Monthly Archives: September 2010

Local means what?

Local is one of the hottest words in business these days.  What exactly is it all about?  When you see CNN, Walmart, and other national companies hopping on the localvore bandwagon, you can be sure small business has hit a nerve in big business’ buttocks.

It does seems that everyone is touting the ‘buy fresh-buy local’ mantra.  New restaurants are opening with grand efforts to use the freshest seasonal ingredients from local farms and manufacturers. CNN is promoting the nation’s farmer’s markets with a new @foursquare healthy eater’s badge. Walmart has developed its own ‘in-state’ produce program. New and redesigned distribution businesses such as Wild Purveyors are ‘cropping’ up to fill the overwhelming demand, scrambling to find enough local ingredients to keep the market happy.

Inherently, there is a key problem in big business buying local.  Their needs far exceed what a small farmer can produce.  Big business can sit down and create a contract with a farmer that will demand every scrap of vegetation from every acre they own. I’m not an economist, but having just one customer can’t be good for a farmer. Even if the relationship works to put them through a few seasons, what product does that leave for the small businesses that are actually trying to purchase a few bushels of the season’s finest crops?

One conversation that I had recently with Cavan from Wild Purveyors centered around the plight of big business getting in on the trend. He told me about a local farmer’s recent decision.  It poignantly shows how lopsided the supply and demand chain is. This farmer who makes artisan cheese has been courted by Giant Eagle; he has steadfastly refused to sign.  He pointed out that he could only produce enough product to keep this one customer in cheese, and if he made the commitment, his profit margin would get squeezed to pennies.  Wild Purveyors is an example of a newer company that has developed because the need existed for them! They themselves wanted these fresh, boutique ingredients and couldn’t source them through one wholesaler. They can get the artisan cheese to many customers rather than one, and they do it well.

For any restaurateur reading this, you know that buying local is so much extra work, it is almost not feasible.  Imagine for a moment. Call one wholesaler to get all of your ingredients, writing just one check and then get back to running your restaurant. OR: Buy as much as you can from the local countryside. Call 20 different companies, purveyors, farmers, dairies, even travel to the farmer’s markets and then find only half of what you need for the day’s business… They day would be over and you wouldn’t have had time left to run the restaurant itself.

So back to the title of this post… Local means what?  Personally I think we needed a place to hang our hat.  A place where we as consumers can say, “we don’t want your mediocre, mass-produced crap anymore.”  Local is the buzz word, but it is just a reflection of a generational shift back to community.  What keeps dollars in your community?  What can save you money? What can create jobs? What can fill the buildings in small town center? Can we depend less on fossil fuels through this?  It seems that any spin you want to put on the word ‘local’ works.  Farmers, organic, sustainability, job retention, all come quickly to mind.  Let’s not forget that local can extend to a local accountant, a locally owned payroll company or bank, a locally owned national retailer…. how far do you want to go with this?

Local can mean regional as well.  Huntington Bank is trying on the local hat as well. They aren’t local to Pittsburgh, but recent coverage in the Pittsburgh Business Times, may lead you to believe that they are.  Huntington does do business here, with significant investment in the area, but they are headquartered in Ohio.  They know that it is important to be associated with the community to be successful in Pittsburgh and they are trying to doing it through bricks and mortar, business loans to this market, and job creation.

Take a look at Cinda Baxter‘s efforts to create a ‘bricks and mortar’ mentality across the nation, through her 3/50 Project. She has also developed programs such as “Eat down the Street” and “Roll Local” to catch the eyes and ears of a generation of spenders.  She simply wants us to make better purchasing decisions and fuel local economies. Her message is spreading. In the past year, she has been featured on national news and travels speaking about the impact we can make by simply keeping dollars in our own communities.

Local means what? I think the key take away here is for everyone to make their own definition of ‘local.’ Take time to figure out what local means to you personally, and don’t fret over an all or nothing approach.  If you are in the market to buy an appliance, you may not be able to find it manufactured locally, or even find what you need from a reuse resource such as Construction Junction, but maybe now you will consider heading to Dormont Appliance rather than a megastore.

So next time you are feeling like spending a bit of hard earned money on yourself, and feeling good about it at the same time, buy locally so the bricks and mortar stores around you can survive and even thrive in this arena.

We’d love to continue the conversation with you at Bocktown.  Next time you are heading for the convenience and savings at the big box stores in the Robinson area, take some time to look around the corner and down the road for spots like Bocktown and other locally owned stores. These stores come easily to mind: Happy Baby Company, Janoski’s Farm Market, Pool City, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Uncle Sam‘s Subs and Ricci’s Sausage Company. If you find us, (we are tucked back by Target,) we encourage you to grab a Hot Sausage Meatball sandwich made with Ricci’s sausage on a Cellone’s roll. ‘Worsh it dahn’ with an East End Big Hop, a Penn Weizen or a Full Pint Chinookie IPA.  Introduce yourself, and we will toast your efforts to live a little more locally.

Additional notes:

  • More about local farms and markets can be found through PASA, Pennsylvania Association on Sustainable Agriculture.
  • It can be difficult to find locally owned businesses in your community. Many can be found easily through your chamber of commerce.
  • Mark your calendar to participate in local restaurant week with Bocktown and other Pittsburgh restaurants during the first week of November.

Bueda presents an in depth view of Bocktown’s social media efforts

Reprinted with permission. Please take time to visit and subscribe to Bueda’s blog to learn things such as “WTF is the Semantic Web?”  They understand this stuff so we don’t have to, but it is quite amazing, and centered right here in da ‘burgh.  Here’ s how Bocktown fits into the picture via Bueda.

Bocktown Beer & Grill’s Vibrant On & Off-line Communities

This is the first in a series of blog posts where Bueda will be profiling local Pittsburgh companies and organizations who are using social media in effective and innovative ways. Today we focus on Bocktown Beer and Grill and explore how Chris Dilla built a thriving virtual community around her establishment. (To read the original post explaining the series, click here.)

A few years back, Chris Dilla noticed a major inefficiency in the local dining scene; she recounts the dilemma she and her friends faced,

“We found ourselves going to one place to eat, and another place for some good camaraderie and better libations. That was all well and good, but we wanted one place where we could drink the best beers AND eat great homemade food, all while having fun with family and friends.”

To remedy this problem, Chris created the panacea that is Bocktown Beer and Grill: an establishment boasting 400+ craft beers (with 16 continuously rotating on tap), delicious Pittsburgh-friendly fare (picture a menu where appetizers are replaced by “Snacks N’At,” and “sammitches” hold sentimental names like “The Port Authority”), and a welcoming small-town atmosphere with live music and beer tasting.

It didn’t take long before Bocktown’s trifecta of great booze, grub, and fellowship won the hearts (and stomachs) of locals and beer enthusiasts alike. And after this community was established, it seemed only natural to start developing Bocktown’s virtual community and what Chris refers to as its “tribe.”

Forming the “Tribe”

After being introduced to Facebook and Twitter nearly two years ago, Chris instantly understood the “effectiveness [the] live interactive tools” could provide. Aside from being extremely cost-effective instruments in the promotion of her business (describing each site as a “virtual billboard”), she also saw these networks as an important complement to her main website—a way to “add a layer of instant communication” to her audience that a static site could not provide.

Most importantly, these tools would help her cultivate a “tribe”—composed of friends, patrons, business partners, and craft beer fanatics—that would act as an invaluable market research tool, aiding her with things such as menu development, event planning and the placement of future restaurant locations. She wisely realized that the tribe would decide what Bocktown “would become and what [it would] actually sell […] in the future.”

Click below to read full post

Tapping into the Power of the Tribe

Of course to really harness the tribe’s power, one must interact with it. And interact with it she does. A lot. In between running one successful establishment and coordinating the opening of a second, Chris uses her Blackberry Storm to interact with her tribe of Bocktown fans on Twitter (posting updates as many as 20 times a day), Facebook, MySpace (used primarily to promote the bands that perform on Tuesdays), Foursquare, and perform general maintenance on sites like Yelp! and UrbanSpoon.

She also encourages businesses to become a part of others’ tribes explaining, “it only makes sense that you will grow your own audience by interacting with like companies. Their followers will become yours.”

The dedication and passion Chris shows for developing Bocktown’s virtual community is exactly what sets her apart from the crowd. While an array of local businesses have set up accounts on these sites only to post a few status updates and then fade away into the internet ether, Chris is constantly thinking of new ways to reach out and connect with patrons, fans, and community members.

See it for yourself: Follow her on Twitter and she’ll probably follow you back—but don’t expect her to be just another silent follower. Never shy to reach out, she’s been known to use Twitter to help secure one customer a ride to Bocktown on a Sunday night and help reunite a lost puppy with its owners. And by simply interacting with the people who wanted to interact with her in the first place, she’s been able to grow her network. In fact, many of Bocktown’s fans have heard about it only after their friends were conversing with Chris via Twitter.

Need more proof of her involvement? Check-in to Bocktown on Foursquare and you better believe she’ll be coming over to your booth to say hello and ensure you get that free craft beer (if you’re 21+, of course). And if she isn’t there, she’ll alert one of her staff members to take over her duties.

It doesn’t take long to realize that it’s not the ROI that’s motivating Chris’ activity—it’s her sincere desire to develop the vibrant Bocktown community—both on and off-line—and constantly improve the customer experience in any way she can.

The Advantages of Twitter

While Facebook is the most popular outlet for her patrons, given the amount of activity on her Twitter accounts (@bocktown for work and @uncapd for personal use), it should come as no surprise that this is her favorite method of engagement. She finds Facebook is a better platform for maintaining her current network of friends, whereas Twitter provides more opportunities to interact with new people and expand your business.

She also loves the semi-anonymity the 140-character service provides and feels something about the limited amount of information tied to a profiles allows users to be more real and honest, making it a better resource to gain feedback about her business.

Getting Started

Visit any of the social media pages Bocktown has an account on and you’ll find it hard to believe that less than two years ago the company had virtually no presence online and the woman behind the interaction was debating the right ratio of personal to official/promotional messages and “clean[ing] up the personal posts and replies just in case it looked too unprofessional.” Over time she realized that even the odd, seemingly unrelated posts essentially “all add[ed] to a whole, a mirror or history of [a] business.”

Here are some simple tips Chris has for other small businesses looking to get more involved with Twitter:

  • Follow your vendors, partners, chamber of commerce, your competition, customers’ businesses, neighboring businesses, and especially the wholesale side of your industry—think of Twitter as a platform that enables a constant “modern day networking event.”
  • Create and use hashtags to really stand out
  • Read your direct messages often and respond promptly

Though ever so humble, she carefully reiterates she’s no “social media expert” and stresses “these are not new ideas, just new arenas for the same old ones.”

So, what can we expect next from this social media enthusiast?

An unsuccessful attempt at a Swarm Badge hasn’t discouraged Chris from experimenting with Foursquare. In fact, for her next endeavor she plans to utilize the LBS to organize a “virtual bar crawl” with other local bars and breweries. Similar to the concept surrounding the Ferris Bueller Tour in Chicago, patrons will earn a badge after checking into a certain number of participating locations—and don’t worry—this feat doesn’t have to be accomplished in one day. Not only would this be a great way to encourage participation and patronage, it could also introduce many Pittsburgh palates to craft beers (and hopefully help to mitigate this “icing” trend).

Bocktown’s main site will also be getting a makeover. The much anticipated opening of a second location in Monaca will coincide with a new site that will resemble a newspaper format. This redesign will allow more dynamic content to fill the pages to better reflect the restaurant’s involvement in social media.

Aside from these lofty projects, Chris would also love to tinker around with the idea of putting a live feed in one (or both) of her restaurants—a perfect edition to Tueday’s live music—and is not opposed to building up Bocktown’s presence on such social media kingpins as Flickr and YouTube. But all of these things take time…and Chris has a pretty full plate right now.

We’ll end this post with some words of encouragement Chris gave local companies during a recent speech at the Pittsburgh PodCamp:

“Stay with it, grow your groups, interact daily, and they will do most of the work for you!  You do have to keep things fresh, update often, and keep it interesting, but the tribe will do the old fashion word of mouth thing for you via 40+ social media outlets!”

Tired of drinking Bud Light? Head over to Bocktown Beer and Grill in Robinson Town Center and try one (or two, or three) of their many craft beers and some traditional (and locally sourced) yinzer grub. Open 7 days a week serving the full dinner menu until midnight or later.

Can we stop just for a minute?

This post originally appeared on Techburgh earlier this year. Thank you Andy for your encouragement and advice.  I highly recommend Andy’s blog. You will learn something amazing with every post! That is a promise from me. Here is my very first blog post from March of this year:

Can we stop for just a minute?

Everyone take a breath. How much technology, information, statistics & convenience do we need? Will we be living in the world depicted in movies such as Wall-E, Idiocracy and Surrogates? Do we need more so we can do less?

I have to admit that I was hesitant to guest write for a blog called Techburgh. I poked around there and found things that I never heard of and will never use. I see references to technological wizardry that I will never understand. Then, I had an ‘Aha’ moment. If Andy walked into my world and looked around at over 400 bottles of American craft beer, listened in on my meetings where we discuss pairing chocolate beers with raspberries and cashews, or infusing an American craft beer with bourbon soaked oak, he might be a bit overwhelmed with it all too. He might be interested to learn a little more, but he’d be satisfied by just tasting the final product, rather than worrying about the sources and the methods used to bring that amazing beer to his taste buds.

I took those concepts above and shook them around in my snow globe of a brain, which led to a bit of personal growth on my part, or at least personal acceptance and understanding of just how technology has improved my quality of life. I am old enough to have owned an Insta-matic camera with a big square disposable flash bulb. I had a Walkman that was just a transistor radio and a cassette player. As a teen I fought to use the one telephone in my household which was on a 25ft cord enabling private conversations in closets and on porch roofs. I am also old enough to remember that my dad’s cars were all rear wheel drive, and that he would ‘can’ cucumbers, peaches and tomatoes to last throughout the winter. Today, I will gladly admit: I love my digital SLR, my satellite music on my XM Roady, my smart phone, front wheel drive and traction control, and the convenience of a fresh vegetable being a just few miles away year round.

So yes, change is good, new technology save lives, entertains us and helps us do the tasks we must do just a bit better. Now, enter the idea of social media, (which is what this blog is supposed to be about) location based services, cell phones that are smarter than their users, and placing your most important and previously, private thoughts all over the world through something called twitter or facebook. Again, I was hesitant. Wow, everyone can hear me think! This is a change that might not be so good for some. I will sit on the sideline here and see what this is all about. I don’t really want to be texting instructions to the staff, or accepting their texts for call offs. I surely don’t want to know whether they are playing Mafia Wars rather than working. I don’t want to be a spy or voyeur in this world, nor do I want to be spied upon. Can I get past this? Is forty-five the line for me, to say “Go ahead technologically advanced world, pass me by.” Is this a mid-life crisis? Will I have to hire a social media coordinator? What is a social media coordinator? Do I need an IT person? Wait, what does IT stand for again?

As I wrestled with just how much was enough, along comes another player to this game, foursquare. Here, this is really creepy stuff… Oh, good, this is exactly what I don’t like about this all, right in a nutshell. Why does anyone need to know this stuff? What is the benefit? Why do I care if someone is picking up their dry cleaning or buying shoes? Why would I want to tell anyone what I am doing and when? I hope most everyone is too busy for this one. It’s gonna #fail. Ha, ha, slang and a hash tag is creeping into my everyday lexicon. What is going on? I think I am actually getting caught up in this. (I hope I don’t use an emoticon before this is done.)

As a business owner, I realized I never accept status quo and I have to push the envelope daily, these social media leaders do the same. By the time I am done writing this there will be a new gadget or widget, a new platform, and we will all adjust. I had to hop in. I don’t want to be on the outside looking in. My personal makeup won’t let me. So here I am with a fan page, a few twitter accounts and now a foursquare ‘special offer.’ Most all it is for the business, but some of it is personal, too. I just put the foursquare application on my phone last week to understand it better, and I have to admit, it is fun. I am already the mayor of something! It’s not too creepy. If someone is going to creep on you, they can do it with or without social media. And hell, let them creep away, if they have nothing better to do. If you’re talking, you ought to want someone to notice, right? If you are bothering to type your innermost thoughts, check in, post a picture of your dinner, voice frustrations or give advice, someone better be on the other end of the ‘conversation.’

So hop right in, if you want, understand it or don’t. I am glad it is there and I don’t need to understand API, GPS, or 3G to get by. I just need to understand that there are many new ways of communicating out there, and that I, personally, love to communicate and that my business needs these channels to grow. Thank you ‘technogadgetry’ for giving me new avenues to share my thoughts, my living history, and a few swear words and emoticons. Oh, and the benefits from a business stand point are endless. Here is a living billboard! Social media has given us a free method for reaching a targeted audience, a way to embrace your fans, followers, and mayors. No matter what you call them, they are your customers. You ought hang out your sign in this virtual world, or the train will not stop at your station.

So the next time someone stops for just a minute, hopefully they will be checking in on foursquare, shouting something to someone, and adding something new to this world, and if you do your part right, it may just be about you or your business!

Post Podcamp Tuck and Roll

Thank you Podcamp Pittsburgh for inspiring us to be better bloggers. You know it has been awhile when you have trouble with login on WordPress! I am going to cheat a bit, and repost some things I wrote elsewhere, but the coming posts have great context to this past weekend.

I enjoyed every minute of Podcamp and the great minds that I met there.

If you have no idea what Podcamp is, google it, and find events in your own town.

Time to tuck and roll. C

My Little Train Station

This post originally appeared on Techburgh! Thanks Andy for allowing me to re-post it here.

In my first blog post in early March, which Andy Quayle from Techburgh talked me into writing, I talked about hopping on board the social media train. I said:

“Social media has given us a free method for reaching a targeted audience, a way to embrace your fans, followers, and mayors. No matter what you call them, they are your customers. You ought to hang out your sign in this virtual world, or the train will not stop at your station.”

Hopefully you have read my post in full and already know that my little train station is Bocktown Beer and Grill. I am in my fourth year of business, and this is my first business venture. I opened the restaurant in a shrinking economy when many things were heading in the wrong direction. Lending was tightening; fuel prices, fees and utilities all increased tremendously in a very short period. Costs skyrocketed when I was trying to show the community that we were a place for affordable quality dining! How to survive? Which way to turn? Would people still eat out? Could my staff afford to stay through lean periods? Would I be able to borrow more money if necessary?

Somehow, in spite of all of those concerns, in our first three years, our sales have grown steadily. I think it was as simple as providing quality and creativity, and delivering on our promises. Our patrons took it from there. They were out there doing our ‘social’ networking for me. Everyone refers to this as ‘word-of-mouth’ advertising. These outside salesmen have been building the train tracks and talking to the passengers on the train, and by doing so, have led other folks straight to us, since day one.

How funny is it that some of the people who are shunning Facebook and/or Twitter are actually primaries in the process of social networking? After all, it all begins with a conversation. Someone is saying something, and somewhere, someone is listening whether the conversation is held in person, over the phone or online. Win, win, and win. It’s human nature to interact socially. We just have new modes to do so.

Fortunately, for small business, mass acceptance of these new modes of communication has been wildly successful. You now have thousands of real customers with new ways to communicate, and hopefully they will communicate about your business. It’s word of mouth to the extreme.

With that understanding, last month I dedicated myself to finding more fans and followers. Someone recently said to me that on Facebook you keep your customers, not find them. I see why they feel that way, but logic tells me that they are wrong. With messaging, special offers, contests and in house marketing we have grown our fan base by over 33% in one month. We have seen more interaction and replies on both Facebook and Twitter. Our foursquare check-ins have soared. We are seeing people come into the restaurant reacting exactly to what we are ‘selling’ in our posts. There is no doubt at all in my mind that this increase in the number of ‘outside salesmen’ will lead directly to more passengers on the train, and therefore, more customers stopping by.

I did work on a few other things this past month in the social media realm, including tying some accounts together, running a Facebook ad, setting up Foursquare specials and changing our twitter name to a shorter, and much more appropriate @Bocktown! None of these things are easy to accomplish quickly. There are a lot of logistics involved in creating a successful contest or promotion. One of the most common complaints I hear from other business owners is that this just takes too much time, and that they can’t afford the luxury. I say if we didn’t have these tools to communicate and advertise, how long would it take to build a promotion? How successful would it or your business be? How long would it take you to grow 1000 cheerleaders the ‘old-fashioned’ way?

This work isn’t going to get any easier anytime soon and you may need some help, I know I do. New widgets and mobile apps seemingly show up daily! My best advice: Just get involved even if you aren’t sure about all of the ‘hows’ and the ‘whys’ of it. This is definitely learn-as-you-go stuff and a fringe benefit is that it is actually fun.

Listen, I think I hear a train slowing down out front. I’ve got to run. It’s time to get some food prepped and some beer flowing!

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