Windsor’s Smoke and Spice Southern Barbeque fuels its success by great customer loyalty initiatives

Though it’s the only restaurant of its kind in Windsor, Ontario, Smoke and Spice Southern Barbeque still faces fierce competition within the family dinning space.

According to a study by the Restaurant Brokers, almost 90 per cent of independent restaurants close during their first year, and the rest only have an average lifespan of five years. Having been established in 2008, Smoke and Spice has already outlasted their statistical expiration date.

“The family dining dollar is being sought by every restaurant in town,” said Duane Neveu, marketing and operations manager of Smoke and Spice. “Because so much of what you do everybody else is already doing, one of the better ways to stand out is by showing customers how much you appreciate their loyalty.”

After researching a variety of small business loyalty program providers, Mr. Neveu signed Smoke and Spice up with Vicinity by Rogers — a customizable plug and play rewards platform — in mid-June, and the company is already reaping the benefits.

“We have seen an increase (in sales), and we have to imagine it’s because we give people that one extra reason to eat here,” he said.

In the two and a half months since deployment, Smoke and Spice has already provided its 3,000 rewards members with $950 in the form of discounts, gift cards and merchandise. Vicinity also provides small businesses like Smoke and Spice with insights and analytics, allowing retailers to offer special incentives to customers that aren’t visiting as regularly.

“What’s great is that you get to target that customer that you know is loyal and say ‘hey, you haven’t been here in a while, come in again and we’ll give you this,’ versus putting an ad in the newspaper and just getting bargain hunters,” said Fiona Lake Waslander, general manager of Vicinity, adding that some Vicinity users have seen a 20 per cent decrease in time between visits from loyal customers.

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Canadians are also particularly drawn to loyalty programs. According to a 2012 Maritz Insights Loyalty Report, 78 per cent of Canadians shop strategically to earn points, which has made it difficult for small businesses to compete against larger organizations. Small business rewards programs like Vicinity even the playing field without eating into bottom lines.

“It’s a small percentage of their revenue that they give back to the customer, and businesses are more than rewarded for the loyalty customers offer back in the form of increased visits,” said Ms. Lake Waslander.

Though he’s handed his customers more than $950 in return for their loyalty, Mr. Neveu believes it’s well worth the cost.

“I know some restaurateurs would balk at that,” he said, “but I think that’s short sighted. If you’re giving it away to the right people — and let’s be honest, a regular customer is exactly the right person to give stuff away to — it’s part of your marketing budget. It’s a program by which you’re able to put your marketing dollars where I believe they belong; back in customer’s pockets.”

Jared Lindzon

Jared Lindzon

Jared Lindzon is a freelance journalist born and raised in the city of Toronto. Specializing in small business, tech, and careers, Jared’s work is regularly featured in the Toronto Star, the Globe & Mail and the National Post, among others.