Shenandoah businesses win $20,000 for new marketing strategies

Strasburg Hobbies owners Mike and Elizabeth Nail stand behind the counter and review their winning marketing plan submitted to the RevUp Marketing Event. Lewis Millholland / Daily

Six Shenandoah County businesses were announced as winners in the RevUp Marketing Event on Thursday, splitting a total prize of $20,000.

The event, launched in September by a group of local governments and business organizations, consisted of six weekly marketing-focused workshops. At the end, participants were invited to compete for a share of the grand prize by submitting marketing plans designed to promote their businesses.

“Marketing is often something that they know they need to do, but they don’t either have time to do or they don’t have the financial resources to do,” said Jenna French, director of tourism and business development for Shenandoah County. “As a small business owner, marketing is just one component of everything they do from operating their business and managing staff … to managing their website, answering calls, you know, doing the day-to-day tasks of managing their business.”

The RevUp program added impetus to marketing efforts, which can fall through the cracks at small businesses.

“Our hope was that this might help them, give them an opportunity to learn a little bit about the benefits of marketing and why, if they can find some time and money available to make it happen, it can really help them in the long run,” French said.

Initially, French anticipated 20 or 30 people would enroll in the course. She said she was surprised when attendance reached 55 people representing 49 businesses. Of that number, 21 went on to develop marketing plans and enter the formal competition.

The six winners are All Things Virginia at The Farmhouse, Ridge Runner Farm Brewery, Shenandoah Valley Music Festival, Shenandoah Wine Tours, Strasburg Hobbies and Valley Garage Doors. The Music Festival was crowned overall winner, earning an annual gold-level status with the Chamber of Commerce.

“It was a wonderful program that the county and the towns were running,” said Shenandoah Valley Music Festival Director Dennis Lynch.

The organization’s $3,000 cut of the prize money will be used to place advertisements in The Washington Post for the Music Lovers Weekend Getaway packages, deals that offer discounted rates for concert tickets and lodging at the nearby Shrine Mont retreat center.

“It’s a real help because otherwise it puts a strain on our marketing budget,” said Lorraine Halsted, Shenandoah Valley Music Festival marketing specialist. “You know, to have to put out a chunk of money like that for just advertising in one place — it’s been very helpful.”

Another one of the winners, Strasburg Hobbies on 168 W. King St., has been in business for almost two years but has never had a formal grand opening. Nearly once a week owner Elizabeth Nail has a new customer drop in on their way to the post office next door, asking if the store just opened.

Nail and her husband, Mike, already knew their marketing strategy needed an overhaul before the RevUp Event was offered. And, after taking the course, Nail said her biggest takeaway was learning to analyze the store’s target demographic.

“That was a tough thing for me, for you to close your eyes and visualize who is your customer walking in the door?” Elizabeth said. “Is it the customer coming in for slot car racing, is it the customer who’s coming in about trains, is it the customer who saw an RC truck in the window? I had to get past that, that you’re not looking at the customer for each different product but just your overall customer.

“Once I was able to come up with that, then you could start thinking about how to target that person. And that’s what I really left with,” she said.

With the prize money, the Nails plan to run year-round ads on Facebook and Google, as well as buying radio ad space to target Father’s Day and Christmas shoppers. Their marketing plan also calls for an update to their website, banners on the storefront windows and lights on the signs.

“We thought (attending RevUp) definitely was in the best interest of our business,” Nail said. “Walking away with the understanding your target audience — that was able to lead us to where we were going.”

Another winner, All Things Virginia at The Farmhouse,  has been experiencing brand confusion since late 2012 when All Things Virginia acquired The Farmhouse. The new company meshed the two names together and kept both previous logos side-by-side. After winning $5,000 in the RevUp program, owner Vicki Ruckman plans to simplify the company image.

“Basically the marketing plan was a rebranding … We’re going to change the name to ‘The Virginia Farmhouse,'” Ruckman said. “As part of rebranding, we needed a new website, website redesign, a new logo, new rack cards, business cards, new signs.”

The newly branded Virginia Farmhouse will also take out magazine ads and promote posts on Facebook, which Ruckman learned in the RevUp course offers “more bang for your buck.”

“It was a fantastic course,” Ruckman said. “It was really informational, the speakers really knew their stuff and they knew how to talk to you in a really kind of user-friendly kind of way … They really had the whole group engaged.”

The RevUp Marketing Event was a collaboration between the Town of Strasburg, Town of Woodstock, Town of Edinburg, Town of New Market, Shenandoah County, The Shenandoah County Chamber of Commerce, People Incorporated and Small Business Development Center.

“We’d really like to continue to do more programs like this in Shenandoah County and in partnership with our towns.” French said. “The feedback that we got from the participants was so great that we’re already looking towards the future, and what other things can we do like this to partner together and bring more education opportunities for our local businesses.”