Anatomy of a Promotion: White Glove Treatment

For the Baja Sharkeez Chain in California, Organization, Preparation and Dedication Spell Promotion Success

Famous artist and illustrator Henry Hartman once wrote, “Success always comes when preparation meets opportunity.”

It’s certainly an apt quote when looking at the success level of the Baja Sharkeez chain of restaurant/bars in California. With seven locations between the coastal towns of Hermosa Beach, Newport Beach, Huntington Beach, Manhattan Beach and Santa Barbara, Baja Sharkeez is the realized dream of Ron Newman and his son Greg. The gentlemen endeavored to bring classic Baja/Mexican cuisine to a sports-friendly environment that would cater to the high-energy college crowd as well as to more mature family-oriented guests. To fill seven venues nightly, the father-son team had to focus heavily on well-rounded, crowd-enticing promotions that would pull in audiences in seven separate markets, spanning at least a decade in age. Their formula is a mix of intense organization, specifically delegated management responsibilities and staff involvement, and it’s proved successful time and time again.

Here, we zero in on the Newmans’ promotion development process from idea to execution of the crowd-pleasing White Glove Party in honor of the late Michael Jackson.

“We always want to increase sales,” says Jeffrey Tyler, director of marketing for Baja Sharkeez. “That’s important. But our main goal is always to draw in the crowd that consistently comes to Sharkeez and a new demographic that didn’t realize we were a part of the culture in each town.”

More specifically, the goal of every event is to increase sales for that night in each location by 35 percent. To that end, the door should maintain a line approximately 50 people long with an almost-full venue during any promotion, and each member of the staff is required to hand out VIP invites before the event to the clientele they want to attract. The goal is to bring the VIP guest list to 600 names before the party.

“We estimate that if we have a 600-person VIP list, 300 of those will show up,” Tyler says.

Additionally, each employee is expected to bring in at least 10 of his or her friends. The incentive for doing so? “The busier we are, the more tips everyone makes,” Tyler explains. Employees use their personal Facebook, MySpace and Twitter accounts to blast information about events, and each individual location has its own social networking accounts as well. “Today, you have to push promotions harder than ever through word of mouth, Facebook and all of these sites,” he notes. “You have to do everything possible to get people in the door, never letting up and pushing every single day of the week as its own major promotion.”

Tyler estimates that up to 50 percent of the traffic for the Michael Jackson promotion learned of the event through Facebook and other social networking web sites. “We were on Facebook and all these other sites multiple times a day posting bulletins, sending out event invitations and adding more and more friends daily within our stores.”

While every Baja Sharkeez venue has a different footprint and capacity, these event goals are set for all seven locations to keep everyone on the right track for every promotion.

For the Michael Jackson White Glove Party, Tyler began planning the event on June 26, the morning after Jackson passed, with the idea that this particular promotion would be a tribute.

“For this party, I didn’t want to throw it too soon after his death. I wanted it to be far enough out that people were over the shock, but close enough that it was still relevant,” he explains. “We set the date for one month past his death. With any promotion, however, we always start a minimum of three to four weeks out.”

The planning process for every promotion begins with Tyler sitting down at his computer to design a procedure on how he wants the party to run. The budget, decorating ideas and staff attire suggestions are all included.

“Three weeks before, I get together with store managers. Sharkeez has a total of seven different promotions managers, one at each location, and they each have a team of three promotions assistants. I go over and break down the procedure section by section, and then it’s the managers’ responsibility to get it to all employees. They have a manager meeting on the Monday two weeks before the party, and I follow up with e-mails and phone calls to make sure everything is on track, from décor to VIP lists.”

Every staff member working the event is required to dress in attire that coincides with the theme. “A means of getting everyone involved is making [costumes] mandatory for your staff,” explains Tyler. “We reimburse them a certain amount depending on our budget. For the Michael Jackson event, we spent a few hundred dollars for décor in each location. We reimbursed everyone $20 for costumes, and we have set outfits that everyone needs to wear. If they didn’t want to dress up on their own, they were required to come in a Michael Jackson T-shirt, a fedora and a white glove.”

Jordan Cressman, operating partner of the Hermosa Beach location, welcomed 150 more people than he would on a typical Thursday for his location’s White Glove event.

“Theme parties always give people a reason to go out and have a good time,” he offers. “What some people don’t realize is that theme parties too complex can scare patrons away. Some people either don’t understand the concept, can’t afford to go out and buy a new costume, or just don’t feel like dressing up. The White Glove party worked because everyone that walked through the door that night received a white glove with sequins on it. It gets the crowd involved and fired up because everyone is in costume.”

Program Development
A few weeks prior to each event, a large poster is made and sent to each store to hang up. Baja Sharkeez has been presenting regular promotions for so long that the Newmans created the capability to generate everything in-house, including all printing and fliers, which lends to an easy and efficient development cycle.

There are always snags along the way, however, and the group hit a challenge in décor for the White Glove event.

“We thought we would easily be able to find large Michael Jackson cut-outs to place in the bars, but there were none left on eBay,” Tyler admits. “So we went online and downloaded high-resolution photos. We then took them to a local printer, had them blown up, and we made our own cut-outs.”

Tyler sought out California DJs who specialized in Michael Jackson mash-ups and had a different DJ for each venue’s party, playing nothing but the King of Pop’s music all night long. Behind the DJs, large screens projected the pop idol’s videos. Beverage alcohol sponsors for the event included 42 Below Vodka and Bud Light.

The Follow-Up
The week following each party, Tyler is hard at work assessing the event’s success levels at the individual locations.

“We do a party recap form, which each store has to return to me, filled out by the promotions manager and general manager one week after the event,” he says.

The sheet includes the following sections: the line outside, decorations, sponsors, percentage of increase in sales and comments/changes. It is a collaborative effort for the general manager and the promotions manager, and it also must include all receipts for décor purchases. The staff of each store is then graded on performance, and, based on those grades, the general manager and promotions managers receive cash bonuses.

“We also send out thank you e-mails to everyone on our VIP lists, whether they actually came or not,” Tyler says, noting that the e-mail includes a section for submitting customer feedback as well.

“The overall idea of any promotion is creating an event that people want to come to and that your staff is excited about. We focus on offering the public something they can’t get elsewhere, while being the first people to do so. This particular night did very well, and I think our customers appreciated having one night solely dedicated to Jackson, his music and what he meant to all of them.” NCB

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