You’d think finding a place to eat lunch in a health nut haven like Boulder, Colorado that featured simple, all-natural ingredients made from scratch for a good price would be pretty easy. Boulder residents Anthony Pigliacampo and Rob McColgan realized a couple years ago that unless they wanted to eat at Chipotle every day, finding good, affordable, healthy food prepared fresh and fast was much harder than it should be. The two friends then set out to fix this problem.
Their solution is Modmarket, a fast casual restaurant located in the heart of Boulder’s 29th Street Mall. The menu and the food follow a simple set of principles laid out by Anthony and Rob when they started: serve food that
- Tastes great
- Is made from scratch
- Features simple ingredients that anyone can recognize
- Is served quickly
- Is affordable
- Wouldn’t turn you into the guy from Super Size Me if you ate it every day
The crazy thing is how revolutionary this simple credo has turned out to be. Modmarket’s daily offering of fresh salads, brick oven pizza, gourmet sandwiches, and made-from-scratch soups has been an instant hit with the Boulder locals, and founders Anthony and Rob are hard at work on a second location in Denver that opened at the start of the year.
Even more impressive than Modmarket’s fresh and tasty menu is their extremely savvy marketing campaign.
Modmarket’s founders are skillful practitioners of cutting edge restaurant marketing techniques, but one of their most successful campaigns comes from an innovation all their own: using receipts as advertising space.
“We view the receipt as an asset,” says co-founder Anthony Pigliacampo, “We’ve taken what was going into the trash and turned it into a marketing tool.” All Modmarket receipts list nutritional information for each item the customer ordered, not only placing the restaurant ahead of the curve on menu labeling but also reinforcing Modmarket’s message: we’re a healthy alternative to other fast casual chains.
“People like the fact that it’s transparent. We’ve had people come in just because they’ve heard about it,” Anthony says of the nutrition information on receipts. But Modmarket’s use of all that white space on customer receipts doesn’t end there. At the bottom of each receipt is a bold black arrow pointing to the right that reads “Turn Me Over.”
On the back is a limited-time promo giving the customer 10% off their next order, provided it happens in the next two days.
Below the Modmarket promo is an ad with a coupon for a local chiropractor, which Modmarket prints for free in the name of supporting local business. Below that ad are instructions for connecting to Modmarket’s Wi-Fi network – a great way to get customers to come back on their next lunch break.
Modmarket also uses catering as a secondary revenue stream and as a way to get their brand of fresh, tasty, healthy food in front of more potential customers in the Boulder area. “Catering has spread through word-of-mouth and it’s great because it exposes our brand to new people and helps us utilize dead times at the restaurant,” says Anthony.
Catering can sometimes present a logistical challenge – especially when customers request Modmarket’s services with very little lead time. On the other hand, margins are higher on the catering side and “getting our food into more hands,” as Anthony puts it, only helps find more Modmarket converts.
By far the most effective marketing campaign for Modmarket has sprung from local media.
Generating buzz around a story can be a delicate art, but when done properly can result in some great publicity for a restaurant. The Modmarket guys landed in the local news after they placed a street sign in front of the restaurant that read “You Can’t Eat At Chipotle Every Day.”
On the surface it seemed like a fairly straightforward statement, but the Chipotle location a few hundred yards down the 29th Street Mall didn’t see the humor. They asked Modmarket to take down the sign and soon enough the story was in the papers and a lot of new customers were coming through the door.
Of course, recruiting new customers doesn’t do a lot of good unless they become repeat customers. A large part of the process of turning new customers into loyal ones depends on good food and great service, but there’s no reason why some smart marketing can’t help that process along a little.
Modmarket definitely recruits loyal customers through their receipt promos, but another method that has turned out to be very effective is email marketing. There’s a computer terminal placed on a prominent wall in the restaurant that encourages customers to sign up for messages. In a little over a year the list has grown to over 5,000 email addresses.
“We make it so people want to open the emails we send them,” says Anthony. “We don’t send them very often, and when we do, there’s always a great deal.” In fact, Modmarket has seen as many as 1,000 redemptions on coupons they’ve sent via email. Three elements of their email marketing strategy contribute to their success: 1) getting customer permission to send email, 2) carefully controlling how much email is sent, and 3) always including a compelling offer with every email.
Of course, no restaurant can call their marketing strategy effective without wading into the messy world of social media and the web. Modmarket has rolled up two sleeves and plunged in on this front, with positive results.
For starters, the Modmarket website is clean, informational, and easy to navigate. It’s also been optimized to show up in search engines like Google for specific keywords unique to people searching in Boulder for a great, healthy place to eat.
Anthony’s advice for other restaurateurs wanting to get more traffic to their website is to have Google help for free. “The Google Local Business Page is the easiest way to increase visibility on the web,” he says. “Even if you don’t have a website, at least create a Local Business Page for free.”
As far as social media goes, Modmarket is active on both Facebook and Twitter. They test different marketing messages on the two social sites by using a unique coupon code specific to each message and then track code performance through their POS system. The messages that work get used again, those that don’t are tossed.
These marketing messages are then mixed with a healthy dose of non-promotional messages that help create a conversation with customers. For example, on Modmarket’s Twitter feed, a message promoting “Free Lunch Fridays” was followed by a link to pictures of the new location in Denver before opening day. Posts like that give customers a behind-the-scenes look at the restaurant and help engage loyal customers even when they aren’t there.
The conversation continues on Yelp. Many restaurateurs have viewed the review site with a mixture of suspicion and fear, especially after revelations that Yelp was aggressively selling $300-a-month “sponsorships” that allowed users to decide which reviews ended up at the top of the list for a restaurant.
Modmarket views Yelp as an opportunity to engage customers, no matter what they have to say. “The thing with Yelp is that you can respond to customers,” says Anthony. “We’ve had a ton of reviews that started as 3s and are now 5s because we talked to that customer and addressed their issue.”
The secret is to respond to customers on Yelp as you would if they were standing in your restaurant. Accept blame – even if you know their criticism isn’t true – and then win their trust by offering an incentive to try your restaurant again. “We like to reward people for criticizing us,” says Anthony.
Modmarket also uses the criticisms they receive on Yelp to motivate their staff and hold them responsible for service. Negative reviews are posted on a bulletin board in the back of the house so that employees get direct feedback on their performance. This approach in turn helps Modmarket gain more positive reviews in the future.
Another aspect of web marketing for restaurants is using the website as a tool for collecting orders. Some restaurants have struggled with online ordering systems in the past because the orders interfere with service in the dining area as staff try to fill online orders while dealing with a rush in the front of the house at the same time.
Modmarket dealt with online ordering by integrating it with their existing POS system. That means the process of taking the order and getting it to the line in the back of the house is fully automated and frees up precious staff resources to handle in-store customers. “I wouldn’t do online ordering without point-of-sale integration,” says Anthony.
There’s not a single one of these Modmarket strategies that emerges a clear winner in the battle to gain more customers and keep the ones they have coming back again and again. But taken together, the sum of these many parts adds up to a very effective campaign that has generated a lot of business and helped Modmarket expand very quickly.
None of these strategies require a huge budget, although they all do need some investment and especially some time to succeed. And what works for Modmarket may not necessarily work the same way for another restaurant. The key is to take a comprehensive strategy and test different parts until you find what works for your restaurant.
Continual improvement is the hallmark of any successful marketing campaign, and Modmarket founders Anthony Pigliacampo and Rob McColgan are no exception to that rule. Even as they see success with their current efforts, Modmarket’s approach is to look for ways to make their marketing and customer engagement initiatives ever more effective.
“Nothing has ever been good enough the first pass,” says Anthony. “That’s why we track what happened and then try again.”