Posted: Fri 16th Dec 2011
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sar0MBQAnfs Every Friday, we write about an original, offbeat or inspired idea that has helped a small business raise its profile, improve its product, or simply help to run the business better. This week, we have an unusual customer challenge from North Wales. On the last Saturday of every month at 5pm, Rich Brady of Denbigh Army Surplus in North Wales publishes his location as a six figure grid reference on the shop's Facebook page and Twitter feed. He's not doing this from the comfort of his living room or a coffee shop down the road from the shop in North Wales. Rich and dad Mick are usually camped on a remote mountainside somewhere in Snowdonia. Or perhaps they've pitched up in the middle of woods in Gwydyr Forest Park. As soon as the reference is published, the DAS Resilience Challenge is on. It has a beautiful simplicity - get to Rich and Mick faster than anyone else, say the words "Strong, Tough, Resilient" and you bag yourself Â£2-300 of top quality outdoor gear, including bivi bags, outdoor jackets, camping stoves and rucksacks. "The fastest we've had anyone get to us is 80 minutes," laughs Rich. "We've had a few people not find us as well. People have come from quite a distance - one woman came from Derby with her teenage son and his girlfriend, and another came all the way from Stevenage. We stay until midday on the Sunday to meet everyone." The Challenge is on whatever the weather - on one occasion Rich and Mick were almost blown off a mountainside, but one intrepid adventurer still managed to reach them. "We thought no-one would turn up," Rich recalls. "But from the pitch black we heard the words and this guy unzipped the tent and came in with a big smile." In the heart of winter, they'll be wearing crampons and carrying ice axes. The words 'Strong, Tough Resilient' really are appropriate.
Creating a cult phenomenon
But why set a challenge for your customers? It's about boosting profile and generating word-of-mouth, both locally and nationally, says Rich. Though the shop makes 65-70 per cent of its sales online, DAS wants to be considered a physical destination for people living or holidaying in North Wales. Since beginning the Resilience Challenge six months ago, the shop has seen increased footfall and more chat on its Facebook page and YouTube channel, where they post a pre- and post-Challenge video every month. "People are having a laugh and a bit of banter with everyone else. It's all gentle rivalry," Rich observes. "But people are talking about us, which is what we wanted. It's definitely working."
Opening doors with suppliers and partners
There's another spin-off, too. The Challenge has helped DAS create relationships with major suppliers. Every month, Rich and Mick camp in a tent made by the respected Scottish manufacturer Vango. In one of their videos, the pair even pitched a 40-year-old Vango tent that had never been taken out of its packaging. Â The tentmaker picked up on the publicity and is now donating prizes. Likewise, Outdoor Enthusiast magazine - which DAS now stocks - and local adventure training company Original Outdoors, both of whom are donating to the Christmas prize pot. "These things wouldn't have happened without the events," Rich explains.
Measuring the return on investment
Increased footfall, more online word-of-mouth and new relationships with suppliers are all tangible goals to set in a promotional campaign - and they are measurable. Financial returns are less clear-cut. How can you know whether this kind of marketing is turning into hard cash at the till? Indeed, how can you influence the process so that is does turn into income? This is the next challenge for Rich, who realises it's a puzzle that needs working out. "It's difficult to calculate," he admits. "We know people are talking about us but ultimately we want to generate more income. We'd like to get email addresses from participants and follow up with a questionnaire and a phone call. We want to find out why people are getting involved."
The courage to go for it
What the DAS Resilience challenge has created, without any doubt, is an opportunity. Rich himself believes that any business can do something similar. "There's plenty of ideas out there. It's having the courage to try them and understanding that people do go for the weird and the wacky," he stresses. "It's the kind of thing that sets you apart from the rest of your industry."
The DAS Christmas Challenge
The next DAS Resilience Challenge will take place between 9am and 4pm on Tuesday, 27th December. If you're brave enough to take part, look out for the grid reference on the DAS Facebook page at 9am. The prize haul for the winner will include a Vango Rucsac and 15 per cent off Original Outdoors courses throughout 2012. Twenty runners-up will also receive a pair of Gore-Tex mitts.
Got a suggestion for Free Range Friday?
If you've had an original, fun or offbeat idea that's improved your product, increased your profile or your sales, or has simply helped you run your business better, let us know! Simply send an email to Simon, the Enterprise Nation editor.