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Question: How can I get a basic understanding of marketing without having to ?crack a book? on the subject? With every minute of my time accounted for between calls, administrative duties and training, how can I have a thumbnail sketch of marketing...

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It just so happened that one mile from my house was the headquarters of Marriott ? the biggest hotel chain in the country. If I could place my wine in all of Marriott nationally, I could greatly increase the exposure and sales of Chateau Ste. Michelle, perhaps giving our distributors across the country a way to increase their sales and buy more from us. I called on Marriott as often as necessary because I was just down the street. I created reasons to see the buyers so I could build the relationship.

Soon, I was like a ?member of the company? because I was always in proximity to the customer. My competitors could only see Marriott buyers infrequently because they had to fly in to meet with them. I would even slip in proposals late at night through the night watchman, who also knew me.

Within one year, Chateau Ste. Michelle was in every Marriott hotel in the country. A good 65% of the reason was place and proximity, not because of my ?superior sales skills.? Of course, the other factors were important as well (product, price and promotion). But if I had not started with place, I could not have arrived at square one. Proximity breeds sales.

Grassroots Marketing

Now that we know the importance of proximity, what can we do with this knowledge to support our mission? Plenty.

Some years ago, the concept of ?community policing? emerged as a way of getting to the root of crime in neighborhoods. The same applies to fire and EMS services. Here we have a building that our citizens own that is a 24-hour place of safety and care. Many stations have a sign on the front outside wall that states ?Safe Place.? In my opinion this says it all. Think of the comfort that sign conveys to our citizens. Here is a safe place with people who care.

If this short statement strikes a cord in your heart, then you know how many of our citizens feel alienated and alone. This piece of real estate has value well beyond housing apparatus and firefighters. First, look at its name. In addition to something like Station 21, Engine 4, Ladder 16 ? names that mean something to us, but nothing to our customers ? many departments name their stations for the neighborhoods they protect, such as East Orange Station 21 or Hyde Park Station. Just this small change gives local citizens the notion that our doors are always open to them. Our house is their house.

There are at least 10 to 15 services we can perform in the station for and with our citizens while we are creating a one-to-one relationship with them. And each relationship is unique. You cannot duplicate a relationship. It is not possible. People tend to support people they know. Don?t we tend to do business with people we know and like first? An activity in the firehouse provides opportunities to assist our customers as they become acquainted with our services and us. In this way they see and know the services their taxes (price) are providing. Some of these activities are as follows:

  • Fire prevention seminars
  • Blood pressure checks
  • Station tours
  • ?After the fire? explanations soon after an incident in the neighborhood
  • CPR classes
  • Red Cross activities such as water safety
  • Babysitting classes
  • Fire cadet classes
  • Disaster preparedness seminars
  • Citizen advisory group meetings
  • Citizen academies
  • Safety inspections and explanations to local business groups and businesses
  • CERT training
  • Planning a home escape and practicing it
  • Apparatus and drill presentations
  • Smoke detector classes
  • Sprinkler classes for citizens and home builders
  • Joint home safety classes with home improvement companies
  • Joint safety classes with the police, power and water departments as well as with local meteorologists
  • Wellness seminars for the elderly and physical fitness for baby boomers
  • A ?know your fire department? dinner

With the new initiatives for citizen volunteers, you may want to consider asking some of these non-emergency auxiliary supports to assist in your efforts, thus making the customers part of the safety solution. This is especially for older folks who have a wealth of knowledge and want to contribute.

The use of the firehouse should be a key element in a public service marketing plan. All of the planning and implementation strategies mean nothing if they cannot be implemented at the local level.

If a marketing plan is going to break down, it will break down locally. Conversely, if it succeeds, it will be because the firefighters in each station optimized the opportunities of place in the neighborhood firehouse.