Restaurant makes a marketing windfall count.
By Branden Largent, Minneapolis St. Paul Business Journal, February 7, 2014
Running The Coop Restaurant in South St. Paul keeps the Hanson family very busy. So busy, in fact, that they struggle to find the time or resources to improve the eatery’s marketing, branding and Web strategies.
“It’s really a fine line, because you want to advertise more, you want to market more, but you don’t want to spend the money to do it,” said Karen Hanson, co-owner of The Coop Restaurant, a take-out, dine-in and catering eatery that specializes in fried chicken, barbecue ribs, burgers and coneys.
But now the Hansons finally have the marketing resources they needed.
After winning the River Heights Chamber of Commerce’s first-ever small business makeover contest, the restaurant’s owners hope to use the prize to expand their customer base and grow the restaurant’s catering services.
The Coop won more than $22,000 worth of local business services to improve its marketing, branding, public relations and online presence. The prize package also includes accounting, financial, carpeting, signage and remodeling services, as well as a new advertising jingle written for the restaurant.
Karen bought the restaurant with her husband, Bob Hanson, in 2001, but The Coop originally opened in 1964. The family usually invests some money on advertising, but most marketing resources go toward sponsoring local school events and donating to fund raisers and charities.
One of the contest sponsors, Ensemble Creative & Marketing, will work with The Coop to create a cohesive marketing and branding strategy, as well as a new company logo, that will stir more customer recognition and, hopefully, boost the business to the next level. The Coop also will work closely with website developers to redesign The Coop’s website, which needs updating and optimization for mobile devices, said Ensemble Creative Partner Kristina Murto.
In January, Murto met with the Hansons to discuss how to advertise effectively on a small budget, how to use social media to grow their fanbase and how to grow the restaurant’s catering services through marketing. The restaurant caters several dozen events every year, including birthday parties, weddings, funerals and company events, but the Hansons want to reach more corporate customers in areas outside of South St. Paul, such as Woodbury and Eagan.
When marketing a small business, Murto said it’s important to maintain the company’s strengths. For The Coop Restaurant, that means playing up the business’s long history, community involvement and family-owned charm.
Joel Hanson, The Coop Restaurant’s general manager and Karen and Bob’s son, said most customers appreciate that the restaurant is family-owned and eat at the restaurant as a way to “shop locally.” He added that many customers come from all over just to eat The Coop’s coneys.
If the restaurant’s catering becomes a bigger success, Karen said she’d like to replace the apartment on the back side of the restaurant with more kitchen space to handle larger catering orders.
But the Hansons aren’t the only ones excited about their makeover prize. Customer support has poured in since The Coop was named the winner.
“We have a really good, loyal-customer experience,” Karen said. “They’re happy that we’ve stuck through good times and bad.”
Her ‘Ensemble’ creates sweet marketing music: Kristina Murto grows business in challenging economic times
Her years of civic engagement and philanthropy in local organizations have included the Lakeville Area Arts Center, Lakeville Art Festival, the Minnesota Valley Humane Society and Feed My Starving Children.
Each year, Murto has hosted the Lakeville Area Chamber of Commerce Toys for Tots event and has a multi-year record of hosting the chamber’s most successful annual food drive.
Many of her favorite causes are those organizations dedicated to helping children and animals because she said they capture a “soft spot” in her heart.
“I believe it’s not enough to just take the passive support route, but rather throw ourselves whole-heartily into a cause,” she said.
Born in Hastings, Murto has lived in Eureka Township just south of Lakeville with husband Mitch Murto since 1987.
Murto’s graphic design, marketing, brand and website development career spans more than 24 years. While many thought she was “crazy” to start her own business in 2008 because of the economic uncertainty, Murto called it “the most rewarding venture” of her life.
“I wake up – sometimes way too early – excited to tackle a new adventure,” she said. “I’ve met so many incredible people along the way that I would never had the opportunity to meet if I hadn’t taken a chance on myself.”
Ensemble Creative & Marketing caters to small- to medium-sized businesses that may lack the internal resources of a marketing department.
“We specialize in branding, design and messaging and helping clients position their product or service to customers, whether it’s business to business or business to consumer,” Murto said. “Our client list is composed of a wide variety of business models from manufacturers to the trades industry to companies needing a custom website. Simply stated, through proper marketing, we provide their business credibility.”
Murto said she likes having a business in Dakota County because it is important to her to keep local ties.
“I’m most comfortable in the culture of Dakota County,” she said. “Of course that’s an entirely different vibe than working in St. Paul, Minneapolis or even Bloomington.”
She considers her business’ growth and out-of-the-box success — despite the faltering economy — has been her most significant accomplishment.
“During the recent recession, we were fortunate to continue to expand our client list and portfolio of work,” she said. “That was an environment that many in my field and other industries didn’t see coming, including me, and sadly many didn’t survive.”
A consummate professional, Murto believes in hard work, treating people fairly and having compassion for others.
“When we established our business in Lakeville over eight years ago, there was a desire to be part of the community in which I live,” she said. “That reckoning translates into fully embracing and the support of community undertakings such as volunteering our time or talents to help nonprofits or those in need.”
Over the past few years, her industry has gone through significant changes.
For over 20 years, her background was in creating advertising and printed marketing materials that included catalogs and print advertising.
“During 2008, we realized that there was a tremendous shift away from traditional print,” she said. “Many companies moved their marketing dollars to their web presence and we needed to accommodate that shift. Fortunately, our skill sets and experience translate well to the internet and today roughly 60 percent of our revenues come from client web development.”
Looking ahead, Murto said the most significant opportunity for her business is found in the client relationships they have nurtured over the years and that span numerous projects.
“Fortunately, during this past year we’ve been approached by businesses that have since become clients primarily because, first, we are local and second, we have a reputation of being a one-stop shop that produces great work and results for our clients,” she said. “There is great opportunity in nurturing those relationships.”
She also credits her success to the many colleagues who have taken her under their wing and believed in her even when she lacked the confidence to believe in herself.
“I’ve taken away many valuable insights that I still apply to business today,” she said. “My continued goal is to mentor when I can and hopefully make a profound impact on someone’s career and life.”