The Cost of Travel & Your Small Business

Where in the past we conducted our business within cities, there is no arguing with the fact that business today is about other places. And as the cost of traveling to those other places increases, the money you’ve budgeted for yearly travel seems to dwindle. Although fuel costs have been dropping in recent weeks, trading in the last few days at a low of $108 per barrel, the airlines are still feeling the pinch and doing everything from raising rates to charging to pillows to compensate.

Added to the mayhem is the increase in the average cost of hotel rooms, attributed mainly to the fuel crisis but also tied to the wobbling dollar. If you find your business faced with these issues- and you are, unless you were able to hedge on rooms and travel before it all hit- you need to find new ways of coping in order to maintain the lowest operating costs possible. Many businesses send representatives to trade shows from New York to California, sometimes even overseas if the end result appears lucrative enough to merit such spending.. Another issue is how small manufacturers can afford to present their best face at the trade shows once they’ve tackled the travel. The cost of trade shows can be daunting: fees, display booth shipping and constant staffing all pull from the company coffers. I’ve taken the liberty to interview a few small business owners and discovered their ways of showcasing products in other-than-traditional venues.

One of the interviewees was Nashville businesswoman Frances Barkley, owner and operator of Tennessee T-Cakes; known around the world for their confections, this gem of a company has been on top of nontraditional marketing methods for over a year. “Today’s market demands fast thinking as well as quick decisions,” said Barkley, “And your marketing has to be fluid as well. If something’s not working you don’t want to be stuck with it for another few weeks based on market conditions when you signed the agreement.” Barkley tends to focus her efforts on B2B marketing through her sales force and article placement via a public relations firm. The arrangement has proven to work; she recently signed an agreement to place her product in nearly 200 Kroger stores as well as all of the Tennessee Whole Foods markets. In addition to traditional outlets, she also keeps an eye open for other-than-retail outlets to make her product accessible to as many people as possible. An event planner’s conference was on her schedule for the days following our interview, as was a meeting with an online community representative.

Third party outlets are a potential savior for some small businesses who cannot justify retail space or direct marketing. Blending Moments, a greeting card company from Goodland, Kansas, has been creating unique greeting cards developed by Brenda McCants for two years. McCants initially decided to sell her ‘mixed family’ greeting cards directly to retailers but found the task wasn’t so easy; after making the decision that the effort was going nowhere, she turned to (an online floral and gift outlet). FGMarket was so impressed with Brenda’s cards that they added a new category called Blended Families: step moms, step dads, and other blended members have options during special occasions now and McCants has the footing she needs to move her company forward.

Brignola Foods, known for their versatile homemade pasta sauces, has been selling their sauces in Tennessee Whole Foods stores as well as other retailers in the region. Their initial sales method was ‘door to door’ and netted fair results before the cost of travel rose, prompting them to focus on internet marketing. Company President Steven Brignola noted that small manufacturers cannot depend solely on food chains anymore, “You have to keep looking for other outlets; buyers can have shop anywhere these days so your product must be everywhere.” Brignola has begun working with, a top-tier online grocer servicing the public. Gourmet Food Mall sends out emails to their entire patron base about new products as well as special promotions, giving Brignola another powerful marketing tool. Even strictly traditional businessmen such as J. Hawkens Bean Company President Alan Townsend has gone to non-traditional methods, stating, “We’re going online with outlets, it’s cheaper for us and we can ship all over as wholesalers or retailers. It’s completely revolutionized our way of doing business and saves us the cost of traveling to individual outlets just to place a few more bags on the shelves.”

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