Small Business in Minnesota

Target’s Foray Into Subscriptions Begs The Question: What About Your Business?

Posted on April 18, 2014. Filed under: Creative Marketing, Public Relations, Public relations practices, Retail, Small Business in Minnesota | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

Probably no Twin Cities-based company is more closely watched by business locals than Target Corporation. Not that the Twin Cities is a one-horse town, corporately speaking — far from it! Rather, Target is the odds-on favorite in a multi-horse lineup of big hitters. So it’s interesting to us locally — and surely to many marketers nationally as well — when Target announces that it is pursuing more online sales by bolstering its subscription business. See Target Expands Online Subscription Sales.

Subscriptions Can Be A Sweet Addition To A Business

Subscription sales by major marketers is a hot topic at present. General Mills, for example, is building out a subscription business with a line of unique culinary treats — a healthy sweet treat a day keeps the dogs of want away, might be the underlying idea there.

Target’s idea is to motivate consumers and businesses alike to sign up for regular shipments of everyday products such as washing detergents, paper goods, cleaning products — the mundane stuff that no home or business can afford to be without. Purchase online, add them to your account, specify delivery intervals, and voila – your life simplified. It’s a good idea, not new, but good all the same. Many, many companies pursue a similar strategy of course.

But the question is, why aren’t even more companies doing it? Specifically, small to medium sized businesses — and non-profits too — with both products and services to sell? Why couldn’t a hair stylist offer to cut and beautify hair on a subscription basis – 12 sessions per year, sign on for the subscription to the service and get a 10% discount? A florist could initiate a bouquet-of-the-month club for consumers and businesses alike. Specialty food businesses are obviously ideal for this type of business development model — especially if they’re willing and able to partner with other food products marketers to provide customized food baskets.

A Little Creative Thought Can Reveal A Powerful New Marketing Niche

Even professional services companies could benefit from the subscription approach to client retention. A competitive-landscape-analysis-of-the-month club for clients of a public relations or advertising firm, for example. Or a monthly webinar providing an in-depth, value-added look at a topic of deep relevance to clients. This kind of approach could also benefit law firms, accounting firms, non-profits — the potential is limitless.

The moral of the story is, if it’s good enough for the likes of a mass merchandising giant like Target, it’s probably good enough for your business too.

Willing To Help

If you’d like to discuss such issues with an experienced marketing industry pro, feel free to get in touch with me. No fee for a brainstorming sounding out of ideas here.

Now then, Target as noted is not the only major retailer ramping up online sales. Home Depot is, by report of the Wall Street Journal, reducing its new-store openings drastically while promoting much more aggressively it’s online sales site. That’s a huge switch for the retailer, whose main growth strategy in the past has been based on new store growth. But the bricks-and-mortar segment of the business is over-crowded with competition, say Home Depot executives. And even the vastness of the Home Depot stores can only contain about 35,000 products versus the 600,000 offered on the retailer’s website.

Home Depot makes it easy for consumers to order online — and pickup goods at a local Home Depot bricks-and-mortar location. That’s called killing two birds, one virtual, one physically present, with one giant marketing stone.


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Social Networking The Mississippi River Way

Posted on July 19, 2012. Filed under: Public Relations, Small Business in Minnesota, Sporting life, Twin Cities region | Tags: , , , |

Patrick Boulay, publisher of the New Business Minnesota monthly magazine, poses in front of a company promotional banner at a recent meet-up honoring heroes of the business start-up community in Minnesota.

Patrick Boulay, founder and publisher of New Business Minnesota magazine.

Not even Mark Twain would find much to complain about vis-à-vis the notoriously inhospitable Siberian climate of the Twin Cities this summer. In fact, incurable river romantic that he was, Twain would likely have cozied up to the bar at the Pool & Yacht Club in Lilydale on the Mississippi — as I did the other night. Twain might then cast a gaze filled with fond admiration at the rolling waters of nearby Old Man River — as did I — and then, just before tossing back his double shot of Scotch whiskey, raise a glass to the inventor of air conditioning.

Because it was blazing hot late into the afternoon of Tuesday, July 17. The type of heat that drives away all thoughts of January wind chills — and causes one to marvel at people’s ability to assume the trappings of civilization — in this case, the choice to don a sport coat and serious leather dress shoes — before sallying forth into the inferno.

A Little Well-Deserved Startup Love

But no matter. For this was the New Business Minnesota meet-up, a chance for startup owners to “Network with Leading Business Professionals You Should Know,” held at the Pool & Yacht Club that very same day. Five to seven p.m., the invitation read, and at 5:30 or so there I was, primped and pumped for a brief interlude of business networking with these friends of Patrick Boulay.

A good turnout it was too — some 40 to 50 friendly faces, by my casual count, milling about with purposeful abandon in the spacious setting of a river-facing meeting room. Mr. Boulay arranged this meet-up to share the wealth of social networking capital he derives as publisher of the New Business Minnesota journal. It is, as he notes, a guide to getting going on running a new entrepreneurial enterprise in Minnesota, chock-full of useful information for the newbie biz wiz. He distributes 8,000 copies per monthly run, getting it into the hands of owners of startups who crave information tailored to their particular situations.

A Battler For Startups

A true champion of the startup class, Boulay notes in his Publisher’s column this month — titled “Startup Odds Are Pretty Good” — that the one-year success rate for startup businesses is 85%. Even five years on, after all the proverbial, epic struggles that entrepreneurial companies must endure, 50% of all startups are still in business. That is pretty good — and a good testament to the viability of all us small business operators as value-creators. (And don’t call us “small time operators” either. Small in scale we may be, but most of us in the small biz world think big. We have to – there’s no corporate cushion to fall back on, so we need to be ahead of the game at every step. Of course, we use what we know to help make our products and services more appealing and competitive, and if that ends up helping corporate customers and clients, so much the better. It’s not an either/or world, recent commentary by John H. Bunzel —Small Business Is Getting A Tad Too Much Love — in the Minneapolis StarTribune notwithstanding.)

That said, let’s not forget that key to every entrepreneur’s success is his/her ability to make professional contacts. Mr. Boulay’s meeting was an excellent venue for doing so — this is social networking at its best, e.g. in person, face-to-face, one tiny swap of business cards at a time. I would encourage other small business people to engage with Patrick’s organization at

An Urban River Haven

One last word on the setting: a revelation to me to discover for the first time the discreet charms of the Pool & Yacht Club. Scenically situated in — Lilydale, where else? — just across the 35E bridge from St. Paul, it’s a terrific spot from which to watch the river flow — or chill down during those Siberian-style Januaries that descend upon the Twin Cities. Boaters can pull into the docks and ramble on up to the clubhouse for food and refreshments too. Such river hospitality is all too limited in the Twin Cities, so take advantage. (I’ll just add the Pool & Yacht Club info, Pool & Yacht Club, to be sociable.)

You never know. The ghost of Mark Twain might wander on by while you’re gazing fondly at the rolling waters of the mighty Mississippi.

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