Reporter's Notebook: Budget Blinds Sees Success Using Traditional Marketing "Vehicles"

Budget Blinds mixes direct marketing with new marketing tactics.

With all the talk about social media, mobile marketing, and other high-tech interaction channels, it's easy to let more traditional marketing tactics fall to the wayside. Companies need to balance the interaction channels they use with the needs and unique attributes of their customer base.

I recently spoke with Suzi Carragher of Budget Blinds, a provider of custom window treatments and other decorator products for individual homes. With more than 800 franchises in the U.S. and Canada, it provides service in more than 4,000 towns and cities.

The company's franchisees primarily do in-home consultations; few have a physical brick-and-mortar store location. It's a business model that requires face-to-face interactions. "We visit customers in their homes so there's no guesswork," says Carragher, director of corporate communications. As such, the company relies on its vans as a primary marketing tool.

Company representatives drive around town in hard-to-miss violet vans. Each van is decorated with the company logo and the toll-free number to contact the national call center. Some vans are customized with their local number, as well. Budget Blinds works with Vertis to provide the van wraps. "We're looking for brand consistency across the franchise network," she says. Franchisees also use yard signs, direct mail pieces, and door hangers to promote the business locally.

Because all of the company's work is done inside a customer's home, the element of trust is supremely important, Carragher says. Customers feel more comfortable calling on the company if they see a franchisee driving the van around town, or if they see their neighbors using the service. They know franchisees as neighbors first, and salespeople second. "Essentially it's a small local business," she says. "It's about maintaining good community relations."

Carragher says one franchisee in North Carolina donated window treatments to the local ASPCA animal shelter, and another in Cape Cod traveled to Martha's Vineyard to help on a design project. "Many franchisees are friends with half their client list," she says.

Once prospects become customers, Budget Blinds uses more high-tech tactics for retention. Customers are asked to provide their email address to receive a monthly email newsletter containing decorating tips and information on the latest products. In addition, customers are encouraged to follow the company on Twitter or join its Facebook page, where the company provides quick decorating tips and encourages customer feedback. Budget Blinds also uses YouTube to post videos such as advertisements, interviews, and franchisee profiles. "We never miss an opportunity to send a note and communicate," Carragher says.