How to Market a Hippie Limo 101
Since posting my article Like Minds – Other “Hippie Limo” Businesses Around the World I have been contacted by several bus-based businesses (or those wanting to start them) asking what the Hippie Limo is doing to drum up clients. I thought I would take a moment to describe my marketing strategy for the benefit of all those aspiring individuals out there as well as anyone with suggestions regarding other activities I might do (I am talking to YOU marketing majors looking for a project). First, a little context:
- As a full-time at-home dad of two young children, at most I have about 20 hours in a week free (that’s a 7 day week, not a 5 day week) to work on the business. That doesn’t mean just marketing. That includes maintenance, repair, and cleaning. This is not going to change anytime soon.
- I operate only from April 1 to October 31. This is because the Samba would take too much damage from rust and deterioration during winter months. Also, these old buses have little in the way of heat, so it is also a comfort factor for clients.
- I have a total, year-round budget of $950/month, much of which is consumed by commercial insurance which is $3600 for 6-months!
- Note to those considering doing such a business on a personal insurance policy: All non-commercial insurance, which is what you have if you do not have a business policy, is void if you accept any money for transportation or use the vehicle in a business. In other words, if you get into an accident driving as a limo with a non-commercial, personal policy, you will NOT be covered. Furthermore, without a license from the state to operate you are subject to heavy fines and seizure of your vehicle.
- I do not expect to make a lot of money doing this. Rather, I need just enough to pay for the business plus make up some of the income gap that results from having a parent stay at home. (There is no way I can make up the entire gap, but I need to at least slow the decline)
- I want to have about 3 jobs a week so as to accommodate my wife’s busy schedule and to spend the quality time with my children that they need and deserve
- I want to tax-deduct bills I would incur anyway for having and maintaining a classic car
- I want to use my business to contribute to a few worthwhile causes in my community as I am unable to do so with any direct financial support
MY MARKETING STRATEGIES/ACTIVITIES
Below is a pretty good list of all of the things I have done to try to get the word out about my business and draw in clients. You can assume that I have done all of these for the Denver and Boulder County areas. Keep in mind my constraints as you read.
My first step was to spend some time getting a better grasp of Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop so I could create my own print materials. I also began learning how to use WordPress so I could build my website. Obviously since you are here you are able to see the results of my web building efforts. Below you can see the fruits of my graphic design and layout work.
For each of these groups I have made contact using email, telephone, and postcards twice a year.
- 164 Wedding and/or Event Planners
- 203 Venues (including hotels, event centers, golf courses, art galleries, and parks)
- 34 Related Local Businesses (such as retro bars, home decor shops, mod magazines, etc.)
- 36 Marketing and Publicity Firms (that would tap me for retro ad campaigns or events)
- 18 Vintage Car Clubs and Museums
- 312 Local Photographers (there are way too many to contact all of them, but I am always trying to expand my contact list)
- 36 Concierge Services, both corporate and personal
- 41 Coffee Houses in trendy, upscale neighborhoods (bulletin board postings)
- 14 Tourism Offices and Chambers of Commerce
Wedding Shows, Car Shows & Parades
I exhibit at as many of the wedding shows locally as I can, which is difficult since they range from $300-$1000 apiece, but they do have between 400-900 brides and their entourages attending any given show. Besides the physical presence, I also receive mailing lists of the brides who attend these shows. As for Car Shows and Parades, one of the benefits of having such a unique vehicle is that I am able to use both of these events to market my service and gain exposure to many hundreds and even thousands of people. Due to time and money constraints (even car shows and parades have entry fees ranging from $40-$270), I do the following in a year:
- Exhibit at 2-3 Wedding Shows
- Display at 4-5 Car Shows
- Roll in 2-3 Parades
Seeing & Being Seen
I have large magnetic signs that I place on the back and sides of our Samba for everyday driving (I remove the signs for paid rides as I do not think clients want signage in their photos). These signs are highly visible, cut in a free-form shape, and have shiny magnets around the boarder that create a pleasant marquee effect. I combine the visual impact of our Samba and its signage with our 1000-watt stereo playing 60’s favorites at crowd-pleasing volume to announce our coming and going.
I seek out high foot-traffic areas and park the Hippie Limo in view of them to gain free exposure. For example, during Boulder festivals or just days when lots of people seem to be out and about, I will find a parking spot easily seen by foot traffic on the Pearl Street Walking Mall and leave the microbus there throughout the day. I put up a photo display in the front windows of couples and groups enjoying their rides in the Hippie Limo and integrate two small plaques indicating that we are a business. I also affix business card holders to the outside of the microbus in easily seen spots. I will then sit on a nearby bench and when I see anyone stop and take a special interest in our WayBack machine I go up and talk to them.
I do the same combination of cruising and parking during Colorado Rockies games, Art District Walks in downtown Denver and Longmont, and special events on the 16th Street walking mall. Additionally I make cruises through trendy areas of smaller cities like Louisville and Arvada during peak evening dining hours when cafes and pubs with outdoor seating are sure to be packed.
Benefits & Fundraisers
There is a two-point goal in offering packages for silent and live auctions at fundraisers. First, offering these packages is a free way to build awareness of my business among organizations and the many relatively affluent and well-placed individuals who attend such events. The number of attendees to these events range from 300-1,800. Likewise, I am able to contribute to my community in monetary ways that don’t require me to spend actual money. I donate 9-12 packages a year. Some of the types of organizations I have donated to include:
- Children’s and Community Hospitals
- Children’s Museums
- Art and Science Museums
- Community Health and Social Support
- Human and Animal Rights Groups
- Environmental Causes
- Senior and Disabled Citizen Groups
Local & National Blogs & Related Businesses
When time allows I try to find blogs and businesses that have even the slightest connection to either what I do or to the articles I write and make comments to create cross blog postings. The purpose of this is that the more presence I have on the web as a whole, the higher rank I receive in search engines as they index the web. In fact, combining this activity along with my Search Engine Optimization, blogging, and multi-site presence (see below for more on these), I can say as of the update of this post (5/19/2013) I am now on the first page of most search engine results (and often at the top of the page!) for the following search strings for Denver or Boulder (meaning add “Denver” or “Boulder” to the end of them if you want to try it for yourself):
- Classic Limo
- Classic Car Limo
- Unique Limo
- Vintage Limo
- Wedding Limo
As of the update of this post (5/19/2013) I am the first result on most search engines for the following search strings:
- VW (or Volkswagen) Limo
- VW (or Volkswagen) Bus Limo
Of course, my rankings are likely to drop significantly if I do not constantly maintain my efforts. Given that even moderately sized companies can pay up to $140,000 a year in fees to boost search engine rankings (called Pay Per Click Advertising), I am doing pretty well for not having paid a cent to Yahoo, Google, Bing, or anyone else for that matter.
Business Directories & Wedding Planning Websites
I am on all of the (free) business directories and referral websites. As for wedding planning sites, most of you are familiar with The Knot, the biggest wedding planning site for brides. Well, that one is prohibitively expensive, but I have advertised on the other affordable ones listed below:
- Project Wedding
- Martha Stewart Weddings
- Wedding Bee
- Wedding Aces
Beyond website content and search engine optimization and indexing which I have done for all major engines, I write blog posts on my trips and events. These have generated better than half my web traffic. A high percentage of that traffic has come from people searching terms other than limo or wedding (such as the names and organizations of the fundraisers in which I participate or the venues involved in my wedding trips). You can look at all of our postings using the following:
- Current Events & Musings (in the right sidebar)
- Past Events & Musings (dropdown and search fields beneath Current Events & Musings)
- Click here to see a complete chronological rundown of all of our rides
I have a Hippie Limo Facebook page where I post all of my updates (as well as on my personal Facebook page) and use both my mailing lists and friend lists to ask people to talk about or like our business. I have also taken out several months worth of ads on Facebook, which offers such delightful targeting options as recent relationship status changes and engagement periods between 6 months and 1 year.
I have a Hippie Limo Twitter account where I send updates on all of my activities as well as cross-post my blog articles (and where I have also received a nod from celebrity wedding and event planner Donnie Brown). I also have a Pinterest board where I pin beautiful wedding and special occasion photographs from other VW business around the world. Lastly, I have a video on YouTube. All of the above are designed specifically to build my web presence, increase my ranking in the search engines, and give examples of how amazing it would be to include a vintage VW in a wedding or special occasion (something that those who live in the UK already know as there is a massive demand for vintage VW limos there).
As I said, I try to get references or mentions on as many blogging or article sites and Facebook pages as I can. Also, anytime I go to a restaurant or business, go grocery shopping, visit or call a business to manage some aspect of our family life, or come anywhere near anyone who might even have a chance of being interested in the Hippie Limo they get an elevator pitch and a business card. I also post cards in coffee shops and other venues with public bulletin boards (and make a special effort to do so in trendy areas). Even pesky telemarketers ask me to take them off of my list because I always give them my pitch after they are done with theirs. No exaggeration here. I talk to everyone.
Traditional & Blended Media
A few times a season I send a current version of my Press Release to local media (Newspapers, TV & Radio, Magazines, Websites) and even national media (NPR related shows mostly) about my activities. A few have taken hold as you can see at In the Press on our site. I chose to advertise in one of the more affordable local magazines called Colorado Brides, which is a co-publication of Yellow Scene Magazine. They had great customer support and provided full ad design services. I have also asked former customers and friends to vote for the Hippie Limo in the write-in category for the “Best Of” editions of Westword, The Boulder Weekly, and Yellow Scene as well as make regular plugs about me to the media.
I have even worked with local movie theaters and national marketing companies to pair up my business with premiers. Most notably I was featured in newspaper and web ads for the local premier of the movie Peace, Love, and Misunderstanding staring Catherine Keener and Jane Fonda. I also managed to get featured as the transportation for a local, flash-mob comedy series called Laff Attack. In a similar vein, I have paired with a highly popular downtown Denver diner called Snooze for their annual first day of business celebration, which happens to coincide with opening day for the Colorado Rockies.
Arts, Architecture & Lifestyle Organizations
It occurred to me that the more artsy minded out there would be a likely audience for the Hippie Limo and more likely to use and tell others about our service. I have already contacted many art galleries as part of my venue mailings but I am now contacting organizations and sponsors behind art events like Film Festivals, Art Shows, and Drama Expos and their associated audience groups.
I have also been making connections with architecture and design firms, such as Roth Sheppard, and local culture and lifestyle sources, like Modern in Denver, to arrange cross-promotional opportunities. The best recent example was when I heard about the Micro Housing Ideas Competition in Denver and contacted the sponsors to have our Microbus have its own presence at the event. I have also done some promotional events with restaurants, theaters, and museums. I am always on the lookout for similar opportunities.
Customer Reviews & Comments
For every trip in the Hippie Limo I write a blog post that recounts the experience for the clients as well as potential new customers. When I send the blog post link to the clients I also request that they take some time to review our service on WeddingWire or perhaps make a comment on our site. Also I tell the brides about local and national wedding blogs and encourage them and their photographers to submit their weddings to those sites both to help them celebrate their big day with the world and too boost my business. To date this has resulted in 19 reviews on the WeddingWire Hippie Limo entry (more reviews than any other Transportation provider) with an average rating of 4.8 out of 5.0 stars as well as two wedding blog features. As for comments on our site, we have 23 rave reviews of the Hippie Limo experience. It goes without saying that I also cross post the blog entries, reviews, and comments on Twitter and both my personal and business Facebook pages.
Would-Be Marketers & Marketing Veterans
I have contacted the undergraduate and graduate marketing program chairs and individual faculty members at all of the local private and public universities inquiring as to whether or not a professor or student would be willing to take on our little experiment as a project. I have also sent out similar requests to community colleges and even some local and national marketing firms to see if any of them would be willing to lend a hand in return for good Karma and a lot of laughs at their next cocktail party.
Well that covers all of the major things I do to market my business. There are probably others, but they don’t pop straight into mind and my time for writing a blog post is over. If you have anything else to offer please use the Leave a Reply area below. If you want to know some specific things that YOU can do to help promote the Hippie Limo, take a look at our post Keep Boulder Weird (Make Denver Weirder): Take a Ride in the Hippie Limo. Thanks for visiting us!
Also, since you took the time to read this post, would you please consider liking us on our Facebook Page, following us on Twitter, liking our video on YouTube, following or re-pinning us on Pinterest, and telling your friends about us? 😉
Do you have a marketing activity or other resource to add? Tell us about it with a comment in the Leave a Reply box below.