I used to run an ice cream shop before I started my business a few years ago. I wasn't the owner, but I was general manager and I knew the owners very well. They rarely came in to check on things, so everything was up to me.

Ice cream shops do pretty well in small towns, so it wasn't difficult to attract customers. Nonetheless, the owners still wanted a marketing campaign. I was pretty new to the concept of marketing. I studied writing and my profession was contracting. Turns out they had a little insider information.

Shortly after I took over the GM position, another ice cream shop opened in the town. So all of a sudden we had to actually attract customers. We had to pull them away from the glitz and glamor of the new shiny shoppe.

We kept our menu the same, as it the shop had been in the town for 20 years, so for it to change would have alienated our loyal customer base. We didn't change the signage either, as it would have confused the loyal customer base. But, as our numbers started to fall, we had to think outside the box.

We set up campaigns for free ice cream on certain days, kids days, parents days, coupon programs, and other promotional entities. We saw a slight rise in sales after that, but we were still down a little from previous years.

So we did a little research. We asked customers what the biggest deterrent from going into stores is for them. Overwhelmingly, the answer was the amount of time they had to stand in line. We went to the other ice cream shop and noticed that they had long lines with no attention to the customers in line.

After a little brainstorming and more research, we discovered a way to get people in and out of the store faster, all while attending to their needs while they waited in line. We signed up for merchant accounts by intuit.com, which allowed us to take orders and payment from the customers while they stood in line. The customers then took their receipt to the counter and got their order, which was already being made.

So we then decided to make this one of our marketing points. If people knew they would spend less time in our store and could get on with their busy schedule, we could probably pull our numbers back up. People knew what the ice cream tasted like; they'd had it many times before, so they knew it was quality.

The second thing we did was introduce a new flavor each week for six weeks. We passed out a calendar with the flavors marked on each Friday for two months. We did Friday so that we could pull in the after school crowd and mothers picking their children up for school. We also advertised the new flavors on our big sign in front of the store.

After each of the flavors was introduced, we would put one of those on special each week. The results were staggering. Not only did the new flavors sell well, but the old flavors sold better, as well.

Turns out that this was exactly what we needed. We got our numbers to record levels all because of two little marketing ploys. But, we listened to the customers and implemented what we thought would help them with what they needed help with.

Even in small towns, you've got to think big business sometimes.

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