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Chain LeaderEditorial Archives2005 — October 15 — Advertising

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Oak Park, Ill.-based Flat Top Grill is looking to cyberspace to help increase guest frequency and drive business.

The create-your-own-stir-fry chain started using a permission-based e-mail loyalty club in November 2002. It sends out a mass e-mail once a month to promote events or specials, usually with an incentive such as a discount, free stir-fry or bottle of wine.

For example, in January, the chain e-mailed customers about its Super Bowl Sundae event to drive traffic on a day that is historically slow for most restaurants. Although all the customers in its database received the promotion, the e-mail specifically encouraged women to go to the restaurants to receive a free dessert with their meal. The event drove sales that Sunday 41 percent over 2004.

While the company won’t quantify an overall increase in traffic or sales, Flat Top Grill Marketing Specialist Terri Rivera says, “Our annual sales continues to grow year over year.” The nine-unit chain generated $10.8 million in 2004 and expects to post $11 million in 2005.

With 36,067 names in its database, the company obtains about 1,100 to 1,500 new names a month. Customers sign up for the e-mails at the units, at events the company sponsors and via its Web site. Flat Top Grill outsources the maintenance of its database and creation and distribution of the e-mails for about $2,000 a month.

About 35 percent to 40 percent of customers in Flat Top Grill’s database open the e-mails. The company says that the e-mail club works because it’s the best way to connect with young professionals, its main customer base. “We’re e-mail fanatics,” Rivera says. “So it’s the perfect fit for the lifestyle.”

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