When customers don't know you exist

Plus: Nickname proposed for new Honeywell tower; Wells might stick with interim CEO; Reader reviews glow-in-the-dark noodles

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Charlotte companies grapple with finding customers in the age of social media

Letting people know that your business exists seems like a simple problem to solve. Set up a website. Start a Facebook page. Push out your message on social media.

But there’s so much noise online these days, cutting through it all to get to potential customers can be a challenge.

That’s the theme that emerged from interviews with small-business owners on Thursday at the Ballantyne Business Bash, an annual lunchtime gathering for business networking sponsored by the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance.

In interviews with more than a half-dozen companies, many said they were trying different strategies to get noticed and find customers. It could be a self-selecting group — companies looking to let people know they exist might be more likely to attend a networking event.

But here’s what some local firms said their challenges are and how they are addressing them:

Timed Out, an escape room that opened last year at Community House and Johnston roads in Ballantyne.

  • The challenge: “Our biggest challenge is people knowing we are in existence,” said co-founder Tina Burfield.

  • What’s worked: Timed Out uses social media, Google Ads and had a piece in Ballantyne magazine. It has also been pushing corporate team-building events.

NDSE, which manages IT support for small- and medium-sized businesses. It opened a Charlotte office about two years ago.

  • The challenge: “Getting our name out,” said director of business development Julie West.

  • What’s worked: Meeting people through the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance. Face-to-face interactions have helped.

Uwharrie Bank, an Albemarle-based community bank with 10 branches. It opened its first Charlotte location 18 months ago near StoneCrest.

  • The challenge: “Getting the word out. People are so used to the big-box banks,” said vice president Mike Prickett, who works in mortgages.

  • What’s worked: The branch has a community meeting room, and it hosts local business meetings once a quarter that get people familiar with the bank and its personal approach.

Cort Furniture Rental, a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway, which has a location at South Boulevard and Woodlawn Road.

  • The challenge: “Getting people to know about us,” said Frederick Laderer, showroom sales manager. People know about furniture rentals, but they don’t know that Cort sells used furniture from its Charlotte clearance center.

  • What worked: The company does a lot of web promotions, but Laderer thinks traditional media helps. “I believe in print, TV and radio,” he said.

Source: 2018 Wells Fargo/Gallup poll of small business owners

Survey says: A poll last year found that 9% of small-business owners listed “finding customers” as their biggest challenge (part of “economic issues” in chart above). More said they were worried about government policies and hiring and retaining qualified staff.

Still, marketing can be a real obstacle for small businesses, as ways to reach customers have changed, says Brad Brooks, a marketing professor at Queens University of Charlotte’s McColl School of Business. It sounds so basic. But for small businesses especially, getting the message out to customers is often time-consuming or costly.

Creative solutions: “You have to figure out ways to reach out to the customer — figuring out where the customers are getting their information and where the customer is going,” Brooks says. That might mean a variety of creative strategies, including investing time with civic organizations, scouring social media or paying to analyze data. He knows of one business in the extreme-sports industry that searched for social-media posts of people who engaged in that sport, then contacted those people directly to build a list of potential customers.

“I wish there was an easy answer,” he says.

Shameless marketing plug

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Behold Charlotte’s new Honeywell office tower: ‘The Dehumidifier’?

One Wells Fargo Center is often known as “the jukebox.” The top of the Duke Energy Center is sometimes referred to as “the handlebar.”

Now, Honeywell is planning to move into a new 23-story office tower developed by Lincoln Harris on the Legacy Union site uptown, and some online architectural critics are already suggesting a nickname for it after viewing the renderings: “the dehumidifier.”

Over at the online discussion group Urban Planet, where people debate such things, reviews of the building were mixed. One user called it “awkward post-modern” and “blocky.” But others said it “adds variety and texture to the skyline” and that it is “really beautiful” and that “the roofline is very cool.”

Details from the Biz Journal:

The electronics manufacturer, which is relocating its corporate headquarters to Charlotte from New Jersey, will occupy about 280,000 square feet at 700 S. Mint St. — the third office building to come to Lincoln Harris' 10-acre uptown Charlotte site. Honeywell has signed a long-term lease agreement for nine floors at the 23-story, 330,000-square-foot tower, expected to break ground in September and be finished in the first half of 2021.

Summer’s coming. We could use a big dehumidifier.

Police combat drunken scootering in South End

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police say they hit South End recently to combat what could be a new scourge: people driving scooters while intoxicated.

Police went out on the trail alongside the light-rail line and talked to about 100 scooter riders to educate them about the law, says Sgt. Jesse Wood, supervisor of CMPD’s transportation division. He said riders were receptive to the message that driving scooters after drinking is illegal and dangerous.

Wood told the Ledger he’s unaware of any charges for scootering while drunk. But let’s face it – that seems inevitable.

Out on a limb: “I’m sure impaired people are riding those scooters,” Wood says. “Along the light rail trail, there are a lot of bars, and I’m sure people are moving from place to place on those things after they’ve been drinking.”

The education session took place about a month ago, and Wood says he’s not ruling out another one.

Unsafe at any speed? They are when you’re intoxicated.

Wells Fargo CEO search: Keep Parker?

For weeks, the news coming out of Wells Fargo’s CEO search was that its board was seeking an outsider, probably a woman, to run the long-embattled bank.

But a new report out this week suggests maybe Wells will just stick with interim CEO Allen Parker. From Reuters:

Wells Fargo & Co. board members are considering keeping interim Chief Executive Allen Parker in the job permanently even after saying they would seek an outsider to fill the role, according to two sources familiar with the board’s thinking. …

The external search has been complicated by concerns Wells Fargo could not pay the big dollars necessary to lure talent from competing banks. The board’s pick would also be subject to an unusual vetting by U.S. regulators. 

Board members started warming up to the idea of keeping Parker after he made a good impression on stakeholders including regulators, investors and employees. …

Sources familiar with the board’s thinking said Parker has not been tainted by the scandal since he joined in 2017, the year after customer abuses first emerged. One of the sources said Parker’s two years at the bank have given him enough understanding of lingering problems to fix them quickly.

Even if Parker is superbly qualified, it doesn’t seem as though installing him after dangling the prospect of a woman CEO would satisfy the bank’s insatiable critics. As the site Dealbreaker noted in a provocative (and profanity-laced) analysis headlined “Wells Fargo Considering Just Admitting That No One Wants To Be CEO Of Wells Fargo”:

The Stagecoach is about to just give up and let its lawyer run the place. … This is all about perception now, and you’re making almost the same mistake as last time but expecting a different result. There’s a name for that.

In brief

  • Bus-station redevelopment proposed: The city said it received an unsolicited proposal to develop the Charlotte Transportation Center, across Trade Street from the Spectrum Center, and is accepting proposals for the 2.6-acre site, the Observer reported. The city is building a new transit center near Gateway Village.

  • Music fest: Following up on the report that Charlotte could host a huge music festival in May 2020, ace TV reporter Joe Bruno reveals that organizers have applied for permits for something called Queen City Music Fest to be held May 7-10 on Charlottetown Avenue between Fourth and Seventh streets — in the heart of CPCC. City councilman Tariq Bokhari said it will have “a lot of very major headliners.” Details aren’t finalized. (WSOC)

  • Pay raise: Michael Marsicano, CEO of Foundation for the Carolinas, had his total compensation rise more than 10% in the organization’s most recent public filings. He earned nearly $746,000 in 2017, according to filings checked this week, compared with the $673,000 in 2016, which were the most recent the last time the Ledger checked in March. The filings, which are publicly available for most nonprofit organizations, tend to lag by many months.

  • Prosperity ranking: “Forbes Ranked Charlotte The #6 City For African-American Prosperity.” (Charlotte Stories)

  • Scooters heading to Ballantyne: Lime electric scooters are expected to arrive in Ballantyne this month, according to the summer issue of Ballantyne magazine that’s out this week. They can be used to “run errands, visit local fitness centers, meet a friend or explore the nearby landscape,” the magazine reports.

  • LendingTree incentives: The City Council is expected to approve $734,000 next week in business grants for LendingTree, which is moving its HQ from Ballantyne to South End. The county’s share is expected to be $687,000 in grants, according to next week’s council agenda.

  • Fascinating read: Why teens are using AirDrop to deluge strangers around them with photos. “In a crowd of teens and they keep trying to AirDrop me memes!!!” (The Atlantic).

Food and booze news

A weekly wrap-up of the week’s eating and drinking developments

  • Free doughnuts: Today is National Doughnut Day. Free doughnuts are available at all the places you would expect, including Krispy Kreme, Dunkin’ Donuts, Duck Donuts and, of course, Walmart. Charlotte on the Cheap has the round-up. In case you’re wondering, an old Webster’s dictionary lists “doughnut” as the preferred spelling with “donut” as an acceptable variation.

  • Top brewery cities: Charlotte is absent from a new top-25 list of cities with the most breweries per capita. Portland, Maine, is #1, with 18 breweries per 50,000 people. Asheville is #2 and Bend, Ore., is #3. Closer to home, Greenville, S.C., is #7, and Charleston is #16.

  • Great food but better PR? Kindred in Davidson spends $3,300 to $3,600 a month on a public-relations retainer for national firm Wagstaff Worldwide, according to an eye-opening article on restaurant marketing in the Biz Journal (paywall). “The risk of not making that investment was scarier to me than the risk of taking it,” the restaurant’s co-owner said.

  • New Legion Brewing: Legion is opening a third site, off West Morehead Street, in a new office/retail development known as Salt + Vinegar. It will have “expanded brewery production, a taproom, beer garden, courtyard, and full beer and food menu.” (CharlotteFive)

  • Sabor at light-rail station: Sabor Latin Street Grill is planning to open a restaurant in the parking deck of the light rail line’s JW Clay station, according to next week’s City Council agenda. Sabor will pay the city about $4,500/month to lease the 1,900-square-foot space. Atrium Health also plans an urgent care center there.

  • First brewery in UCity: Armored Cow opened three weeks ago on J.W. Clay Boulevard and offers two gluten-free and seven traditional beers, with more on the way. (Charlotte Magazine)

Ledger reader confesses: I paid $100 for glow-in-the-dark ramen — and it was delicious

A dispatch from Steve Dunn, founder of Steve Dunn Mediation, a Charlotte company that resolves disputes outside of court. He and his wife tried the ramen at a traveling restaurant that opened in Charlotte for nine days last month:

As soon as I heard about the glow-in-the-dark ramen, I booked our reservation. It checked several boxes for me — equal parts art installation, fine dining and experimental theatre. I was intrigued that the project was embarking on a world tour with its first stop (after its origin in Atlanta) being Charlotte, of all places. The price tag of $100 per person for a 30-minute experience seemed to promise something special, and the stylishly creepy website of the company putting it on, Nakamura-ke, hinted we were in for something ominous and magical. 

The restaurant was set up in a shipping container at Camp North End, north of uptown. There were no signs, so we just parked and wandered in the direction of a well-lit Airstream-type camper. Turns out this was the pre-ramen lounge, staffed by a friendly bartender who mixed delicious cocktails featuring Japanese spirits. Each dinner seating is only six people, so we chatted a bit with the others in our group until the hostess came to get us. 

She guided us through a dark hall and into the tiny dining room, where we sat at a bar. The room was illuminated in black lights, and there was glowing artwork on the walls. Every element of the ramen had been prepared or treated with ingredients that reacted with the black lights. The noodles were by far the most impressive visual, glowing either blue or green. To my surprise, the food tasted great. From that point, it was a straightforward restaurant meal.

Overall, I’d say this was worth doing for the novelty, but I was expecting a more theatrical experience. The promotional materials emphasized characters and backstory, but the experience itself was literally just eating glow-in-the-dark ramen. It was fun and delicious but definitely overpriced.

Review: glowing noodles tasted great but weren’t worth $100. (Photo courtesy of Steve Dunn.)

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The Charlotte Ledger is an e-newsletter and web site publishing timely, informative, and interesting local business news and analysis Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, except holidays and as noted. We strive for fairness and accuracy and will correct all known errors. The content reflects the independent editorial judgment of The Charlotte Ledger. Any advertising, paid marketing, or sponsored content will be clearly labeled.

The Charlotte Ledger is published by Tony Mecia, an award-winning former Charlotte Observer business reporter and editor. He lives in Charlotte with his wife and three children.