Interview: Scotty Wise of Scotty’s Brewhouse
This is the third in a series of interviews with local leaders in the social media and technology industry that will be featured on the Tourism Tech Corner. Today’s interview is with Scotty Wise of Scotty’s Brewhouse, an Indiana-based restaurant with 6 locations throughout the Hoosier State.ScottysBrewhouse.com @Brewhouse
Scotty Wise – Scotty’s Brewhouse
We opened out first restaurant in 1996 in Muncie. Not long after that, we tore down the existing building and rebuilt from the ground up. In 1998 I opened a fine dining restaurant, where I lost nearly a million dollars, but I learned more over the next three years at the fine dining restaurant than I’ve learned in the 14 years of Scotty’s existence. When we closed that restaurant down, we opened our Bloomington location in 2001. West Lafayette opened in 2004 and the northside Indianapolis (96th Street) location opened in 2007. We opened our downtown Indianapolis location (at Virginia & Pennsylvania Streets) in 2009. Scotty’s Lakehouse opened in 2010 and we’ll be opening our Brewpub, Three Wise Men Brewing Company in Broad Ripple in late 2010. We’ve also got a project we’re planning to launch in 2011 in Fort Wayne. We’re looking to locate in left field of Parkview Field, home of the Minor League Fort Wayne TinCaps.
When I was looking to expand to Indianapolis, all the banks told me that the 96th street location wouldn’t work because we were a college town bar and there was too much competition, but it’s the most successful restaurant in our portfolio right now.
How has social media affected your bottom line?
The best way to apply social media to our bottom line is that we’ve eliminated every single piece of outside advertising, no print, no radio, no other types of traditional media, whereas in the past, we would spend about $250,000 each year in football ads, newspaper, and radio during Christmastime to promote gift cards. We eliminated all of that. The original reason we eliminated that was because of the economy. A year and a half ago, when the economy crashed, that was the one part of the budget we could eliminate without having to lay employees off.
At the time, I was personally using social media, but not for business purposes, and I realized that without a marketing budget, my use of social media was the only way to get our message out. You can’t walk into a business and say, “If you spend $500 on this ad, I can promise you that you’ll generate X amount of dollars back”, that’s why marketers rely on impressions and views and all of those similar metrics. The reason that social media was so successful and the reason I jumped on board was not just because I had to, I felt that the world had already shifted over to social media. I just gave a talk to a young professionals group in Muncie about social media and I asked the attendees to raise their hand if they subscribed to the newspaper. Of the 50 people I was talking to, only 2 raised their hand. Then I asked them to raise their hands if they had a Facebook account. Every single person raised their hand. I said “You guys just made the point for me – I could leave right now and this would be a successful talk”. The world changes and you have to change along with it. I don’t get the printed newspaper because I get the latest stories from the Indy Star sent to my inbox three times a day. That’s where I read my news.
I always put myself in my consumers shoes in everything I do, whether it’s the food I design, or the atmosphere you walk into, I always think “How would he feel? Would this make her want to come back more?”
The same concept goes into marketing. I knew that was the way I liked getting the news and talking to people. I think I just saw that social media was the way the world was headed and I think I got a head start on everybody and now I call myself the Howard Stern of social media, because I’m not politically correct with the things I do, but it matches my brand. People know it’s me and they know I don’t have a ghost writer or a ghost blogger doing my updates for me, they’re getting the real me telling them what’s going on in my life. One day I might tell them that my kid just crapped his pants then three tweets later I’m reminding people that kids eat free on Sundays. I use the medium in a way that I feel is most effective. I’m not going to blast marketing, marketing, marketing, marketing all the time, because you’ll just turn it off. So I dabble in things I’m interested in. One day you might get an article about a chef that I like, then the next day I might say something about the Colts, then the next day I might say something about the Pacers, or something funny about my kids.
You have to remember you’re not talking AT people. The biggest thing you have to remember about social media is that you’re listening.
I think a lot of people forget that – they’re pushing messages. I think you do still have to push messages, because that helps you gain followers, but at the end of the day, we now use social media for communication.
I’ll tell you another way social media affects our bottom line. We’re getting rid of our secret shopper company that we’ve had in place for probably ten years, because I don’t need them anymore. Sure they give us the secret shopper and they give us all kind of data, but I don’t need that when I’ve got 5,000 people on Facebook or Twitter and they have a bad experience or they have a good experience, and they let me know about it. It’s funny, I find out things about my staff while they’re at work. I’ll get a tweet that says “Hey, your bartender is doing a crappy job” and if I’m checking my Twitter account then, I get on the phone with the manager and say “hey, you’ve got a problem at the bar, go take care of it right now.” We can take care of things instantaneously, whereas before, that person may have left and might never come back to our restaurant.
Where did you get started in social media?
MySpace was where we got started. A lot of people don’t remember that, but Twitter wasn’t around, Facebook was only for college students so MySpace was then what Facebook is now. I knew that,and I got on there and was putting up my designs and stuff. I wasn’t posting like I do now, I mainly put up a lot of our marketing messages on MySpace. Then I started putting up pictures of me on the boat or with my kids. Then when Facebook announced they were opening up to everybody, right away I got on there and started putting our stuff up there. That’s when I started having fun saying and posting funny things. Then Twitter came along and I created my account in November of 2008. When I first joined I didn’t use it very much. I knew it was going to be important, I just didn’t know how. I didn’t quite understand how it was going to be a big thing, but I had a gut feeling about it. So I got onboard and it started to grow like a snowball. I got some help from a friend (@CoxyMoney) and from there I blossomed. What I was doing was working, so I didn’t change my model.
Our use of Twitter also continues to grow. Right now we’re using it in all our restaurants. I’m encouraging my manager and front-line employees to tweet as well. I don’t know if it’s the right avenue to take, but it’s something I’m doing because of a gut reaction. Obviously, there are a lot of things that can go wrong with social media, which is why you’re starting to see more social media contracts that employers are trying to get employees to sign, and we’re no different. We do the same thing. I think you have to be careful, not only about what employees can post, but sometimes the message can get mixed. My employees are a representation of me and if I’m asking them to tweet, “hey, I’m serving tonight, come see me”, that’s great, but then 6 hours later they’re tweeting that they’re in Broad Ripple getting hammered, that sends a mixed message. I think we’re trying to be proactive in how we use it and we’re excited to introduce this to our company and let our employees leverage it. We’re also setting up accounts for all the different restaurants and I know we’ll be able to control those. That way, if you don’t want to follow or know what’s going on in Muncie because you live in Indy, you can just follow that account and they’ll tweet about things going on in town.
We’re encouraging our managers to take pictures of a guest at a table or their employee of the month, or of the cooks making a dish – something people would be intrsted in click on and looking at. So that’s another way we’re using social media.
How did you get started with Foursquare and what successes have you seen?
Foursquare was first introduced to me by another guy on Twitter, who I’ve never met in person, @DrThomasHo. He said “Hey, look into this – I really think you need to be involved”. I guess I’m lucky because I have so many people looking out for me because I started looking at it and I started reading more and kept hearing it being brought up in conversations and
I think it’s [Foursquare] actually one of the purest, easiest forms of social media out there.
It’s today’s version of a loyalty card without having to actually carry a card in your wallet. Everyone carries their phone with them, many have an iPhone, an Android or Blackberry, that’s your loyalty card right there. All you have to do is check-in. Now, my job as a business owner is to figure out a way to make that an actual loyalty card – make it where you want to choose my place over the guy across the street because you’ll get 10% off just for checking-in. I embraced a special Foursquare Mayor’s-only discount because that means I’ve got somebody who is at my restaurant so often that he’s considered a mayor, now I’m going to offer an other incentive that says, hey if you can dethrone this guy or gal, I’m going to give you something huge. That’s our next approach, turn it into a competition. In the end, the name of the game is loyalty. I want repeat visit, so I think that’s what Foursquare can do for a business whether it’s restaurants, retail, or something else.
I spoke at a banking conference two weeks ago and I said “I can’t tell you how to use social media in your company, that’s for you to decide, I can tell you that it works”. You have to be the createive one that figures out how it works in your industry. I went on Google and searched for “Foursquare Banking Indistury” and I found dozens of articles on there. One example was a bank in Wisconsin. If you check-in at their bank, they give you ¼% off your loan or an initial deposit when you open a check-ing account or something like that. With just the few minutes of research I did, that’s a great example of what other banks can do.
I think location-based social media sites are the next big thing. If somebody’s following me and they live in California, that’s great, but it doesn’t really do anything for me. At the end of the day all the stuff I do, the goal is to get you in the doors of Scotty’s Brewhouse. The beauty of location-based social media is that I’ve got people that are near my locations. They’re the closest ones to getting in my doors so you have to embrace the medium. I think that Foursquare’s badges are brilliant. It just gives people another incentive to keep checking-in, just to get these silly little badges. From a retail point. Your goal is to give customers something unique. One of the badges that I think can apply for any organization is a swarm badge. If you get 50 people to check-in at one location during the day, everyone earns the Swarm Badge. So we had a Swarm Badge Party. What does that do for my business? 50 people that are all checking-in on Foursquare are all drinking a beer or two, they’re all having an appetizer…I’ve just increased my sales with people who might not have been there otherwise.
Creativity is your only limitation with a service like Foursquare.
American Eagle is now giving you a 15% discount for checking-in at their stores and Chili’s will give you a free order of chips and salsa for checking-in. Those are two national brands that are now using Foursquare as a way to drive engagement, traffic and revenue to their locations.
Are you constantly looking for new ways to utilize services like Foursquare?
Absolutely. I recently got in touch with a guy in Wisconsin who owns a bar called AJ Bombers (@AJBombers). He’s been interviewed by the Wall Street Journal and CNN and he’s become the poster child for social media usage in restaurants. For example, he has free Wi-Fi available and the name of his Wi-Fi account is “Don’t Forget To Check-in On Foursquare”. He gave me the idea of offering the special for dethroning the current Mayor. When we originally set it up we were giving discounts for every 3rd visit or every 5th visit, but Foursquare’s GPS was notoriously bad and people were checking-in from two miles away just to increase their check-in count, so we changed it to a smaller discount (10%) for every check-in.
What is over the horizon for social media? What will be the next big thing?
I definitely keep an eye out for new technologies. Just like when Google Buzz came out, I tried it out. I’ll usually start an account and then just wait and see how it goes. The more I hear about it, the more I see that this new site or technology has something to it. Some of it might not apply to my business, but it might – it just depends. For example – everyone wants to create an iPhone app. A while ago, I decided I didn’t want to just create one just to have one. I wasn’t going to make one that would just let you get to our menu, you can do that on our website, that’s not an app. You have to give the user something of value. So we’ve been kicking around an idea where you can open up the app, and it will tell you about all the coupons that restaurants are offering within two miles of where you are. Then, whichever of those coupons you want to use at our restaurant, we’ll let you use. That’s just an idea, but who wouldn’t want to open up an app, find the best coupon in the area then use it at Scotty’s?
I’m not really a good predictor about what’s next. When some of the technologies have come out, I haven’t really been able to see how they could be applicable, but I’m not so naïve to think that they can’t be used at all. I keep an eye out, but I don’t know exactly what’s next. I’ve actually just hired on a Director of Technology and Digital Media. I created the snowball that has become a huge avalanche, but I can’t continue to grow the company and try to monitor all of our social media initiatives. Since social media has grown so quickly, I need him to help with Facebook, Foursquare Twitter and whatever new mediums we get into.
Any closing thoughts about Scotty’s or social media in general?
All of these social mediums can help you with marketing, but one of the most important things you can do, both for your business and personally, is listen. You know the people you see at a party and you can tell they just like to hear themselves talk? I think the successful people just zip their mouths and let somebody else talk and sit back and listen. I think that same thing can apply to social media. One of the biggest benefits for Scotty’s is being able to listen to our customers through social media. Creating a personal connection is one of the best things that Twitter has allowed me to do. One of the reasons I got into the restaurant business is because I’m a people person. I like talking to people, I like bartending, I like waiting tables. As we’ve grown I realized that I created for myself a desk job. I got into the restaurant business because I didn’t want a desk job, I wanted to be behind a bar. The beauty of Twitter is that it’s allowed me to electronically table-touch and bartend again. In our industry we have our managers table-touch – which means going around to the tables and seeing how the customers are doing and taking care of issues. If the customer isn’t happy, they can take care of the issue right away. Now, Twitter has allowed me to do an electronic table-touch in front of 4,500 followers. That’s the best thing in the world! It doesn’t bother me that someone complains about cold food in front of all my followers, we’re not perfect; we’re going to make mistakes. The best part is that I listen to them and reply to them and 4,500 people saw that I took care of the issue and gave them a gift card and made the situation right. That’s the beauty of social media – it’s about making personal connections with my customers.