucial part to the partnership working as well. Financial burdens may have changed the overall focus from creativity to survivability which would of changed the tone of everything.
*Good customer service is critical, and customer appreciation is key.
How you treat your customers really comes down to your core values as a person. In our partnership, our personal foundations were so similar because we were raised with the same values and believed in the same principles. Developing our policies and reputation grew from that foundation. Giving really good customer service is pretty basic; we do our best to make customers happy, even when it’s a stretch of patience and fairness to do so. But we feel there is another important component of good customer service. That is appreciation. We genuinely appreciate our customers and the fact that out of all the choices for shopping that they have available, they chose us. It’s gratitude plain and simple. It keeps you humble and willing to go the extra mile when you need to.
*Offer what you are excited about and you can sell it.
From the very beginning, we have always offered things that we are excited about. When we buy for the store we only order merchandise that we like ourselves. This helped us establish our own niche in the retail home furnishings industry in our area; and fortunately, there were a lot of people that liked what we liked so we developed a following over the years. Our motto has always been “buy what you love.” It’s what we believe in, whether we are buying for the store, or helping our customers buy for their homes.
In partnership with this would be to know the art of selling. Being creative is one thing, knowing how to sell your creativity is another. We believe “selling” is half knowledge and half enthusiasm. If you’re excited about something, know a little bit about it, and it’s priced fairly, you’re on your way. This is probably the one thing most overlooked when people want to get in to the interior design field. You not only need to be able to sell merchandise, but you must be able to sell yourself.
*Know your customers-study them so that you know what they are looking for.
*Be flexible – and have a sense of humor.
*Be consistent with your policies and principles.
*You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, just get on the wagon.
*The economy may be challenging, but don’t let it change who you are.
*Hire those who love what you do.
Andy and Mary, don't you agree that the story of Heartland Interiors' growth, success, and longevity is one your readers will love to read more about? I will follow up with you by phone in a few days to check your interest, unless I hear from you first. Of course, I am happy to coordinate a convenient time for you to meet with Val and Diane at Heartland Interiors to interview them and take photos when you elect to proceed. Thank you for your consideration.
If you've got a business anniversary story to tell or any other story that is local, timely, newsworthy, relevant and INTERESTING, try telling your own story to your community paper and see what results you can bring about that will bring your message to a much wider audience. It's well worth the effort.